Paid and unpaid internships offer students the same benefits: You gain real world experience, build your resume and network, obtain references and letters of recommendation, and even (wait for it) potentially land yourself a future job.

Figuring out if an unpaid internship is worth your investment of time can be tricky. Understanding the basics of internships can help you figure out which internship opportunities are worth investing in.

Most internships are unpaid.
Internship opportunities are everywhere, with employees always in need of more help. The sad but honest truth is that most internships today are still unpaid. However, this doesn’t mean you should disregard the value an unpaid internship can provide.

Know the program.
Ultimately the most important part about internship hunting is understanding the experiences you will gain from the program. Will the internship offer you opportunities to produce real life results for the company? Or, will you primarily be observing your supervisors work while you help out with the more basic tasks? Both of these internship opportunities can be considered valuable depending on your level of experience. By the time you reach your last year of college you should begin evaluating internship programs more closely based on what types of higher-level opportunities they will provide.

Understand your worth.
A first year college intern compared to a fourth year college intern will produce different results. While your first or even second internship might not be paid, by the time you reach a higher level of education and experience you should begin to reevaluate your worth. Think about the first job you had after turning 16 – hostess, server, babysitter, newspaper route – and think about what you were paid. Most jobs consisted of a minimum wage compensation to do basic tasks. In a higher-level internship program you will be expected to produce results for a business. At this point, you should reevaluate your worth and expect an internship program to give you some form of compensation for your work.

Paid and unpaid internships offer students value regardless of their different compensations. Understanding the value of an internship program and your level of experience, however, are key to deciding what internships are worth investing in.

 

Photo via Sean McEntee via cc

In a perfect world, we could all wear yoga pants to work--not just because they’re comfortable, but also because they’re a lot cheaper than a suit.

The truth is, it’s hard to dress professionally without breaking the bank. Sure, every college student can make it through an interview or two. But, once you’ve landed your first internship or job and have to wear business attire five days a week, it can be hard to look professional constantly without going to the mall and going broke.

I found that out the hard way this semester. After years of waiting tables, I landed an internship at Central Michigan University in its public relations department. It’s my first foray into the business world and it has been a big wake-up call as to what it means to dress professionally on a regular basis. I love my job, but I think it’s safe to say that neither my closet, wallet, nor I was prepared for the reality of wearing business attire five days a week.

Half way through the semester, I’ve managed to show up for work every day looking good. And, I’ve done it without breaking the bank.

Here are my secrets:

Invest in a few quality pieces. To get the most for your money, you first have to know where to spend it. A black business suit that fits you perfectly is worth shelling out for. Anything super trendy? Not so much. Spend your money on classic pieces that are versatile and will last at least five years. We’re talking business suits, blazers and dress pants.

Take advantage of secondhand stores and garage sales. Stores like Goodwill are great places to pick up extra pieces and expand your wardrobe without spending much cash. Look for fun, trendy pieces to complement your staples and plan on only spending a few bucks.

Utilize the power of accessories. You can wear the same black T-shirt twice a week if you pair it with different jewelry. On Monday, try a statement necklace. For Thursday, throw on a blazer and a scarf. You can find accessories everywhere and they will extend the life of your basic staples without costing a lot of money.

Get creative. Gone are the days when you had summer and winter clothing. With a little creative dressing, you can extend the life of your wardrobe to cover all four seasons. The best way to do this is by re-using the same pieces for different seasons and adding season specific layers. Think about shoes, jackets, tights and other pieces.

Lastly, remember my golden rule: People who see you have no way of knowing where you bought your clothes. If you don’t feel comfortable shopping at Goodwill, take a road trip to another town where nobody will recognize you. Don’t let your pride cause you to go broke.

 

Photo by Mike Nelson via cc

I’m sure you’ve heard it all: clean up your Facebook page (no, your employer will not be impressed with the apparent “creativity” of your Halloween attire), have a firm handshake, and so on.

But, to get the internship of your dreams, step out and take the curveball. I’ve nabbed three internships: Detroit Zoological Society, Eisbrenner PR (a business-to-business PR agency specializing in the automotive industry) and Central Michigan University’s communications team. I’ve also had journalism experience writing for Central Michigan Life. And, I worked hard for every single opportunity!

Before you nab that coveted internship, you should start in the minor leagues. Your first internship may be unpaid and involve standing at the copy machine for four hours straight (yes, I’m speaking from experience). Keep a positive attitude and know each experience will lead to that perfect gig.

Once you have established your credentials, start the application process and turn-up that professional swag. Here are some tactics that will help:

The pre-interview process:

  • Find a way for the hiring committee to notice you. With the hundreds of cookie-cutter résumés received, it’s easy for yours to get lost in the pile. Determine the company’s culture by looking at its blogs, social media channels and website. If it’s appropriate, do something out of the ordinary such as mailing your shoe to get your “foot in the door.” But be careful. Trying to be too creative could come off as cliché. Sometimes the traditional route is the safest.
  • Tailor. I’m not just referring to your pants. Tailor your résumé and cover letter according to the company’s core values or job description. Find out what makes you stand out and effectively convey your strengths.
  • Follow-up. Show them you want to work there. Sometimes a little bit of persistence is all it takes. Call, email, send a pigeon with a note -- do whatever it takes!

Before the interview:

  • Research. Know the company inside and out. Did it recently win an award? Congratulating them in the interview on a recent accomplishment shows you’re in the loop. And, people like to be flattered (not to be mistaken with brown-nosing).
  • Why you? They are probably going to ask why you are the best fit for the job. Really do some soul-searching and find out why you really believe you are the best fit. The more confidence you have, the better the interview will go, and people can identify a confident person.

Positioning yourself to land the internship of your dreams isn’t easy, but it will pay off when you get the call that you’ve been offered the position. And plus, it would be nice to get out of your parents’ basement, eh?

 

Photo by Jesús León via cc

In just a few months, I will be the proud owner of a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University. When I look back on my college career, I alternately pat myself on the back and shake my head in pity. I did a lot of great things in college, but I definitely pushed myself to the limit with my involvements.

But, there are many things that caused a lack of sleep and a few headaches that I still would do all over again, including:

Studying Abroad. The application process was crazy, traveling was exhausting and I came home completely broke…but I spent three weeks living in Italy and it was the most incredible experience of my life. I jumped off a 40-foot cliff into the ocean, discovered a love for calamari and found the perfect Venetian mask for Halloween.

Writing for Grand Central Magazine. Grand Central was where I discovered my love of magazines and organizing creative photo shoots. When you find something you want to do forever, the time commitment becomes meaningless. And, I’m certain the experience will help lead me to my dream of becoming a fashion editor.

Joining the Marching Band. As cliché as it sounds, the color guard girls were my family. We practiced 14 hours a week and traveled almost every weekend, but we also had Twister nights, took roadtrips and, more importantly, supported each other whenever times got tough.

Volunteering As a Tour Guide. Giving campus tours took time out of my day that I usually couldn’t spare. But meeting potential students and experiencing their excitement kept me fired up about CMU. Plus, you would be amazed how much you learn about your own campus when you act as a tour guide.

 

Despite all of this, there are a few things I wish I could have made time for. As an overachiever, I’m never satisfied. I wish I had found time for two things:

An Alternative Break. CMU has a cool program where you can spend a week volunteering with a nonprofit organization in the United States. I always wanted to travel and volunteer and I wish I had taken advantage of Alternative Breaks. Maybe I still will.

Attending More Sporting Events. I went to football games with the color guard, but I never attended any of Central’s other sports, even though tickets are free for students. I’m hoping to make it to a few events before I graduate to get the full experience as a proud Chippewa.

Myself. Easy to say, hard (for an overachiever) to do, but I wish I would have taken more time for myself in college. I could have saved myself a lot of late nights if I would have simply said no to one or two involvements or didn’t worry about having a job.

If I could give my freshman self one piece of advice, it would be this: Focus on what’s important, do your best to succeed and don’t worry about the rest.

Photo by Jeff McNeill via cc

 

Let's be honest—our generation gets a bad rap, particularly in the world of work. Publications like the New York Times and Philadelphia Business Journal along with huge companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte—and seemingly every group in between—have spoken out about Millennials in the workplace. Some call us entitled, lazy, and arrogant; others call us innovative, energizing, and intense. Though individual truth may be in the eye of the beholder, each of us has a choice to make once we get hired--will we be engaged in our job?

When we get hired, whether for internships or for real jobs, employers are taking a risk. Basically, it's a sink-or-swim deal. If we succeed in our new role, many new doors will open in our career. If we fail to provide our employer a return on their investment, then we'll be resolutely escorted to the nearest egress.

The best way for us to give our new bosses a rock-solid ROI is by being engaged in our work. Being engaged is much more than being simply satisfied:

  • Employee satisfaction involves a transactional (this-for-that) relationship between the employee and the employer. Satisfaction is the foundation for all success (or failure) in the workplace. We are satisfied when we receive fair compensation/benefits, a safe work environment, and access to resources. Our bosses control 90 percent of this relationship, giving us various workplace perks; we use our 10 percent control to simply accept these provisions.

  • Employee engagement involves something deeper than just satisfaction. When we're engaged, we have feelings of meaning and purpose in the work we do. We are given the appropriate levels of self-direction, plenty of learning and development opportunities, and we ultimately find ourselves in an environment that promotes the development of new friendships and professional connections.

What's the difference between a satisfied and an engaged employee? Engaged employees apply discretionary effort to their work—they go above and beyond the call of duty, because they find high value in their responsibilities. Satisfied employees do just enough to get by.

Clearly, our employers want us to be engaged, but we control much more of our engagement than they do (let's call it a 70/30 relationship). Even though our bosses ultimately can't control our personal levels of engagement, they're sure as heck going to try—because they know that engaged employees provide the highest ROI. According to the Corporate Leadership Council:

  • Engaged companies grow profits as much as 3X faster than their competitors.
  • Highly engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization.

"Profit growth 300 percent faster than my competitors? No, thanks," said no one, ever.

The moral of the story? We need to be careful not to do ourselves a disservice. As we begin to enter the working world via internships, part-time jobs, and full-time careers, we need to immediately prove our worth to our employers by choosing to be engaged.

 

Photo by Vincent Diamante via cc

Scheduling classes comes with important decisions — from picking your professors to determining your credit load.

The ability to complete courses online was one of the most convenient aspects of my college career. During my time at Macomb Community College and Central Michigan University, I took four online classes.

Here are a few questions to consider before registering for an online class.

Do you have the time?
Each instructor structures their class differently. I've taken classes where assignments are due at the end of each week and classes where all assignments were due at the end of the semester. It is important to keep a planner and divide your workload or else it will pile up fast.

Which classes should you take online?
As a public relations major, I never understood how knowing chemistry, algebra or the history of rock 'n' roll would help me in my career. Taking core classes online may feel like less wasted time if you properly plan your workload. If you're depending on the class to gain hands-on knowledge for your major, take it in an actual classroom. If it's an easy class where you just learn from a book, take it from the comfort of your own home.

Will it cut down your travel time?
If you have to travel a distance for one class that doesn't fit perfectly into your schedule, take it online. I've driven a half hour to one class I didn't particularly enjoy or benefit from attending. If it had been offered online, I wouldn't have thought twice about taking it from home. It saves time and money.

Trying to stack classes and graduate earlier?
The best part of taking online classes is being able to "cram." A lot of online classes are only a half-semester long but are worth the same credits as regular length classes. This makes it easy to take one during the first half of the semester and another during the second.

What is your learning pace?
Math is a subject in which I need to learn at my own pace. It took me three tries to pass algebra because I couldn't grasp the subject in a fast-paced classroom full of students. When I finally took math online, it was much easier to learn at the pace that was effective for me. The information was always at my fingertips, and there are plenty of online resources to use for assistance.

Is the class you want to take available?
Not every class is offered online. They also tend to fill up quickly. It's a good idea to register as early as possible.

I really enjoyed taking online classes. They taught me to manage my schedule, expanded my learning styles, and taught me responsibility. I recommend all students try taking at least one class online.

 

Photo by John Loo via cc

I recently financed a three-week study abroad trip to Italy -- a complete stay with weekend trips to Venice and the Amafli Coast -- entirely by waiting tables at a restaurant.

As old fashioned as it may sound, I started saving money in my "Italy Jar" seven months before my trip. After every shift, I tried to put at least 75% of my tips into it, keeping out only what I needed for rent and groceries. By the time July rolled around I had paid for my entire trip and had spending money to spare. As they say, "Every penny counts."
Despite great budgeting, a few unplanned costs can pop up along the way. Here are a few costs I didn't plan for:

  1. Housing Supplies. I was only in my apartment in Italy for three weeks, but I still had to buy toilet paper. My roommate also bought laundry detergent, although I chose to skip that (running your clothes through the washing machine sans detergent still gets them relatively clean). We were lucky enough to have air conditioning, but a few of our friends invested in some fans for their apartments as well. Try thinking ahead about what items might not be provided for you.
     
  2. Class Trips and Fees. My class had one excursion. We went to The Gucci Museum and it luckily only cost six euros. My roommate wasn't so lucky. She got hit with a 90 euro lab fee during the last week of her class. Do your research and have a few dollars set aside for these kinds of surprises
     
  3. Weekend Trips. Now, this was probably just me being dense, but I didn't plan on taking any weekend trips. It wasn't until I got to Italy that I realized Venice was having their yearly Redentore Festival while I was in the country and I wanted to be there. To help save money, look for student travel agencies for your trips. They usually include transportation, meals, and lodging -- saving your hard-earned bucks along the way.
     
  4. Getting Home. This might sound strange, because obviously your return ticket has already been paid for. But in the rush of your last week, don't forget to set aside enough cash for the taxi to the airport and a snack once you're there. It's easy to spend the last of your cash on last minute souvenirs and dinners out, but make sure you have enough to get home comfortably. The last thing you want to do is sit in the airport starving, or worse, have to walk to the airport, dragging your 50-pound suitcase behind you.

    Studying abroad is one of the most amazing experiences you will ever have. The best advice I can give you? Take more money than you think you'll need. If you don't use it all, you can always take it home with you.

 

Photo by Artur Staszewski via cc

 

I thought I was prepared when I left for my three-week study abroad trip to Italy. But here are a few things you should know before you study abroad:

  1. "We're not in Kansas anymore." If you arrive expecting familiarity, you're going to be disappointed. While there were aspects of Italy that really made me miss home (for instance, a notable lack of toilet seats in the public restrooms), I loved its quirks. Embrace the differences.
     
  2. It's okay to say no. When I was preparing for my trip, I felt like I was surrounded by voices saying, "Don't ever say no!" It's easy to feel a lot of pressure to have a "perfect" experience. I never made it to Rome or The Leaning Tower of Pisa. I never saw the real David because the fake one was good enough for me. Your trip is going to be what you make it. Do what makes you happy and you'll go home feeling like you had the trip of a lifetime.
     
  3. Be prepared for anything. And I mean anything. One day I was walking though a piazza near my apartment when I heard, "Oh! Beauty!" I turned to see a mime running through the crowd toward me. I stopped to see what he was doing and, to my utter horror, he picked me up in his arms and proceeded to twirl me around through the crowd. The tourists stopped to watch, cheering and clapping. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, he planted a big, sloppy, paint-covered kiss on me, dumped me into some poor guy's lap, and shouted, "Happy Birthday!" To say that my study abroad preparations did not cover how to handle this would be a bit of an understatement.
  4. Stray off the beaten path. Definitely hit up the tourist attractions in your new country. But whenever you can, just wander around and explore. I found that it was only when I tossed my map away that I found interesting hidden shops and museums. One afternoon I stumbled across a vintage clothing shop where the owner made me a custom pair of shorts. He cut them, studded them, and frayed them right then and there (all for a smaller cost than you might think). I never would have found the shop if I'd have had my nose glued to my map.
     
  5. What happens during study abroad does not necessarily stay there. Any study abroad trip is going to come with a multitude of experiences. However, if you're not careful, you might go home with more than just memories. I went cliff jumping off the coast of Capri. At the time it seemed like an incredibly fun YOLO adventure. And it was. Jumping off of a 40-foot cliff into the ocean is an experience unlike any other. But, I paid for it when I arrived home with one compressed spine, two tilted hips, and three weeks of chiropractor visits.

Bottom Line:
Enjoy the time you have however you see fit, but be careful.

 

Photo by 10da_ralta via cc

Many incoming students move to campus fearing the terrible fates that could possibly befall their personal property. To inadvertently add to the anxiety, your parents may flood you with questions about your college's insurance policies. What's covered? What if the fire alarm isn't indicating a drill? What if a sneaky roommate snatches something? What if a pipe bursts?

When you move away from home, you leave a lot of comfort behind. And while college isn't some lawless place in which thievery and vandalism are the preferred pastimes, it's important to know what protections you have when something becomes missing or damaged. No worries though, these protections won't cost you much money!

Universities have dozens of insurance policies in place. Typically not a single one covers your possessions. When you rent a room in a residence hall, you're responsible for your items—even in the event of a flood, fire, or theft.

So how can you and your possessions be protected? You have two options.

  1. Check with your parents to see if their homeowners' insurance policy covers your possessions while you're away at school. If you're covered, you can put your worries to rest.
     
  2. Consider purchasing renters' insurance. Sold by most insurance agencies, renters' insurance is similar to homeowners' insurance save for the fact it doesn't protect the actual structure or building (because you don't own it).

Many students hold renters' insurance once they move into a residence hall room, apartment, or house because it offers a wide range of protections and doesn't leave the well-being of your possessions and guests up to chance. Besides safeguarding against theft and elemental damage, renters' insurance typically provides coverage if someone becomes injured inside your home (like when you're throwing one of your soon-to-be-famous house parties).

A definite perk of renters' insurance is its price. Most plans run you less than a dollar per day. When just a few cents are protecting you against the cost of visitor injuries and shielding thousands of dollars in electronics, the price seems like a drop in the bucket.

 

Photo by Images Money via cc

Living on your own means you now provide for yourself. Students who are used to living in a dorm or at home are used to eating prepared meals. When you move into a house or apartment, what you eat is your decision. As a student, I got tired of spending a ton of money on fast food, and it wasn’t good for my waistline. I decided to expand my horizons with my meals.

Here are some tips to avoid the drive-thru.

Cooking with your roommates
A part of college is trying new things, so collaborate with the people you live with. Not everyone is the same type of eater. Some people enjoy fast food and others are health nuts. Keep an open mind and find out what you and your roommates can cook together. You may acquire a new taste and discover an interest in cooking new foods.

 Making meals that last
Preparing meals in bulk is a sure way to eat affordably and always have something ready to eat. Pasta is the easiest, most affordable food you can make. A box of pasta can easily feed a few people, and you’ll still have leftovers. It can be cooked in a variety of ways with chicken, beef, or with peppers, onions and mushrooms. You can use so many different sauces and noodles. Add a pre-mixed salad or some garlic bread and you have a full meal.

 Cook using a different method
Using a grill brings out an entirely different (and better) taste in food. If you’re able to have a grill at your apartment or house, you won’t regret it. My roommates and I pitched in money to buy a grill, and it expanded our cooking horizons. Burgers, chicken, vegetables; it all tastes great. If you can’t have a grill where you live, a George Foreman-style grill also works great.

Using a slow cooker is another method of making great meals. I didn’t utilize a slow cooker until my senior year, and I wish I would have sooner. It’s as easy as adding a bunch of meat, vegetables and whatever you want to spice it up. Turn on the heat and in a few hours you have a delicious meal.

 Freezing leftovers
My mom cooks often. She got in the habit of saving a portion of leftovers and freezing them for me to take back to school. She would freeze foods like pastas, soups, stir-fry, chili or anything else that tastes decent after it’s frozen. This helped me save a ton of money, and the taste of home cooking was always available.

Don’t break the bank buying food every day. And don’t limit yourself to the stereotypical college diet of ramen and mac ‘n’ cheese. Expanding your cooking horizons makes preparing meals something to look forward to.

 

Photo via Mike McCune via cc