Unpaid work experiences are controversial and some may be illegal – but in some industries, they’re the norm, and you may struggle to get the job you want without them. Here are some ways you can make things more affordable.
Grants for internships
Even if an employer isn’t willing to pay you during an internship, someone else might. Possible sources include:
Some universities offer their students grants for work experience placements over the summer. You should be able to find out about these on the university website, or by getting in touch with the careers department.
These grants are often restricted. For example, they may be only available for specific industries, or for students looking for work experience abroad.
Some industry bodies provide work experience grants for placements within their industry. Whether this is available will depend on the type of work you are interested in.
However, some of these grants are for employers, rather than ones you can apply for yourself. They can normally be used to help cover your costs during yuor placement, but the employer doesn’t have to do this, and may not be willing to apply in the first place.
Rent is most people’s biggest living cost, so reducing your accommodation costs can make a big difference to what you can afford.
- If you can find a place to live with friends or family, this can mean big savings – but will restrict where you can work. If you don’t know someone yourself, your friends or family might know someone in the area who would be willing to have you as a lodger during your placement.
- In a city, living further from the centre can mean cheaper rent. Make sure that this isn’t outweighed by higher travel costs. If your employer is paying for your transport, then make sure you have checked how much they are willing to pay.
- If you rent somewhere, make sure you check the contract – if there is a minimum term longer than your placement, then you may have a problem when the placement ends if you aren’t planning on staying in the same place.
- You may be able to find a cheap place to live by becoming a property guardian. This means looking after an empty property. You’ll pay less in rent, but you’ll also have fewer rights – for example, you can be asked to leave with only two weeks’ notice.
Transport is another big cost, but you can make big savings by planning ahead. Look at your route to work and check the websites of bus and train companies for fare information. If you can get a season ticket for the length of your placement, it’s likely to be much cheaper than buying singles or returns every day. However, this may not be the case if your placement is part-time, since you won’t be travelling every day.
If the organization is covering your travel expenses, then make sure you track your costs carefully, keep all your receipts, and claim back everything you can. It may still be useful to get a travel card, since this can also help to cover any travel you do that isn’t for work. This may be cheaper for the organization too, so they are likely to be happy with it.
If you can cycle to work, this will save you a lot on your transport costs.
Part-time work alongside an internship
A part-time job can help you to cover the bills. If your internship is part-time too, then you should be able to fit both into a week – but you’ll still need to be careful with money.
If your internship is full-time, finding a job as well may be a struggle: you might end up working all day at your internship and then picking up shifts in the evening and at weekends, which can quickly become exhausting. It may be possible for you to adjust your internship to make this easier – for example, going down to four days a week.
Think about the length of your internship when considering whether you can manage a paid job as well: it’s much easier to handle both for a four-week placement than a six month one.
If you still can’t afford the internship
If you can’t find a way to afford the internship, make sure you inform the employer. Let them know the reason you are turning down their offer, and thank them for the opportunity. If they are refusing to pay for an internship, you might be justifiably annoyed, but try not to get angry with them: if you have impressed them and you stay on their good side, you might be a top pick for future opportunities.
- Internships explained
- What to do if you don’t have enough work experience
- Five ways to get more out of your work experience