College students are faced with an interesting dilemma when it comes to making money and earning experience. They can either get an entry-level job to help offset the pricey college life, or they can get an internship, which will benefit them after graduation. While an entry-level job pays the bills, it is not always the best position to move you up your career ladder. On the other hand, an internship can prove to be a valuable experience that can bring on amazing opportunities later down the road. The only problem is that many internships are not paid. So which choice is the best one for your future?

Before You Choose: Think Long-Term

Many individuals make decisions based off of their current situation. However, to ensure future success, you have to take the time to think and plan for the future. Where do you want to be in five years, ten years, and so on? If you have lofty career plans, then a part-time position as a barista is not going to get you there.

Many companies are hiring from their pool of interns. It just makes more sense for an employer to hire someone young that already has been trained by the company. Don’t forget that there are several entry-level jobs that tie directly to your degree. For example, a student studying education can easily get a job as a teacher’s assistant or preschool teacher. Whereas individuals studying business or technology might be able to land a position for an IT help desk.

Both entry-level jobs and internships have their pros and cons; you just need to decide what is the best choice for you now and in the future. As long as you choose a position within your desired career field, your future resume will be impressive. 

How to Afford a Non-Paying Internship

While more and more employers are offering paid internships for college students, there are still some companies that don’t pay their interns. If you do come across an amazing internship opportunity, you don’t have to turn it down immediately just because there is no pay.

Before taking on a non-paid internship, consider the company and its employees. Is the company a well-known business that future employers would respect? Is this company someone you would want to work for after graduation, and is it a viable possibility that you could land a job with this company? You want to avoid lesser-known companies that use internships for free work. If you are going to give up your time for free, then you want to form your internship in other ways.

It is also a good idea to ensure you are receiving maximum school credit for your internship. While an internship might not pay you, it can save you thousands of dollars on class costs, depending on how much your university charges per unit.

If you truly want to make a non-paying internship work with your limited budget, then consider how you can cut your costs. Perhaps you can move back in with your parents temporarily. Although not ideal, you can also use student loans to help you pay for living costs. It is best to look for a part-time job or cut costs before you turn to student loans. You might regret taking on an internship if it means you are stuck with an extra $10,000 of debt upon graduation. (Another great read is, Resume Tips For Internships.)

Having the Best of Both Worlds

Ideally, you would be able to get a paid internship or to balance a non-paid internship with a part-time job. Look for flexible internships that allow you to choose your hours or to commit to one or two full days, rather than a few hours each day. Also, consider part-time jobs that offer odd hours. Fast-food service and newspaper delivery might not be the top choices for your job search, but they allow you to work odd hours so that you can still have time for your internship and college classes.

Make the Right Connections

Use every college class, internship, and job to its fullest advantage by making the right connections. Getting the attention of your professor, employer, and fellow employees can help you in your job search after you graduate. Don’t overlook anything as an opportunity to network. Even a position at your local coffee shop can help you make connections with successful businessmen and women in your community. The right college classes, internships, and jobs will look great on a resume, but the right connections you make with people in these positions is even more important when it comes to landing a future job.

The Bottom Line

Whether you choose to pursue an internship or a job is up to you. Both can be advantageous to your future career, as long as you look for opportunities that line up with your career goals.