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Campus Overload
Posted at 05:24 PM ET, 07/13/2011

Gaining intern experience, even with the odds against you


Today’s guest blogger is Allison Prang, a rising sophomore at the University of Missouri-Columbia and reporting intern at The St. Louis Beacon. Allison is also an editor at The Maneater student newspaper and a contributing writer for Chesterfield Patch.

It would have been a lot easier to go back home this summer and work at your high school summer job. It would have been even easier to take a break from school and work altogether and spend a summer at home with old friends and family, sleeping until noon and relaxing by the pool every afternoon...

Instead, you got an internship. Just like me.

This is my first college summer, and I wanted a journalism internship. The thought of spending another summer at home in the Chicago suburbs left me thinking: “Must. Get. Internship. Soon. Or. Will. Go. Insane. All. Summer. Long.”

My parents initially questioned whether or not this was the right idea. Most internships don’t pay well or anything at all, and summer is when many students save up for the next year’s instant noodle supply. Plus, many journalism internships require you to have a car.

The odds were definitely against me: I had no car, no money left after my first year of college and no part-time job to get gas money for that car I did not have. Plus, I had only completed one year of college, so my young age probably wasn’t going to help in applying for internships.

But I was determined to make it happen.

First, I zeroed in on a location. St. Louis. My great-aunt and uncle generously offered to let me live with them for the summer so I could get an internship nearby. It was convenient not only housing-wise, but this way, I also did not need to live alone and could spend time with family.

Second, I scoured the Internet for every St. Louis-area publication I could find. What if they didn’t have a page explaining their internships? It didn’t matter. I emailed a random editor or human resources representative. Didn’t get a response? I politely email-stalked them as a journalist usually does.

And after multiple resume revisions, cover letters and interviews, I was offered an unpaid position at the St. Louis Beacon, a daily online publication based in downtown St. Louis. I also got a paid freelancing job at Chesterfield Patch, an online news site that covers the area near my house, to earn gas money and get more real-world experience.

Third, I now needed a car. This was where I had to get creative. I asked most of my friends if they knew of anyone selling a car or if they had one I could borrow. I got lucky and was able to borrow my friend’s car for the summer while he interned in New York City. Not only did I now have a new form of transportation (that is lovingly named Ben Bradlee), but my friend also did not have to spend money to store his car while he would be away. Insurance costs were also lower, since I was only using Ben for three months.

Fourth, I had to get a part-time job. After accepting the internship and taking the car, this was the step I chanced. I signed up for snagajob.com, a local listings Web site, and scheduled interview after interview. My uncle and friends asked around for me as well, and I finally landed a job as an office assistant at a truck-leasing company.

My days are crazy hectic: I work my part-time job in either the morning or afternoon three days a week for around six hours at a time.When not there, I am at home finishing up assignments for my internship. For my freelance job, I call sources during breaks during the day and write my articles at night. Not a minute goes unplanned, but with a Starbucks close by, the hectic 10-hour workday is possible.

I have learned that college summers can be awkward as you try to balance getting experience with making money, and there’s no specific formula to successfully pulling it off.

Although there were so many factors working against me, and my family initially thought I was crazy, I knew I had to take these chances. After much stress and creativity, everything came together. I am learning the ins-and-outs of journalism and getting better acquainted with Missouri.

My advice: Start searching early. Get creative with your time and abilities. And make sure you are passionate about the internship work that you do. One of my journalism instructors once told me, “If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

For me, that statement could not be truer. Although, most days I am a frazzled brunette mess making my way around St. Louis in an ancient-looking white car and trying to balance my reporter’s notebook with my Mac laptop along with my many responsibilities, I couldn’t be happier.

How are you balancing work, school, interning and a social life this summer? What’s your strategy? Share your experiences in the comments section below — or send Jenna an e-mail, johnsonj@washpost.com.

By Allison Prang  |  05:24 PM ET, 07/13/2011

Categories:  D.C. Interns

 
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