What It’s Like to Have an Unpaid Internship in New York City

I spent my summer exploring the concrete jungle and learning from two amazing companies. Splurging at sample sales, adventuring to rooftop bars and eating my way through every borough, but it all came with a cost. I’m not the first to say this and I most definitely wont be the last, living in New York City is expensive. The city takes a toll on your wallet and your emotions throwing you a new curveball every time you step on the train.

The hardest part about not being paid in a city that empties my wallet would be finding the motivation or passion on the hard days. Most of the time I absolutely loved my internships and the work I was doing, but when you’re asked to run a third errand when its 93 degrees with 90% humidity I found myself asking, why am I doing this?

But in the long run, I love my industry and learned so much this summer. For me, the best part about interning in New York City was being in the city itself and learning from my supervisors. I was constantly surrounded by new opportunities and adventures. This summer was vital in helping me figure out what I do and don’t want to do in my future career. I also chose to take in all of the city I could get in two and a half months. I saw seven shows on Broadway, but also found the hacks to get the cheapest tickets. I went to as many instagramable dessert places and restaurants as my stomach would allow and what’s a rooftop bar without an amazing view and a $17 cocktail? My experiences, including my foodie adventures, came out of my pocket while I got help with my rent and transportation costs.

I was a PR and Marketing Intern at Natori, a luxury lingerie and ready-to-wear company, and Fashion Intern at Editorialist, an online magazine and e-commerce sight focusing on luxury accessories.

 

My breakdown…

Internship Pay: $30 a day stipend at Natori, completely unpaid at Editorialist

Housing: Had one roommate in a subleased one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. We used the living room as a make shift second bedroom.

Rent: $1,400 plus electric

Transportation: Unlimited monthly MetroCard, $120

Average Grocery Store Run: $30 at Trader Joes every couple weeks, $15-30 whenever I ran into Target or Westside Market.

Rough Estimate of Total Spending (not including rent): $2,000 including eating out, seeing shows, shopping and the occasional Uber.

 

Now that you’ve heard my take, I sat down with four amazing women who spent their summer in the city at unpaid internships.

 

Photo by Pheobe Cheong

Darcy is currently a Senior at the University of Florida and was a Creative Content Intern at The Style Line and its creative content agency, CONNECT(ED)ITORIAL.

Her Campus: What was the hardest part of being an unpaid intern living in NYC?

Darcy: “The hardest part about being an unpaid intern in NYC was finding a balance of spending money and not missing out on events or fun experiences with friends while still keeping a budget in mind. I set up some general parameters for myself — i.e. meal-prepping dinners as much as possible and having coffee in my apartment before I left for work (and not spending money on coffee during the day), carrying around a reusable water bottle, etc. These seem like little things, but everything adds up!”

 

HC: What was the best part about interning in NYC?

Darcy: “Interning in NYC was truly a dream come true and left me even more inspired and motivated to be back in the future. Not only was the internship itself valuable in the skills I gained and the people I met — but my experiences this summer gave me a taste of what my life might be like post-grad. I actually loved navigating the subway and really living like a local — going to Central Park on the weekends with my bagel and a magazine.”

 

Darcy’s breakdown…

Housing: I lived in a single room with a shared bathroom at an extended stay hotel/apartment called Hotel Alexander on the Upper West Side.

Rent: Comprable to FIT and NYU summer housing. The price fluctuates based on the rate, but all the information is on the website.

Transportation: Unlimited monthly MetroCard — $120 per month

Groceries: ~$30 per week at Trader Joe’s or sometimes random items at Whole Foods. (Yay for the Amazon Prime Whole Foods discounts!) I also learned that buying fruit and other produce at the bodegas on the corner is really not scary at all and is SO much cheaper than most grocery stories — so I would buy bananas, strawberries, avocados (~$5 to $10 max) as needed from the little stands by my apartment maybe once a week. 

Estimate of total spending (not including rent): $1400. Shopping, museums/attractions, eating out, occasional Uber or cab 

Sabrina is currently a Senior at Kent State University and was a Social Media Intern for Tessora Clothing in Brooklyn.

HC: What was the best part about interning in NYC?

Sabrina: “The best part about interning in New York is that you are in the middle of the fashion capital of the world, you are apart of the world that creates it all.”

Her Campus: What was the hardest part of being an unpaid intern living in NYC?

Sabrina: “Honestly, I didn’t mind the unpaid part though because I love what I do and I love being in the fashion industry. Getting paid is just an extra added bonus in my mind.”

 

Sabrina’s breakdown…

Housing and Rent: I lived on the upper west side on 108th and Broadway. I had 3 other roommates total rent was $5,500 split between the four of us it was $1,375.

Transportation: I purchased the unlimited monthly metro card for $121 every month and then used Uber here and there, roughly $150 max.

Average Grocery Store Run: I often bought my groceries from Westside Market and my average spending on a regular trip to the store was anywhere from $70-$80.

Rough Estimate of Total Spending (not including rent): Since I am a fashion major I had a slight problem with shopping all the time. I also found it to be very easy to just order food instead of taking the time to cook it because there were so many options to choose from. Total Spending including shopping, eating out, the occasional Uber, museums and shows: $3,300.

Marissa is a Senior at Kent State University and she was a Production Intern at The Vanity Room, a made in New York contemporary clothing brand.

Her Campus: What was the hardest part of being an unpaid intern living in NYC?

Marissa: “Knowing that for all my sweat and tears I wasn't being paid anything and I was disposable to this company. I needed them more than they needed me!”

 

HC: What was the best part about interning in NYC?

“The best part was just seeing the industry in the fashion hub of New York City.”

 

Marissa’s Breakdown…

Housing: 4 bedroom furnished apartment on the Upper West Side.

Rent: $1,375

Transportation: Monthly metro card, $120 a month.

Average Grocery Store Run: Usually one trip per week to Westside Market cost me around $50.

Rough Estimate of Total Spending (not including rent): around $8,000

 

Janel is a Senior at Kent State university and was a Production Intern Jussara Lee, a sustainable clothing company.

Her Campus: What was the hardest part of being an unpaid intern living in NYC?

Janel: One of the hardest parts was that I still had living expenses, i.e. rent, food, entertainment, etc. that I had to pay out of pocket. Typically I would work over the summer and make enough money for the school year and even though I was working, I wasn't being paid for it. I had to be more aware of what I was spending my money on because I knew I would have to pay for an unlimited metro card again soon.

 

HC: What was the best part about interning in NYC?

Janel: The best part about interning in NYC was that you could see all aspects of the industry by going to different buildings in the garment district. 

 

Janel’s breakdown…

Internship Pay: $15 stipend for lunch.

Housing: I had Airbnb long-term "lease." I lived on Forsyth Street in Chinatown

Rent: I paid a total of $3905 for the whole summer. It ended up being $3300 per month but then I split it with a roommate so it was $1650 per month per person

Transportation: I took the subway EVERYWHERE! I used the unlimited monthly metro card twice and then an unlimited week pass.

Average Grocery Store Run: I went to Trader Joe's about every few weeks. I would spend $30-40 depending on what was happening those few weeks. I would also stop at a Bodega that was close to my apartment to grab snacks or drinks.

Rough Estimate of Total Spending (not including rent): Close to $1200