How To Get Experience When You Can’t Afford To Intern For Free

Interning isn’t always as accessible as people make it out to be. Here’s how to gain work experience when you can’t intern for free.

Thinking about life after university? Are your friends interning or getting experience at really cool companies and it’s getting you worried about how you’ll stand out? Interning is usually the way to get practical work experience before, during and even after your degree. There are tons of benefits, such as gaining experience, networking, and increasing your career prospects.

Unfortunately, many internships are low paying or unpaid. This can discourage tons of people applying because they simply can’t afford to work for free. This is certainly the case for low-income students and families.

But hope is not all lost. There are still tons of ways to gain valuable experience to pop on your CV and wow employers. Here’s a few to get you started.

Ideas when you can’t afford to intern for free

Do a placement year

What is a placement year? A placement year is anywhere between mere weeks to a full academic year where you work in professional employment. Plus, tons of placements are paid, and your university can help you find paying placements.


Volunteering is a great way to use a couple of hours a week to make a difference. There are tons of volunteering jobs such as working in a charity shop, community management, and other digital-based jobs. So don’t worry if working out in the open isn’t an option for you.

Do it remotely

If you absolutely must do an internship for your field, then ask your employer if you can do it remotely or on a hybrid pattern. This can massively help with expenses like lunch and travel. Plus, most jobs these days can be done remotely, as we’ve learned after the pandemic.

Explore funding opportunities

Paid internships do exist, they’re just few and far between. A lot of employers will try to get away with not paying their interns too on a matter of technicality (usually work hours).

If you’re studying and are from a low income, did you know you could be entitled to a scholarship? Or if you live within a catchment area of your university you could be entitled to a bursary (you should ask your university if there are any bursaries going anyway!).

Read more about low income funding and scholarships on UCAS

Apply for a part-time job

Can the internship be done part-time? Or can you balance a part-time job while you do the internship? Depending on how many hours needed (and your work/life balance), this could be a route to take. Just be very careful about academic burnout and only do this if your schedule allows for it.

Think it’s possible but not sure where to begin? These productivity apps may be able to help you manage your time and busy schedule.

Do it freelance

Can you do your line of work on a freelance basis? Go for it! You may need to do the odd job free to begin with, but once you have some momentum going, reach out to your network to see if they could benefit from your services.

There are tons of other online jobs for students too, including some you may not have heard of! Check out our guide to online student jobs to get a feel for what’s out there.

Take a relevant online course

Is there a knowledge gap in your field your university (or even some jobs) won’t fill? Why not see if there’s an online course you can study? Maybe you could learn a programming language other graduates may not be looking into, or learn about NFTs and other new technologies out there.

We offer study and course discounts on Student Beans. Be sure to sign up to get discounts off course providers!

Interview your network

Ask your tutors and people working in the field what they did to get to their position. Yes, it can really be as simple as asking a question. This way you can find out the best route for you. You could even explain how you can’t afford to intern but would like to know of other options to get your foot in the door.

We hope these ideas have given you some food for thought. It really is possible to gain experience without an internship and even negotiate ways of working if you really must do one. Don’t forget to sign up to Student Beans to save cash on things like fashion, beauty, travel and much more.