Ask the Expert, Student Life

ASK THE EXPERT: Internships

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When you’re looking to get some field experience, an internship is a great way to “get your feet wet.”  However, many students may not know where to begin, or what they should do to get one.  This is why we decided to speak with expert, Lisa Ferns, Career Advisor and Internship Coordinator in Career Services at the University of Rhode Island, about what students should know about finding internships, the interview process, and landing an internship.

When should students start looking for internships for the fall?  Spring?  Summer?

Students seeking internships should give themselves 2-4 months prior to the start of the semester to find, interview, secure and select an internship.  If students are seeking credit they need to inquire with the appropriate department at their college/university at the start of [class registration] for the following semester.

What should they be expecting when they apply for an internship with regards to documentation?

Students should expect to submit a resume, cover letter and reference page.  This may not be the case in all instances but a student seeking an internship should be prepared to supply these if required by an employer.

What are some red flags students should watch out for when applying for an internship? 

  • Students need to be aware that most recruiters paint their organization in the best possible light and they need to determine whether or not the organization will be a good fit for them and their internship/learning objectives.  Asking pointed questions based on research and having an understanding of individual needs will assist a potential intern to evaluate the internship objectively.
  • Valid information regarding the company should be available when researching.  Look for an actual contact person and company email.
  • Internships should be learning experiences that are supervised and have a reflective piece.  When interviewing, ask about the specific work tasks required of the new hire and how learning objectives can be incorporated into the agenda. You don’t want to be doing “grunt” work or filing all day.
  • I usually don’t recommend internships that require a student to pay any kind of fees.

How many internships should they apply for?

Students can apply for as many internships as they see fit.  Finding and securing the best fit for each individual is the main objective.

How long should they wait to hear back?

If applying electronically, students should wait approximately two weeks before contacting the organization.  If applying by snail mail, a three-week time frame is suggested.

What if they don’t hear back?

It is perfectly acceptable and recommended for a student to “check on the status” of their application if an appropriate amount of time has passed with no response from the company.

How should they prepare themselves for an interview?

Research the company, conduct a self-assessment (know your strengths and challenges), be able to articulate concrete examples of your skills and abilities, conduct a mock interview with Career Services, and practice, practice, practice…

What are some key pieces of advice you would give to someone going on an interview for an internship?

Be comfortable and very familiar with your resume; have an understanding of the company and its culture, do your research and a mock interview with Career Services (practice, practice, practice).  Also, have 3-5 questions prepared that reflect your research and needs, and ask the employer these towards the close of the interview.

If the company calls them back for a second interview, how should they prepare themselves?

Be prepared to meet with a variety of people within the company and to delve deeper into the questions asked previously.  Otherwise, all the rules remain the same as for the initial and second interviews.

If they have multiple internship offers, what should they do?

Students should have a solid understanding of their time/geographic restraints, learning objectives and goals.  They need to evaluate the experience they will have within the organization as well as the kind of supervision they will receive.

How should they prepare themselves for their internship?

You prepare for an internship similar to the way you would prepare for a job.  Try to research the company and complete all necessary forms and paperwork for your college/university ahead of time.  Know who your supervisor will be both at work and at school, and plan accordingly for transportation, mid and end of semester reviews, as well as for a balance of academics and work.

What should students wear to their internship?

It is best to wear business attire initially and then, once established within the organization, a student can acclimate to the organization’s environment accordingly. 

What are some tips you have for students on the first day of their internship?

Look, listen and learn; on the first day it is good to get a sense of your surroundings, observe the people and the culture of the work place and try to absorb as much as possible.  No doubt, newcomers may be overwhelmed and the first day of an internship is not the appropriate time to make bold gestures.

How can students make the most of their internship?

Ask questions, take the initiative and become involved.  An internship is a learning experience and by asking questions you further expand your knowledge base.  Employers expect that interns don’t know everything and hopefully they will want to instruct or teach students the correct ways to complete tasks.  Likewise, employers are not familiar with the rate at which a new intern can grasp concepts or complete assignments. Therefore, if you complete all that is assigned to you, do not hesitate to ask as to how you can be of further assistance.  If you want to know more about a certain department or process and it is not within your job description, ask if you can shadow or conduct an informational interview with people from that department.  Many companies have philanthropic affiliations or recreational teams; join in these events or groups to expand your network of contacts.

What should students avoid while working at their internship?

Always have goals that you want to achieve within the internship experience.  Try to avoid being passive within the internship by taking the initiative.  Do not be a “know-it-all” and listen carefully and thoughtfully to supervisors, co-workers and colleagues.  Be cognizant of the employer policies, adhere to them and try to never to be unreliable.

Ask the Expert, College Planning, Finances

ASK THE EXPERT: College Financial Planning, Part 5

For the last part of our college financial planning series, we wanted to know what students should consider when they are repaying their loans and what they should do if they have accrued a large amount of debt.  We once again spoke with Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and, to help us answer these questions.

The first thing Kantrowitz advises is that if a student can make the required monthly payments and accelerate their payment of the loan, then they should consider making extra payments on the loan with the highest interest rate (after making the required payments on the loan). While not everyone can do this, students who can will pay off their loan earlier, reduce the interest accrued on the loan, and ultimately save a significant amount of money.

If a student runs into financial hardship and is unable to make their monthly loan payments, Kantrowitz advises students to speak with their lender immediately to find out their options.  For federal loans, in particular, there are a variety of options that will help them to continue to make payments without causing too much financial strain.

The first option for federal loans is a temporary suspension of repayment, such as a deferment or forbearance.  Kantrowitz explains that this is an option best suited for those who experience temporary or very short-term financial hardship, which could include things like short-term job loss, mental leave, maternity leave, etc.  The problem with this option is that the interest on the loan will continue to accrue on at least a portion of the loan, which will increase the size of the loan.  However, Kantrowitz explains that this will not be a major problem should one require this assistance for only about 3 or 4 months, as not much interest will have accrued over that time.  He advises that students not extend this type of assistance for much longer than that, and explains that this type of assistance will also have only a 3-5 year limit (depending on whether it is a deferment or forbearance).

For those requiring more long-term assistance on their loan, Kantrowitz advises students to choose an extended or income-based repayment plan. The extended repayment plan will reduce the monthly loan payment by extending the term of the loan.  For example, if a 10-year unsubsidized Stafford loan’s repayment term is increased to 20 years, this will cut the monthly loan payment by one-third.  However, Kantrowitz explains that this will also double the interest paid over the term of the loan, and will ultimately increase the total amount you pay on the loan.  “The longer the term of the loan,” says Kantrowitz, “the more you’ll pay.”

The second long-term option for repayment would be the income-based repayment plan.  This repayment plan will base the monthly loan payment on 15% of one’s discretionary income.  According to Kantrowitz, discretionary income is defined as the amount by which one’s income exceeds 150% of the poverty line.  Therefore, if your income is below that amount, your monthly loan payment would be $0.  However, this option also extends the term of the loan and can end up increasing the amount you pay over time.

According to Kantrowitz, there are a few benefits to choosing the income-based repayment option.  He first explains that this is a good safety net should one run into financial difficulties and become unable to make monthly loan payments.  This option is also beneficial in that after 25 years of repayment, all remaining debt will be forgiven (a feature not offered by private lenders).  In fact, a new version of the income-based repayment will reduce the percentage of discretionary income charged from 15% to 10%, and it will shorten repayment from 25 to 20 years before the remaining debt will be forgiven.  Kantrowitz also explains that should one work in the field of public service [jobs such as a teacher, public defender, prosecutor, member of the military, city, state, or federal worker, or for any 501(c)(3) charitable organization], then all remaining debt will be forgiven after 10 years of repayment.

According to Kantrowitz, students should avoid defaulting on their loans as this can greatly limit their options.  In fact, in many cases, it will actually get much more difficult to repay the loan as there are many ways in which the debt will continue to be collected.  One way in which this is done is through a wage garnishment of up to 15% of total discretionary income.   This can also be done through the interception of federal and state income tax refunds.  On top of this, there will also be an increase of the term of the loan by almost 100%, in that 25% of each payment made (whether voluntary or involuntary) will be used to pay collection charges.  Therefore, a student will not only have to pay off the principal of the loan and the interest, but also the collection charges that come with defaulting on the loan.

Overall, there are things students can do before they run into trouble paying back their loans.  As mentioned previously, talking to one’s lender is perhaps the most important step whenever they are experiencing financial difficulties or hardship.  While their options may increase the amount they pays on the loan, it will prevent students from both going into significant debt and forcibly making payments on their loans.  By choosing to repay loans in these ways, students can greatly limit stress and misfortune by repaying their loans in the way that is right for them.




Ask the Expert, College Planning, Finances

ASK THE EXPERT: College Financial Planning, Part 4

For the fourth installment of “Ask the Expert: College Financial Planning” series, we wanted to know how college housing choices effect financial aid decisions. To find out more, we spoke again with Mark Kantrowitz, college financial planning expert and publisher of and

According to Kantrowitz, room and board are factored into the cost of college attendance, making it an expense covered by a student’s financial aid package. If a student chooses to live on-campus, their room and board would be based on the dormitory fees and the standard meal plan fee. If the student chooses to live at home with their parent(s) or guardian(s), rarely will they receive any financial aid for their housing accommodations.

If the student lives in an off-campus property (other than at home), the student will be afforded an allowance within their financial aid package to cover the cost of their housing. However, this price will be an arbitrary average rent price that is based on occasional rent surveys, and as Kantrowitz explains, universities are very reluctant to change these figures once they have been set. This means that if a student chooses to live in a property that is more expensive than the housing allowance, the university will not alter their allowance to accommodate the greater price. The only circumstances in which Kantrowitz sees this change being made is when the student has extenuating circumstances, such as a disability or having a dependent, which would require them to choose a more expensive residence.

For this reason, Kantrowitz advises students to try to stay within their budgets when it comes to off-campus housing. He explains “Just because you have an allowance that says you can pay up to this amount per month for rent, doesn’t mean that you should spend that amount. This is because in most cases the money that you’re spending on your living expenses is going to come in the form of loans, not grants.” By spending up to the allotted amount or above that amount, this will not only increase the student’s expenses per month, but it will also increase the amount of debt the student will have to pay off when they graduate.

Ask the Expert, College Planning, Finances

ASK THE EXPERT: College Financial Planning, Part 3

For the third installment in our college planning series, we wanted to know what were some of the biggest issues encountered by students when applying for financial aid.  Once again, we spoke with Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and and expert on paying for college, to give us his perspective on this issue and how students can maximize their federal student aid.

According to Kantrowitz one of the major problems he identifies is that students often do not fully understand the reality of the loans they receive.  Kantrowitz explains that students will sign their name to a loan so long as it enables them to fulfill their dreams.  Many believe that they will figure out how to pay back the loan when they graduate from college.  However, this is a major problem, explains Kantrowitz, as it is much more difficult to figure out how to pay back the loan after you have incurred that cost, rather than before.   He urges that “If you’re choosing a college and your dream is to study a field that doesn’t pay very well, you need to make sure you borrow less to match your expected income when you graduate.”  While this could mean going to a cheaper school, it could also mean just limiting other costs while attending school.  Kantrowitz suggests buying used textbooks, selling textbooks back to the bookstore, taking fewer trips home, and eating out less.  He advises  “You have to live like a student while you’re in school so that you don’t have to live like a student after you graduate.”

Another major problem Kantrowitz identifies is that student often will not file their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) early enough, and will consequently receive less financial aid.  Instead he urges students not to wait until they have filed their income tax information, but rather file their FAFSA based on projected income information and their previous income tax information.

To maximize financial aid with FAFSA, Kantrowitz urges students to be aware that income is weighted much more heavily than assets, and assets in a child’s name count much more heavily (about 20% are counted against aid eligibility) than those in the parent’s name (5.64% or less is counted against aid eligibility).  He explains that if you currently have a Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) account to help save for college, you may want to consider moving the money to a custodial 529 college savings plan account.  Kantrowitz advises that this is the most tax advantageous ways of saving for college, and that this will help students to maximize the financial aid they receive.

By saving, being frugal and being mindful, Kantrowitz explains that students can make the most of their experience, while still being able to afford college.  It is important that students stay informed when it comes to paying for college so that they may make decisions that are right for them.