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I am sure we've all been told time and time again that the quintessential college experience is an internship. But here is the kicker to some, if not most, internships: they're not paid.

I do not intend to advise students to turn down an unpaid internship opportunity. With a previous internship and another on the way (both not paid), I think it's still important that students stretch their credentials with an internship.

Although unpaid internships do take a certain level of sacrifice, I believe most students should understand how to utilize that opportunity in order to sharpen their focus for their desired career. I mean we have to get compensated somehow.

So I've compiled a short list of recommendations that will, hopefully, help students when choosing a beneficial unpaid internship.

First and foremost, you must understand that your biggest adversary might be time. Unless specified, a company will hire and place you in a season when a position becomes available for you. Most companies hire interns up to a year in advance so you might get hired during the summer but actually start working in the fall. Since fall and spring are, traditionally, our busiest semesters, another aspect to consider when acknowledging your time is the amount of hours you are required to put into your internship.

The last thing you're going to want to do is have a full-time school schedule, a job and putting 20 free hours into a business where your time is not respected. I'm not saying it's impossible to take on an internship in this case, but what will get old really quick is stretching yourself thin for a company where you're not getting any "real" experience.

Now with time at the forefront of your internship deciphering, here's my next suggestion:

During your interview, don't only let the employer get to know you, but get to know the employer. I suggest doing some research the night before your interview, but you can gain a larger sense of your responsibilities during the interview process. Don't be afraid to ask questions because employers will know that you're serious about the position and, in return, you won't go into that internship with unrealistic expectations. Some of the questions you should ask should range from verifying the location you will be working at — gas will add up — to if you will be given opportunities to apply the things you've learned in that particular field. The goal of an intern is to get hired, so if you can't make yourself marketable or more of a threat to other competitive job-seeking students, then on to the next.

My last recommendation is to squeeze as much experience from your opportunity as possible. I know this may seem selfish, but actually it's not. Your employer should understand that you have one major purpose, which is to gain real-world expertise. So once you begin your internship, make yourself distinguishable by being willing to learn new concepts and taking the initiative with your work. If you like the company you work for, inquire about job opportunities and leave a good impression on that company by being diligent. There's nothing wrong with wanting to grow your knowledge by asking if you can take on bigger responsibilities once you've become comfortable.

In 2013, Forbes reported that 69 percent of companies with 100 or more employees offered their interns a full-time position. Never underestimate your opportunities, and make yourself stand out, even if it's just with a positive attitude.

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Shanae Hardy is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Email her at ShanaeH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.

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