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Can the Average Internship Salary Pay for College Tuition?

4 min

The number of hours a student needs to work to pay for just one year of their education has climbed to an unattainable level. How unattainable? We ran the numbers.

David vs. Goliath: Paying for College with an Internship Salary

Most students in the United States are told from a very young age that, in order to succeed and have a stable future, they need to attain a college degree. Accordingly, most students make plans for continuing their education upon graduating from high school. However, in a very literal sense, there is a price to pay.

College degrees involve enrollment fees, tuition fees, housing fees, and meal plans. Student loans have skyrocketed, and the common struggle of paying off crushing student debt over the course of an early career has become a hot button issue. Along with that, certain industries require graduate and postgraduate degrees, which only adds to those seemingly insurmountable totals.

Fortunately, there’s always the option of working while attending school, which many students choose to do. In many cases, they will choose to intern for a company that aligns with their career goals as a way to build their resume and help pay for their education. But of course, these jobs are lower than entry-level, and the companies pay accordingly! Internships are often unpaid, and those that do come with a paycheck can be so low that they barely make the minimum wage, let alone contribute to the astronomical cost of college.

Here’s the bottom line – the number of hours a student needs to work to pay for just one year of their education has climbed to an unattainable level. How unattainable? We ran the numbers to find out.


Our team identified the largest 4-year public university in each state to use as a cost sample and pulled the cost of 1 full year of tuition, room, and board for in-state and out-of-state tuition for each state. The financial information came from College Stats. We also pulled the average intern hourly wage according to wherever it was available. If the state did not have an average intern wage available, we used the national average of $12.84 from the same source.

Tuition costs have been rising steadily over the past few decades. While in-state tuition is marginally more affordable (emphasis on marginally!), out-of-state tuition at a public university can approach the cost of tuition at a private institution. The University of Pennsylvania had the highest in-state costs, while The University of Vermont had the highest out-of-state costs.

Even with the discount of in-state tuition, students are still on the hook for a huge tuition bill. Based on the cost of in-state tuition and the average hourly wage for an internship by state, Montana has the lowest number of weeks a student would need to work full time to pay for one year of college. However, that number is still 26! That’s over six months of full-time work required to pay for a single year of tuition, room, and board. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it would take a student 71 weeks of full-time work to pay for one year at the University of Pennsylvania with in-state tuition. You don’t have to be a math major to see how that statistic causes a problem!

If your collegiate aspirations are leading you somewhere other than your state college, you’re in for a rude awakening. Out-of-state tuition costs add a substantial chunk of change to your college education. Just ask people headed to The University of Vermont. It would take 111 weeks of full-time internship work to pay for just one year of school as an out-of-state student. Think about that for a moment, that is over two years of full-time work with no living expenses to pay for one year of college. Nevada is the only state where an out-of-state student can pay for one year of school with less than 52 weeks of full-time internship work, and even then, it still takes 47 weeks – just under 11 months.

For more details, see the full breakdown of our data below:

The cost of college has turned into a major issue as students sign over hundreds of thousands of dollars as collateral for their education, only to find out that graduating college doesn’t lead to a six-figure paycheck that accommodates that level of debt. More and more often, students are looking for ways to get around loans and debt, and many college programs are working hard to provide them with options. In order to get solutions, however, students need to know about them, and that’s where our marketing automation service comes into play.

With our automation tool, you can customize the outreach strategy you need to reach the hundreds of thousands of high school students who are looking for affordable college options and show them why you are the best choice for higher education. Want more information? Contact the GetResponse team!

Kamil Guzdek
Kamil Guzdek
Kamil is an SEO expert focusing on technical SEO, lifting link related penalties, and web analytics. He has 8-plus years of expertise in SEO with a M.Sc. Degree in E-business from the Oxford Brookes University(UK) and Pg.Dip. in Online Marketing from Warsaw School of Economics(PL). He has vast experience in performing SEO for all kind of websites - ranging from online publishers, startups, SaaS platforms, up to e-commerce. You can reach out and connect with him on LinkedIn, or read more about Kamil on his website.