Higher learning can be a magical time. College students are essentially dropped face first into a real world-flavored place where no one is accountable for their lives, except, you know – them. Mistakes are made in college, but it’s a place where learning to correct those mistakes is just as easy. But, there’s one part of the college experience that means more than your GPA or how much you showed up to your English 301 class: it’s your internships.

Everyone needs to pull their weight at an internship. They offer a portrait of staff dynamics, but also teach humility and let a student know how much effort a 9-5 entails.

Hiring bosses won’t be impressed that you got cheese plates for the most powerful real estate company in Austin, nor will anyone care that you got to write code for the front end of for EA for a semester. In reality, you need something different that you’re not thinking of. You need to go the road less traveled.

It’s critical for students to think about real life goals and what the plan in a post-school world could be. Students need to look at the companies on the back pages of the book, the companies who are not flashy and receive a 10th of the inquests of their acclaimed classroom competitors. The real unpolished diamonds lie are in these places.

By applying to smaller companies or less flashy ones, the chances of you getting real, meaningful work are higher. An internship is meant to teach a student life skills and offer a view into X industry. By getting hands-on experience at an internship instead of just the crap work no one else wants to do, you’re given a front row seat to check out what’s behind the Great and Powerful Oz’s industry curtain.

INTERNSHIPS ARE THE GREAT EQUALIZER

Consider this example: you’re a fashion design student at Tulane University. You love clothes, and you want to work in New York. You read all of the fashion blogs, have curated a fashionista Instagram feed and you’re always looking for the next new trend. You want to be seated at the right hand of Michael Kors or Calvin Klein. They don’t realize it yet, but you’re going to be a force, you’ll be the one to breathe new school style to the tried and true brands of the last decades. At least, this is how you see the world in your head. You need to get a few internships before anyone will take you entry-level serious.

You’re killing it in school. It’s time to search for an internship. But, not all opportunities are created equal. You don’t live in New York. You live in New Orleans. New Orleans has a fashion community. Albeit small, there are people putting out exciting clothes. Naturally, you want to go with them, you want to apply yourself to the biggest name in town, or at least work for one of the shirt companies who design all of those pieces all of the locals and tourists alike gobble up. You want to be aligned with that company making the cute dresses they sell on Magazine Street or maybe even try to work at one of the city’s fashion-minded publications. It’s you and a sea of other students who also live in one of the most art-obsessed cities on earth. The competition will be tough. There are only so many spots.

You can put in the application and hope to be called. Alternatively, there’s another route to take. Instead of hoping to do some social media posts around the new shirt with the trumpet logo, you can design something. Look for the little clothes companies, the one’s who are branding shirts for the beer league softball teams, or the company who has a small locally sourced clothing factory. Installing zippers on prototype hoodies isn’t glamorous work, but it’s impressive because you can speak to actual function over fashion. These teachable moments are what the working world is comprised of – it’s not all glitz, there’s actual work.

MAKE THE SMARTER INTERNSHIP CHOICE, NOT THE FLASHY ONE

Chances are, if you approach a place like this, they’ll be happy to have you on board. A blue-collar clothing factory would love an intern.

A hiring manager sees a bazillion applications for a job. They’re looking for experience, or at the least something interesting if you’re right out of school. Having that big name clothing company looks cool, but when you’re asked about what you did, what can you tell that hiring manager? That you sent out of a few tweets and got a lot of coffee? Maybe worked a handful of events and handed out t-shirts?

By taking the gig that’s less flashy, you can talk about how they gave you meaningful projects or that you were given carte blanche on a design project. Typically, the smaller the company, the happier they are to have your contributions. Because you can cite some real-world experience and likely walk away with stories of being challenged, or even just deal with a demanding boss, you’ve solidified yourself as a better candidate for a job.

Experience is everything in the working world. Give yourself the leg up and apply to intern at the places who offer the best shot at actually doing the work. Make the connections, and do the work. Let someone else worry about getting coffee.

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Getting an education is crucial. College, trade school, or whatever path you take can offer mind opening experiences. They also come with mind-blowing expenses and, for most, student loans.

It’s not exactly a dirty little secret that folks who go to college usually end up with severe debt that trails them around decades after they’ve graduated. College is expensive. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, “seven in 10 seniors (69%) who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2014 had student loan debt, with an average of $28,950 per borrower.”

Just because you want an education doesn’t mean you have to dive into Uncle Sam’s wallet. There are a few colleges around the country that have swung open the doors and are free of charge or least way cheaper than the norm. Some of these schools have specific requirements, but if you meet said conditions, you could wind up with a free education and zero student loans creeping over your shoulder like a cartoon ghoul.

NEW YORK, THE FREE COLLEGE CITY

New York recently rolled out a plan for free college, but given that over a million students apply for student loans yearly, it’s going to take a while for them to sort out how many they can approve. Either way, it’s a step in the right direction given that students shouldn’t be crippled with debt just because they want a good education and career.

FREE COLLEGE ACROSS THE COUNTRY

So where are these mythical colleges? What do they want as an exchange for a quality education? Some of these colleges might be in your backyard, all it takes is a little internet sleuthing to see what they’re looking for regarding admissions.

ALICE LLOYD COLLEGE

Alice Lloyd is ranked #40 of the best regional colleges. Its free tuition program is mainly for underserved students in the greater Appalachian area. It has also got some impressive SAT scores:

How to Attend for Free:

Students at Alice Lloyd pay it forward and work at 160 hours a semester in the community or around the school. Dorms are not free, but $1,900 annually is affordable. The average student can walk away from Alice Lloyd with under $7K in student loan debt.

BARCLAY COLLEGE

A tiny Christian school in Kansas, Barclay College has a curriculum that’s religion-centered and offers free tuition to students who live on campus and study areas such as:

How to Attend for Free:

Well, it’s not all free. If accepted to Barclay on a scholarship, they’ll award you $11K, but you’re on the hook for room and board, and all of the other little fees.

BEREA COLLEGE

Another Kentucky school, Berea is a small liberal arts college that offers 28 different degrees. With a student body of around 1,500, the college prides itself a 1:1 student/faculty ratio.

The majority of students hail from Appalachia and the Princeton Review named it one of the best colleges in the Southeast. Berea College is continually high ranked as one of the country’s best liberal arts colleges.

How to Attend for Free:

Students accepted into Berea College are awarded a four-year tuition scholarship. Students are expected to work at least 10 hours a week around campus. The scholarship offered can work in concert with other grants or scholarships any many students leave Berea debt free.

COLLEGE OF THE OZARKS

Another private liberal arts college, College of the Ozarks is based in Missouri and has an enrollment of 1,500. Ranked #10 in the 2014 U.S. News & World Report edition of the Best Colleges in Regional Colleges (Midwest), Forbes also ranked College of the Ozarks #21 in the Midwest.

How to Attend for Free:

The school is tuition-free for full-time students, but to gain acceptance to College of the Ozarks, students will need to show proof of financial hardships. Accepted students are required to work around the campus and keep a 40-hour work week during breaks.

CURTIS INSTITUTE OF MUSIC

Music fans rejoice, there’s a school out there to help you live the dream of earning a degree. Located in Philadelphia, Curtis Institute of Music offers degrees including a:

Curtis Institute of Music is right on par with lauded names like Berkeley or NYU and is considering one of the finest conservatories in the world. Getting into Curtis is tough, though. Only 165 students attend at a time, and there’s just a 4% acceptance rate. The school’s trained instrumentalists hold the top 25 chairs in the major US orchestras.

An even more delicate point to put on it would be:

How to Attend for Free

You have to be amazing at your instrument. They’ll cover the costs to teach you, but you’ll need to test to get accepted.

DEEP SPRINGS COLLEGE

A genuinely unique education experience, Deep Springs College is a private two year school in California that has less than 30 students. Some of Deep Springs students go on to earn a graduate degree or doctorate.

Because the school is an “alternative institution” it holds its principles as the governing body of the college. Admissions vary from 6%-15%, and the average SAT math, and the verbal score is 700.

How to Attend for Free

Students are expected to help on the school’s ranch or alfalfa farm at least 20 hours a week.

THE UNITED STATES ARMED SERVICES

Most of the branches of the US military offers an education package if you attend their academy. The Army, Navy, Merchant Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force provide a four-year degree so long as you agree to four years of service.

WILLIAMSON FREE SCHOOL OF MECHANICAL TRADES

Located in Pennsylvania, the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades is state school rooted in its Christian faith but offers students programs in:

How to Attend:

There are a few stipulations you should know about:

The awarded scholarship covers room and board, tuition, and books.

NOT SO FREE, BUT LITTLE-KNOWN HELP FROM THE TOP-TIER

Some of the most prestigious schools in the country have programs to help students who don’t have the luxury of a blank checkbook for their educations. Schools like Duke, Harvard, Princeton, and MIT all have programs based on a sliding scale of affordability for students. While some programs are a little more progressive than others, do the research and see where you income line falls. Worst case, you may fall in line for a significant discount.

Hopefully, some of these schools are what you’re looking for. Everyone should have a right to a financially responsible education. It’s unfair there are only a handful of schools offering a free education, but more and more programs and universities are popping up yearly. If we missed a school leave us a comment or shoot us a tweet. We’re always on the hunt for new schools trying to break free of higher ed’s financial chains.

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