The reality of an unpaid internship in Los Angeles

Do you actually just run into celebrities all the time?


Last year I had the opportunity to spend the summer in Los Angeles through a program at my university. In addition to taking classes once a week, I had an unpaid internship at an entertainment public relations firm. Los Angeles can be an amazing and exciting place, especially for someone like myself who hopes to work in the entertainment industry. However, working for free in such an expensive city is not so amazing and exciting. Here’s what it’s really like to intern in L.A.

L.A. is the entertainment industry

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If you want to be a part of the industry this is the place to be, which becomes clear instantly upon arrival. Everyone in L.A. seems to somehow be involved with entertainment. Your waitress is probably an aspiring actor, and the person in line next to you probably works at a studio. Being in a place so driven by one thing feels inspiring and overwhelming at the same time.

There is endless opportunity

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In such a large city with specialized firms and project-based jobs, work is always available. However, if you are a student or even a recent college graduate, paid work might not be so easy to come by. Competition can be brutal, but if you are in a position to take one, an unpaid internship can be a great option. Typically smaller companies with smaller budgets offer unpaid internships. While you may not benefit from the name recognition of a major studio or corporation on your resume, interning with a smaller company means you will probably get to do more than just get coffee. Unpaid internships can be a great way to get a feel for several positions within a company, and really get to know the employees.

There are tons of fun things to do for free

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When you’re not getting paid and money is tight you go out of your way to find free and cheap activities. Los Angeles makes it a pretty simple task. There are constantly free events going on like festivals and outdoor movie screenings, and plenty of museums have free admission. You can pretty easily snag free tickets to film premieres or recordings of live shows or talk shows by registering for tickets online. Not to mention the abundance of free beaches, parks and hiking trails.

Work might feel like paradise

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The entire city of Los Angeles feels mystical to a newcomer, which can make work feel like a vacation. My internship was in Hollywood, about a three minute drive from the Walk of Fame. Some of my friends who interned in Santa Monica and Malibu worked right on the beach. Hating your job is hard when your lunch break includes a walk along the water.

Commuting is brutal

What should be a 15 minute drive is more often an hour drive, no matter the time of day. This may make hating your job on the beach a little easier. While public transportation is available, the Metro is certainly no New York City subway. Traffic is a part of life in Los Angeles, but I can’t imagine ever getting used to it. On the bright side, the view from your parked car on the 101 will never get old.

Everything feels like a movie set
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It probably was a movie set actually. As you travel throughout the city, some many places feel familiar. The sets of your favorite movies and TV shows become part of your daily commute, famous landmarks can be seen from your window, and you grab lunch at the same places the Kardashians do. It’s all casual. Except it’s not. It’s super cool and exciting at first and maybe forever.