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PSJD: A NALP Initiative

Summer Funding Primer (US)

Funding a Public Interest Summer

For students committed to careers in public service, summer public interest internships can be the most rewarding experiences. However, the financial realities may be intimidating to some students. Most public interest employers don’t pay summer interns and those that do tend to pay less than other sectors. However, the value of these internships cannot be underestimated – in fact, in some areas of public service, a public interest summer internship is the best or only way to set yourself up for a public interest career after you graduate.

Fortunately, there are a number of resources available that may help you financially as you pursue your public interest summer. This guide provides an overview of how you can pursue paid internships or funding as a summer public interest intern.

Finding Paid Public Interest Summer Internships

The most direct way to fund a summer public interest internship is to find a paid internship. Unfortunately, many government agencies and non-profit organizations do not have funding available to pay summer interns. Thus, although plenty of paid opportunities exist, finding these positions may require a little leg work.

Some helpful resources will allow you to search specifically for paid summer public interest internships:

  • PSJD.org
    • When using the PSJD Advanced Search for Job Postings, you can select “Internship (Summer)” under Job Schedule and “Stipend”, “$15k-$40k/per year” and “Dependent on Experience” under Salary. This will return jobs with employers that offer paid internships.
  • Government Honors & Internship Guide (Produced Annually by Arizona Handbooks, L.L.C.)
    • This guide to mostly federal, but some state, government internships allows you to look up internships by deadline for your class year. Then you can view whether a position is paid or unpaid. Contact your school’s Career Services or Public Interest Advising office for log-in information.
  • USAJobs.gov
    • Look for “Pathways” summer internships, which are paid internships which also earn you time-in-grade for the Federal Government pay grades.

Some types of employers more regularly pay summer interns:

Some non-profit organizations have established relationships with funders, combining the process so that you are applying for the position and the funding simultaneously:

Lastly, once you have an offer in hand, even if it’s an unpaid internship, it doesn’t hurt to ask if there is any funding available! Although some public interest employers post their internships as “volunteer” opportunities, they may have limited funds available to help if your summer funding from your school or other sources does not cover all of your expenses. Some employers also will provide a transportation subsidy. Don’t be afraid to ask if an organization can provide a small stipend. Talk to your Career Services or Public Interest Advising office about how best to have this conversation.

A word on timing: You should not limit your search to paid public interest internships; you should be applying for those internships concurrently with unpaid internships. As you will see below, there are a number of other options for funding your public interest summer, and you don’t want a deadline for an unpaid internship to slip by while you are waiting to hear about a paid opportunity.

Finding Funding for Volunteer Summer Public Interest Internships

If you secure an unpaid summer internship, there are plenty of potential sources of external funding, including but not limited to:

  • Bar associations
  • Foundations and nonprofit organizations
  • Law schools, whether through fundraising by student groups, federal work-study money, money provided by donors, or other sources.

When looking for potential sources, think about the following, all of which may qualify you for certain funding sources:

Important factors considered by summer funding resources when reviewing applications include: overall commitment to public interest; commitment to the work of your summer placement (particularly where funding is tied to a particular practice area); other factors relevant to the particular award (e.g., geographic connection, affinity group association). You should treat these applications with the seriousness of a job application. Your law school’s career services and/or public interest professionals can be of tremendous assistance here.

For an extensive list of summer public interest funding opportunities, see PSJD's Summer Funding Resources page. You may also find opportunities through your law school.

Get Creative!

There are other ways to earn extra money as a public interest law student besides getting funding for your summer internship. Consider: