Home sweet temporary home: How to find it on an intern's budget

homeYou've found your dream internship at an exciting, cutting-edge workplace. All your ducks are in a row, your final exams are completed, term papers have been turned in, your bags are just about packed, and then it hits you: where to live?

The very phrase "affordable student housing" can seem oxymoronic at best wherever in the world you go, but what if you're headed for Washington, D.C., or, even more daunting, New York City?

Let's face it: Even the wealthy and elite can develop nervous disorders trying to find lodgings in the Big Apple. A recent report from the Manhattan Rental Market indicates that rent for a basic studio ranges from $3,156 monthly in TriBeCa to $1,279 per month in Harlem.

The nation's capital's rents are marginally less, but given the average intern's budget -- especially if the prospective internship is unpaid -- housing costs could be the deciding factor in pursuing your dream. And to further complicate matters, no big city makes for a cheap place to live in any other respect. (Just purchasing a cup of coffee and a bagel --sans cream cheese -- in NYC could set you back nearly $10, making even the most stalwart intern question the necessity of eating on a daily basis.)

So the million-dollar question (no pun intended) is: Where to search?

The time of year and destination you'll be going, as well as the length of time, can make a big difference. Columbia University, for example, offers up student housing for rent, but only during the summer months. University Place offers furnished apartments "minutes from downtown Manhattan," but those short minutes can translate into big dollars. Plus, what level of comfort do you desire/require? If you don't mind roommates a la youth-hostel style, you'll save some bucks. But if you need your own room and bathroom, you're going to pay more -- sometimes much, much more.

Here is a sampling of sources for information about housing for New York City:
  • Apartments.com (NYC classifieds)
  • Citi Habitats
  • College Sublease: This listing service for short-term housing opportunities also has a roommate search component, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, also a teaser tab for "dating.'' Unfortunately, clicking there only links you to a Web dating service, so its not quite as full-service as it might look at first sight.
  • Homestay New York Accommodations arranges for a variety of housing options for students.
  • Hostelz.com lists hostels in NYC and worldwide.

And for options in Washington, D.C.:
"The program that I did provided great housing for us,'' said Miles Maftean, who spent several months living in Washington, D.C., taking part in the Capital Semester for The Fund for American Studies, which offers internship programs in spring, summer and fall at a wide variety of D.C.-based organizations, government offices and media outlets. "At first, I was a little apprehensive about moving to a new city and living there. But it was actually a great experience. My program partnered with WISH, (which)... provides apartments for students who are interning in D.C. I really couldn't have asked for a better living situation. Had it not been for WISH, then my entire internship experience in DC would have been that much more stressful.''

I can not emphasize enough the axiom you've heard throughout your academic career: Do your homework, especially when it comes to affordable housing during your internship. If you're depending on your parents for some financial backing, careful research could be the difference between their enthusiastic support, or them muttering darkly about seeking other opportunities in glamorous Moline, Ill., or the Peace Corps.

Jennifer Halperin is the internship coordinator at Columbia College Chicago, and Money College's Internship Insider. Her column runs every Wednesday; send suggestions for story ideas to Jennifer at MoneyCollege@walletpop.com.

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