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Life After College: Work and School

Once you graduate from college, you may still have some lingering student loan issues to deal with for years to come. You also may decide to enter graduate school or take on an unpaid internship in order to get your foot in the door. Even after you've tossed your graduation cap in the air, you may need assistance navigating life after college and planning your next steps. The Life After College: Work and School segment of FindLaw's Higher Education section covers these issues and more. In addition, this section includes an article on legal tips for job interviews on campus or otherwise during your tenure as a student.

Are You Eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

If you have taken out federal student loans but work for a government agency or not-for-profit organization, you may be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program. The type of work you personally perform is not important when making this determination, since it is mostly based on the type of employer. For instance, if you do accounting work for a not-for-profit charity organization, you may be eligible even though accounting does not directly contribute to the public good. Those working at labor unions, political organizations, for-profit corporations, or non-profit organizations that are not tax exempt are not eligible.

Generally, the federal government will forgive the remaining balance on your direct loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working for a qualifying employer. This means a qualifying individual may see loan relief in 10 years at the earliest. Student loan debt typically cannot be discharged or forgiven.

The Rules on Unpaid Internships

Sometimes the best way to gain valuable experience in your chosen field, or eventually land a paying gig, is to accept an unpaid internship. There are certain rules that employers who offer these internships must follow, although violations of these rules are seldom reported because interns understandably are fearful that it could jeopardize their young careers. Still, it's important to know your rights and responsibilities as an unpaid intern.

There may be state laws at play, too, but the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires the following six criteria for any unpaid internships:

  1. The internship is similar to the training that may occur in an educational environment
  2. The experience is primarily for the benefit of the intern
  3. Intern does not replace paid staff but works under close supervision of existing employees
  4. Employer providing the training may not derive any immediate advantage from the work or activities of the intern
  5. There is no job guarantee at the end of the internship
  6. Both parties clearly understand that the intern is not owed wages

If all six criteria are not met, then the employer must pay a fair wage to the intern.

Applying to Graduate School

For many students, graduation is just a stepping stone to graduate school. These applications typically involve a written essay, in addition to records of your test scores and undergraduate performance. Remember that even with the highest GMAT or GRE scores (two common graduate school entrance exams), schools will consider your essay the "first impression" of you. Misspellings or a "rushed" tone to your essay may torpedo your chances, no matter how high your scores. Similarly, lower test scores sometimes can be overcome by a strong essay.

As with most endeavors in life, you also want to make sure you leave yourself enough time -- at least two or three weeks -- to gather the necessary materials (and your thoughts). Also, you should have a backup (or "safety") school or two. And be prepared (on both a practical and emotional level) for not getting into a graduate school.

Click on a link below to learn more about navigating life after college.

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