Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

A spike in housing costs has made Princeton’s summer internships inaccessible to low-income students

Angel Kuo / The Daily Princetonian

The following is a guest contribution and reflects the author’s views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.

For many students, unpaid internships are financially impossible. During my freshman year, despite many of my peers and advisors asking about my internship plans for summer break, I couldn’t secure one. As a student interested in immigration advocacy and pursuing a career in public interest law, I knew that it was unlikely I would be able to find an internship that I could financially support myself through. My savings would only go so far, and my family simply wasn’t in a position to finance an unpaid internship. Ultimately, I gave up the opportunity to gain any first-hand experience in these fields and returned to my summer job working at an art company near my home. 


Entering sophomore year, however, I knew that I couldn’t let another summer go by without choosing a position more closely aligned with my future career interests and goals. A Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) internship seemed like the perfect opportunity: they connect students with nonprofit organizations for summer internships, particularly for positions that are normally unpaid, providing students with the financial resources to take advantage of their summers through these immersive experiences. But a sharp increase in housing costs has made the program equally inaccessible for low-income students.

Yet, while I began the application and internship process hopeful, I found a continued lack of accessibility for low-income students: stipends are low compared to housing costs, and the lack of coordination between the new summer housing initiative and existing internship programs only widens disparities in accessibility. To make good on its commitment to closing opportunity gaps for low-income students, the University must review and revise this summer’s plans so that financial burdens do not harm Princeton interns in the upcoming summer. 

Of the many amazing opportunities possible through PICS, the program offers positions at several organizations and government agencies local to the Mercer County area, primarily in Princeton and Trenton. For the summer of 2023, all PICS interns received a stipend of $600 per week. This amount reflects an increase in the stipend amount from summer 2022, which was meant to “[allow] internships to continue to be accessible to all students.” 

However, this is too low given students’ housing and meal costs, particularly in light of the significant increase in this year’s price of Princeton summer housing. I’d chosen an internship position near campus specifically expecting the cost of living and housing to be lower, but this was not the case. Last year, the cost of a nine-week contract to stay on campus over the summer was $267 per week. This year, the cost of the housing and minimum mandatory dining plan jumped to $450 per week — even with an economy with high inflation (which is hitting low-income families especially hard), an institution priding itself on its inclusivity initiatives for undergraduate students should be more accommodating, not less.

The increase in summer student housing costs is perplexing when comparing it with peer institutions. Harvard summer housing, which similarly includes a meal plan, costs $45 per night, or $315 per week. For a nine-week stay, Harvard’s housing is $1,215 cheaper than Princeton’s, even though the average cost of living in Cambridge, Massachusetts is greater than the average cost of living in Princeton, New Jersey. Even with rising costs of living, the sudden increase in the price of Princeton accommodations is difficult to rationalize.

After housing, transportation, and taxes, this year’s combined stipend and housing rates leave PICS interns in the Mercer County area with little to no income left for emergencies, occasional recreational activities, and remaining food costs, since the minimum mandatory dining plan only covers two meals per day.


Although Trenton and Princeton internships are not the only options, many students — including myself — applied for PICS internships before the change in costs was released on the Summer Housing website. Furthermore, even if internships near campus are not the only option, they should not be significantly less accessible — especially since the ties and networks that can be fostered through these opportunities can only strengthen the Princeton experience. The privilege of serving Princeton’s local communities should not be one that is reserved for students of greater financial means or who live locally.

The discrepancy between this summer’s increase in living costs and the funding provided by PICS points to a broader issue of the accessibility of career development for Princeton students who have fewer financial resources and support. Summer internships are deeply ingrained in campus culture, yet not all students stand on equal footing to engage in these opportunities. For those who live outside of major cities, where most PICS internships are located, and for those students who may not have the financial backing to support them through two or more months of unpaid work, the chance to explore future interests is simply not an option — or it is one that comes at an immense cost.

Last year’s increase in funding for PICS interns demonstrates that the University has the capacity to support all of its students and the ability to be flexible in its adjustments to shifting economic conditions. Although several of the University’s concrete steps towards heightened academic access are commendable, its verbal commitments to inclusivity will remain hollow so long as they do not consistently adapt to students’ shifting needs. 

Odette Perrusquia is a rising junior from Merritt Island, Fla. She is studying politics with a certificate in Latin American Studies. She can be reached at

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »