The Shame of Being Poor in Grad School

Katie Fustich
6 min readMay 21, 2021
Paris Hilton wearing a tank top that reads “Stop Being Poor.”

It’s a beautiful May afternoon. I’m fresh off a grueling week of final exams and last-minute efforts to round out my second year of law school. On Instagram, my friends and classmates are enjoying the sunshine, sipping brunch cocktails and taking panorama photographs of the sunsets dipping behind the water at the family lake house. I am strapping on my backpack, lacing up my tennis shoes, and opening the DoorDash app for an afternoon of work.

I cruise around my neighborhood for more than an hour. No deliveries are coming in, so I open the Postmates and UberEats apps as well, hoping to score something there. After hours zig-zagging the streets of Brooklyn, I return home, defeated, and Google where to sell my blood plasma for cash. Turns out, you can’t do that in New York.

The funny thing about all of this is that I have a summer job I am scheduled to start in a week. It’s a position with a nonprofit organization whose work I am extremely excited about — the fact that I won’t be getting paid for that work, less so. This arrangement is far from unusual, though. It’s typical for nonprofit organizations and public interest legal organizations to pay their interns in nothing but experience, leaving them to rely on scholarships and “outside funding.” This isn’t a result of malice, but attributable to the fact that these organizations are so underfunded they…