For an entire year after I graduated from Emerson College in Boston, I did the unthinkable— I worked for free. At 21 years old, it wasn’t exactly Pursuit of Happiness, but the thought nagged me: Why am I still an intern when I have a college degree?

Though I had previous internships while I was still enrolled in school, I knew that if I wanted to pursue a career in media and publishing in NYC, the tiny Boston-based publications where I’ve worked were not going to cut it with the competition. There were thousands of college grads at an exponential advantage just by virtue of being students in New York City. They’d already had years of internship and networking experience at big-name media companies.

While most companies hire credit-only interns, I lucked out and was offered an internship at independent publisher Paper magazine. I met with Paper’s office manager after emailing a cover letter and resume via contact information on the magazine’s website. I remember going to an interview at the former office space in lower Manhattan–now they are located near Herald Square–and feeling extremely energized by the creative and funky environment. The office manager emailed me about a week later, letting me know I was on board as an intern, and I began my term in September 2006.

My internship was highly administrative, and interns were always running in and out of the office. We assisted in various departments, including advertising, events, fashion, and editorial. Within advertising, I learned things like tracking editorial credits so that advertisers know they’ve been properly credited for photo shoots or event sponsorship.

No real fashion “closet” existed at Paper; rather, clothing and accessories were collected for upcoming shoots and packed away for freelance stylists. The fashion errands were probably the most strenuous part of the entire internship–hauling heavy garment bags across the city is not the most fun. Interns also assisted at photo shoots, which was an eye-opener into the world of fashion photography. One particularly unforgettable day at Paper included buying food for Fergie for her performance at the annual Nightlife Awards, and spending hours trying to find a suitable fruit platter.

Eventually, my term at Paper ended, and I wanted to track down one more internship for good measure. With an eye on working in editorial, I looked through the Nylon masthead and sent an email over to the Web Editorial Assistant to ask if she needed an intern. She replied that she could use the help, and I literally began the next day, after leaving my “thank you” card at Paper.

I began my internship at Nylon in January and loved working at the office. Like Paper, the vibe was incredibly vibrant, but the staff was extremely young–no older than 30 years of age. My own duties working in the web department involved helping to generate editorial content for the site with future story planning, corresponding with press, gathering images, and lots of research. I also began writing and pitching ideas for the site and soon garnered a hefty portfolio of clips.

I was able to interview some interesting people, including breakout band Vampire Weekend and clothing designer Sue Stemp, among others. Probably most exciting about the fast-paced, deadline-driven web department was seeing nylonmag.com re-launch with a completely new design and format. Nylon TV, the magazine’s own online “channel” additionally took off with some exciting and extensive video programming.

I stayed at Nylon until the end of summer, when I decided to try my hand at freelancing. With my clips on nylonmag.com, I was able to get in touch with editors at other independent fashion/culture magazines like Metro.Pop and YRB and began contributing to other publications as well. I continue to write and pitch ideas for Nylon and became a fashion blogger for the site’s “Fashionably Loud” blog.

Though at the time it seemed disheartening to be working as intern even though I was a college grad, I have no qualms about my decision to give up a year of free labor. Sure, at times it was frustrating, but the connections I’ve made, the work I am now capable of handling, and the lessons I learned in how to network are rewards in themselves.