The In’s and Out’s of Pre-College Internships
If you are looking for ways to develop your extracurricular profile and show colleges that you want to learn more about and build skills in the subject you intend to study, consider participating in a pre-college internship. Internships are great ways to learn and develop skills in areas that interest you. They also show colleges that you are dedicated to the field you hope to pursue after school and are willing to take the initiative to get ahead of the curve and start working on your career early. Additionally, they offer an excellent introduction to the professional world.
Jobs vs. Unpaid Internships
Because internships are intended to be learning opportunities, many of them will not pay you. If you need the money, you may want to get a paying job instead. But you don’t have to look at it as a lost opportunity or think that colleges will look poorly on you for not securing an internship instead. Having a job in high school shows colleges that you are a hard worker, particularly if you have had one for a long time. And if you have been working in the same job for all four years of high school, you are also showing colleges that you are dedicated. As a high school student, it may be difficult to find paying jobs that closely relate to your interests or intended major in college, but be creative and do a little digging. For instance, if you are interested in teaching, look into paid tutoring opportunities or other jobs that involve working with kids, such as teacher’s aides in Sunday school classes. If you are considering a career in business, contact local businesses to see if they need desk clerks or receptionists.
Although many internships are unpaid, they do offer an educational element and will give you the opportunity to develop specific skills in certain fields or get research experience. Many careers require internships before an applicant is offered any kind of paid role in that field, although most won’t expect you to have completed them before you begin college. Therefore, securing one in high school shows admissions committees that you are very serious about your chosen field and that you push yourself to learn outside of school. Internships can also connect you with important members of your field who can be helpful in your career, during college and beyond, as mentors, teachers, and professionals who can connect you with other people in the same field. Compared with paying jobs, internships often require a smaller time commitment. Rather than working 9-5 Monday through Friday, you may work only 6 or so hours in a day, or work only a few days out of the week. They are also usually set within a fixed period of time (e.g. summer or a semester), so there are a discrete beginning and end.
What Kind of Internship Should You Pursue?
Once you have decided that you would like to participate in an internship, think about what kind of skills you are looking to develop and what kind of activities you find stimulating inside and outside of school. If you’re struggling to come up with internship ideas, make a list of the subjects in which you excel or find particularly engaging, and think about real-world applications of the skills involved in those subjects. For example, if you are a history buff, look into law offices or history museums.
As with any extracurricular activity, you should look for something that is intellectually challenging and requires some type of regular commitment. It should also involve an activity you actually enjoy doing.
Be wary of selecting an internship that doesn’t particularly interest you just for the sake of impressing colleges or because that particular program is paid. Internships require a time commitment of varying degrees, and you will be wasting your own time and the company’s if you are not actually engaged in the actions you’re completing and skills you’re developing.
Remember that the company or organization is doing you a favor by hosting you. If you are not truly interested in the material, admissions committees are likely to see through that as well. While they are looking for candidates who are well-rounded, they also wanted to see that you have clearly defined interests—indicating that you will excel in a particular field—so they will notice if your internship is a diversion from the skills and interests you present in the rest of your application.
On the other hand, if you aren’t certain about what you intend to study in college, internships can help you decide on a major. Still, you should look into experiences that align with the kinds of activities that have interested you in the past.
Securing an Internship
Getting an internship as a high school student may be somewhat challenging since many companies and organizations will only host current college students or recent college graduates. If you receive rejections, keep in mind that they are not a reflection on you; as with any job, many internships require a certain level of knowledge or expertise already. So finding an internship as a high school student may take more than a few tries.
Start by talking to your guidance counselor about your plans to intern. S/he may some have ideas about what would be the best fit for you, as well as resources or connections with other faculty or businesses that may be able to help. Reach out to other teachers, friends, and family members as well. Networking can be extremely helpful in securing a position because you never know who might know somebody who works in your prospective field or owns a business or organization and might be able to help you in your search.
Another avenue to try is searching online for possible internship programs in your area. If there are no official programs available, contact local businesses, organizations, or government offices to see if they might be receptive to hosting interns. For instance, if writing is your passion, try contacting local newspapers and magazines and tell them about your interest in interning with them and learning about their publication. If you are contemplating a career in medicine, see if there are any labs or clinics that might welcome research assistance. If you’re thinking about the law or politics, look into government institutions, such as your local senators’, congressmen’s, or judges’ offices. Many government institutions do have official internship programs, so be sure to research their websites thoroughly before sending a cold email, because there may be specific application instructions in place already.
If you are unable to secure an internship at a specific organization or agency, consider asking if you could volunteer instead. Many organizations simply can’t accommodate interns or have specific age or education requirements for their internship programs but would welcome volunteers. Keep in mind that this route only applies to non-profit or local government venues; private companies tend not to have volunteers for legal reasons. You may be able to learn many of the same skills that you would learn while participating in an internship.
There is also a much wider array of possibilities available for working as a volunteer relative to working as an intern. Check with local libraries, hospitals, animal shelters, after-school programs, environmental agencies, and daycare centers to see if they are open to volunteers. Search online for volunteering opportunities, and check with local nonprofits. Be creative and find something that appeals to your interests. As you would with internships, ask teachers, friends, and family members if they are involved with or know anyone who is involved with nonprofits or government agencies that might be receptive to high school volunteers. Be thorough when researching requirements and ways to contact these organizations; as with internships, there may already be specific application instructions on their websites.
Community service shows colleges that you are serious about making a positive impact on your community and will reflect well on your applications. If your high school requires it, you will be fulfilling that step, too. Additionally, community service experiences can make excellent essay topics, because they provide you with opportunities that not only positively impact others but offer you new challenges and perspectives as well.
Whatever route you choose—whether it is a job, internship, or volunteer work—you will learn valuable, real-life skills, as well as show college admissions committees that you are developing interests and commitments outside of school and are engaged in you the field you intend to pursue.
Want help making these decisions? Our Mentorship Program provides expert virtual guidance for high schoolers.