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What to Do After an Unfulfilling Internship Experience

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If you’re looking to set yourself apart in the college admissions game and gain some technical and life skills that will help you in the future, you should consider applying for an internship while you’re in high school. Working in a real office setting gives you a brief glimpse into what your future career could be like, and an internship can teach you how to budget your time, handle complicated administrative work, and give you a sense of discipline.


Not all companies hire high school interns, but those that do likely have incredibly competitive application and interview processes. Thus, if you manage to get an offer, you are showing colleges that you are not only employable but a candidate who knows how to stand out from the rest.


Unfortunately, not all internships are created equal. Too often, companies will hire high school interns only to have them sit around or do remedial tasks like getting the managers coffee. If you find yourself in this situation, you may be feeling like you wasted your time and that it’s not even worth mentioning your internship on your college applications since you didn’t do anything meaningful.


However, even if your internship was not a fulfilling experience, you shouldn’t just disregard it and move on. In fact, there are some ways that a bad internship can work to your advantage on your college applications. To learn more about using an unfulfilling internship experience on your college applications along with a few tips on how to determine whether your internship was really as bad as it seems, read on.


What Should A High School Student Expect Out of an Internship?

It’s hard to generalize about what an internship experience will be like because every company has a different culture, a different internship program, and different protocol for how they treat their high school interns. However, here are a few broad things you should keep in mind while evaluating your internship experience.


Firstly, it’s completely normal for a high school student to be doing mostly administrative tasks at the office. Though it can seem monotonous at times to be doing basic tasks like filling out spreadsheets and making powerpoints, the fact of the matter is that you may not yet have the technical skills and business acumen to be given something more challenging like your own project. You will gain those skills in college, but for now just know that a company is probably giving you all the work they can.


It’s also important to note that things like making presentation slides and analyzing data, while not always exciting, are usually fundamental to the proper functioning of the company. So you ought to think twice before you scoff at an administrative task. It’s probably more important work than you may realize.


Secondly, you shouldn’t expect to be busy with tasks all the time; in fact, if you do find yourself with lots of projects to work on, you’re one of the rare lucky ones. There will be times during your internship when you have tons to do and times when you may be waiting around for more tasks. If this only happens periodically, don’t take it as a sign that you are having a bad internship. It probably just means that your boss is waiting for another job that is suited to your skills.


As a final note, you may want to be weary about how you may be perceived in the workplace. Many older executives have written online articles and even given speeches about how millennials are terrible workers to have in the office. Some of the claims these older workers make is that millennial employees are entitled, lazy, and constantly seeking validation. So while you may be capable of doing a stellar job in your internship, you may encounter bosses and older employees who have this negative preconceived notion of your work potential as soon as you walk in the door.


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How to Tell If You’ve Had an Unfulfilling Internship Experience

If you walk out of an internship feeling dissatisfied, it is important to take a step back and evaluate whether it was truly as bad as it felt. Sometimes, as you look back on an experience, you may realize that you learned more during your internship than you originally thought, whether it be by gaining insight into what career you want to pursue or even by learning personal skills like organization and discipline.


Here are some basic benchmarks for telling whether you’ve had an unfulfilling internship:


  1. If you spent most of your time sitting around waiting for something to do, it is unlikely that you learned anything valuable during your internship. While most interns find themselves without as much work to do at some points during their internship, it becomes problematic when waiting for tasks becomes the norm at your internship.
  2. If most of your tasks were beneath the skill level of a high school student, such as getting coffee for your bosses or doing their personal errands, you have probably had an unfulfilling internship experience. It is unlikely, in this scenario, that your skills were utilized to their full potential. Note that basic administrative tasks or tasks that an assistant would do do not count as below the skill level of a high school student.
  3. If you ever felt uncomfortable or were subject to an HR Violation by another employee, this is not only an indication that you had a bad internship but a very serious matter. It is imperative that, when something like that happens, you contact the HR department in the company immediately and get the matter resolved. If you are working for a smaller business or a startup that doesn’t have an HR Manager onsite, talk to your boss or a permanent employee that you trust and take action against such behavior.


What to Do After an Unfulfilling Internship Experience

Oftentimes, after a bad internship, students want to wash their hands of the whole experience and never mention it again. While the internship may not be very fun to think about, you should still use it as a talking point on your college applications. After all, high school internships are extremely competitive, so the fact that you were given an offer is still impressive to college admissions officers.


As you include your unfulfilling internship on your college resume, you may be struggling to find skills you gained during your experience to write down. You may have to dig deep and try and find one or two relevant skills that you may have gained through the internship. The most important thing is to not lie on your college resume and make it seem like you did more than you actually did.


On the application itself, you can always use your internship experience as a bad example where it fits. For example, if you encountered lots of bias against millennials during your internship, you could talk about that if the college essay prompt asks you to talk about a time you overcame adversity or a difficult situation.


Finally, it is imperative that you do not let one bad internship experience discourage you from a field of study or industry that you wanted to pursue. Once you enter college and gain more technical knowledge, you will qualify for far more fulfilling internship experiences and will surely be able to do some meaningful and enjoyable work.


For More Information

This should not discourage you from trying to seek out an internship as a high school student. In fact, if you’re interested in pursuing an internship, here are some helpful articles to get you started:


How To Make Yourself Employable As Early As Possible–And Why It Matters

What’s An Elevator Pitch, and Why Should a High Schooler Write One?

The Introvert’s Guide to Networking in High School

How To Navigate Your Job Search in High School


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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!