High School Students’ Guide to Internships

Applying to College, Career Planning

As college consultants, we frequently guide students in building their skills and experience in advance of college applications. So naturally, internships are a frequent topic of conversation! We created this short guide to share our advice with high school students hoping to find an internship.

What exactly IS an internship?

An internship is a short-term work experience designed to give entry-level exposure to a particular field. Employers often hire interns to complete specific projects, at a lower wage than what more experienced employees are paid. For the intern, this provides valuable experience, training, and opportunities to network within the industry.

Can high school students get internships?

Yes! But it’s not easy. People in professional roles have jobs to do, on a timeline, within a budget. It’s usually not logical for them to devote time and resources to training and supervising someone who will only be around for a limited time. Furthermore, most high school students don’t have the higher-level skills to make their help valuable. In fact, having a high school intern can create MORE work for the person supervising them! So, employers are more likely to hire college students or recent graduates, who have more skills and could convert to full-time employees.

I’ll share a personal experience that illustrates this. Years ago, I was Enrollment Coordinator for a charter school, where I supervised two interns as part of the school’s program for Juniors. My first intern had an interest in film making and was skilled in using film-editing software. I tasked her with creating a marketing video for the school. With minimal supervision, my intern captured the footage and recorded interviews for sound bites. She chose music, wrote captions, and edited the entire video herself. The result was a high-quality marketing video that the school used for years. The student got to take credit for the final product, and I had a useful tool to help with enrollment – something I could have never created on my own without investing significant time or resources. It was a WIN-WIN.

My second intern was different. She was an artist, but her mediums were painting and sketching. The only art I had need for was digital art – which I couldn’t train her in because I didn’t know it myself. Beyond this, her skills were limited. I eventually created a data-collection project for her, but she required a lot of training and supervision. (As an educator myself, I didn’t mind doing this, thankfully!) In the end, the internship was a valuable experience for her, but it didn’t provide any benefit for me; in fact, it created MORE work for me, and her project wasn’t anything particularly useful in the long run.

With these examples in mind, high school students seeking internships should be asking, “How can my help be valuable to the company/organization I want to intern with?” Simultaneously, its important to realize that an employer who gives you an internship may actually be doing YOU a favor, if the value you bring is limited. The good news: A lot of employers want to help high school students gain experience, and a lot of high school students have useful skills! In fact, I’ve witnessed many On My Way students find productive and valuable internships. But when searching for an internship as a high school student, it’s important to be realistic, flexible, and persistent.

How can I find an internship as a high school student?
  1. Through personal networks. This is how most students we know find internships. Because a high school intern usually needs training, the person who supervises you is doing you a favor. Someone who already knows you is more likely to do this! Think about everyone you know – your family, your neighbors, your friend’s parents, etc. Does anyone work in a setting that would be interesting for you? If so, ask them if someone in their workplace would be willing to take you as an intern. Be creative and cast a wide net!
  2. Through your high school. This is the second-most common way our students find internships. Some high schools have existing internship programs or connections to local employers that frequently hire students. Ask your counselor if there are any options or resources in your community that they can connect you with.
  3. By approaching employers directly. This is a less common strategy that can result in very cool opportunities. Consider the field you want to get experience in, and the skills you have that might be useful to someone working in that field. Then, look for local companies and organizations that you find interesting. Contact their HR department to ask if anyone is interested in an intern, and be sure to provide your resume. You may need to visit in person or try multiple points of contact before you find someone who is really willing to help you out.
  4. Online Job Postings. Very few employers advertise for high school interns. The easiest way to find such postings is to Google “internships for high school students.” This will turn up the Google Jobs board, which sources postings from major sites like Monster.com and Indeed.com. The results should include postings of internships that are open to high school students and can be filtered to your local area. But remember that anything posted online will get a HUGE number of applicants, so these are extremely competitive positions.
Tips for landing an internship
  • First, make a resume and write a cover letter tailored to each internship you apply for.
  • Be open to internships outside of your primary field of interest. Any experience in a real workplace can be valuable.
  • Be willing to work for free, especially if you are approaching people who aren’t advertising for an intern. Remember, they may be doing you a favor by creating a position for you!
  • Be ready to “sell” yourself to the potential employer. How will you be useful to them? What can you do for them? What skills do you have? Be creative here! Broad skills like writing, social media, graphic design, or computer programming can be useful in all industries.
  • Be persistent if you are approaching people who are not actually advertising for an intern. Someone who is resistant to a helper at first may come around once they see how committed you are. (But also know when it’s time to leave them alone!)

And finally, remember that internships aren’t the only way to gain insights and experience in the real world! If you don’t have luck finding an internship, consider building your skills through volunteer work or a self-directed research project. Many students also demonstrate commitment to their intended major by taking a community college course or taking a non-credit course through a platform like Coursera or EdX.

Our consultants provide personalized advice to students in all grades seeking to build experience and skills in advance of college applications. Contact us to schedule a consultation!