When you are in high school, you may not initially consider the value of an internship, but it is worth considering because it can set you up for success in many ways, including the simple fact that it helps you root out what you might want for a career in the future.
An internship is a professional experience, which means that getting an internship as a high schooler may help you decide whether you really do want to be an accountant or whether you want to spin your energies into becoming a pharmacist instead.
We will take a look at how to get an internship in high school and why you might want to do it in a step-by-step guide.
What is an Internship?
First of all, what is an internship? An internship is a professional learning experience in your field of interest. It gives you a chance to explore your career, learn new skills, and develop new ideas about how you might want that career trajectory to go. For example, you may learn how to do basic customer service skills or marketing techniques.
Internships are supervised, structured, and are usually part-time positions. They hopefully allow you to develop meaningful skills — not necessarily administration skills — that allow you to develop and achieve learning goals. Hopefully, an organization will also have some way to evaluate and offer you feedback for your time and provide you with a supervisor who mentors and answers questions throughout the process.
Why It is Important to Get Internships
Why is it important to get internships in high school? After all, cannot you wait and get an internship in college? It sounds great to wait, but what if you start in a major that you think you have a conviction or passion for, and find out after two years that you cannot stand it? Jumping on an opportunity to career explore before high school can save you a lot of time and money when you get to college.
Here is an example.
Let’s say you start out believing you will major in aerospace engineering in college. You go through classes for two years but then realize your real passion lies in becoming a teacher. Imagine starting all over again, with education classes. If you can get a jump on knowing what you want from the get-go, you will not have to start all over again!
This could happen instead: You go to an engineering firm for a two-month internship. You watch engineers create boring images on a computer and do some math and decide, “This is not for me at all.” When you get to college, you skip all the engineering classes and happily sign up for all education classes, saving two years’ worth of classes and money.
Otherwise, you may tell yourself to follow through with the engineering major (torture!), and say to yourself, “I will be out of school and then I can do anything I want. Just have to get through differential equations.”
There are a wide variety of other reasons to get internships, including professional development opportunities, as well as opportunities to build skills, set goals, manage time, gain ownership, and more.
What Internship Opportunities Are There for High School Students?
You can find internship opportunities wherever there are businesses and organizations in your community. Find out from your school counselor’s office where you might seek internships or other opportunities, including summer jobs or weekend opportunities. But where to find internships for high school students? There are a wide variety of locations:
- Online postings such as Indeed
- Your school counselor’s office
- Connections from your parents or other family members
- Friends’ parents and neighbors
- Businesses in your community
You can also start at any of these locations to begin to search for places to do an internship. Your school may also have a J-term or December learning experience where they encourage students to get an internship. For example, a J-term at the University of Virginia may allow students to take advantage of learning experiences, through trips, nontraditional classes, and a high school internship.
How to Get an Internship, Step by Step
One of your most natural questions about internships is likely to be how to get an internship. Let’s go over how to find internships for high school students.
Step 1: Identify your interests.
Sounds easier than it actually is, right? Make a quick list of all the things you like to do, whether it is snowboarding or writing poetry. Listing your interests may take you all day or two minutes — you may know immediately the type of career you would like to pursue. Taking a career assessment can be another great way to understand your interests or confirm your interests. If you have been looking through a microscope since third grade, you may already know you would like to get an internship in a lab, if you can find one.
If you have had a deep interest in physical therapy since you injured your ACL freshman year while playing football, you may already know that you want to become a physical therapist.
For those students who are not sure what to put on the list, do not limit yourself to more than one thing. It is a good idea to have a lot of great ideas. If you cannot narrow it down to just one, that is okay. Choose the one you gravitate toward first!
Step 2: Reach out to personal connections.
In most cases, high school students will not need to undergo an application process — they can simply ask around to find out about internship opportunities. Ask everyone you know, from your teachers to your neighbors, anywhere you might think you can make personal connections for an internship.
If you are at your pediatrician’s office, for example, you may want to ask if you can shadow in their office. Or you may have loved your teacher from second grade and may call her to ask her if she would allow you to shadow or intern.
Step 3: Put your skills on paper.
It is a good idea to have a résumé ready before learning how to find internships in high school. A résumé will have basic information about your experiences and basic information. It will include:
- Personal information, such as your name (do not include deeply personal information, like birthdate or Social Security number)
- Education (high school and key course highlights)
- Work and related experiences
- Summer jobs, internships, and volunteer work
- Awards and honors (this includes academic, musical, athletic, community awards)
- Activities and hobbies
- Skills (including soft skills, like communication, energy, responsibility, and hard skills, like research, speaking skills, and software skills)
Include other factors you need to share with someone who might see your résumé. Keep it short and sweet — on one page and write with action verbs, like “implemented,” “achieved,” etc. Read it over to ensure it is perfect and error free, and in an easy-to-read font.
If you are not sure what to write down for skills or activities, dig deep. Is there something you did freshman year that you have forgotten about? Did you forget all about playing Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” three years ago? You never know who might have played the same role in high school and that connects with an internship coordinator!
Step 4: Write a cover letter.
Next, consider writing a cover letter. A cover letter is a one-page document that accompanies your résumé to highlight new information. You can add skills and experiences not listed on your résumé — it typically is about three or four short paragraphs. Not every internship requires a cover letter, but if there are other applicants for an internship at your high school, this can bolster your chances of getting the internship.
Just like your résumé, ensure that you have an error-free cover letter. Pass it over to a trusted teacher or your parents.
The general cover letter structure looks like this:
- Introduction: Try to personalize it by putting the internship coordinator’s name on the “Dear” line. Introduce yourself and explain why you are interested in the internship.
- Company connection: There is likely a reason you are interested in this company and it is important to explain those reasons.
- Skills and experience: Go over the skills and experience you have that relate to the internship.
- Close: Thank the internship coordinator (and try to personalize this section as well) and express your interest in the internship.
Step 5: Create a digital presence.
It does not hurt to start creating your digital presence, such as a LinkedIn profile. You should also check other social media profiles to ensure that you showcase a clean and professional image. This is so important and you should carry that clean, digital presence with you throughout college and throughout your professional career.
Step 6: Reach out for references.
Always have a few references ready who can speak to your successes. You should not have references listed on your résumé too. Be sure to ask the people you may want to serve as a reference for you. Do not forget to do that, because if you do not ask for references ahead of time, they might be surprised that they are getting contacted for a reference. You do not want to surprise anyone with this request!
Step 7: Ace the interview.
If an interview is part of the process, be ready for it! Explain exactly why you want the internship, why it is a good fit for your career goals, and why you have picked that particular internship site to apply. Let your personality shine through! It is important to be as personable as possible in an interview. Interviewing gives you great experience, because you will likely have to interview for many jobs in your future!
How to Get the Most Out of Your Internship
Once you have secured your internship, then what? You will want to treat it like it is an internship as a college student! Here are a few tips to get the most out of your internship:
- Ask great questions. Not just on the first day, but on every day of your internship, ask thoughtful questions so you get everything out of it that you possibly can.
- Be ready to soak up information. There is so much to learn about all workplaces, and it’s to your advantage to absorb everything you possibly can.
- Have a great attitude. Whether you woke up with gum in your hair or stepped in a puddle with brand-new heels, have a fantastic attitude, no matter what.
- Take on any assigned task. The best high school interns take on any assigned case, without complaint. If you feel your internship has started turning into you becoming a barista, it is a good idea to bring it up to your internship supervisor. Until then, do everything with a smile on your face, no matter what is asked of you.
- Build relationships with coworkers and other interns. What do your coworkers and other interns like to do in their free time? What are they like at work? Do your best to enjoy everything about working with the people at your internship.
- Allow for feedback. Get used to asking for feedback and allowing supervisors to give you feedback. It is great for your professional development and to learn how to become an effective employee.
- Stay professional. Always keep professional at the forefront of your mind. Even if other interns are acting immaturely in your internship, do not do that yourself. Think of the most professional qualities that an employee can have and display and model them throughout your internship.
- Learn the company culture. Company culture refers to the standards, attitudes, beliefs, traditions — everything that makes up the office environment at that particular company. Does it fit you and your personality? Can you see yourself working for a company like that? Do you need a completely different environment?
Consider Getting an Internship as a High School Student
Sometimes an internship is a success if you realize that you never again want to work in a particular industry! However, that is a great step in learning more about yourself and what career path you want to take. It can guide you toward the major you choose in college and other choices you make down the road.
Campus to Career Crossroads can help you get connected to the right internship or get you going in the right direction. Connect with us to learn more about high school internships, how to craft your cover letter, résumé, and most importantly safeguard your college investment ahead.