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How to Find the Best High School Internships for College Admissions

27/06/202423 minute read
How to Find the Best High School Internships for College Admissions

Explore the numerous benefits of high school internships and how they can significantly enhance your college admissions profile. This comprehensive guide explains what to look for in high school internships, what are the best high school internships for elevating your extracurriculars and college admissions, and how to find and apply for an internship. You’ll also discover insights from Crimson strategists you can use to maximize your internship experience.

While 60% of college students will participate in at least one internship opportunity before graduation, only about 2% of high school students get involved in internships, despite evidence of the many benefits internships offer. It’s worth wondering why more high school students don’t take advantage of internship opportunities, even when some 15 to 20% hold down part-time jobs before finishing high school.

While internships are not essential to have in your extracurriculars for college admissions, your extracurriculars are crucial for getting into selective colleges, making internships and their unique benefits stand out for consideration.

And, a high quality internship can offer so much more – not only modest income in many cases, but exposure to professional settings and vocational pathways, and a chance to build confidence and learn new skills while boosting activities lists on college applications.

In fact, a handful of high schools, recognizing these benefits, have begun to make internships part of their students’ regular educational experience. But for most high school students they’ll need to take the initiative on their own, and for certain students — depending on individual circumstances, schedules, and location — internship options may be more limited.

That said, a greater number of college-bound high school students could be, and probably should be, thinking about including internships in their extracurriculars, either replacing other options or as an additional activity if time and resources permit.

In this blog post we’ll explore the benefits internships offer high school students, for college admissions and more, and help you understand how to choose internships wisely from the many options available.

You’ll also uncover practical tips to make searching for and applying for internships easier and more effective, along with expert insights from Crimson strategists on how to get the most out of an internship after you’ve landed one!

How to find internships and explore opportunities to prepare for college apps

1. Benefits of Internships for High School Students

An internship is likely to offer more rewarding growth experiences and stand out in the eyes of admissions officers as well, far more than a part-time job does, especially if you pick from among the best internships.

With the right planning and research, high school students can find internships in top-notch organizations that offer exceptional opportunities to work on authentic tasks or challenges in business or public service.

Garnering Impressive Experiences

Listing tasks and projects you worked on with the Boston University Research Center or the Alamo National Laboratory, for example, will go a long way in helping your college applications stand out, as opposed to the more commonplace served as president of my high school physics club, or worked as a babysitter on the weekends.

Understandably, if you win a national or world-level title in debating or pole vaulting, that’s going to elevate your chances for admissions at top schools too, without being an internship. So again, internships aren’t required or a golden ticket for college admissions, but they do open doors to unique experiences other activities don’t offer.

For instance, by targeting, preparing for, and landing the right kind of internship, you can benefit from exposure to high-level projects in STEM, business, or liberal arts fieldsbefore you apply to college and long before you have the credentials you’d need to access those opportunities professionally.

Personal Growth

Beyond resume building, you can gain a lot personally from your internship experiences as well, including career exploration, developing soft skills for success in college and future jobs, and building connections with influential professionals.

As a high school student, whether or not you know what you want to major in, don't you wish you had some relevant, real-world, workplace experiences informing your academic and career choices? Internships are uniquely suited to vocational exploration, making it possible to sample what different career pathways and work settings are really like.

Unlike school clubs, for example, internships also offer a great way to work alongside highly educated professionals or researchers — preparing you to interact with graduate students and faculty members in college!

Finally, internship experiences can unexpectedly open doors to new possibilities as you connect with busy professionals and seize opportunities to demonstrate a strong work ethic, initiative taking, and problem-solving skills…

In fact, at the college and post-graduate levels, “a 2019 survey of internship programs found that 70% of interns received a job offer” (US News and World Report). Likewise, studies show that internships help young people develop career readiness competencies valued by today's employers:

  • Self-development
  • Communication skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Equity and inclusion
  • Leadership skills
  • Professionalism
  • Teamwork
  • Technology

However, to get the best results, both for personal growth and college admissions, it’s crucial to understand how internships work and the different types of internships out there.

So let’s explore what you’ll need to do to find the best types of internships for high school students.

2. What to Look For in High School Internships

To begin your quest for a top-notch internship, start right here! That’s right, in the next section we’ll unlock key features of internships — what they are, how they work, what they pay — explain the different types you can apply for, and make clear what features you need to look for to get a superior experience and outcome.

What Is an Internship (in case you don’t know already)?

An internship is a professional development opportunity or on-the-job learning opportunity in the form of a short-term job placement.

Internships are typically offered by companies and organizations and intended to help students or young professionals explore careers and gain valuable work experience.

Some are unpaid, but many pay a modest wage or stipend. More importantly, internships involve an understanding of mutual benefit between the intern and the organization hosting the internship.

Benefits for Interns

The intern enjoys a professional development opportunity for no cost, learning from on-the-job experiences while developing their professional and/or academic resume in a particular field and role.

For high school students, internships can accelerate growth in soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and collaboration. Many kinds of internships also provide academic enrichment related to the internship field.

Even college graduates can be motivated to pursue internships. For example, they may use an internship as a stepping stone to their first real job. Internships offer valuable job experience and opportunities for positive letters of recommendation. For college graduates, an internship can evolve into a direct hire as well!

Benefits for the Host Organization

The host company or organization gets free or low-wage support from a motivated individual eager to help with a range of professional projects or tasks.

In well-structured internships, the host organization will seek to deliver meaningful on-the-job and professional development learning opportunities for each intern.

Short Duration Experiences

While jobs tend to be long-term opportunities, internships typically range from a few weeks to several months, and provide hands-on experience, often as a complement to other academic learning or as a professional development opportunity.

Timing of Internships

Internships can be structured to fit into different parts of the academic calendar:

  • Summertime Internships: Ideal for gaining full-time experience during your summer break, often lasting anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks.
  • School Breaks: Shorter internships during winter or spring breaks can be a great way to get a taste of a specific industry or role.
  • During the School Year: These internships usually require you to work part-time hours outside of class time, in the evenings, or on weekends, providing a way to balance ongoing school commitments with real-world experience.

Internships Tailored for High Schoolers

According to US News and World Report, internships for high school students are on the rise. Internships tailored for high school students often accommodate students' school schedules and coincide with summer or winter recesses, or take place during a school term at a nearby location outside of school hours.

Internships designed for high school students will typically take into account the age and learning goals of high school students as well and are often supplemented with structured educational components, providing a well-designed and highly effective form of extracurricular activity.

Virtual vs. In-Person Internships

For additional flexibility, consider looking into virtual internships alongside traditional in-person ones.

Widely adopted in response to the pandemic, virtual internships have become more prevalent and popular, providing internship opportunities free from a number of scheduling, travel, and commuting obstacles.

In-person internships, on the other hand, have the advantage of offering more immediate mentorship opportunities, hands-on tasks, and a fuller integration into the company culture.

Whether virtual or in-person, each opportunity should probably be evaluated on its overall merits in relation to your personal interests, goals, and preferences.

3. Choosing the Right Internship

For most students, the two most crucial factors for identifying and comparing the best internship opportunities are:

  1. What field do I want to intern in?
  2. What kind of role or kinds of experiences am I interested in?
  3. What are my primary goals — such as building a theme-focused profile for my college apps… career exploration… academic enrichment in a specific field or discipline…?

Internship Fields to Consider

  • STEM Internships: STEM is a large umbrella in the world of internships, encompassing opportunities in science, physiology, chemistry, neurobiology, computing and software, civil engineering, environmental science and design, medicine, nutrition, sports medicine, mathematics, and so on… Internships in these fields can be clinical and hands-on, including in labs or doing data analysis, coding, or engineering design… Others will emphasize theoretical research, statistical computations or displays, or even intersect with managerial challenges or ethical policies in STEM fields.
  • Arts Internships: From graphic design, theater, visual arts, or music, to arts management, arts internship roles might involve assisting in art galleries, helping produce theater shows, or assisting with fundraising or community outreach.
  • Business Internships: These positions run the gamut from roles in marketing, finance, management, or startups. You'll gain insights into business operations, strategy, and client relations. Under this large umbrella also fall leadership, management, and administration roles in the public and nonprofit sectors.
  • Social Welfare and Development Internships: From food aid to behavioral health services to refugee relief on a local, regional, national, or international stage, these kinds of internships are typically with governmental organizations, non-profits, and NGOs.
  • International Affairs Internships: Internships in international affairs can immerse you in global politics, diplomacy, and cultural studies. Positions could range from assisting in embassies to working with international non-profits or intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations. Projects might include research on global issues, drafting policy briefs, organizing international events, or working on cross-border development projects.
  • Public Policy, Politics, and Advocacy Internships: These internships are great for liberal arts majors, pre-law students, or political science majors and can involve policy research or advocacy, public administration work, political campaigns, lobbying, or advocacy-related research, communications, and marketing. Host organizations are typically public interest groups, nonprofits, or legislative offices. Tasks can include research, drafting policy recommendations, and community outreach and organizing.
  • Communications and Journalism Internships: Opportunities could be found at newspapers, TV stations, online media outlets, or PR firms. Responsibilities might involve writing articles, creating multimedia content, conducting interviews, managing social media accounts, or assisting with public relations campaigns. These internships help you develop strong writing, communication, and research skills, and some could provide a platform to build a portfolio of published work.

Key Features to Consider

When looking for a job, you’d typically compare different jobs and job listings, comparing potential benefits: job title, responsibilities, salary, and location.

It’s important to think about and compare benefits offered by potential internships as well, although some of the key considerations are different and include:

  • Interns’ roles and responsibilities
  • Collaboration and networking opportunities
  • Mentoring, training, and education components and benefits
  • Opportunities for formal feedback and evaluation on work performance

Remember to weigh different factors holistically in the context of your personal goals.

For example, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the company or organization reputation matters above all, such as assuming any internship with TESLA is ten times better better than any internship with Hertz Car Rental. Look into the duration of the internship, the experiences it will afford you, and any explicit and substantive educational or training components.

As a guideline, know that interns often assist with tasks that could range from administrative duties, research, data entry, and social media management, to more specialized assignments like conducting experiments, drafting reports, or developing marketing strategies.

According to American Student Assistance and the University of Maryland a high-quality internship is one with the following features:

  • Consists of a part-time or full-time work schedule that includes no more than 25% clerical or administrative duties
  • Provides a clear job/project description for the work experience
  • Orients the student to the organization, its culture and proposed work assignments
  • Helps the student develop and achieve learning goals
  • Offers regular feedback to the student intern

Here are relevant internship features to consider when sizing up opportunities:

  • Relevance to Career Goals: Ensure the internship aligns with your academic interests and long-term career aspirations. It should provide you with experience in the field you are passionate about.
  • Learning Opportunities: Look for internships that offer robust training, mentorship, and skill-building opportunities. These can significantly enhance your professional knowledge and capabilities. If your internship is with NASA, that could be awesome, but if it’s working in the NASA staff mailroom, is it so great…? That’s why it’s very important to vet potential internship opportunities by inquiring about what kinds of tasks and responsibilities an internship entails.
  • Robust Educational Components and Resources: While you can learn from experience and observation, finding an internship with a more robust educational component is likely to be far more rewarding, both in the moment and in terms of college admissions and your resume… Simply because a company or organization will accept high-school-age interns doesn’t mean they have an eye to actively educating them, so it’s good to inquire about the educational components of each opportunity based on your interests.
  • Company Reputation: Interning at a well-regarded company can be a valuable addition to your resume, but be sure to weigh this factor alongside all other factors important to you.
  • Project Involvement: Find out what kinds of projects you’ll be working on. Internships that allow you to work on meaningful, high-impact projects can provide practical experience and a sense of accomplishment.
  • Mentorship and Support: Mentors can provide valuable guidance and feedback as you learn to navigate a professional setting or strive to level-up quickly to meet the demands of your internship work. Mentoring can also be instrumental in helping guide how you succeed in and leverage your internship experience. Try to find out what you can about the mentorship or supervision component when evaluating potential internships.
  • Work Environment: Consider the company culture and work environment. Does it align with the kind of work environment you’re most interested in experiencing? Are you seeking an environment that offers a supportive and inclusive culture?
  • Duration, Structure, Location: Whether it’s part-time during school or full-time over the summer, the structure should accommodate your needs. Internships that are too long may be challenging (or impossible) to balance with other commitments; ones that are too short are likely to offer limited opportunities for networking, skill development, and so forth.
  • Networking Opportunities: Internships that provide opportunities to meet and connect with industry professionals can be highly beneficial. Networking can lead to future job offers and collaborations.
  • Compensation: While not always the primary factor, consider whether the internship is paid or unpaid. Financial compensation can be important for some individuals or circumstances, especially if you have expenses to cover.

By evaluating potential internships in this way, you can search for and apply for those offering the greatest value. But remember that the caliber of each component can vary widely from one opportunity to the next, so be sure to do some homework when choosing where to apply!

By factoring how various internship opportunities measure up on each of the key metrics listed above, you’ll be well on your way to exploring and, hopefully, landing a top-notch high school internship that’s highly educational and personally rewarding, while elevating your admissions profile as well.

4. Examples of Top-Notch Internships for High School Students

Before striking out further on your own quest for a challenging and rewarding internship, here’s a list of exceptional internship opportunities to whet your appetite and help you set expectations for your own search!

Outstanding Global Internship Programs for High School Students

  • Microsoft Imagine Cup: A prestigious technology competition where students develop innovative software projects and gain practical experience in technology and entrepreneurship.
  • Wharton Global Youth Program: A highly-regarded business and leadership program offering high school students foundational knowledge in economics, finance, and management through interactive projects and workshops.
  • AI Scholars Program: A cutting-edge program designed to teach students about artificial intelligence and machine learning through hands-on projects and mentorship from AI experts.
  • Shell Assessed Internship Programme: A comprehensive internship that offers students real-world experience in engineering, geosciences, and business operations, along with mentorship and professional development.
  • National Geographic Student Travel: An immersive program that combines education, adventure, and exploration, allowing students to travel globally while working on conservation and research projects.

Remember, the above are just a small sample of the kinds of opportunities out there when it comes to internships for high school students. Use it to set your expectations and for making comparisons with other programs you discover on your own.

5. How to Search and Apply For Internships

The good news is that internships come in abundant varieties across a vast number of companies and organizations. The bad news? Searching for internships can quickly become overwhelming without the right approach.

How to Search for Internships

Set Parameters. To cast a wide net but not get lost in the weeds, set parameters to stay focused on your best options. What kinds of internships fit your circumstances and interests? What internship features matter most to you? Which options can you eliminate based on timing & duration, field, types of work experiences, geographical location, remote vs. in-person…?

Inquire with Your Personal Network. Teachers, pastors, your friends’ parents, family relatives, your parents work and alumni networks… All of these could offer gracious sources eager to share ideas or use their own connections for identifying possible internships, depending on who is in your network and what your internship interests are.

Consider Local Sources. Depending on where you live, you may find many organizations and companies in your own community or region offering rewarding internship opportunities. What universities, research facilities, large employers, nonprofits, local or state government offices, museums, etc. are there where you live? Local resources also include your own high school guidance counselors, librarians, and any similar career-oriented service agencies in your community.

Go Online. Going online can certainly open up a Pandora’s Box of listings when it comes to internship programs, which are often mixed in with job listings, making the search process even more daunting. If desired, consider limiting your search results.

  • Specify geographical limits, searching internships in your own town, city, or region.
  • Limit your search to internships in specific fields, professions, or disciplines.
  • Filter for other parameters such as type of organization, in-person or remote, paid or unpaid, internships just for high school students, summertime, full-time, part-time, etc.
  • Take advantage of curated lists: Google and similar search engines put the world at your fingertips, but to get a head start, you might also try already curated lists of websites, such as this one from Forbes: The 10 Best Websites For Finding An Internship.

You may need to narrow your list before starting the application process. Remember, global and national internships, and any high-quality internship programs with a leading organization, are likely to be more selective and competitive. You may want to categorize the  internship opportunities you’re most interested in, so you have a couple of reach, target, and safety opportunities on your final list!

How to Apply for a High School Internship

Once you’ve identified your top options, you’ll need to apply. Typically, this involves submitting applications, a cover letter, and a resume, and sometimes letters of recommendation or an interview will be required.

Internship Applications: Follow Guidelines

Review each organization’s specific application guidelines carefully. For example, applying to a local nonprofit differs from applying to a university or a research internship at the National Institutes of Health in terms of required documents and formats.

Crafting and Tailoring Resumes and Cover Letters

Your resume should be strong and confident. Create a comprehensive version, then tailor it for each internship. For instance, the NASA Pathways Internship requires a narrative resume using the CAR method (Challenge, Action, Results).

Here are two helpful resources for crafting resumes and cover letters:

Writing Your Cover Letters

Your cover letter sets you apart. Include the following:

  • Introduction: Introduce yourself and mention the internship and organization.
  • Body: Discuss your experiences, skills, and achievements, aligning them with the internship’s requirements.
  • Conclusion: Express enthusiasm for the position and your readiness for an interview. Thank the reader.

Example: “I am thrilled to apply for the marketing internship at XYZ Company. As an active member of my school's media club, I have developed skills in social media strategy and content creation that I believe align well with your team's needs…”

Preparing for Interviews

Interviews can be daunting, but preparation is key. Here are some common questions and tips:

  • "Tell me about yourself." Keep it succinct, focusing on academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and career goals.
  • "Why are you interested in this internship?" Highlight what excites you about the role and the company, and connect it to your personal goals.
  • "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" Be honest but strategic. Pick strengths that fit the job and discuss weaknesses you’re actively improving.
  • "Describe a challenging situation and how you handled it." Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) or CAR (Challenge, Action, Result) methods to illustrate problem-solving skills, with quantifiable results if possible.

By following these steps, you'll be well-prepared to apply for and succeed in high school internships that can significantly boost your college application.

Mindset & Staying the Course

Securing a more competitive internship opportunity takes a lot of effort, and you may face a few rejections along the way. Don’t lose heart. Whatever the outcome, the process itself is a valuable learning experience. Remember, many rewarding accomplishments come only with persistence, learning from mistakes, and perseverance.

Mastering Your Summer Internship for Future Triumphs

6. Making the Most of an Internship Opportunity

Your attitude, effort, interest, and initiative during your internship can also influence outcomes or help generate unexpected opportunities… Once you’ve landed a top-notch high school internship, follow the guidelines below to benefit as much as possible from your experience.

Making the Most of Your Internship — Expert Tips from Crimson Strategists

  • Set Goals: Define what you want to achieve during your internship. These goals could be specific skills you want to learn, projects you want to complete, or professional connections you aim to make. Having clear, achievable objectives will help you stay focused, motivated, and more alert to new opportunities as they arise!
  • Take Initiative: Look for ways to contribute beyond your assigned duties. Offer to help with projects, suggest new ideas, and connect with colleagues. Initiative taking demonstrates your enthusiasm and commitment, is a good reflex to develop for success in college, work, and life, and makes a lasting impression among the professionals you’re interning under and with.
  • Seek Feedback: Regularly ask for feedback from your mentors and supervisors. Use their insights to improve your performance and learn from your experiences. Constructive feedback is invaluable for your professional growth and helps you understand your strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Reflect and Document: Keep a journal or portfolio of your internship experiences. Document the tasks you’ve worked on, skills you’ve developed, and successes you’ve achieved. Reflecting on your experiences helps reinforce your learning, and the documentation provides a handy reference for future applications or interviews.

By following these tips, you’re more likely to create openings for new opportunities during the internship period and make a positive impression on the professionals you’ve been invited to work alongside, building a stronger foundation for future opportunities and for future letters of recommendation.

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Final Thoughts

Still have questions about internships, extracurriculars in general, or other aspects of planning for college or for admissions to leading universities?

You’ll find lots of resources on our blog pages, including articles from Crimson team members filled with background information and more nuanced tips, strategies, and insights for your university applications and the various decisions you face on your college journey.

To get free feedback on your internship planning or admissions questions, or to learn more about the Crimson network of students, strategists, and FAOs (Former Admissions Officers), schedule a free chat with a friendly Crimson advisor waiting to find out more about your college journey.

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