An internship is a formal program offered by organizations to provide work experience and mentorship to young people with little to no experience. It can last anywhere between 1 and 12 months, sometimes even longer.
Even though internships are traditionally part of the college experience, high schoolers are increasingly exploring internship programs to enhance their college applications while exploring different careers.
So, how exactly can internships be beneficial to college applicants?
#1. They give your college application an edge
Now more than ever, admissions officers are looking for applicants who have experience beyond the classroom. On top of extracurricular activities, internships are a good way to gain valuable experience and skills while demonstrating commitment, especially if you have an intended major. With an internship or two on your resumes, you can increase your chance of getting into competitive programs. STEM students, in particular, can get a major boost on their application.
#2. They connect you to industry professionals
One of the best perks of an internship is the various networking opportunities. You will have the chance to establish professional connections before you even graduate high school. You may be able to receive mentorship from these professionals or ask for a letter of recommendation from them. In fact, having a letter of recommendation from an industry professional is a great testament to your potential.
#3. They help you figure out your likes and dislikes
Getting an internship is an excellent opportunity to learn more about a major and its related industries. If you are interested in a few different majors, you should consider getting an internship in each industry if possible. Real-world experience will allow you to understand each discipline in much greater depth and to evaluate what you want to commit to.
Now that you know why internships are desirable, how do you find one? Here are three things you can do:
#1. Maximize your use of job search engines
Google is definitely a good place to start, but you should also utilize job search engines, such as LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor. These websites allow you to filter for positions that match your needs, such as experience level, location, mode (on-site/hybrid), and so on. You are also encouraged to connect directly with recruiters through these job search engines, especially LinkedIn.
To make the most of these engines, first identify your interests, strengths, and needs. You want to be able to filter for internship programs that match what you want to get out of this experience. Ask yourself:
Which academic subjects and extracurricular activities come most naturally to you?
Which skills are you hoping to further develop?
Which industries are you curious about or committed to?
What qualities and abilities do your families and friends most value in you?
Also ask yourself logistical questions:
Do you want a paid or unpaid internship? (Paid internships are few and far between and therefore extremely competitive).
Do you want to work full-time or part-time?
Do you want to receive college credit for this internship?
#2. Reach out to your personal connections
Getting hired has a lot to do with who you know, and it’s never too early to start curating a personal network. Networking can be a great way to score your high school internships. Don’t hesitate to ask your parents, teachers, coaches, upperclassmen, and take advantage of social media. If you know someone who’s working in your desired field, reach out to them, too. It is also a good idea to provide them with your resume, as they might be able to send your resume to someone else who can offer you a position or point you in the right direction.
If your high school offers Career Services, starting using them early. If not, you can reach out to high school counselors, as they can sometimes offer useful advice and connections.
#3. Cold email
Cold emailing can be daunting if you have never done it before, but it can be a good way to search for an internship. If you find a company that you are interested in working for, don’t hesitate to reach out.
You will need to be strategic when cold emailing for internships. Here are a few action items:
1. Set up a professional email account.
2. Figure out who to email. Avoid generic email account such as info@... If you have a contact at the organization, reach out to them. If not, find the contact information for the organization’s hiring manager or recruiter. You can find this information by going on the organization’s website or LinkedIn page.
3. Write a specific subject. The goal is for your recipient to have a sense of what the email is about just by glancing at the subject.
4. Be intentional. This often means creating a connection with the organization. Introduce yourself and your interest. Highlight your skills. Tell them one or two specific reasons why you are interested in working for them. This can be very similar to a Why College essay (check out our blog for more tips and exercises.)
5. Make it actionable. If you want them to speak further with you about the possibility of an internship, provide them with your email, phone number, and even your availability.
If you have already secured an internship, here are a few extra tips to make the most of your experience:
#1. Document everything
Keep a copy of every deliverable, i.e., things that you create while on the job. Take pictures of your work. Note down your thoughts and things you learn. These materials will go into your job portfolio, which will be extremely beneficial to your college application.
#2. Build strong connections
Establishing connections will not only help you succeed while on the job, it will also enable you to learn from experienced individuals and provide you with helpful insights even after. You may also be able to make long-lasting friendships with other interns and colleagues. If you make a good impression on your supervisors, you may also get a strong letter of recommendation for your college application.
#3. Seek out programs that allow you to try out different roles
If you are still exploring different academic and career interests, you should consider programs that encourage you to be involved with their work in various capacities. This way, you can more easily identify what you enjoy or not enjoy about a field, and make changes to your academic plans if necessarily.