How To Get an Internship in High School—The One Extracurricular Activity To Take On

Credit: Annie Spratt

What defines the ultimate high school experience?

When the topic is at the center of discussion, you are most likely to hear it revolves around mingling with peers, suffering through pre-exam all-nighters, getting to know people from various backgrounds—and partying.

While all these are, more or less, parts of the well-rounded college experience and the path to getting to know yourself, we will argue that getting an internship—in fact, getting as many internships as you possibly can—is the definition of making the most of your school experience. 

We’ll guide you through the whole business of getting an internship, show you why and how much such an experience is important for you to gain, and give you the tools you need to find and land an internship that is the best fit for you.

Think You Know What an Internship Is? Think Again

Internship—it seems a simple enough term. You work in an industry or organization for a certain period, you learn something new, and you have another item to add on your CV at the end of the day.

When you look at it from such a technical perspective, it’s not difficult to see why the term is often confused with that of volunteering—although the two differ at their core.

Here’s a table to help you learn the main differences between internship and volunteer work:

Being a Volunteer Means You’re: Being an Intern Means You’re:
Helping a specific cause Working to gain skills and hands-on experience
Not under contract Under some kind of agreement (usually short-term)
Not expected to end up an employee at the place you’re volunteering Likely to land a full-time job after your internship

As you can see, both volunteering and doing an internship mean you do specific work, often for free, which is why they can be easily confused. Yet, the sole purpose of the two is entirely different.

We can conclude that the key component of an internship is your desire to gain work experience, discover your potential, and start climbing the career ladder sooner rather than later.

What Internships Can You Take?

To understand internships in their entirety, you must know what types of internships exist. While they can be both paid and unpaid, there are also many categories and subcategories, such as:

  • Summer internships
  • Virtual internships
  • Part-time internships

As its name suggests, a paid internship means you’ll receive compensation for your work. Though this is not always the case, there are laws that regulate which internships are paid, so be sure to check your rights when sailing into your first internship adventure.

Still, research suggests that around 60% of internships are unpaid. While you’re more likely to work for free when you enter an internship contract, the experience and the connections you get are priceless. You can always try and ask for compensation and check whether the employer is willing to provide it.

Summer Internships

Probably the most common type of internship for students to take are the summer internships. They are convenient because they don’t clash with the time you would normally spend on attending lectures during the academic year.

Virtual Internships

Virtual internships, or online/remote internships, are handy for positions that don’t require your physical presence at a workspace. For example, you can teach courses online or build your skills in the IT sector from the comfort of your home.

Part-Time Internships

Different from a full-time internship, a part-time one is easier in terms of both workload and working hours. They are perfect for you if you think you can’t balance between your university obligations and full-time work.

As you can see, these internship types can overlap and the differences between some are not always clear-cut. It still helps to know about them when you’re choosing which internships to apply for.

Understanding Externships 

Externships deserve a special mention because they are so different from any of the above described categories that they can hardly be said to be a type of an internship.

Here’s a table that helps you see what externships are and how they differ from internships:

Internships: Externships:
Can last around one semester Can last as short as one day, but usually cover a week or two
Mean you’re actively engaged in tasks and have regular work obligations Mean you’re mostly an observer in a workspace, which is why the practice is often called job shadowing as well
Are usually reserved for students who already know what profession they want to pursue Are meant to give you a glimpse into a certain career so that you can decide whether you want to pursue it

Why Is Getting an Internship So Important? 

If you’re feeling a bit intimidated by all the different internship types we’ve outlined, then the reasons why the experience will be so valuable to you will make you want to get an internship without delay.

Benefiting from the real-world learning and making your voice heard is something you don’t want to miss out on in your overall high school and college experience. Here’s what you gain from being an intern:

  1. Immersion into a real-life work
  2. Leadership and communication skills
  3. Conquering your fears
  4. Discovering what you want to do in life
  5. Stellar CV and better prospects for future employment

Exposure to the Real World

Society teaches you to be sheltered from real-world issues and challenges. That is, until one day you’re suddenly a grown-up and you’re thrown into the fire of all the responsibilities that brings. If you haven’t worked before, getting an internship in high school and college may be your first opportunity to see how the world outside your comfort zone functions.

Being challenged to think outside the box and use your creativity to solve real-world problems is worth every hour you spend in your internship job.   

Leadership and Communication Skills

Our high schools operate in much the same way they did a hundred years ago—which is why they’re in so much need of innovation and transformation. The fact you’re not presented with too many opportunities to speak up and create an impact can result in you not being prepared to step up and take a role of a leader in your first couple of jobs.

By getting an internship, you will communicate with and learn from the people who have more experience than you in a certain field. If you’re presented with a chance to manage projects, create schedules, or organize a team, you’re certain to acquire leadership skills as well, which you can translate into the work you’ll do in the future.    

Releasing Your Inhibitions

A study conducted by the American College Health Association shows that 63% of college students experience anxiety levels that are bordering on dangerous. Besides the stress your coursework is bound to cause you, there is the fact that you know deep down that after you graduate, that will be it. You’ll have to start working and, more importantly, you’ll be expected to know what it is you’ll want from life and yourself.

When you have several internship experiences under your belt, you’re half-way there in terms of dealing with the real world, knowing what your skills are, and being comfortable with adulting in general.

Finding Your Calling

Closely related to the previous entry, discovering what it is you want to accomplish in life is much easier when you’ve already experienced working as an intern. Though it may sound corny, the importance of finding your life’s calling early on cannot be overlooked in a world that’s changing at an accelerating pace.

More Opportunities for Your Future

Perhaps the most obvious advantage of internships is the richer resume you can boast when you graduate from college. Your future employers will undoubtedly be impressed by your real-life work experience, but you’ll also be thanking yourself if you wish to further your higher education with a master’s degree or a doctorate. College application boards are likely to favor you and even grant you scholarships when they see you’re someone who has already begun realizing their potential and building their skillset. 

How To Find an Internship in High School and College

Credit: Kelly Sikkema

Since an internship is clearly the one most important extracurricular activities to take on, here are the tips on how to find the one that is perfect for you.

Before you put yourself out there and take the practical steps to landing an internship of your dreams, you need to do a bit of self-reflection.

Here’s the breakdown of how to figure out what internship is right for you:

  1. Know what drives you
  2. Realize what type of internship you want
  3. Explore your options

A Prelude to Getting an Internship

We know you’re hungry for experience, but the crucial aspect of finding the internship of your dreams is knowing what those dreams are. Don’t worry, we’re not telling you to find your calling right away—it may take years of both bad and good experiences before that happens.

Still, you’ll want to at least have an idea of what you want to devote your time and effort to instead of going for the first internship opportunity that presents itself.

You can start with your undergraduate courses. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What coursework is the most satisfying for me
  2. Which field of study would I like to contribute to outside of the classroom
  3. What course I can’t get enough of

There is bound to be at least one subject or aspect of that subject that you enjoy. Once you’ve realized what sphere or line of work it falls under, you can have a clearer image of what internship you can do. You can also explore your hobbies and find what motivates you about them. 

In the end, perhaps the ultimate question to ask yourself when deciding what job you want to take on is—what is it that makes you forget about having a snack or checking the notifications on your phone? That’s what you’re most likely to make a successful career out of.

Decide What Type of Internship You Want To Get and Give It a Go

We’ve already shown you the main types of internships. Decide which one would fit your course load best and don’t take on too many responsibilities at once. Internships are scary enough without accepting more tasks than you can get done.

Keep in mind, though, that you may find an internship that is perfect for you, but it might not fit your schedule as well as you would like it to. In that case, it never hurts to take the risk and accept the job nonetheless. If you start cracking under pressure, it’s best to take a step back without feeling guilty and move on.

How To Find Internships for High School and College Students

You’ll want to get out there and look for the internships that are available to you. There are many people you can turn to and places to go to explore your options, such as:

  • Teachers and university professors
  • Career centers
  • Bulletin boards
  • School clubs
  • Social media

You would be surprised how much your professors are willing to help you when you reach out and tell them upfront what your interests are. Never shy away from scheduling an office hour meeting or speaking about your desire to get an internship with passion and confidence to anyone who would listen. The more people know what you want, the more people can direct you to it.

You also cannot go wrong with local career centers. From seminars and volunteer calls to internships, they have everything you need. Even if there aren’t any open applications for your desired position right away, you should still visit and see what’s available. Don’t forget to leave your contact information so the center can inform you as soon as something of your interest comes up.

Bulletin boards are another way to check what’s out there. Take a glance at their direction when you’re walking in and out of lectures, and before you know it, an opportunity will present itself to you.

School clubs are something students are particularly fond of. Every campus is bound to be full of student organizations that give you the perfect chance to mingle and meet people outside of lecture halls. Each one will have new information for you, and some can lead you right in the direction of your first internship.

Social media sites can work to your benefit too. Follow the official pages of your University or courses you’re taking and join the students’ groups on any website of your choosing. You’ll notice that people post calls for internships all the time, and some of them can be the ones you’re looking for. 

How To Get Internships in High School and College When You Find the Ones You Want

Credit: Ben White

Once you find the internship application that appeals to you, the next step is applying for it. Let’s take a look at how the process usually goes:

  1. Writing a CV and a cover letter
  2. Applying for the position
  3. Being prepared for whichever response you get
  4. Going to a live interview

CVs and Cover Letters—Not Scary Unless You Make Them So

When discussing the importance of CVs and cover letters, there is usually pressure put on job seekers. The secret is, no CV or cover letter will ever be perfect, and yours doesn’t have to be either.

Remember, this is a soft skill that you improve as you go. Here’s what to pay attention to:

  • Use the font and formatting that makes your CV and cover letter professional
  • Never lie about your skills and experience
  • Know that a CV without any work experience is still a CV
  • Make your CV and cover letter specific to each position you’re applying for
  • Be respectful of the employers’ time and avoid wordy phrases and sentences
  • Specify what it is you want to gain from the position and how you can contribute to the company

Learn To Write a Professional Email

Before your employer reads your CV or cover letter, though, they will read your email. It is only natural you would want to give off a professional vibe in your application. There is no science to a well-composed email, so a little bit of research on how to make an impression in email correspondence is a must.

You Either Land the Internship or You Don’t

While you’re waiting to hear from your potential employer back, it’s best to get prepared for any response. If you’re rejected, the importance of realizing that it’s not personal cannot be overstressed. At the end of the day, you’ve written a CV, a cover letter, and a professional email. Hone those skills further and apply for the next best thing.

Practice Before Your Interview

When you do receive a positive answer to your application, you’ll most certainly be called for an interview—as is the case with real jobs. If you’re feeling anxious about this step, a good idea is to practice in front of a mirror. Besides observing what message your body language is sending and then modeling it to fit the impression you want to create, you can put yourself in the perspective of your potential employer and imagine how they would feel about you in face-to-face conversation.

Have an Internship Story To Share? Send It to Us!

We hope this article helped you see what you want from your internship experience and how you can go after it. 

If you’ve already been an intern or had an encounter with a real-world learning environment, we want to know everything about it. Write your own inspirational story and we’ll share it with the world.