Summer Internships for High School Students: A How-To Guide
When you imagine a summer internship, are you picturing a movie montage where a plucky college student learns the ropes at a cool, cutting-edge company? Are you envisioning a scene where the twenty-something intern pitches a great idea or suggests an amazing line of code or gets to attend a fancy event?
If you’ve been fantasizing about getting your hands dirty and really exploring things that interest you (instead of lifeguarding at the pool again) the good news is: you don’t have to wait till college to find an internship. There are tons of summer internships for high school students–if you know how to find them.
WHY ARE INTERNSHIPS FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS A GOOD IDEA?
Most high school summer internships are unpaid (womp, womp). So why would you want to work for free when you can wait tables or life guard for cold hard cash? Internships are a great way to explore your interests before you commit to a major. Nobody wants to spend three years and thousands of dollars pursuing a major and potential career only to discover that, actually, working in [insert industry here] really isn’t your cup of tea. Also–let’s be honest–high school summer internships can sometimes look good on college applications and they’ll help you get even better internships in college.
So, assuming that you’re internship-curious (since, hey, you’re reading this blog post), here’s how to snag one.
PEOPLE WHO CAN HELP YOU FIND HIGH SCHOOL SUMMER INTERNSHIPS
Your high school’s guidance counselor/academic advisor
Your guidance counselor or academic advisor will have tons of resources, tips, and connections to help you find an internship. It is, after all, their job to help you navigate life after high school. Not sure what type of internship or field of study you’d like to pursue? They can help you figure that out, too.
Obviously, right? And getting their help can be as easy as saying this:
“Hi Mr./Mrs. Teacher,
I’m looking to get some experience in [insert area of interest.] Do you know an organization or someone who might be looking for a paid or unpaid intern to do X, Y, Z this summer?”
If you have a particular type of internship you’re interested in–a newspaper, a lab, or a boutique–talk to the teachers who lead classes related to those fields of study. Your Language Arts teacher might know journalists; your Industrial Arts teacher might be able to hook you up with a furniture designer.
Your coaches and extracurricular advisors
If your drama teacher knows you’re hard-working, responsible, and prompt, they’d probably be happy to connect you to their friend who manages your city’s theater troupe. If the head of VA Club knows you’re patient and creative, I bet they’d be happy to introduce you to their buddy who runs that production company.
Your parents, your friend’s parents, and your parents’ friends
Your parents are pretty invested in seeing you succeed, right? Right. So they’re probably willing to help you hustle and spread the word that you’re looking for an internship. Your parents might be willing to reach out to their own network on your behalf–posting on social media or reaching out to a family friend. There are lots of other adults in your life who’d be happy to help–your friend’s parents and your parents’ friends are great resources, too. Next time your parents are hosting a barbeque, rather than hiding out in your room, go mingle. When the adults inevitably ask how you’re doing or what your plans are for the summer, say “Good! I’m looking for internships or summer jobs in ___________ so if you know anybody who’s looking for an intern, I’d love to talk to them.”
HOW TO USE THE INTERNET TO FIND HIGH SCHOOL INTERNSHIPS (BEYOND JUST GOOGLING)
Post about it on social media
We promise it’s possible to do this in a way that doesn’t feel desperate or awkward. It could be a photo on Instagram of your soccer team with a caption that says “Playing alongside these amazing girls has made my junior year so awesome. I can’t wait to study sports medicine once I get to college. If you know of any good internships, HMU.”
Set up a LinkedIn profile
I can hear you rolling your eyes from all the way over here, but I promise–LinkedIn isn’t just for 45-year-old HR managers (although if you are a 45-year-old HR manager reading this, you should totally check out LinkedIn). It’s a great space to showcase your skills and accomplishments and–more importantly–it’s where hiring managers and internship coordinators hang out.
Get started by putting together your resume, highlighting the skills and accomplishments that relate to the type of internships you’re looking for. If you’re looking for journalism internships, draw attention to your time as the editor of the school newspaper, your award-winning essays, and all those AP English classes. Make sure you fill in the whooooole profile–recommendations from teachers, awards, projects and courses.
Here’s a great checklist so you won’t forget anything, and five really great tips from my friends Bob and Lisa at College Matchpoint for high schoolers who are perfecting their LinkedIn profileAnd now that you’ve created a profile you’re proud of, it’s time to start messaging people and asking about their internship programs.
Slightly terrifying? Yes. Incredibly effective? Also yes! A good LinkedIn message goes a lot further than “Hi, I’m a highschool student looking for internships. Do you have any?” (But you already knew that, right?)
This article is a great break down of how to write LinkedIn messages that people actually want to reply to.
Rather obviously: search internship databases
You’re more likely to find an internship you’re excited about using the methods we described above, but don’t discount the power of a good ol’ fashioned internet search. Way Up, Internshipprograms.com, and internships.com are all great resources. Internships.com also publishes super helpful articles that will help you avoid sketchy internships, make the most of the position you get, and make a good impression with your future employer.
Call local businesses that do things you’re interested in
Again, slightly scary but very effective. Why? Because very few students have the guts to do this! What should you say when you call these local businesses? Try this: “Hey, I’m excited about your business and how it does X, Y, Z so well! I’m actually good at A, B, and C and think I can help your company do D, E, F. Is it possible to set up a time to chat about interning at your company this summer/fall/winter/spring?”
Consider remote, online internships
If you want to work in journalism, design, web development, marketing, or audio/video editing there are thousands of bloggers, podcasters, influencers, and online business owners who’d looooove to have you as an intern. It’s worth noting that remote internships are probably best for self-starters–people who don’t need lots of in-person supervision and can meet deadlines without prompting. How do you get an internship with your favorite online personality? Set up that LinkedIn profile, follow them + interact with them on social media, subscribe to their newsletter, and follow the same directions we shared above about sending LinkedIn messages–but maybe in this case, it’s an Instagram DM or Facebook message.
WHAT IF YOU CAN’T FIND AN INTERNSHIP?
How to make your own (unpaid) internship:
Can’t find a summer internship? Make your own dang internship! DIY-ing an internship will take a bit more effort on your part, but it can be just as rewarding as an ‘official’ internship. Also: you’ll spend a lot less time fetching coffee.
What do I mean? Here are a few DIY internships that real students have made in past years:
Marketing: Are you great at social media management? Find a local small business and put together a proposal for how you can revamp their social media, website, or online presence and bring them new business.
Journalism: Interested in writing? Find a correspondent, writer, or reporter you like and send them an email or LinkedIn message, asking if they need help doing background research or cold-calling and interviewing subjects for their next piece.
Find a volunteering gig that relates to your field of interest
Want to volunteer IRL? Volunteer Match can help you find a local non-profit that needs your skill set. If you’re interested in architecture, volunteer to help build houses. If you want to go pre-law, check out the justice and legal volunteer opportunities. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a volunteer opportunity that matches that. Want to volunteer from the comfort of your couch? Onlinevolunteering.org can connect you with volunteering opportunities for writing/editing, art/design, or technology development.
Do a ‘self-directed project’
Even if you find The World’s Best, Coolest Volunteer Gig, it’s unlikely it’ll take up more than 10 hours a week. What else can you do with your summer? Create a self-directed project. A self-directed project gives you an opportunity to improve your skills, work on something you’re passionate about, and fill your portfolio–no boss needed. What does a self-directed project look like? It depends on your field of study, but here are a few examples:
Start a blog where you write about politics. Interview local politicians. Attend city council meetings and write about them.
Redecorate your sister’s bedroom and put it in your design portfolio. Create a mood board, do before-and-after photos, the whole she-bang.
Do a photography project on a topic that’s important to you. See if a local coffee shop will let you hang your photos there. Share it on social media. Write blog posts about your creative process.
Here are five great tips for self-directed learners:
From The Art of Self-Directed Learning: 23 Tips for Giving Yourself an Unconventional Education, By Blake Boles
Attitude is your most precious resource. Rather than “I can’t,” try using the phrase, “I could if I…” Ask yourself: “What information or resources do I need to make this happen?”
Google everything. The internet is the most powerful tool in human history. Research, create, build, or promote anything your imagination can dream up.
Email strangers. You may be surprised at how many interesting people will be willing to respond.
Find your nerd clan. Who’s into the things you’re into? Yes, even the weird things. (It’s those things that often make for the most interesting college essays.)
Create an awesome digital paper trail. Consider that your future employers, romantic partners, and maybe even your kids will Google you. As Blake says, “Start filling the internet with your creations and leave a [digital] trail worth following.”
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR INTERNSHIP
What’s the goal of your internship?
You can’t make the most of your internship if you, uh, don’t know what you want to get out of it. Which of these are you most interested in?
A better understanding of what it means to work in this field
Specific skills (learning a type of software, being able to use a certain lab machine, understanding how to write a press release)
Things you can put on your resume: organized X, monitored Y, built Z
You’ll get a bit of ‘all the above’ in every internship. But if one of these really resonates with you, make sure your employer knows that and take initiative in those areas. If you want to leave your internship knowing how to code in C++, volunteer for programming projects and make yourself available to the IT department. If you’re hoping to end your internship with three portfolio-worthy design projects, put together mock-ups for eeeeeeeverything and seek feedback from the creative director.
When you’re interviewing for the internship, ask them what the interns do
The best way to find out what interns do at the companies where you’re interviewing? Literally just ask. When they inevitably end the interview with “And what questions do you have for me?” you can respond with “What sorts of tasks and duties do interns typically take on?” Of course, you’ll be expected to do some coffee-fetching and copy-making, but it’s also reasonable to expect that you’ll get to be part of some projects.
During your interview, remember to highlight what you’d like to learn and contribute. You might say something like “I’ve been a part of my school’s AV club for three years and I’m really interested in expanding my video editing skills.” Or “I’ve been writing for our school newspaper for two years and I’m really interested in how writing skills translate to marketing and PR.”
Most importantly: Take initiative + volunteer on projects you want to be part of
Real talk: learning how to take initiative is a skill that will serve you in every area of your life, for the rest of your life. Might as well learn it now. No matter how impressive your resume or how clear you are about your skill set, it’s possible that your employer will stick you in a corner and ask you to do data entry. If/when that happens, don’t panic. Just keep your eyes open for projects you’d like to be part of and then offer to help and solve problems. That’s it.
When your employer sees you thinking critically to solve problems, improving how their organization operates, and are capable of doing more than punching numbers into a database, they’ll be more excited to give you bigger challenges to tackle. Show them what you can do!Party planning committee struggling to design a flyer? Offer to mock up a few designs and show off your graphic design skills. Publicity department is overloaded and dropping the ball with the company Instagram account? Offer to reply to DMs and research hashtags. The boutique manager is too busy to swap out the window display? Use your stylish eye to put something nice together.
It’s usually a good idea to pitch in when you see a coworker struggling, falling behind, or staying late–even if you’re helping with unsexy task like inventory or cleaning up the break room. Employers hire people they like. And we all like people who help out. Rather than saying “Is there any way I can help?” make a specific offer, based on your skill set.
“I saw you working on X. Would it be of help if I did Y?”
Your employer probably didn’t memorize your resume, so they’ve forgotten that you’re good at spreadsheets/Facebook marketing/design/insert skill here. So when you see a graphic designer staying late, say “I’m pretty good with Lightroom. Do you need help editing photos?”
You get the idea.Finding a summer internship while you’re in high school will take a bit more effort than finding a job lifeguarding, nannying, or flipping burgers. And, yes, it might be unpaid.
But the insights you’ll gain, the connections you make, and the skills you learn are so, so worth it.