Good Alternatives for When You Can't Find an Internship

Sure, internships impress colleges, but they can be hard to secure. Luckily there are many other things you can do this summer to strengthen your applications.

The bar to get into selective universities continues to get higher and higher, with students going above and beyond to ensure admission into their dream schools. Many students have turned to high school internships to strengthen their résumés, using their connections to snag a position or spending countless hours applying for them. But it can be tough finding an internship in high school. What many students don’t realize is that colleges don’t follow one specific formula for applicants—if you can’t find an internship, there are numerous other ways to further your learning, gain experience, and impress admissions officers. Here are a few alternatives.

Get a summer job

The struggle with landing an internship is that usually companies are looking for undergraduates or those with college degrees to fill these spots. However, there are so many places ranging from retail to restaurants where you can work without a degree. Getting a summer job can be a great way to sharpen your skills in the same areas that would have been strengthened through an internship, like leadership, accountability, time management, and communication—all skills that colleges are looking for. Plus, with summer jobs, you can earn some extra cash that you may not have otherwise earned through an unpaid internship! 

Related: Part-Time Jobs and Money-Making Ideas for Students

Engage in volunteer work

Volunteering is a great alternative to interning that still allows you to gain experience and help contribute to causes that interest you. There are so many organizations eager to accept willing volunteers, so it’s all about finding what you’re passionate about and searching for opportunities. Volunteer Match is a great place to start; they feature both virtual and on-site volunteer opportunities in categories ranging from advocacy and human rights to homelessness and housing. In addition, if you develop a good relationship with those advising you in whatever organization you choose, that person could write a letter of recommendation for your college applications to show what kind of person you are beyond the school environment.

Start networking at colleges

Summer is a perfect time to explore colleges, venture onto their campuses, and make meaningful connections with current students and faculty. It doesn’t take traveling across the country to make these connections either. You can connect with alumni at your dream schools through LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and more, which allows you to not only gain more knowledge about each university but get a leg up on other applicants who didn’t make the effort to reach out to alumni, current students, or faculty. This will help you down the line by creating evidence of demonstrated interest—plus, you never know who might recommend an internship that would be perfect for you in the future.

Related: Making Powerful Connections at Your Colleges of Interest 

Take a summer class

What better way to further your learning over the summer than enrolling in a class? Yes, the concept of summer is a break from school, but it doesn’t have to be a course on rocket science. You can find one on anything that you’re passionate about. If you’ve been dying to travel to France one day and have never had the chance to learn the language, use your free time to pick up some French. You could also learn about economics and finances; this would be useful to you in the future when you’re making a plan to pay for college. Community colleges offer a variety of interesting courses to take, which may even transfer to your high school transcript. These classes are college level, so the ability to do well will serve as great preparation for college and boost your résumé as well.

Many universities also offer free online courses to take and give you more freedom to work on your own time. Harvard University offers an incredible variety of unique courses to choose from; I took “Lessons From Ebola: Preventing the Next Pandemic” last summer and was amazed by the amount of information at my fingertips with the simple click of a button. Each course will have a time commitment but gives you the freedom to complete it at any time that’s convenient for you. There are so many creative and interesting options: you could learn about science through cooking, which takes you through a sensorial experience of cooking your own dishes and observing the science behind it all; you could learn about cognitive fitness, how certain foods and exercises are linked to brainpower, and the inner mechanisms of these discoveries; or you could study the effects of climate change—the list goes on and on!

Related: Spend Your Summer Learning With MOOCs

Although it may appear that interning is the best possible way to gain experience, meet new people, and impress colleges, these alternatives are just a fraction of what you could do to reach the same goal. Regardless of what you do this summer, whether it’s volunteering at a homeless shelter or picking up trash along the beach, know that as long as you’re passionate about what you’re doing, admission committees will take notice. Don’t stress too much about whether it’s more impactful than your next-door neighbor who’s interning at their parent’s law firm—just excel in whatever you choose to do, and most importantly, have fun! 

We know another great use of your free time—try searching for scholarships on CollegeXpress!

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About Maggie Chiappetta-Uberti

Maggie Chiappetta-Uberti

Although she's been able to embrace her love of writing as an editor of her school newspaper, Maggie Chiappetta-Uberti still jumps at every opportunity to write and is thrilled to share valuable information about the college process on CollegeXpress. Aside from her passion for writing, Maggie is a movie fanatic and loves the beach, listening to music, attempting to learn new languages, and baking with her sister (although she does more taste-testing than baking). Maggie is interested in going pre-med in college with hopes to work in the medical field someday.


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