Internships: Your Dream Job Diving Board

Internships are a perfect stepping stone between college and your career. Here's why they're so important to your future career and skill building.

Striving towards your future career is a lot like learning to swim. You start in the shallowest water, thinking of what you are interested in. Once you narrow your interests into a specific major or career, you need to dive deeper. Internships act as a diving board for students to gain experience, make connections, and open doors to future opportunities. You don’t need to wait until college to gain an internship, either. Many programs exist to help high school students gain experience in a comfortable environment. Don’t let the depths of a career scare you. If it’s the career you want, it’s worth the jump.

Why should you get an internship?

Internships are a perfect stepping stone between school and a career: A classroom provides you with a teacher. A career provides you with experience. Internships provide both. It’s true that most internships don't pay, especially in high school, but the point of an internships is not to get rich. Don’t think of it as a job. Think of it as a modern apprenticeship. Your hard work may not make your wallet fatter, but it does beef up college applications and résumés. Your work matters.

What You’re Thinking in Your Internship

What Colleges and Employers Are Thinking

This might be what I want to do after college. Let me look for an internship.

This student is taking an initiative. That shows dedication and drive.

Okay, this internship is a little more tedious than I thought, but I’m gonna stick with it and see where it takes me.

This student has a strong work ethic, even with the most basic tasks. I bet I can trust him with bigger tasks.

I don’t really like my mentor, but he knows better than I do. I’ll take his instruction and get the job done.

This student listens well to her mentor, and her references say she works well with others. This is just the person we’re looking for! 

As you work hard, you will build relationships with mentors and other students who are interested in the same field. What you do will leave a lasting impression and build friendships. Searching for an internship opportunity and seizing it communicates a lot more than you might think. But how can you find these opportunities? And what does it mean when you get them?

Related: Need a High School Internship? Here's Where to Look

How do you find an internship?

Internship opportunities arise in two ways: you hear about them or you seek them out. Usually, it’s a mixture of both. Keep your ears open during class assemblies, keep your eyes peeled for updates online from your school or town, and don’t be afraid to ask your school counselors—or go straight to the source. For high school students, it’s often best to start at school. If assemblies don't give you what you are looking for, schedule a one-on-one appointment with your school counselor. They may inform you of opportunities within school, or they may be aware of local businesses that offer student internships. If nothing else comes of the meeting, at least now there’ll be an extra set of ears listening for an opportunity.

Ask family and friends

If nothing is available through school, ask around town. Don't be embarrassed to ask family either. If one of your relatives works in the business you wish to pursue, see if they know of an opportunity. Perhaps you can even work with them! Working within your school or family is often an easier transition for students, and it is typically more realistic if a student doesn’t have their own transportation.

Ask local organizations

If this is an option for you, or you just want to explore your town, try local organizations. Typically, local government, newspapers, museums, companies, and libraries are happy to hire student interns. Think about what you’re good at and how you can help a business or organization, and let them know you’re ready to work! You can check on their websites, call them, or speak to someone in person. They may even offer to pay you. However, it is better to go in prepared to be unpaid, especially if you have no prior experience. Remember, internships are not the same as jobs. The goal of an internship is to learn and to make connections in the field you wish to progress in, which helps you gain a job in the future. Knowing this will allow you to communicate your needs and save you from disappointment as a hopeful (and broke) teen.

Opportunities may come to you

On the flip side, an opportunity may find you, though it is hardly ever an accident. In my freshman year, my school counselor encouraged my class to create a CollegeXpress account. Many of the other freshmen weren’t interested. Who had time to check out the website with all the homework we had? If you are reading this then you, like me, did not listen to them. I trusted my counselor and signed up. One day, I checked my email. “Write for us,” CollegeXpress offered. That was all I needed. I was off writing my application essay, and a few weeks later I was welcomed into the world of writing that’s shared with tons of people I can also put on my résumé.

Related: 5 Important Reasons to Get an Internship in College

Why should you bother?

Think I just got lucky because I’m the nerd who listens to counselors? Think again. Last year my cousin was failing almost every class. Her attendance slipped, and at times it seemed like she was going to stay back. She realized, though, that if her grades slipped, so would her dream of becoming an artist. She began researching summer art programs and internships online. About a month ago, her art teachers introduced her to an internship sponsored by a local art museum. She was accepted, and now she meets with a professional painter each week to work with her. “I’m going to start a blog,” my cousin told me excitedly. “And I am going to learn from someone who is an actual artist that makes an actual living doing what she loves.” Like my cousin and I learned, you can’t be so afraid of success that you stop looking for it.

What do you do when you have an internship?

Internship responsibilities can be all over the place: you might be doing little errands, like filling in spreadsheets. Or you could be in charge of the social media accounts. Or maybe you’ll get to design the new company logo. It depends. Often, if you show you’re willing to work hard and learn, you’ll get to do cooler stuff as time goes on. And if you don’t, you know what to look for in your next internship. But whatever you do, once you have the internship, it's essential you keep a record of what you learned. You don’t have to write in-depth journal entries, just a few notes of what you didn’t know before. I save all the emails from my CollegeXpress editor and make notes of any changes she makes. During school I shadow an English teacher. Every time the teacher does something I wouldn’t expect, I jot it down in my notebook. This way, when college admission officers ask what I’ve learned, I can tell them. Plus, I can apply the knowledge to my own career one day.

Related: A Quick List of Important Internship Do's and Don'ts

Internships are great opportunities. You learn how to dive into your dream job without hitting your head by gaining knowledge, skills, and references at a manageable pace. You may be surprised by how many opportunities are around you, and how much you will learn from them.

If you want to really make sure to kill it at your internship, check out Our Best Advice on How to Find and Rock Internships.

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Cameron Lee

High School Class of 2022

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