Steve showed up to his unpaid, three-day-a-week internship in the Universal Studios purchasing department wearing a dark suit and carrying his dad’s briefcase. Just 17 years old and eager to learn more about the movie industry, he snuck into every department on the lot, observing editors and sound mixers, introducing himself to actors and directors—and about once a day, got escorted out by security.
Eventually one of Steve’s student films found its way to the right Universal executive, who hired him to direct for television and then feature films. These days, Steve doesn’t have to sneak around the studio lots anymore.
And the security guards call him Mr. Spielberg.
Summer internships have long provided college students with experience, professional relationships, and a foot in the door to their chosen profession. But more and more companies are offering internships specifically to high school students, so why wait?
Why do an internship in high school?
It’s no surprise that internships offer more valuable work experience than grabbing shopping carts or frying up fish filets all summer. You’ll learn what’s expected of employees in a corporate environment, from how to dress to workplace demeanor to how companies are structured.
Interns also gain insight into what it’s really like to work every day in their field of choice, something even college courses can’t provide. Maybe you’ll discover that the health care industry isn’t quite as glamorous as it looks on TV (nobody ever seems to empty bedpans on Grey’s Anatomy).
An internship (set during the summer or not) will also help your college application stand out from the crowd. Admission officials love applicants who can demonstrate that they’re serious about their chosen field. And successful interns will form relationships with coworkers that may prove beneficial years down the road, in the form of a recommendation for college internships or a tip about the perfect job opening for a recent grad.
How to find summer internships for high school students
You can always use CollegeXpress's Summer Program Search, which lists internship opportunities open to high school students across the country. If you’re searching for an internship in your area, start with your school’s guidance office (that’s how this blogger found his first summer job with a local newspaper). Ask your guidance counselor if any businesses in the community have expressed interest in hiring students for the summer, but don’t limit yourself to companies with formal internship programs: in some cases, a business might not even want a summer intern until that perfect applicant (that’s you!) walks in the door.
Know a family friend or classmate’s parent with a cool job? See if they can help you out. (Steven Spielberg scored that Universal internship through a friend of his father’s.) You can also look online or contact the human resources departments of businesses that interest you to see if they have opportunities for high school students.
“We encourage students to find local businesses, call up or walk right in and say, ‘I’m a high school student, here’s my résumé, and I’m wondering if I could spend a week here this summer and learn more about what you do,’” says Jessica Givens, a Houston-based college admission counselor and author of Get Your Summer Strategy On!
Ask a teacher or guidance counselor to provide a reference if necessary, and be prepared to submit a résumé that includes:
- Previous employment. Even if it’s just a part-time job that doesn’t have anything to do with the business you’re applying to, listing prior work experience shows you’re not a total stranger to working.
- Relevant course work. For example, if you’re applying to intern with a local bank, mention those straight A’s in economics classes.
- Extracurricular and volunteer activities. Make sure to highlight any leadership roles. For example, serving as a student council officer is great if you’re trying to intern with a local politician or campaign.
- Special skills and awards. Are you a Photoshop wiz? Do you speak any other languages fluently? Don’t brag, but list any special skills or honors you’ve received that could be relevant.
Making the most of your summer
Simply getting the job doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a great internship experience. It's up to you to make your summer worthwhile. Try to meet everyone you can, even people you don’t work with directly. Exchange contact information and keep in touch every six months or so to let them know how you’re doing.
Keep in mind that, depending on the company, you may not be assigned the most glamorous of tasks. Take pride in answering phones or making copies, and if the opportunity to take on more responsibility comes up, your supervisor won’t hesitate to think of you. Ask if you can sit in on meetings or talk to other staff members to get a feel for how the company functions.
If you get discouraged, remember that Sean “Diddy” Combs got his start grabbing coffee for execs at Uptown Records. So put a smile on your face, and bookmark this handy guide to ordering at Starbucks.