Is high school the right time to try an internship: insights from college admissions expert Heather Ayres

Is high school the right time to try an internship: insights from college admissions expert Heather Ayres was originally published on Intern From Home.

Welcome back, Heather. Thank you for sharing such wonderful insights in our last Q&A about how to develop real-world skills and knowledge, along with tips on how to navigate the internship application process. In today’s post, we’re excited to get your thoughts on whether high school is the right time to do an internship. We’re curious to hear your perspective on whether an internship experience can help a high school student with their college application.

IFH: Based off your experience working with lots of students, do you think high school is an appropriate time to do an internship?

HA: Internships should be mutually beneficial to the intern and the employer. Although employers may be open to fashioning opportunities designed to give relatively inexperienced folks the skills and knowledge they need to contribute to an organization or business, the intern does need to bring a certain level of interest, soft-skill preparation, maturity, and an eagerness to learn, as well. In other words, the prospective intern should be able to demonstrate readiness to take advantage of and usefully contribute to the organization. Most high school students can certainly benefit from and perform meaningful work as interns, but not all internships are meant for high school-age students. 

IFH: Have you seen any students in the past who based their college admission essay off their experiences in an internship?

HA: Yes! The self-knowledge, workplace insights, and hands-on learning experiences that students gain through internships frequently appear in essays – especially those that explain a student’s reasons for choosing a particular college, course of study, or major.

IFH: What’s the value of being the youngest person in an experience (ie: an internship)? Can this help with telling a story in a college application?

HA: Well, it’s always good to challenge yourself, within reason. Being the “youngest” person or least experienced person in a setting can be humbling and sometimes uncomfortable because you’re not quite sure how and, sometimes, when to contribute. On the other hand, you bring a fresh perspective, energy, and a willingness to do just about anything (again, within reason) to explore all facets of the organization. So, know your value and be thoughtful and respectful, but also unafraid to step up.  

Below are three Common Application essay questions that plainly show how experiences like, being the youngest person in an organization, can help in telling a story that underscores your particular personal strengths in a college application. Any work or volunteer experience is likely to render experiences that apply to these questions and reveal characteristics and qualities that are well worth sharing in an application.  

  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

IFH: Is there value to learning about the internship recruiting process while in high school, even if you decide to wait to do your first internship until you’re in college?

HA: Absolutely! Previewing the steps involved in getting an internship is incredibly valuable, including examples that illustrate the benefits of securing an internship  – both enriching your educational experiences and helping to clarify professional aspirations.

If more experienced folks don’t take the time to explain processes like recruiting for an internship/job to less experienced folks, then how will students know what’s possible, where to seek out opportunities, and how they can best prepare?  There are so many amazing possibilities, but we need to connect students, concretely, to those possibilities or they’ll miss out.  It is so important that students have access to information such as “how to secure an internship” pre-internship experience. This is key to student growth and talent development. 

Relatedly, I want to share that:

  1. Students need time to prepare to take advantage of all educational opportunities, including internships. Knowing what’s possible and what’s expected is an important first step to getting organized and ready to make the most of an internship. 

  2. Students benefit from seeing what their slightly older peers are doing – again, to see what’s possible and understand what’s actually required to realize those possibilities. 

IFH: If you’re going to be a senior in high school next year, is it too late to do an internship or another experience that could help you with college admission?

HA: The reason to do an internship is NOT to gain admission to college. The reason to do an internship is to gain the kinds of experiences that will help you in deciding what you want to do with your education – and in charting a course through college that makes sense given your interests, talents, and aspirations. So, an internship during the summer of either your junior OR senior year, when you’re prepared to offer an organization meaningful assistance, is a fantastic idea.

IFH: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Heather. We’re glad to hear from you about the value that students in high school can gain from doing an internship, even if it means they’re the youngest person working at the company.

Did you enjoy this guide? You’re in for a treat: this is just one of dozens of guides created for students about how to handle the recruiting (aka: getting an internship/job) process. To see all of the other guides, subscribe to Intern From Home’s newsletter (it’s completely free!) where we talk about all things from using LinkedIn to preparing for an interview to making the most of your role.

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