Internships During High School: Age-Appropriate Experiences

Career experiences during high school are so important! They can come in many forms, and we are big proponents of exploring them all—school courses and electives, summer camps, job shadowing, informational interviews, part time jobs, career research, etc. All of them support our teens to overcome their career illiteracy.

One form of career experience often mentioned is internships.

What is an internship?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers defines an internship as: “a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional workplace setting.”

Internships are powerful ways to discover your path, build your resume, and make yourself attractive to future employers. However, we find that internships may not be the best fit for high school students.

(Parent of a college student or looking ahead to internships in college? Be sure to catch our “How to Find and Prepare for College Internships” webinar.)

Internships in high school can be tricky for several reasons.

1) When a student is under 18, employment can be limited just by age (liability, company rule, etc.).

2) High school students often have other summer and school year commitments which make it hard to engage with a traditional internship.

3) An internship requires that a student can actually do work that the position requires. Internships typically require certain entry-level skills. If a student has those skills and can demonstrate them to an employer, then you can look for opportunities to them. For most high school teens, they aren’t quite there yet.

4) Hiring teens in positions outside of traditional part-time job roles has an element of risk for companies. Will they show up? Can they effectively communicate? Can they do the work the employer sets out for them without massive additional support?

High school students can consider why they’re looking for internships.

If you want to enhance your resume for college, you can find many other ways to do that. Volunteering and more typical part-time jobs are actually very valuable.

If you are trying to perform career research, informational interviews and job shadowing are excellent methods. (Be sure to catch our “Why Go to College? Career/Major Thinking for Teens” webinar.)

If you are trying to build skills, you can do that in many ways. If you are beginning to network, you can do that without an internship.

What are some alternatives to internships that might be a better fit?

A quick Google search of “high school internships” shows a lot of brand ambassadorships, direct marketing/business development, political campaigns, etc. These experiences are probably not what you had in mind.

Career-Technical Education (CTE) lab programs for high school students are built to incorporate internships. Students gain and practice skills during high school, earn credentials, and are connected to employers.

Some states like Ohio have formal internship programs. Ohio is connecting employers with qualified high school students through their High School Tech Internship Program. As we mentioned above, students are expected to possess the skills needed to do these entry-level jobs for technology-focused companies.

Sometimes other programs are available which serve a similar purpose to an internship like a joint effort between a school district and an employer. Nationwide Children’s Hospital offers an internship to students in Columbus City and Reynoldsburg school districts.

Some schools build it into their curriculum like the senior year walkabout at the Graham School. Schools may also offer an elective like a mentorship class.

Sometimes an opportunity will be called an internship even if it doesn’t meet the true definition of internship. This one from Memorial Health System in Ohio calls itself a “high school internship,” but it really is a career exploration opportunity. We love that, too!

Those summer career-minded camps on our website are other great examples of ways that high school students can get career exposure.

Determined to find an internship in high school?

Take a minute to read this nice write-up targeted at high school students. The piece is very optimistic about internships in high school, and we’ll again share that very few high school students are prepared for traditional internships.

Parent of a college student or looking ahead to internships in college? Be sure to catch our “How to Find and Prepare for College Internships” webinar. Internships are amazing experiences, and students have to be prepared to make the most of them.

Updated 3/2024

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