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The Rise of High School Internships | K-12 Schools

High school seniors are expected to do a lot. College form. Community Service. Sports, clubs and lessons. Now, there’s a new item on the menu: Training.

Some high schools encourage students to complete training in their junior and senior years as a way to gain real-world experience, explore potential career paths, and learn essential skills in the workplace.

Education experts say that once college students are looking for a ramp to the job market, high school internships focus more on experience and learning than on getting a full-time job. They allow students to investigate areas of study and work options that are still a long way off.

says Laurie Cobb Weingarten, certified educational planner and president of One-Stop College Counseling in New Jersey. “We found that students who receive an internship in high school often mature, and raise to meet the expected level of responsibility.”

Internships with local businesses, nonprofits, or community organizations can be an educational alternative to the low-paid work often offered to teens, and can be an asset in college applications. Kevin Davis, founder and president of First Workings, a nonprofit that combines low-income students with paid internships, says high school internships can also help students develop professionally.

“Through the coaching experience, high school students gain the confidence to succeed in their chosen path,” he says.

Benefits of high school training

College-level studies show that internships can greatly increase students’ employment prospects. A 2019 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey of training programs found that 70% of interns received a job offer.

At the high school level, statistics show that training is still going on. A 2020 study by American Student Assistance, a nonprofit organization that helps students earn college degrees, notes a recent survey showing that only 2% of high school students have completed internships.

Many high school students viewed internships as a college endeavor, according to the study, and many focused on traditional paid jobs. Among teens ages 16 to 19, 17.6% held a job in 2020, according to Statista.

“This points to an exciting opportunity to change the narrative around work-based learning experiences,” says the American Student Aid Report, adding that “we must find more opportunities for students to learn and earn.”

Accordingly, some high schools now add internships as an option or requirement. In fact, some schools have been doing this for decades.

For example, Madeira School, a private girls’ high school near Washington, D.C., emphasizes experiential learning and has made internships a part of its curriculum for more than 50 years. Today, students in Madeira train in community organizations as sophomores, on Capitol Hill as juniors, and then in professional positions as seniors.

Another pioneer is Trinity High School in Ohio. The internship program has placed students in the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Botanical Garden and in companies across a range of industries, from health care to municipal services.

Building professional skills

Education experts say such experiences allow students to “try on” a career path.

“Some teens are simply trying to educate themselves in an area they think might interest them,” Weingarten says. “For example, some are looking for jobs in the financial industry, while others are looking for internships in computer science, environmental science, health science, communications, or another field.”

Educators say internships also build valuable professional skills, including communication, self-advocacy, and the ability to work effectively with other people in a professional environment.

Joe Nannini, director of clinical experience and evaluation at the University of Nevada-Reno’s College of Education and Human Development, says he can tell when students have high school internship experience.

“The more prepared a student is when he enters college, the easier it will be to adapt to the rigors of college-level academics as well as social pressures,” he says. “In higher education, we try to do everything we can to support students in their perseverance towards degree completion and social cohesion. In my experience, students who participated in extracurricular exercises during high school are off to a rather distinguished start.”

While some might argue that traditional high school jobs in retail or restaurants might offer similar benefits, Nannini says there is a difference.

“It’s more goal-oriented than task-oriented,” he says of the internships. “It provides leadership experience for a future opportunity. Jobs during high school may not provide the same kind of future focus.”

Looking for a high school internship

When looking for high school internships, it’s important to understand a student’s responsibilities and make sure the work aligns with the student’s goals, according to Weingarten.

“It is always helpful for a student to believe they will learn and grow from the internship, not just completing busy administrative work,” she says.

When it comes to getting an internship in high school, students can start by preparing a one-page resume with all the experiences they have. In high school, this might include participating in clubs, performing arts, or a sports team. Leadership roles can be highlighted. As well as any work experience.

Nannini then recommends that students contact organizations that can provide guidance, starting with a student’s high school career center, as well as local colleges or trade schools. If necessary, students can extend their research to include the local chamber of commerce, nonprofit organizations, and community organizations.

Nannini also suggests that parents support their children with advice and guidance, while allowing the student to do most of the legal work.

“It is critical for students to arrange their own courses because it teaches them to communicate effectively, present themselves professionally, set priorities, manage their time, and most of all, create a position they can be proud of,” he says. “When a student has an internship of their choice, connects with, connects with, secures and thrives, we must celebrate their achievement.”

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