Over the past decade, the term “internship” has become synonymous with the American college experience. Many university programs in a variety of disciplines strongly encourage or require their students to complete an internship prior to graduation. A growing number of opportunities are also now open to high school students. But are they necessary or useful?
Yes, they are. Here are three reasons why:
1. An internship can provide you with important data
“What data?” you may ask. “And why should this data matter to me?” As the cost of a four-year education swiftly rises, the ability to maximize each moment of your college or university experience grows increasingly important. For the average student, academic and career interests shape this experience. High school coursework is one source of data (e.g. the subjects you enjoy engaging with and learning about), but what draws you into a theoretical environment (such as the classroom) may not interest you in a more practical application like an internship.
Completing an internship thus enables you to determine where your career aspirations truly lie. Do you like economics enough to major in it? Will your love of chemistry propel you through difficult college-level classes? Or should you consider pursuing other academic avenues? Note, too, that your responses to these questions may affect which schools you ultimately apply to.
2. An internship can bolster an otherwise weak portfolio
Did your ACT or SAT scores fail to meet your expectations? Did you perform poorly in an academic subject or two? Is your participation in extracurricular activities low? As you likely realize, the college admissions process is a highly competitive one. Well-rounded individuals (i.e. students with both athletic/club involvement and strong marks) typically do best, but if “well-rounded” does not define you, do not panic! High school internships, given their recent emergence, are novel concepts. Including one on your college or university application may aid you in positively distinguishing yourself.
Remember, however, that merely listing the details of your internship is not sufficient. Truly revisit the period of time you devoted to this experience. What knowledge and skills did it pass on to you that your courses did not? How have you developed as a productive, thoughtful member of society as a result? The admissions essay is an ideal opportunity to discuss your internship at length.
3. An internship can expand your perception of self
Both high school and university represent extremely formative years for the average person. Opportunities like internships can significantly contribute to awareness of the world as well as self-awareness. How often, for example, can a high school junior or senior work alongside scientists at a renowned Chicago museum? Perhaps you are uncertain of your interest in this field of biology or in museum studies more generally. Resist the urge to remain within your comfort zone. Take advantage of any opening that you encounter and qualify for.
Why? It is not the expected moments in which you learn about yourself and your relationship to others – it is the unexpected that stretches your potential. You may discover your passion for botany only after you intern for your local conservatory. So, as you search for high school internships, keep an open mind. You may just thank yourself that you did.
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