Paid internships set high school students up for real-world success


Sofia Leotta

Paid internships bring classroom skills to the workplace for relevant, real-world learning. Art by Sofia Leotta.

Sofia Leotta, Copy Editor

Internships pick up where classroom learning falls short — these paid high school positions mimic professional jobs, bridging the gap between academic learning and real-world work experience. From relevant tasks to sizable salaries, internships are a must for any student looking to gain job skills prior to facing life after high school.  

Senior Sam McDaniel experienced the benefits of a high school internship with Teens in Public Service, a Seattle-based paid internship program that pairs high school students with local non-profits.

“I was an intern through TIPS for the Hunger Intervention Program — I ended up helping with their Summer Meals Program,” McDaniel said. “I would do research on activities for kids and type them up and format them. I would do my art for it, and I would translate all of them into Spanish.” 

Many high school internships, such as McDaniel’s, have switched to a virtual environment for 2020 and 2021. Even with this change, interns have said that they benefited greatly from paid learning opportunities. Anya Shukla, a senior at the Lakeside School, experienced this last year during her summer internship with Foundry10, a philanthropic research organization that prioritizes student-led innovation.

“Something really cool about the Foundry10 internship was that we’re able to choose our own projects and explore our own passion,” Shukla said. “I chose to create a website to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Shukla said that through her internship with Foundry10, she was given the opportunity to merge her STEM interests with a personal passion for creativity. 

“I learned a lot about web design and coding in order to hard code a website to host my materials,” Shukla said. “I created some artwork and a podcast, featuring caregivers and scientists, using information that I had gathered to show the impact of Alzheimer’s disease.”

From exploring STEM career options to education or humanities tracks, high school internships offer students an opportunity to both learn about specific job duties and gain transferable skills that will aid them in any career.

“I got the opportunity to work with an employer with deadlines and responsibilities before coming into my senior year,” McDaniel said. “It was really helpful and helped me grow a lot of interpersonal and professional skills, especially in a virtual setting.”

Similar to McDaniel, Shukla said that the critical life skills she gained in her internship will stick with her far beyond the end of her paid position. 

“It was helpful just to learn about how plans change,” said Shukla. “Sometimes your project isn’t feasible or sometimes there are certain constraints that are put on your project and so learning how to work with those, I think, is just helpful in any field.” 

Despite the numerous benefits of high school internships, applications may seem like a daunting task, with forms, interviews and letters of recommendation commonplace for paid positions. McDaniel said that this process can be best approached with a sense of authenticity and eagerness to learn. 

“If someone is looking for a high school intern, they’re looking for someone with genuine interest in the thing that they’re doing,” McDaniel said. “They’re looking for somebody who can grow from that experience.”

In addition to demonstrating enthusiasm, Shukla said that high school students applying for internships should take a close look at internship descriptions and tailor their application to the personal qualities that make them the best fit for the job.  

“I think it’s really helpful to tell them your story about who you are and how your talents fit in with the talents or the skills that are necessary for the internship,” Shukla said “If they happen to mention key qualities and skills, make sure you highlight how you relate to those skills and how you relate to the job description in your own application.”

McDaniel said the same can be said while interviewing for a high school internship and that connecting with the interviewer will take your conversation to the next level. 

“For interviews, have that quality where you light up when you talk about things that you’re passionate about, and you can speak eloquently, but genuinely, about what you want to do, and how you hope to grow from that experience,” he said. “Emphasize your humanity.”

McDaniel said that applying to and interviewing for high school internships gives students practice in telling their personal stories with passion for future employers and colleges. For those who are accepted into positions, he said that the experience is well worth a tedious application process. 

“Being able to do creative work that served my local community was useful especially as I was starting the college application process and was looking to move into the next chapter of my education,” McDaniel said. “It was really helpful to kind of get some direction and figure out not exactly what I wanted to do, but how I wanted to help and how I could help.”