Internships allow students to explore a variety of career paths, strengthen their professional skills, and expand their networks — and they aren't just for college students.
High schoolers can also participate in internships to gain professional experience, build their independence, and bulk up their college applications.
But do you have to be a certain age to qualify for an internship? Can high schoolers work paid internships? And how can you find internships for high schoolers?
Here, we answer the most common questions about high school internships.
Internship Opportunities for High Schoolers
High schoolers can participate in internships with a variety of organizations. Even the federal government offers internships for high school students through the Pathways Internship Program, as well as federal agencies like NASA and the U.S. National Park Service. Many federal internship opportunities offer seasonal schedules for current students. High schoolers must be U.S. citizens at least 16 years old.
State and local governments also hire high school interns. For example, the city of Elgin, Illinois, offers STEM internships for high schoolers with opportunities in information technology systems, the engineering department, and the parks department. These summer internships pay interns for 30 hours of work per week.
Many nonprofit organizations offer internships as well, including local museums, social justice organizations, and educational nonprofits. So do businesses in a variety of industries. For example, Microsoft offers a high school internship program, although the summer program has been temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.
In the sciences, high schoolers can use internships to build lab experience. For instance, the Massachusetts Life Science Center offers a high school apprenticeship program that brings underrepresented students into life sciences companies and academic research labs. The program offers paid internships with laboratory training.
However, internships aren't the only way to expand your resume and gain valuable skills. If you can't find internship opportunities in your local area or online, consider an internship alternative. Starting a podcast, a nonprofit organization, a blog, or a small business can offer many of the same educational benefits as an internship.
Finding Internships for High School Students
In 2019, over 60% of internships paid their interns. But what's the best way to find internships, especially if you want a paid one?
Many high schools connect students with internship opportunities directly. School counselors often maintain lists of summer internship options for high school students or even coordinate with local organizations to find availability for their students. Seniors considering an internship during the summer before going to college can also reach out to their university's career or internship center.
If you have a clear idea of where you'd like to work as an intern, reach out to organizations directly. That can mean searching for internships through local professional organizations or contacting businesses directly to ask about unlisted internship programs. Many organizations also list their internship openings and the eligibility requirements online.
Word-of-mouth is also a big factor, especially if your high school is in a small community. Ask your parents, mentors, and teachers about opportunities, and ask them to ask their friends. Often, you have more options than you realize.
Q&A on Internships for High School Students
Can you get an internship as a high school student?
Yes, high schoolers qualify for many internship opportunities. For example, many organizations offer summer internships for high schoolers that schedule around school breaks. Some internships have a minimum age requirement or limits on the number of hours interns can work while in school, so be sure to check your eligibility and schedule.
Do you have to be a certain age to qualify for an internship?
Many organizations set a minimum age for interns. For example, the federal Pathways Internship Program requires interns to be at least 16 years old. Some organizations set a minimum age of 18 for internships. Since it varies, prospective interns should check the eligibility requirements of the specific programs they are pursing.
Are all internships unpaid?
No, although the majority of internships do pay interns. In 2019, 60% of internships were paid internships. Typically, paid interns must receive at least the minimum wage. However, unpaid internships remain common in certain fields, including internships with nonprofit and social service organizations.
How do you find internships?
Students can find internships through their schools or local organizations. A growing number of organizations also offer virtual internships. In addition to checking with your school counselor or career center, consider reaching out to organizations to ask about internship opportunities.
What kind of internships are available for high school students?
High school students can work as interns in all kinds of industries, including the private sector, the public sector, and the nonprofit sector. The federal government hires high schoolers in its internship program, as do many state and local governments. Museums, tech companies, social services organizations, and research labs all offer internships for high school students, too.
Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.