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Summer internships are one of the best – and most popular – ways for students to put their summers to good use. We explore ways to help students find their perfect internships and craft successful applications.
For years – generations, even – students have been filling their summers with internships and jobs which pack a punch of professional, personal and academic benefits. While there are other great ways students can spend their time away from school – like universities’ summer schools or on productive gap years – the rewards of summer internships are compelling.
Of course, some students aren’t as enthusiastic as others about giving up their hard-earned holiday for the daily grind.
In the past, it might have been the very ambitious and diligent students who sought out summer internships. But these days, internships and work experience are less a standout bonus for the high-achievers, and more a prerequisite for employment, and even for a convincing university application.
While it’s typically only more vocational subjects that make industry experience a hard requirement for applicants, many admissions tutors are on the look-out for internships and work placements.
And while a lot of internship guidance focuses on university and college students who already have professional experience and subject/industry knowledge, starting earlier has been proven to increase the benefits of summer internships. Plus, they’re great material for personal statements and application essays.
In this article, we’ll look at how to make sure all your students are willing, eager and able to secure worthwhile internships for their breaks.
Free career exploration lesson plans
Download these lesson plans to help students find internships to kickstart their dream careers.
Benefits of summer internships for secondary school students
You might find that you need to convince some of your more reluctant students to adopt a working timetable over their summer break. The best way to get them onboard is probably to show them what secondary school students gain from a summer internship.
Plus, by learning about its benefits they’ll have a better understanding of what to expect during their internship, and how to maximise its potential once they start.
They get to explore different careers
You’ve likely dedicated a lot of time with your students to researching different career pathways.
But there’s nothing quite like experiencing it first-hand! Students will get a taste for an industry, and can decide whether they could see themselves in it long-term. One summer internship could determine what they study and where after school, and shape their whole career trajectory!
They develop important soft skills
In recent years, studies have been finding that soft skills are even more important or of equal importance to hard skills for employers – a huge 92% of talent professionals say so. And more and more, the soft skills employers most value are about working well with other people.
That’s not to say that school doesn’t instill some soft skills. But nothing compares to really living the experience. With a summer internship, high school students can develop key skills like:
- Critical thinking
- Time management
They experience the working world
As well as gaining the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, students will learn more about how it runs. While guest speakers, job profiles and company case studies can be valuable ways to learn about working, experiencing it first-hand is irreplaceable.
With summer internships, students can learn about workplace culture, how to work alongside and with different colleagues, how different management styles work and much more!
They form important connections
Another benefit of really experiencing the world of work is the opportunity it offers for networking. Students meet people who can give helpful advice and insights, and point them towards future opportunities. In fact, many internships can lead to more permanent positions.
They’ll strengthen their applications
Summer internships can be a real boost to university and job applications – as we said earlier, internships are becoming almost a prerequisite.
It makes sense that admissions tutors would be so impressed by summer internships. They demonstrate a strong work ethic, curiosity, and the soft skills we mentioned earlier.
Remote internships: are they worth it?
Students will know first-hand that COVD-19 brought a lot of change. Of course, it wasn’t just learning that went digital: the working world’s adoption of telecommuting accelerated hugely. And it isn’t only full time employees who have been working remotely. Plenty of internships can be completed from afar, too.
In fact, the proportion of remote internships increased sevenfold in 2020: in March 2019 only 3% of internship postings mentioned phrases like ‘remote work’ or ‘work from home’, but by March 2021 20% did.
That makes this a very viable option for lots of students. But the question is, are remote internships worthwhile?
Note: While COVID-19 and its restrictions undoubtedly led to a jump in remote internships, they’re not an entirely new concept!
Lots of companies have been taking this approach to internships for a while, and many had some degree of remote work even before 2020. Students don’t need to worry that the experience will be poorly organised or mismanaged!
Cons of remote internships
First, let’s consider some of the drawbacks of taking a digital approach to internships:
- Making meaningful connections with both peers and supervisors can be more difficult
- Students don’t get to experience working in an office atmosphere and gain related skills
- It can be harder to take initiative or ask questions in virtual meetings, especially when students haven’t met anybody on the call
- Students might also feel reluctant to send a barrage of IM notifications to ask questions or make suggestions
- Communication and training can be more difficult remotely
Pros of remote internships
While a remote experience is inevitably going to be different, it also offers some very real advantages over a face-to-face internship. Here are some great reasons for high school students to consider remote internships:
- Opportunities are much more accessible for students regardless of their location, as they can take part from wherever they are!
- Students still gain many skills and contacts
- Collateral costs associated with internships are almost removed – think travel expenses, buying meals and coffees at work, and any rent that might be needed
- Students add remote work skills to the roster of benefits! These are increasingly valued by employers, so it’s a real asset
- There are also additional soft skills like self-discipline and time management which come from having to keep themselves on track from home
- Students will increase their digital literacy by using new tools and software
“An internship is a stepping stone to your future full-time job – which requires independence, self-reliance and self-motivation… A virtual internship will help you understand how to manage your time and assignments as you transition into the adult world.”Jenna Ryu: Virtual Intern
Criteria to consider when researching summer internships
There are so many different internships out there these days that students have plenty of factors to consider. Here are a few of the most important criteria to explore before students start preparing applications.
What are their goals?
The first step is to help students understand their own strengths, interests and ambitions.
Nowadays, most students are likely to be able to find an internship related to fields they’re interested in: research finds that almost half of employers offer internships, and a fifth say they’re actively increasing their intern intakes. So even students with very specific or obscure plans should find something that fits the bill!
What kind of working environment would they thrive in?
While aligning their internship with their broad ambitions is a good idea, it’s not all about their specific career aspirations. After all, a lot of your students likely don’t have a firm idea of their professional paths. Other important factors include:
- How long they want the internship to last
- How they think they’d want to be managed
- The team structures they’d enjoy
- What size company they want to work in
- The subjects they enjoy at school/want to study at university
Is the summer internship paid/how much is it paid?
While completely unpaid internships are falling out of practice in many places, they do still exist. If your students are keen to earn money, can’t afford to work for free, or are simply reluctant to work for an employer which doesn’t pay its interns, this might be a deciding factor. Others might feel that the experience and skills are reward enough, especially if it’s a shorter internship.
Some employers might not pay a wage or salary, but will offer a small stipend to cover any commuting costs and the price of lunches while on the job.
On the other end of the spectrum are internships which students actually have to pay to participate in. These programmes can be extremely valuable, and offer a structured and thoughtful introduction to an industry with plenty of guided activities. But for students on a tight budget, they might not be the best option.
Where is the summer internship?
If your students are opting for an internship which isn’t remote, a big factor in their decision-making will be where the internship is located. Some students might need it to be walking distance, or easily accessible via public transport.
If students are determined to work in specific industries or for particular companies, they may have to relocate considerably. This brings up more questions…
Are travel and/or accommodation costs covered?
If the internship’s location is further afield, then students will also need to think about accommodation and travel, and their costs.
It’s important to find out whether accommodation would be arranged and provided by the host organisation. Some might not make arrangements for interns, but would reimburse the cost. However, lots of internships will require students to make these arrangements independently, which means extra research and money.
Of course, the growth in remote internships means that this factor is becoming less of a barrier for students who might not be able to afford to spend the summer far from home.
What are the working hours?
One important factor is the hours students will be expected to work. For the most part, interns will work their company’s official hours – usually around 9am to 5pm. But this can vary a lot, especially in certain industries.
If students have other commitments, finding out the working hours before taking on an internship is vital.
Are there other interns?
Some companies will hire groups of interns at a time, taking them all on structured journeys which often include group projects and activities. The amount of interns can vary a lot, usually (unsurprisingly) depending on the size of the company itself. CNN, for example, takes on about 14 summer interns. Penguin Random House accepts around 9.
If students want to meet other interns, and take comfort in the camaraderie of being in it together, then this could be quite an important factor! On the other hand, students looking for a very authentic experience where they could be thrown into normal working life might prefer to fly solo.
How to find summer internships for secondary students
Now that students know exactly what they’re looking for, it’s time to begin the search! This can seem really overwhelming to students, many of whom might have never had to look for any kind of job. Where do they begin their search for summer internships?
This could be a step in which you play a really big role. Of course, some students might feel confident taking the reins, and find internship options independently. But having resources and advice ready is always a good idea.
Here are some tips you can offer to high school students looking for summer internships:
- Do an online search for popular internship schemes in their geographic and/or subject area
- Look at popular job sites in your country
- Ask family and friends if they know of anyone who would take on an intern in a field they’re interested in
- Seek out contacts for HR staff/departments at companies they’d like to intern for
- Use social media! They can look at specific companies’ profiles (some will even have separate profiles for their Careers arm), or search for relevant hashtags. Professional platforms like LinkedIn can be especially filled with opportunities
- Keep looking for any careers fairs, recruitment events and other places where employers might be seeking out young talent
- Look at organisations dedicated to providing placements for students, like InvestIN and Intern Abroad HQ.
How secondary school students should apply to summer internships
Once students have found appealing opportunities, it’s time to face what can often be the scariest step. The world of professional applications can be nerve-wracking for all of us, but especially for high school students whose experiences are probably very limited!
Helping students craft CVs, resumes and cover letters
Creating professional application materials can be very unfamiliar for younger high school students, but it’s likely something you’ve spent time coaching older students in already.
Although you might have covered this ground before, helping students tailor their documents specifically for internships is a good idea.
While professional applications tend to value skills and experiences applicants already have, often intern recruiters are more interested in hearing about the ways applicants hope to grow and develop. What are they looking to learn from the experience? What motivates them?
Plus, having to answer these questions is a useful exercise to help students understand their values and goals. That means better job and university applications, and a more fulfilling future aligned with their core values.
Once students have all their documents ready to go, they can start sending them out! They can apply to existing schemes and internship positions they’ve seen advertised, as well as sending emails to companies they’re interested in. Make sure they always include a cover letter, whether it’s specified in the ad or not.
Preparing students for summer internship interviews
With applications ready – and maybe sent – it’s time to think about interviews. For the most part, high school students won’t have extensive experience of being interviewed, so all the prep they can get will be helpful.
One useful exercise can be asking students to interview each other. That way, they can practice their answers, as well as spending some time in the interviewer’s shoes. It’s even an opportunity to notice how body language, tone of voice and other minor details can affect an interviewer’s perception of the candidate.
This activity also encourages students to do a bit of research into the job role and the company, so that they can formulate relevant questions and effective answers.
Once they’ve had a chance to practice with each other, you could conduct one-to-one interviews with them. You’ll be able to give them really valuable feedback, and get them used to the whole process so nerves don’t get the better of them on the day.
It’s never too early to start thinking about internships
While some students might think the last year of high school is the perfect time for a summer internship, many students do undertake them sooner – even as early as Year 9/8th Grade. And with some internship applications starting almost twelve months before the internship itself, it’s a good idea to plan ahead.
Of course, most of the steps we’ve laid out are integral to general careers and university guidance, not just summer internship preparation. It’s not too soon to get started even with younger students!
To help begin the process, why not download these free career exploration lesson plans? Over six lessons, students will be guided to think through their strengths, skills and interests, and uncover how these can lead to different professional pathways.
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