Each year, admission to elite universities grows more competitive, with an ever larger and more qualified pool of applicants. While strong test scores, high GPAs, and an assortment of extracurricular activities used to be enough to secure admission, universities are now inundated with so many qualified applicants that many candidates curate their profiles to give themselves the best possible chance of admission.
Internships hold intrinsic value for students —they introduce them to the professional world and enable them to accurately identify interests and disinterests. A student’s undertaking of an internship demonstrates a depth of involvement and interest in a specific subject. As schools now seek a well-balanced class of unique individuals over well-rounded students, demonstrating a clear passion for a specific topic is highly beneficial.
This guide describes the steps necessary to find and apply for an internship, and how to begin your search.
How to get started
It is natural that you might find asking for an internship intimidating. You may think: “Do I deserve an internship? Am I really qualified?” or feel bogged down by the wide range of professional development possibilities. Remind yourself that the purpose of an internship is to introduce you to the challenges and possibilities in a particular field.
Step 1: Assess Your Network
It is a good idea to brainstorm with your family about who you know that does the type of work you are interested in exploring. Your personal network can be a surprisingly fertile source of opportunities — you can think about family members, friends, and colleagues in different positions who might be able to help. Reaching out and explaining your earnest interest may open up opportunities. Parents, if there are some people in your network you believe may be a good fit, please fill out the table below with the prospective internship coordinator your student could work with.
Step 2: Internship Search
If your personal network does not yield any appropriate opportunities for internships, it is also possible to email organisations and receive or create an internship without a prior connection. Do not be intimidated by this; the process begins with a systematic search for organisations. Ivy Scholars recommends the following strategy for an internship search:
Your high school may already have a program in place to help students find internships, or they may have a list of places where previous students have completed internships and enjoyed them. Talk to your counselor to learn what information your school has and if they can help you organize an internship.
If there is a university or community college near you, they are likely to have information on how to find internships for college students, which can easily translate to opportunities for high school students. Universities also tend to have specialized search platforms like Handshake, where companies looking to acquire interns post job listings. It can be very helpful to look through these kinds of sites to get a sense of what’s out there and acquaint yourself with what a job listing looks like. Specific departments often have email listservs that advertise job opportunities for college students.
Direct to Companies/Organizations
Another way to find internships is to ask directly at companies or organizations where you’d like to intern. First answer the ‘why’ — why this organization matters to you, and the ‘how’– how you will pass it forward after you receive the opportunity. Write down and get really clear on why you want to work with this particular company. Prepare your resume and write down how your interests correlate with their work, what you’d like to learn, and a couple questions to ask them.
Then contact the company as described in Step 3 below. Ask if they offer internships for high school students and how you can apply. If they don’t, and you’re still interested in learning more about working there, ask if they offer shorter-term opportunities such as job shadowing or opportunities to get involved in another capacity, like volunteering.
When contacting companies directly, you should look for a director of recruiting or an HR contact. These people are usually listed on the company’s ‘Contact Us’ tab on their webpage. They are the points of contact who are responsible for the company’s hiring and outreach and can be your foot in the door.
Use the Internet
Search for “internships near [your town]” or “internships in [field you’re interested in, such as medicine or business]” on Google. Because many internships are for college students, you should try the above options first, as you may not be eligible for many of the internships you find online. You can also search for “internships for high school students” or use this phrase as a search criteria to increase your chances of finding an internship you can apply for. Keep in mind that Google filters results more clearly if you put specific search words and criteria in double quotation marks; for example, “lab coordinator.”
Job industry boards like Glassdoor, Jobs List, and Media Bistro for media jobs can also yield results. Keep an eye out on Linkedin, which is like Facebook for the professional world. If a Linkedin contact has recently moved to a new company that interests you, it could be helpful for you to write to them to congratulate them and to ask them whether their company offers an internship program. Follow industry experts and alumni of schools you’ve attended on Linkedin, where you can browse profiles to see what opportunities fellow students have taken in the past, and don’t be afraid to ask friends for advice.
Step 3: How to Reach Out
While reaching out to an organization you have no prior connection to might seem intimidating, most are quite willing to talk to students. This section will guide you through contacting an organization, and the practicalities of setting up an internship.
When reaching out via email, the first thing to do is introduce yourself and your educational status to let the employer know where you are in your studies. Then, talk about yourself and how you got interested in the topic. Finally, describe your personal interest and how other experiences have led you to this interest.
- What do you think is the most significant activity on your resume so far?
- Talk about what you found meaningful in your favorite class and how it got you started on wanting to produce this research independently.
- Try to tell a story – how have your experiences in school, work, and extracurricular activities influenced the way you see the world?
After letting the contact know who you are, you should directly ask for the position. Be frank and descriptive about what capabilities you have, but if you feel that you lack some important skills that pertain directly to the job description, acknowledge that fact and state that you are looking to acquire them through the internship. Your eagerness to learn is an asset.
- What sorts of employable skills do you have? Do they tend to be quantitative or qualitative? If you have past work experiences, what did you learn from them and how might the skills you learned apply here?
- Are you good at working with people? Do you prefer work that is collaborative or solitary?
- Transferable skills are any skills you possess that are useful to employers across various jobs and industries. These might include skills like adaptability, organization, teamwork or other qualities employers seek in strong candidates. What sort of “transferable skills” do you think that you have?
- What is the job looking for? How do you see yourself fitting into the company?
- What do you not know how to do yet, and how can you learn it through the position you are looking at?
Finally, be upfront about parameters and your availability to work: give a rough sense of how much you can commit, your availability from this date on, the times, and rough schedule. The more concrete you are, the better. Don’t forget to conclude by thanking the contact for their time and suggesting a meeting in person, which is the next step of the outreach.
- What is your dream career? How does this internship fit into your overall plan as a person?
- What is the company’s mission, and how does it align with yours?
- When can you meet, and when can you expect the other person to meet you?
- Provide specific dates that you are available to meet or suggest a meeting time.
Step 3 continued: An Example
This is an email template which we use to contact labs for research opportunities – take note of its structure.
Dear [name of recipient],
I hope this email finds you well.
My name is [name] and I am an incoming freshman at [educational institution and location]. I plan to complete a BS in psychology on the pre-med track. (A) Your research focusing on the singing mice and prairie voles utilizing neuroscience, molecular genetics and evolutionary biology is fascinating, and it would be a valuable opportunity to participate in your investigation.
Previously, (B) I spent a summer as a research intern at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. I worked at the [name of lab] which researched the genetic and biochemical bases for lung cancer metastasis. There, I had the opportunity to complete DNA isolations of 344SQ cancer cells, in addition to PCR reactions and fluorescence microscopy. Furthermore, during my senior year in high school, I completed the IB Diploma program which allowed me to complete independent research projects in biology, chemistry, and psychology.
(C) My own academic interests span various fields, particularly psychology and the biological sciences. I have been very interested in participating in work that allows me to work with various aspects of biology, and I believe that this lab will let me do this. I am a motivated student, a fast learner, and very dedicated to all of my academic pursuits – it would be a fantastic opportunity for me to be a part of the [name of lab].
(D) Below, I have attached my resume along with a letter of recommendation from my mentor, [names of recommenders] from my experience at MD Anderson.
Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.
This template email can be broken down into four major components:
- (A) Give specific examples from the lab’s research and explain why it interests you – this demonstrates that you have taken the time to look into the lab’s research and you have a basic understanding of it.
- For example: “I read your publications on mice and circadian rhythms and I’m very interested in your current research” – be sure to include as much detail as possible.
- (B) Talk about any previous experience you have had – whether that’s volunteer work, a summer program, or a previous internship. Explain what skills you developed and how those will help you be successful during your internship.
- (C) Discuss your own academic interests and how they line with the research your lab of interest is doing. Be as detailed as possible and discuss how the opportunity will give you experience in your field of interest
- (D) If you have any Letters of Recommendation, be sure to include those with their contact information (get your recommender’s permission first!). Also, be sure to include your resume with all past experiences!
Step 4: Set Up the Internship
Talk with the prospective internships you selected to raise and answer the following questions:
First, establish the logistics of the internship – a rough sketch of what it will look like, where you will need to be and when. Even if your main responsibilities are stated on the job application or another resource, you should still ask your interviewer or potential supervisor to describe the day-to-day work because sometimes what they say can differ substantially from what is written. Moreover, it will encourage the interviewer to think deeply about what the internship will actually offer.
- When will the internship occur? During the school year, or over the summer? (This will affect the hours that you can commit).
- Where is the office/lab? What department?
- How many days of the week?
- How many hours per day?
- Is there any expectation or need to work from home?
- Is there pay or a stipend? If so, how much is it?
- How will the student get there? (by public transportation, or will a member of the family be available to transport them?)
Day to Day
Beyond logistics, you will need to know what the day-to-day of the internship will look like. Some internships (such as at a doctor’s office) will involve more face time, while others, depending on the nature of the work, will be more focused on developing and expanding technical capacities and are more solitary in nature. If there is work you are particularly interested in, ask if you’ll have an opportunity to try it and about how much of your time will be spent on that duty. Expect to do some busywork during your internship, as this is the nature of a lot of office work, but it should also include some work that you find interesting and beneficial. Asking questions like “How will I spend most of my time?” or “What will be my main responsibilities as an intern?” can help you learn more about the substance of the internship. Talking to past alumni of the internship program will also be illuminating, as they have experiential knowledge of what the internship was like. However, take their words with a grain of salt: everyone’s experience is different.
- How will the student participate? What responsibilities will they have?
- Will they talk to patients/clients? Will they handle equipment?
- Will they collaborate often with their coworkers, or will they mostly work alone?
- If doing scientific work, will the student handle animals?
- Will they organize paperwork? Will they use the IT system?
- If in a lab, will the student be working with chemicals?
- Are there any specialized skills that the internship will require?
Most internships reward the amount of effort that you put in. Take initiative; make it a goal to learn as much as you can during your internship, even if what you learn is that you do not want that particular job.
Think about what you will take away from the internship. You likely won’t be able to decide everything you get to do, but if there is a certain job you want to try or skill you want to learn, articulate this to your supervisor. They may be able to give you some roles that require that skill or put you in contact with people who know a lot about that field and can answer your questions.
- What will you learn? What sort of procedures? Terminology? Equipment? Professional conduct? What hard and soft skills?
- Think about the terms that you use on a resume — what words might you use to characterize the work that you are doing at the internship?
Finally, all professional experiences are social at heart. What sort of network will you be inserting yourself into in the course of your experience? One major benefit of internships is that you can make professional connections that can help you get a job in the future. If people know you and like the work you do, they will be more willing to hire you in the future, even if they move to a different company. Thus, you might be able to enlist their help later on in your career.
- Who will the student be mentored by? When will they meet?
- Who else will be responsible for the student?
- Who can the student talk with about the knowledge they acquire?
- If it’s a company or lab, do they offer coffee chats or other professional enrichment opportunities that the student can utilize to learn about different professions?
- How do other people at the company feel about their jobs?
- Will the student work with other interns? If so, in what capacity?
Acknowledging of Rejection and Perseverance
- If you apply for a program or simply cold-email, you will encounter rejections. They will sting, and disappoint, but you cannot stop here.
- If you have received a “no”, don’t end your discussion there. Your next option would be to ask the individual to connect you with others they know. This will allow you to expand your web of connections and eventually land your dream internship.
- When you are accepted as an intern to a large healthcare facility or research institution, the facility becomes liable for you and your safety. Because of this, you will have to fill out A LOT of important paperwork.
- Landing an internship is only the beginning of your work. Ensure you have all of your immunization and vaccination information updated and ready to share. When you receive emails about administrative tasks that need to be completed, respond to them promptly and with all the necessary information
- This will make the onboarding process to your internship as seamless as possible, allowing you to delve into your work quickly and efficiently!
What to Do When Your Internship Ends
- Once your internship ends, you don’t have to close any doors. In fact, you’ll only be opening dozens more with your newfound experience!
- Be sure to give a hand-written “thank you” note to your mentors and those who supported you throughout your experience.
- When asking for a Letter of Recommendation, always ask at least two weeks in advance and provide an outline of what you want the letter to look like.
- This will include the structure, a list of your responsibilities during the internship, and a description of personal attributes that made you successful during your experience.
- Finally, remember to KEEP IN TOUCH
- You have spent a considerable amount of time with your mentors, and hopefully, you developed a good or amicable relationship! Make the most of this relationship!
- If you do this successfully, your mentor will be a person you can turn to for guidance, connections, or opportunities in the future!
- You have spent a considerable amount of time with your mentors, and hopefully, you developed a good or amicable relationship! Make the most of this relationship!
This guide will not land you your internship – your perseverance will! When looking for internship opportunities, do it with intention and have your end goal in mind. This experience will either solidify what you had in mind or redirect you, and there is nothing wrong with either. Hopefully, this guide has broken down this difficult task into something that is manageable. If you want more personalized guidance in an internship search, or don’t even know what your passions are, we offer Candidacy Building mentorships, with a goal of making you the best student and scholar possible. If you have any questions, feel free to schedule a free consultation, we’re always happy to hear from you. Happy internship hunting!