Is High School Too Early to Take On An Internship?

How do you begin to figure out what you want to do with your life? Follow in your parents' footsteps? Do what your friends are doing? Take the first job you are offered after college? More students are spending time before college thinking about what they want to do after college so that they pick the right college, choose a marketable major, and get themselves ready for the career of their dreams.

One way to do this is to get an internship, even while you are in high school. We normally think of internships as something you do in college, but more and more, high school students are taking on internships as a way to think about future careers or to set themselves apart on their college applications. Many companies, like General Motors, are creating internship programs s a way to give back to their communities and create community service opportunities for young people.

Our daughter completed a “senior project” where she spent one week before high school graduation following someone in a career that she is considering in the future. She would like to become a nurse practitioner or Physician’s Assistant (PA), so she shadowed a nurse practitioner for one week. She was able to see patients, observe a nurse practitioner doing paperwork and procedures, and was also invited by one of the physicians in the practice to sit in on his patients and observe him as he helped patients. This opportunity reinforced her desire to be in a medical profession where she can help people. Maggie confirmed this, saying, “It let me see if I want to do nursing. I got a new perspective to see what I really want to do. It allowed me to really see if this is something I’d like to pursue in the future.”

Completing such a project at the end of her senior year didn’t really help her with college applications, but it did give her greater insight into what she likes and doesn’t like about the practice of healthcare. It also reinforced her decision to pursue a healthcare major in college. She knows that she will have a rigorous set of pre-requisite courses in the fall that she must pass in order to apply to the nursing program, so this gave her the confidence she needs to work hard and do well.

There is some criticism that a high school internship makes teens grow up too fast and doesn’t give them time to relax in high school. But if teens are competing against other teens that have had these internship opportunities, then why not let them decide for themselves if this is a worthwhile thing to pursue? An internship in high school just might set them on a new career path that they had not considered!

Karen and Aneil Mishra are business school professors and authors of Becoming a Trustworthy Leader (2012).  They are also the proud parents of Maggie, who is a new high-school graduate.