Each year, an estimated 1.5 million internships are available in the United States.

Although most students seek out these opportunities while in college, some may find value in pursuing them while still in high school.

Making Art Accessible

Mary Ann Smock, currently a freshman at Capital University in Bexley, Ohio, credits a six-month internship at the Art Lab of the Columbus Museum of Art during her senior year of high school with helping her decide her college major.

As an Art Lab intern, I worked with a team of high school juniors and seniors to brainstorm ways to make art more accessible to the local community,” Smock says. She also helped plan and execute two art shows, which allowed each intern to create and show an original piece.

“I got to meet and talk to a lot of different artists and museum staff who had built successful careers in the art world,” Smock says. These interactions in particular were foundational to Smock’s decision to major in art therapy and minor in political science.

“My internship helped me develop networking skills and taught me how to best present myself and my art,” she explains. “Putting it on my résumé also proved advantageous when looking for a college job, and already having some ‘real world’ experience made my transition to college much easier.”

Mentoring Young Students

Ariel Henley had a similarly formative experience during her junior year of high school when, as an intern, she launched a local chapter of the national mentorship program Girl Talk at her former middle school. Inspired by the organization’s mission, Henley worked with the principal and guidance counselor of the Danville, California, school to bring the program to girls in grades six through eight.

After she graduated from the University of Vermont, Henley went on to pursue an M.A. in education with a concentration in student affairs at University of the Pacific, a decision she credits to her high school internship.

“The opportunity helped me better understand diverse student perspectives and identities,” she says. “It inspired me to get involved in teaching, mentoring and outreach positions both in college and after college. It also taught me how to work with students and navigate conflict.”

I’m very fortunate I had this experience in high school, because it helped me form an idea of my career.

Alaina Leary, high school student and intern

Working with Animals

While pre-college internships can shape or reinforce a student’s degree path and future career, they can be just as important in helping students decide what they don’t want to do. That was the case for Alaina Leary, who held a high school internship at an animal clinic.

As a teenager with a deep love of animals, Leary was initially thrilled to work as a veterinary intern. In her role, she performed assistant functions at the clinic and accompanying rescue league, such as preparing animals for surgery, taking and recording vitals, filing paperwork and providing basic care and socialization. Though she enjoyed being around animals, Leary quickly figured out that she didn’t actually want to become a veterinarian.

“I realized the challenges of working in veterinary science weren’t particularly suited to my personality,” Leary says. “And while I still love animal science, I hadn’t considered the physical nature of the job until this internship. As a physically disabled person, I decided to seek out something more manageable long term.”

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. “I’m very fortunate I had this experience in high school, because it helped me form an idea of my career from what I knew I did and didn’t like in the workplace, which was ultimately useful for choosing a major.” Leary, who graduated from Westfield State University with a B.A. in English in 2015 and from Emerson College with an M.A. in publishing and writing in 2017, now writes about animals and animal welfare as a publishing and digital media professional in Boston.

The moral of the stories? Although a high school internship may not be right for every student, there can be considerable value in getting a head start by seeking professional experience in a career field that interests you. There’s certainly little to lose by looking into what opportunities are out there.