Internships are quickly becoming an essential factor in getting a job after you graduate from college. Although most students pursue internships during college, summer internship experience during high school is also valuable. Whether you intend to study the arts, science or business, preparation and follow-through will be critical in finding and securing an internship position that can help guide your academic decisions and long-term career goals.

Target areas of interest

Start the process by making a list of things you like to do, your accomplishments, the skills you have and what you would like to learn. Then think about the industries you want to work in and make a list of companies and roles you’re interested in. Browse company websites to get a better understanding of the roles available and how each position contributes to the company’s business. After your research, think about how your skills, interests and goals align with the specific positions.

These lists will give you a good understanding of what you want to accomplish and what kind of internship is the right fit for you.

Research and network

The key to finding the right program lies in your ability to research and network with the people you know. Networking is also a critical skill that will help you line up letters of recommendation from teachers, advisers, former employers from either paid or volunteer positions, or family friends.

Begin your search through your school. If your high school has a career center, let them know that you’re looking for a summer internship and explain your goals to them. Teachers and high school counselors can provide support by working with you to focus on the best elements of your list (e.g., skills, interests, goals), recommend potential internship locations and assist with applications.

Depending on the kind of internship you want, club advisers and coaches may be good resources too. And don’t forget your family and friends — let them know what you’re interested in doing. You’d be surprised by how many students find internships through a family member or friend of the family.

Sites like Youtern and WayUp exclusively feature internship opportunities. You can also utilize job board sites like LinkedIn, Idealist, Indeed and MediaBistro. Professional associations and company websites can provide a wealth of information on their internships as well.

By the time you’ve done due diligence with your research, you should have a solid list of potential internships to pursue.

Consider the value

Remember that an internship’s value lies in the experience you’ll gain and skills you’ll develop. Consider what an internship means to you from an academic and professional viewpoint, and ask yourself if it’s the right time to pursue this rather than a summer job that will boost your savings for college.

For-profit and private sector companies may offer compensation, but these internships are often more competitive than most and may be harder to find.

Unpaid internships are valuable and will give you the same opportunities to learn and explore your interests and skills. They are required to meet the following criteria:

  1. The training you receive has to closely mirror your academic studies.
  2. The employer can’t financially benefit from the work you’re doing.
  3. There isn’t any suggestion that if you work for free first, the position may become a paid job.

Before accepting an internship, find out if your college will credit your summer work.

Apply to several programs

Since summer internships are competitive, apply to several programs to increase your chances of landing the right one. Send a cover letter and résumé with each application — it’s a necessary step that will show employers that you’re committed and serious about the opportunity. A letter gives you the chance to introduce yourself, shows you have an understanding of the industry and company and should illustrate what you can offer, by citing examples from any work, school or home responsibilities. There are several websites, such as internships.com and resumegenius.com, that provide samples and guidance for internship applications.

Once you land the summer internship, be open to being challenged, learning new skills and polishing old ones. Being the first to jump in when needed will show you’re proactive and leave a positive impression on your employer that may be helpful  after you graduate.