A common question that we hear at Ivy Central when helping students prepare to apply to college is ‘Should I do an internship?’ As you might expect, the answer is a little more nuanced than a straight Yes or No, so in this article, I will explore some of the considerations that anybody thinking of doing an internship to support their college application should reflect on.
What is an internship?
Internships for high school students are periods spent in a company or organisation gaining meaningful work experience, hopefully doing something that has a direct link to what you want to study at college. Some larger employers offer a structured internship programme while others will offer one if they are approached directly.
What form the internship will take depends on the employer, they can be paid, or unpaid, full or part time. You may even be able to do a virtual internship. Some internships may expect you to pay them for the experience, usually in career areas that are highly popular such as media or sport.
Will an internship get you into college?
By itself, no, but they may give you experiences that you can use to become more attractive to admissions officers reading your application. The key is what you do during your internship.
The challenge is finding an internship where you will be engaged in meaningful work, and that can be a problem for students who don’t have the skills to contribute. Being able to say that you interned at a well known tech company or joined a start-up for the summer looks good on paper, but if what you did there was observe or tidy up the kitchen area, then it is not going to carry much weight in your application.
If you have the opportunity to do an internship, then our advice to students is to make sure you understand what you will be doing and in particular be clear about what you will be able to present to prospective colleges. An internship that offers an educational element, perhaps developing new skills or applying skills you already possess can be a wonderful addition to your college application, but you need to be able to demonstrate that in some meaningful way, just saying you have done it is not enough. Some of the best internships we see our students take part in are those where they have been mentored by a professional in the field to do their own original work. Even if you don’t directly produce anything while on your internship you might use your new skills to do some independent work once the internship is finished, or you might use the experience to form the basis of an application essay.
A final word
Don’t be tempted to try and make an internship look like more than it actually is, college admissions professionals are well trained to spot misleading or overblown descriptions of activities that are included in college applications.