How and Why High Schoolers Should Find Summer Jobs, Internships and Volunteer Programs


March 8, 2012
by Liz Coffin-Karlin

Baby, it may still be cold outside but summer is on its way – three glorious months to fill with projects, internships and mildly soul-numbing jobs. Hey, high schoolers, I'm talking to you: Colleges care what you do with that time, even if you'd rather just hang out and play water polo...or whatever kids do these days.

Baby, it may still be cold outside but summer is on its way – three glorious months to fill with projects, internships and mildly soul-numbing jobs. Hey, high schoolers, I'm talking to you: Colleges care what you do with that time, even if you'd rather just hang out and play water polo...or whatever kids do these days.

For most high schoolers, there are two kinds of summer experiences: you pay them (hang gliding in Costa Rica, French language lessons in France with French people) or they pay you (yeah, I worked at a bagel shop). They both have their places and their benefits so if you can get to some faraway place and have adventures, go for it; however, most people aren't in that financial bracket in high school. The good news is that a first job can be just as interesting an experience, whether it's at a fast food joint or selling t-shirts at the Jersey Shore. Check out your local museums and colleges to see if they have special internship programs for teens over the summer. The application process may be brutal but a competitive internship program looks great on your resume and the money in your pocket will be worth it. Working with those programs will also give you a chance to meet teens from other high schools or outside your normal social circle; remember, college is all about learning to get along with people totally different than you – now's a good time to start.

But don't forget secret option number three: No one pays you but you get to practice something you think you'd like to study or work in. It's like volunteering (except you go every day instead of when you feel like it) but you should think of it as a job, minus the monetary compensation. The summer before my senior year of high school, I called around and became a journalism intern at a small local paper. I pitched and wrote my own articles and even used the amazingly complex 9-megapixel digital SLR camera (hey, it was 2005). While I wasn't exactly producing Pulitzers, I got great articles for my portfolio and the experience of working as an adult. In this economy, everybody wants free labor and by finding a place to volunteer regularly, you may just find a career. Start your search early, though: These opportunities fill up fast!

Liz Coffin-Karlin grew up in Sarasota, Florida where the sun is always shining and it’s unbearably hot outside. She went to college at Northwestern University and after studying Spanish and history, she decided to study abroad in Buenos Aires. In college, she worked on the student newspaper (The Daily Northwestern), met people from all over the world at the Global Engagement Summit and, by her senior year, earned the title of 120-hour dancer at NU’s annual Dance Marathon. She currently works in Buenos Aires on freedom of speech issues but is thinking about returning to the U.S. for a job in urban education.

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