Guide for Teens: Finding a Summer Internship
Updated: Mar 21
As a college consultant for high school students, Robert has seen how the right summer internship can make college applications sparkle. Summer internships offer unique, real-world experiences critical for personal growth, and they are an important part of you or your teen’s college application process. These sorts of lived experiences provide rich content for college essays and are certain to bolster your application.
Internship experiences come in unexpected places and take different forms, which can make the search process tricky. That’s why we’ve compiled a list below to help you successfully land your dream internship!
There are many online job boards that can help you find summer work. A few popular and useful ones are sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Idealist (for nonprofits), internshipprograms.com, and Chegg Internships.
Remember to tailor your searches. Important filters are location and job type (remember to select “internship” or “paid time”). This will help to narrow your search. For broader results, set fewer filters when you search. It is common for high school internships to be unpaid. Setting that as your price filter may help increase your results.
If you already know the general industry or profession you want to intern in, type that position followed by the terms “internship or high school internship” into the search bar (e.g. marketing high school internship). If you are uncertain about which area you want to intern in, try searching up a general interest followed by “internship or high school internship” (e.g. writing internship or math internship).
High schools offer a range of resources for summer opportunities. A good place to start would be the clubs or organizations you are a part of. If your high school has a Key Club, consider joining. If you are already a member, ask student leaders and the club advisor for any volunteer work or summer service-based opportunities they know of. Browsing Key Club’s online resource center might give you inspiration for different service projects you could take on during the summer. Likewise, if your high school has an Interact Club, consider joining to get involved with community service activities.
Contacting your region’s Rotary and/or Kiwanis International club board members (the parent organizations to Key Club and Interact Club respectively) to check for internship opportunities is a great way to seek out internship opportunities as well. Find the club that corresponds with your location, and search online for their website. This should provide you with club board members’ contact information (e.g. Wilshire Rotary Club of Los Angeles). Meet and connect with members who might put you in touch with an internship opportunity. Keep in mind that doing so may be easier if done through one of its service-based high school clubs, like Key Club or Interact Club.
Finally, teachers are probably aware of great internships in the subjects they teach, and may even be able to recommend students too. If there is a subject you’re particularly interested in, talk with that teacher.
Local Government and Politics
Local governments will often have internship opportunities for high school students, especially with elected officials. The Mayor, City Council, Council Committees, and City Attorney are elected positions that are great places to start your search. The City of Los Angeles’ website provides public information on elected officials and includes many officers’ websites, social media platforms, and contact information. Navigating to and exploring these sites may lead you to posted internship programs. You might even try calling or emailing an official you wish to work under or contacting a candidate you believe in and wish to help campaign for. Remember to always do your research beforehand. Being knowledgeable and thoughtful about whom you contact can help you make a more authentic connection with them, even in an email.
Doing a broad search of your county or community’s internship opportunities on Google might also help you locate internships. The County of Los Angeles’s website has an entire page dedicated to internships, and while many may be for college students, if you are interested in a specific one, emailing coordinators and asking for special permission to apply has worked for students in the past.
The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce is also a great place to find opportunities. They have resources and connections to businesses, networking events, and the city. Keeping an eye out for online announcements about internship postings or attending sponsored meet and network events that could lead you to an offered internship opportunity will help jumpstart your internship search.
Your local library is a hub of resources for finding internships and careers. The Los Angeles Public Library, for example, offers creative ways to learn about different careers, which could inspire you to look for a specific internship in a particular industry.
University Research Labs
If you’re a student who is exceptionally motivated to intern in a research lab, try cold emailing nearby university professors. Before you send out emails, you should identify which professors you are interested in working under. Consider whether or not your interests and/or goals fit with the professors’ research interests and current work, and how geographically feasible it would be for you to work under the professor (or if the professor is able to conduct research in an online setting). It is okay to cold email multiple professors at once, but reach out within reasonable boundaries. Decide beforehand how many and which professors you want to work with, and then send out your emails.
Suggested Email Formatting Outline
A well-written email is crucial if you want to get a response. Remember, professors are busy. Keep your email short and persuasive. Start by introducing yourself and provide a brief background as to why you are reaching out (you can mention your personal research interests here or how you found their research). This should be at most one sentence.
Next, dedicate at least two but no more than four sentences to why their research interests you specifically. This is your chance to demonstrate that you are serious about working under the professor. Showcase your knowledge of their research field. Ideally, find and read one of their published papers, and don’t be afraid to mention that specific paper in your email.
The next sentence is your action item – what you hope to get out of the email – and it is the most critical part of your email. It should be a specific and clear request with something that the professor can respond to. What your action item is depends largely on what you want. You might ask to set up a call with the professor to discuss further research opportunities available, or you might directly ask if there are research and/or shadowing opportunities for you.
Finish the email with a one-sentence conclusion reaffirming your interest and thanking them for their time and consideration in advance. Don’t forget to attach your resume at the end of your email as well.
Sending and Receiving emails
You can use this general email template when cold emailing professors, but keeping the content tailored to each professor is very important. The structure can be the same for all your emails, but the specifics must be clear for each professor.
Don’t expect an email response – it’s nothing personal but merely a byproduct of professors living extremely busy lives. Wait one to one-and-a-half weeks before sending a follow-up email, where you should politely inquire if the professor has had a chance to read your email and whether they’d want to discuss an opportunity with you.
Professor internships are rare. Have a backup plan in case the professor you were emailing doesn’t work out. If you still do not get a response, move on.
University Summer Programs
Summer programs are mostly opportunities that students pay for. The better the price, the more competitive the program is. Students should evaluate the quality of the program because not all are worth the cost. Consider what skills you'll get out of this. Don't sign up for it if it's just a course, because courses aren't internships. Many will try to sell students "the college experience,” but keep in mind that this is not an internship and should not be confused with one.
If you are interested in applying for university summer programs and want additional guidance, you can schedule a session with Robert Powers.
Some Parting Thoughts
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to reach out to people who you personally have never met. Sending out emails to local college professors, law offices, businesses, asking friends of friends to connect you – these are all valuable ways to establish a baseline connection that could lead you to an internship opportunity! A big part of finding an internship involves leveraging your connections and being eager and persistent enough to ask for opportunities. If a search leads to a dead-end, don’t be discouraged. Keep searching and applying, and the right opportunity is sure to arise.
And finally, don’t forget that internships are only as good as what you make of them. If you put in the hard work, maintain an eager attitude to learn, and actively pursue opportunities that help you grow and gain exposure to new interests and passions, then your internship experience is bound to be a worthwhile time.
Lark Yan is College Torch's Writing Specialist. She tutors English writing and helps students write strong essays, blogs, and research papers. You can reach her by email at email@example.com or by booking a writing session here.