The competition in high school is everywhere; whether it be grades, sports, extracurriculars, college applications/essays, or test scores, there’s always something that involves ideally performing above your peers. Unfortunately, this type of competition doesn’t loosen up after college. In fact, it may even get worse.
Currently in high school, what’s at stake for (most) academic and nonacademic endeavors is college — doing well so you can be admitted into your dream university. Many students (as I can tell from the experiences of my friends) seem to think that once college admissions are over, they can relax and let go of their various activities because for the most part, those activities no longer serve as an asset. The truth is, the aforementioned activities (sports, grades, etc) are just as important to have in college but for different reasons. The point of college is to establish the necessary academic backbone to be able to succeed in a real world career. What you may have forgotten in the midst of high school chaos is that getting a career in itself is something you must vigorously compete for (consider it round 2 of college applications), only this time, the stakes are a lot higher.
What are Internships?
Internships are temporary full-time jobs taken by college students or recent graduates in the summer (though occasionally they are part-time and taken during other seasons). These positions tend to be very “real”; in other words, you’ll be doing real-world work for 8+ hours a day, and in most cases, you’ll be getting paid for it. Internships are incredibly useful for students — not only do they provide some money and give insight into the future (you would ideally apply for an intern position that corresponds to your career interests), but they tell future employers that you have sufficient experience in the industry. Many interns are asked to come back to their company as permanent employees after graduation, and those who aren’t still find their intern experience to be valuable in finding a career elsewhere. In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that roughly 52% of interns were able to get full-time offers at their company, and that’s not even including interns who got full time offers at other companies for their experience! The point, then, is that interning can be a huge boost in job-searching in your post-college days, and as such, should be sought heavily.
Why Should I Care About Them Now?
A lot like college applications, internship hiring tends to be competitive (and insanely so for top-tier companies; places like Morgan Stanley and Google roughly take in only 1% of all intern applicants, which is a lot more rigorous than just about every college). The key to making sure you shine is a lot like what you did in high school to get into a good college — sports, grades, academics, clubs, etc. That’s why you need to be sure you don’t lose sight of being competitive after getting into a good college; maintain your best activities even after college, and don’t let your academic work ethic decay. This type of consistency has the potential to be an asset, and perseverance will certainly be rewarded when you decide to apply as an intern. Don’t make the mistake of slacking off in college only to realize you should have been working twice as hard the whole time.
Most college students intern after their sophomore year, but if you’re prepared earlier and know exactly what you want to do, you have the potential to be an intern as early as a year into college. This will be extremely beneficial because this early internship will play into your future internships, and by the time you graduate, you’ll be heavily versed in your desired career and should get a job with minimal stress.
Do I Really Have to Keep Doing Everything I’m Already Doing?
The key distinction between college applications and internships is the scope of your activities; when you apply to college, the goal is to come off as a well-rounded individual with a strong work ethic and an ability to maintain performance across many mediums (for example, having good grades in science classes even if you’re a math person). That’s the part that changes for internships — the goal here is to narrow in on your skills and show off only what’s relevant to the internship (which requires you to have a good idea of the industry/occupation you want to end up in after college). For example, a student looking to intern in finance may decide to take a few additional math classes, join a business club, and perhaps quit the swim team (yes, sacrifices can be necessary). What does this mean for high schoolers? Start thinking about your career aspirations, and adjust your activities to accommodate for that. If you’re someone all over the place with extracurriculars, slim down the number of activities and focus on enhancing the quality of your activities (pursue a leadership position, take fewer but harder classes, etc), especially for those that relate directly to your goals.
A quick note: that doesn’t mean drop anything that isn’t related to your desired internship. Hiring managers still like to see individuals who can focus on various types of things because it gives a sense of adaptability (being able to do more than you’re told, or being able to shift focus when needed). Not only that, but being well-rounded in general is a good quality to have. In short, don’t go crazy adding/dropping activities just because of an internship — take a relaxed and gentle approach that isn’t too abrupt for you to handle but also helps you narrow your focus.
Also note that internship applications vary wildly in expectations. Computer-related internships tend to care about coursework and projects that showcase an ability to code over things such as grades and volunteer experience; business internships may want to look for a sense of leadership and excellence in activities as opposed to hard industry experience; and so forth. Do some research on the general area you plan to have a career in, and look into what kinds of things hiring managers tend to favor in interviews (yes, you’ll be doing interviews for internships!). This will help provide an early advantage (and hiring managers love students that start working on quality experiences years before their peers!)
Yet another thing to keep in mind is your resume; it’s probably too early to go through the effort of actually constructing one, but always think about how your various activities/awards can play into your resume (in other words, take notes of the various things you do and jot down how they’re relevant to your dream job). This will come in handy when 1-3 years later, it’s time to make your first resume and your memory of your various experiences is less than ideal.
In short, then, it’s important for current high school students to remember that their current endeavors don’t become pointless once in college. Internships, valuable temporary positions that are arguably harder to get into than even the best colleges, require individuals to maintain the type of competitiveness similar to that of college applications. What’s important to remember is that activities and academics need to start narrowing down on a certain type of discipline/job so you can sell yourself as the perfect candidate when internship interviews come around. Shaping your various sports/jobs/classes/activities to make them more relevant to future careers definitely pays off. The earlier you know about internships and start working towards them, the more likely you are to come out on top!