It might seem strange to think that someone would take on an unpaid internship when paid internships for high school students are available. You might wonder, “Why would anyone work for free?”
However, students who take high school internship opportunities don’t work for free. The unpaid internships “pay” students in non-monetary ways. Students gain benefits from the experience in ways other than receiving a paycheck.
An internship is a vital tool for students to get hands-on experience in their chosen field of work and gain an up-close look at what specific jobs entail. High school internships are also valuable additions to job and college applications. Internships can provide worthwhile information to help a student make long-term career decisions.
Understanding the similarities and differences between paid vs. unpaid internships is crucial so you can choose the one that benefits you the most.
What Are Paid Internships for High School Students?
Paid high school internships are training programs for students that provide financial compensation. For many people, these internships become the first paid job experiences they have in their chosen career or field.
Paid interns perform duties similar to those of paid employees in environments that are close to where they hope to pursue their careers. These internships are more structured than non-paid internships, and interns are expected to perform and show up according to a schedule to perform on-the-job tasks.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of companies across the U.S. offer paid internships for all kinds of students. Some of the highest-paying companies that offer paid internships include:
- JPMorgan Chase
- Palo Alto Networks
Large corporations are not the only entities that offer high school internship opportunities; many small companies and local businesses do as well.
What Are Unpaid Internships for High School Students?
Unpaid internships for high school students are those that don’t provide financial compensation. However, students are “paid” with numerous other benefits and advantages.
Some students can receive college credit for their time, for example. Often, the experience gained alone is priceless and serves as a big advantage when the student applies to colleges and careers later.
In order for a program to qualify as an unpaid internship, several guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Labor must be met. These include:
- The employer must provide training that is similar to what the intern would receive in school
- The intern cannot replace or perform the jobs that paid employees do
- The intern must gain benefits without the employer benefitting
- The internship lasts for only as long as the intern can gain educational experience
The intern and employer must agree and understand that the role is unpaid. It must also be understood that the employer doesn’t guarantee that paid employment will be available once the internship ends.
If you take on another internship later in your future college career, inquire about internship funding opportunities with the career resources division. Some companies that offer these internships offer travel stipends to defray the costs of commuting to and from the site, so don’t hesitate to ask about that, too.
Paid vs. Unpaid Internships: What Are the Similarities?
Both types of high school internship opportunities offer potential benefits to students. Although there are many differences between the two types, there are also some important similarities.
A Head Start Finding Employment
Both types of internships can lead to employment at the company once the internship session is over. Even though unpaid internship providers (and some paid internship employers) cannot guarantee an employee position will be available, they can opt to offer you a position if they think you performed well during the internship.
If they don’t have a position available, they might be able to recommend you to other employers in the field. They might also give you a good referral after a job well done.
Valuable Networking Opportunities
In today’s digital world, networking is vital, and both types of high school internships can help you branch out and meet key members of your career field. Networking is essential throughout anyone’s career, but this is especially true as you are first starting out.
Both types of internships will help you connect with others by building a network. These people can help you learn new skills, find new positions, and boost areas that need improvement. They can become references when you apply for jobs and help you advance in your career.
Training, Experience, and Education
Regardless of which type of internship you participate in, you will receive valuable training to help you prepare for your future.
Both types of internship experiences will teach you how to perform duties within the field and allow you to witness how actual businesses in the industry operate. In addition, both paid and unpaid internships for high school students will allow you to learn from colleagues and peers.
Paid vs. Unpaid Internships: What Are the Differences?
You must consider some important differences between paid and unpaid high school internships to discern which is right for you.
Paychecks and No Paychecks
Obviously, the biggest difference between these two is the compensation. Paid internships compensate interns with money, and unpaid internships pay interns with college credit, referrals, networking opportunities, and some nice padding for their college applications.
Some colleges require internships as part of graduation requirements; if you’re considering a college that has this requirement, you may want to consider an unpaid internship.
Many interns who choose paid internships are those who have already graduated and are looking to devote their time to a paid internship without needing another job for income.
Availability of Internship Programs
The availability of paid and unpaid internships for high school students varies depending on location. A big metropolitan area typically has many more opportunities than a small rural community. Some places have more unpaid positions available, while others have more paid internships open.
Take the time to research the type of internships that are available in your area and revisit the information frequently. Internship programs generally have specific stop and start dates, and you don’t want to miss the beginning of the program you’re most interested in.
You will need to apply to secure an internship, so you cannot wait until the last minute before a program’s start date to express your interest in it.
The Value of the Experience Gained
The experience gained from the two types of internships can be very different — paid internships have interns performing work and unpaid ones do not. For example, a paid internship might help a student learn new skills, while an unpaid internship can help an intern learn what it’s like to work in a certain workplace.
For this reason, it’s essential for you to decide exactly what you need from an internship. If you hope to learn about a certain career or work environment, an unpaid internship might be what you need. If you have already chosen a career and hope to get one foot in the door at a place, a paid internship might align with your goals.
The Benefits of Unpaid High School Internships
Unpaid internships can provide students with more benefits than paid ones in certain situations. Some of the biggest benefits of unpaid internships include:
Unpaid internships put a heavier focus on providing educational experiences for interns. This is typically done through resources like demonstrations and training sessions. Unpaid internships put a heavy focus on helping interns develop their skills and enrich their experiences.
Graduation Requirement Fulfillment
If you’ll be required to complete an internship as part of your graduation requirements, an unpaid internship can help. Not all paid internships qualify to meet this type of requirement since they largely focus on hands-on work instead of education. Many unpaid internships fit the bill, though.
Potentially More Opportunities
Depending on the career field you are interested in, more unpaid internships may be available in your area than paid ones. Being open to unpaid internships can help you build connections in your field that otherwise wouldn’t be available to you.
Benefits of Paid Internships for High School Students
Some of the benefits you might gain by completing a paid internship include:
A paid internship can really pad your resume, boosting your job applications and opportunities. This can be a great boon to you if you’ve gained experience performing job-related tasks. It can also be a great way to pad your college applications, although unpaid internships can also do this.
Of course, the ability to earn money as you perform internship duties is a benefit that attracts many students to paid internships. Many choose to save the money they earn during their internships to put toward the cost of college or to help support themselves later, at the beginning of their careers.
Deciding Which Is Right for You
Take the time to consider your needs and future goals when deciding what type of internship you want. Learn about companies you are considering teaming up with and what types of internships are available in the career field you want to join.
When you engage in proper research and consideration, you can land the right internship and gain benefits that will last a lifetime.