Best Internship Programs For High School Students

For motivated high school students looking to get a leg up on their future careers, internships can be an invaluable experience. While internships are most commonly associated with college students, an increasing number of opportunities exist for high schoolers to gain real-world work experience before they even receive their diploma.

An internship allows a student to explore a potential career path through hands-on learning in an actual workplace setting. It provides insight into the day-to-day responsibilities and realities of a profession that can’t be gleaned from a classroom. 

Students have the chance to develop important soft skills like communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. They can make connections with professionals in their field of interest who could provide mentorship, advice, and references.

For students considering what major or career direction to pursue after high school, internships allow them to “try on” different options and discover where their interests and aptitudes lie. The experiences and self-knowledge gained can then help inform their decision of what to study in college or pursue vocationally. Even for students with a clear career path in mind, interning gives them a competitive advantage for college admissions and future job opportunities.

With the well-documented benefits of high school internships, the challenge is finding high-quality programs to apply for.

In this comprehensive guide, I will highlight some of the very best internship opportunities available across the United States for outstanding high school students.

Best Internship Programs For High School Students

1. STEM Internships

For students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) fields, internships with major research institutions, tech companies, and national labs can provide unparalleled real-world learning experiences.

The High School Internship Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology allows students to participate in active research with faculty and researchers in any of MIT’s science, engineering and computational fields. 

Similarly, Stanford University has a Coder Research Associates program where high schoolers work at the cutting edge of computer science research.

NASA offers the NEWTON Student Internship Project for high school students interested in careers involving careers as NASA researchers and engineers. Interns work one-on-one with a mentor on developing skills and research techniques.

For those drawn to the tech world, internships with name-brand companies like Microsoft, Google, Intel, and IBM are available on a competitive application basis. These internships provide invaluable exposure to the corporate working world as well as growing one’s knowledge of relevant tools, coding languages, and practices. Many tech interns report having impactful mentors and being given meaningful project work during their time with these firms.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) also provide STEM internship opportunities focused on biological, medical, and general scientific research. Applicants undergo a rigorous selection process for placement into programs at locations across the country.

The drawback with many of these high-profile STEM internships is that they are highly competitive. However, they look incredibly impressive on a student’s college application or resume. Participants gain invaluable skills and experiences hardly available anywhere else.

2. Medical and Healthcare Internships

For the scientifically-inclined student looking at a future career as a doctor, nurse, or medical researcher, clinical internships and hospital volunteer programs provide an up-close look at the medical field.

Stanford Medical Youth Science Program offers an 8-week summer internship where students participate in practicing medicine, including taking patient histories, examining cadavers and learning valuable skills like suturing and x-ray readings.

The Mayo Clinic has paid internships roles for high schoolers interested in healthcare, including clinical research, operating room technology, nursing, brain science and more.

The Summer Medical Career Program at the University of Pennsylvania offers shadowing experiences in various medical fields, group projects, and medical workshops in an engaging experience designed to inform students’ exploration of healthcare careers.

Cleveland Clinic and Boston Children’s Hospital are just two other well-respected hospitals that offer summer internship programs that place students in rotations across dozens of departments, ranging from operating rooms to research labs.

These types of medical internships are incredibly worthwhile for building a student’s understanding of the realities of working in healthcare. However, students accepted into these extremely competitive programs should expect to commit significant time and effort during the internship period.

3. General Summer Internship Programs

A number of organizations provide internship programs open to high schoolers across a wide range of industries and roles. While not focused on a particular field, these internships aim to build essential 21st century career skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and much more.

The High School Internship Program at Bank of America places students into roles aligned with their skills and interests. Past intern roles have included positions in marketing, finance, human resources, and technology. Similar general internship programs exist at other major corporations like PWC, Ernst & Young, JP Morgan, and GE.

For entrepreneurial-minded students, Dynamisters offers a consulting internship experience where participants operate as a consulting firm working with real small business clients. Students are assigned different roles and projects, developing skills like market research, financial modeling, and pitching strategy recommendations.

For students who see themselves leaning towards roles with social impact or public service, The Congressional Hunger Center places interns in non-profit organizations, domestic and international anti-hunger organizations, and federal agencies involved in fighting hunger.

The Bank of America Student Leaders program provides an 8-week paid internship at a local nonprofit organization in addition to a week-long Student Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. focused on developing leadership and career skills.

While primarily focused on professional development, these general business and non-profit programs provide real workplace experiences and mentorship to help high schoolers build core competencies valued by any future employer. The programs enable students to showcase their skills in a professional setting and establish important networking connections.

4. Subject-Specific Internships

Students looking to gain experience in a particular domain or area of interest may be a fit for one of the many subject-specific internships available each summer.

The School of Visual Arts in New York City offers Summer Precollege Programs with internships in animation, film, photography, and other creative fields. Interns get hands-on experience working on projects in their area of interest.

For budding journalists, media organizations like The Boston Globe, Huffington Post, and New York Times all take on a limited number of high school interns. For those passionate about writing and storytelling, these coveted internships provide invaluable learning opportunities working alongside professional reporters and editors.

Northwestern University’s Cherubs program provides a residential summer experience for high schoolers interested in fields like engineering, journalism, biotechnology, and digital media. Students take courses and participate in hands-on seminars and project work in these areas.

Students looking at careers involving travel, hospitality, or tourism may find an internship like the Marriott Hotel Internship Program to be an enlightening experience learning about operations at world-class hotels and accommodations.

From marketing and graphic design to entrepreneurship and economics, students can find internship opportunities strongly focused on building subject-specific knowledge and skills for just about any field or career path imaginable.

5. Local Opportunities

While many of the internship programs mentioned are run by nationally recognized brands and organizations, students should not overlook opportunities closer to home. Local companies, government agencies, non-profits, and even individual entrepreneurs can all potentially offer impactful internships.

The key is for students to identify people doing work they find interesting and expressing an interest in interning with them (even if they don’t have formal intern positions advertised). Persistence and hustle may uncover hidden gem experiences lurking in your backyard.

High school career resource centers, alumni networks, or even teachers may be connected to interesting internship leads locally. Many organizations recognize the value in mentoring youth and bringing in fresh, eager talent, even if unpaid.

Proactive students willing to put themselves out there may just get their foot in the door for an amazing localized internship opportunity that makes for a compelling application talking point and launchpad for their future pursuits.

finding right internship opportunities

Finding The Right Fit

With the plenty of internship options available to high schoolers, it can be difficult deciding which opportunities to pursue. However, a few guiding principles can help students whittle down the possibilities and focus on programs best aligned with their goals:

  • Identify your interests – Figure out the type of industry, career field, or even specific job roles that you are most passionate about or curious to learn more about. Then target internships that will provide relevant experiences and exposure. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
  • Consider time commitments – Some internships are offered part-time during the school year, while most are full-time commitments over the summer. Be realistic about how much you can take on at your age alongside other obligations. Prioritize quality of experience over quantity.
  • Location matters – Are you looking to travel somewhere for your internship? Or does staying closer to home due to costs, family reasons, etc. make more sense? Don’t overlook local opportunities as solid options.
  • Pinpoint future goals – Are you looking to boost your college applications or search for career path clarity? Do you hope to develop certain skills like coding, writing, research, public speaking? Pick internships aligned to your current needs and long-term ambitions.
  • Focus on mentorship – The strongest internships should provide more than just busy work. Identify programs promising to connect you with professionals in your field of interest who can coach and advise you. Quality mentorship accelerates your growth.

Overall, the best internships are those providing ample active learning, meaningful tasks, skills development, and exposure to fields and possibilities that excite you. The right internship should stretch but not overwhelm you while generating experiences you can’t gain anywhere else.

Making Your Application Stand Out

Competition for the most coveted high school internship programs can be intense. Applicants often need outstanding academic performance, leadership activities, and specialized skills or interests to help differentiate their applications.

Students should start researching opportunities and setting internship goals quite early, even freshmen or sophomore year. Well in advance of application deadlines, work to bolster your academic record and expand extra-curricular involvement. Be strategic about the part-time jobs or volunteer experiences you accumulate as well.

Once ideal internships are targeted, follow application instructions carefully. Some require essays, letters of recommendation, and work samples as part of the process. Focus your applications on communicating clearly why you are uniquely qualified and motivated for each particular internship position.

Perseverance is important, as many of the top opportunities receive far more applications than spots available. View rejected applications as opportunities to improve for next time. Above all, maintain enthusiasm and keep taking steps to gain relevant experience – even starting locally if needed – while working towards landing your dream internship.

Setting Your Career in Motion

While offering no guarantees, securing a high-quality internship as a high school student can pay dividends. Your teenage years are both a period of tremendous possibility and an inflection point where the steps you take help determine the trajectory of your future career path.

At a minimum, internships enable you to explore different fields, gain relevant skills and knowledge, and discover your strengths and interests. The most meaningful internship experiences though have the potential to fundamentally inspire, motivate, and enlighten you.

You may just find a mentor who changes your life path, confront an ethical challenge that shapes your values, or gain confidence in your abilities that propels you to new heights. The self-discovery that occurs by immersing yourself in a taste of the “real world” can’t be replicated in the classroom.

So for high schoolers looking to get ahead and take charge of their futures, applying yourself to obtaining an internship is worthwhile work. The experiences and connections gained can equip you to make smarter decisions about the career path you wish to pursue after graduation. 

The earlier you start putting your interests into action through meaningful opportunities, the sooner you’ll start moving in the direction of building the life and career you want.

Recommended Reading: Top 10 Skills You Can Develop Through an Internship

Bank of America. (n.d.). Student Leaders Program. [Website].