Summer—it used to be full of actual fun, beach vacation, boardwalks, the works. But now, as students reach the summer between junior and senior year of high school, the pressure is on. Instead of planning summer vacations, high school students are stressing about finding summer opportunities to beef up their résumés. In short, we're high school students scrambling to land summer internships and competing with college-level applicants who may or may not have more experience and knowledge than we.
I myself was very stressed about making sure I had something planned for the summer until I got my internship on the iOS team at Squarespace, a leading web design company. I wrote so many essays about ‘challenges I’ve faced’ and ‘my hopes for the future,’ only to realize I wanted to attend maybe one of the programs to which I was applying.
Here’s some advice from one high school junior mess to another.
- It’s cheesy, but make sure the internships and summer programs you’re applying to are things that actually interest you. They should also be consistent with the narrative you’re presenting to colleges about yourself. If you’re interested in Victorian literature, a cyber security program may not be ideal, even if you really want to try it out. Try compromising, and learn new things while doing an activity which solidifies your image. I did a seven-week Computer Science and Entrepreneurship program last year, which fits with the major I want to pursue, but also interned for two weeks at One Model Management to try out something new. It was very hard work, but it was worth it in the end. On the flip side, colleges can tell if you’re doing something just to stay consistent with an image. That’s why having some kind of balance is key—otherwise, you may seem monotonous. Don’t try to do too much, but do things that genuinely intrigue you.
- Don’t necessarily go for brand name. Programs at schools like Harvard, Brown, Stanford, Columbia, and even NYU can be very deceptive. You have to fill out an application to attend these three to seven-week classes, but the criteria for acceptance is not always very selective, and colleges can tell when you’re just trying to get a brand name on your resume. These programs are extremely expensive as well, because most of the money schools make from them often goes to funding research and not to your experience. Instead, look for programs at not-so-fancy-sounding schools that don’t cost much, but are explicitly defined as selective. For example, Stony Brook offers an amazing summer research program in which STEM students can work closely with a faculty mentor to pursue a field of interest. Many colleges offer such programs in creative writing, film, art—basically everything you can think of. Even if you can’t do programs like these, taking classes at a local community college will show initiative and drive.
- In terms of internships, try your best to create your own opportunities instead of applying to pre-existing ones. It’s really hard to find internships for high school students. I live in New York City, so it’s even harder here where there are so many college students and big companies who only hire college students. Instead of scouring the internet for internship programs specifically for high school students, email people in the field you’re interested in with your resume asking about internships. This not only shows initiative, but lowers the application pool that you’re competing against. I got my Squarespace internship by meeting a developer there through the Built by Girls Wave program, which connects girls in tech to professionals in the industry. Try seeking out programs like these and making really good impressions on the people you meet, so they’ll recognize your motivation and offer you opportunities. LinkedIn is a really great place to find the people who work at all kinds of companies. Finesse that profile and hit up as many people as you can! If pay is not a concern for you, you can also improve your odds by specifying that you do not need payment. Start with small, local companies, but try some bigger ones with local offices as well.
- Most internship opportunities I found on the internet are for college students. Don’t let this discourage you—try emailing the directors or staff of the program and ask if they will accept high school students. Attach your resume for sure! They may say no, but it never hurts to ask, and it shows initiative. Many companies don’t even realize that high schoolers have to get internships and attend competitive programs these days. My whole internship at Squarespace started by someone asking me as a joke, “Hey, do you have to start doing all that internship stuff in high school now?”. If they know that high schoolers want the opportunities, there’s a chance they’ll actually consider them.
Finding summer opportunities is such a headache, but they always end up being really fun (and they serve a greater purpose!). Really, just make sure you’re doing something that you actually want to do, because in the end, that’s really what matters.