Internships and Job Shadowing: A Guide for High School Students

By Jacky Gilchrist

What exactly do professionals do in an office all day? How do scientists go about their lab work? What can you expect when you graduate from college and start your 9-5? And how can you truly know what sort of work suits you best?

High school internships and job shadowing experiences can answer many of your questions. They provide an inside glimpse into the world that could await you after college, helping to guide your choice of major and career.

Navigate through this article:

Comparing Job Shadowing and High School Internships

Both high school internships and job shadowing are helpful experiences. Job shadowing involves following an employee around and observing as they go about their day. It provides a window into a particular occupation and field, enabling you to get a look at what you might be doing on a daily basis if you were to choose that job after school. During a job shadow, you won’t be responsible for completing any work yourself. However, you can—and should—ask relevant questions and take notes.

High school internships are different. They are a temporary, part-time work experience that may be paid or unpaid. During an internship, you’ll receive training, and you’ll have directives to follow that will shape the tasks you perform during your shift. Like job shadowing, internships enable you to get a feel for a particular field or occupation.

Top Benefits of Job Shadowing in High School

Completing one or more job shadowing experiences is an effective way to gain a general introduction to what you can expect from the world of work after college. It also enables you to:

  • Learn about different fields and professions
  • Begin to develop a professional network
  • Potentially forge a mentor-mentee relationship
  • Develop observations about professionalism and business communications
  • Enhance your college applications and resume
  • Narrow down your possible career choices (or add a new possibility to your list)

Figuring out what you want to do with your life after school can be a tough choice to make—even if you thought you already figured it out. For example, let’s say you’ve had your heart set on becoming a veterinarian since you were a toddler. However, while doing a job shadowing experience at a veterinary clinic, you quickly discover that it’s not easy to see animals in pain. If a job shadow allows you to determine that your primary career choice might not actually be the best one for you, then you can pivot and find another top pick (such as becoming a medical scientist who specializes in veterinary pharmaceuticals).

What to Expect From a Job Shadowing Experience

The specifics of your job shadowing experience will depend largely on the company as well as the employee you’re following. If you’re shadowing a physician, for example, you can expect to be on your feet for much of the day. You’ll follow the doctor as they move from one patient to the next and as they interact with other clinicians and medical office staff. (Since patient confidentiality is essential, you may not be able to observe each doctor-patient interaction.)

During some shadowing experiences, students will follow just one employee. During others, you may be able to shadow multiple people with different job titles. In addition to making observations, you’ll have opportunities to ask questions. You may be curious about the skills required, for example, or career advancement opportunities.

Invaluable Benefits of High School Internships

High school internships and job shadowing are experiences that complement each other nicely. One isn’t meant to take the place of the other. By completing one or more internships during high school, you will:

  • Gain work experience to inform your career choices
  • Learn how to conduct yourself in a professional manner and practice communicating effectively with others in the workplace
  • Strengthen your teamwork and collaboration skills
  • Work on your professional network
  • Boost your college applications, resume, and post-college job applications

Essentially, a high school internship serves as a test drive for your future career choices. Plus, if you make a good impression, getting your foot in the door with a high school internship may improve your chances as a job applicant later on if you decide you’d love to work at that organization full-time after college.

What to Expect From a High School Internship

Like job shadowing, internships can vary considerably from one company to the next. Some organizations have well-developed, highly structured internship programs, while others are a bit more haphazard.

In general, you can expect to perform job duties that mimic those of an entry-level employee. You’ll also receive some on-the-job training. You might have a formal training period initially, followed by ongoing direction and guidance. Or, you might simply receive informal training as you go. Most interns are paired with a supervisor who will assign them work, provide guidance and feedback, and answer your questions.

Tips for Preparing for Job Shadowing or an Internship

Although job shadowing and high school internships aren’t the same experience, you’ll prepare for them in similar ways. Use the following tips:

  • Research the organization thoroughly beforehand. You should know its overall mission and focus and its various services or products.
  • Research the job role (for a job shadow, the job role of the person you’re shadowing) and the department so that you have a basic understanding of what to expect before you arrive.
  • Develop a list of relevant questions you’re curious about.
  • Dress appropriately for an office environment.
  • Do a test commute to the office so that you know how long it takes you. Plan to arrive a little early.

As the big day approaches, try to relax! You might feel a few butterflies in your stomach, especially if it’s your first time shadowing or interning. Take some deep breaths and try to get enough sleep the night before your first day.

Tips for Making the Most of Experiential Learning

High school internships are usually fairly brief, and job shadowing experiences are even shorter. Optimize your time at the organization and make a good impression by following these tips:

  • Keep your phone silenced during a job shadow. During an internship, resist the urge to browse social media or make personal calls during work hours.
  • Bring a notepad. Write down notes and questions as they occur to you. If it’s an internship, make a note of what your usual daily tasks are so that you can write about them in a college application.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and be enthusiastic about the job. Remember that your goal—for either type of experience—is to learn as much as possible while you’re there.
  • Introduce yourself to other people, make eye contact, and shake hands.
  • Be respectful of people’s time. If you’re doing an internship, you’ll definitely need to ask questions as needed to ensure you perform a task correctly. At a job shadow, however, it’s best to ask questions when there is a lull in activity.

What to Do After an Internship or Job Shadow Experience

You’ve done the prep work, you’ve followed the tips for getting the most out of the experience, your final day at the office is over, and now you’re done! Right? Well, not quite. After completing a high school internship or job shadowing experience, there are still a few details to wrap up.

First, take some time to reflect on the experience. What did you enjoy? What seemed to be not quite so appealing about the job field? Every career will have upsides and downsides; do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? Can you see yourself doing this sort of work after college?

Next, send thank you notes within a day or two of completing the experience. If you shadowed multiple people at one organization, you’ll need to send thank you notes to each of them. If you were an intern, send thank you notes to your supervisor, the hiring manager, and anyone else with whom you spent a great deal of time. Try to personalize the notes by mentioning a few things you learned during your time there.

If possible, try to nurture the professional connections you developed—especially if you did an internship rather than a brief job shadow. Set up a LinkedIn profile and send connection requests to the professionals you met. Try to reach out to them now and then, particularly if you decide to enter that field.

Where can I find job shadowing and internships for high school students?

As with most things in life, finding internships in high school can begin with Google. You can do a general search on Google, such as “internships high school students + your zip code.” You can also check job board websites like Indeed, Handshake, LinkedIn, and Monster. When searching these sites, it can be helpful to type in “high school” to filter out internships aimed at recent college graduates.

You could also take a reverse approach. Start by thinking about the types of places you’d like to intern at. Then, visit their websites, look for a career page, and see if any high school internships are listed.

Finding job shadowing opportunities can be a little tricky; these are generally not advertised on job boards or company websites. You’ll need to do a bit more legwork. Start by chatting with your school guidance counselor. They may have a list of organizations that are open to providing shadowing experiences.

You could also try online community boards. See if your town has a digital job board or community notice board (try searching NextDoor and/or your town’s chamber of commerce and local business associations). If any organizations are offering internships, you might contact them to ask if they’d be willing to host you for a job shadow.

Lastly, try a cold call approach. Make a short list of organizations nearby that interest you. Call or email the human resources (HR) department and let them know you’re a high school student who is interested in job shadowing. Remember to be very polite and courteous; they would be doing you a favor, after all.

Just to name a few, here are some national organizations that offer internships to high school students:

Should I accept an unpaid internship?

While job shadowing experiences are always unpaid, internships may be paid or unpaid. Whether you decide to accept an unpaid internship is entirely your decision; consider talking to your parents, legal guardians, or school counselor for personalized advice.

Accepting an unpaid internship in high school is more doable than if you were to make the same move right out of college when you’ve got bills and student loans to pay. At this point in your life, it’s unlikely that you’re responsible for making financial contributions to your household. That said, it might not seem fair to do work that you aren’t being paid for.

However, bear in mind that the value of an internship goes well beyond a paycheck. You’ll get:

  • A valuable addition to your college applications and resume
  • Professional connections
  • The potential for letters of reference
  • Job training and experience
  • An inside look at working in a particular field, which can shape your career decisions

In other words, you’ll be getting something even with an unpaid internship.

How long does job shadowing usually last?

In most cases, job shadowing lasts a few hours or one full workday. If you’re planning to shadow someone during the school year, you’d probably be best served by shadowing for a couple of hours after school so that you don’t miss class. Job shadowing during school vacations offers more flexibility. You could arrange a job shadow for an entire day or possibly even a few days. Less commonly, some job shadowing experiences last a week or two.

Can you put job shadowing on a college application?

Absolutely! You can—and definitely should—put job shadowing and high school internships on your college applications. College admissions staff members do look beyond grades when evaluating student applications. In particular, they like to see that students are passionate about something and are eager to do more than the bare minimum.

If you’re filling out the Common Application, you can put your job shadowing, internships, and other activities in section five (activities). There is one challenge, however. You’ll only have 150 characters to explain each activity, so make your words count. If you completed multiple job shadows and/or internships, you might briefly mention all of them or focus on a couple of the most relevant ones.

Need help preparing for college?

It’s often advisable to look beyond school resources for help preparing for college admissions and studying for tests. At KD College Prep, we specialize in supporting middle and high school students as they get ready for college and beyond by providing programs like the Complete™ Program for test prep and college counseling services. Get in touch today to speak with a member of our team and find out if our programs could be right for you.

Jacky Gilchrist is a blog writer at KD College Prep.

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mithra testimonial
“I'm writing to thank the KD team for all the help and guidance over the last couple of years! All the resources provided were very useful to me and helped me achieve the scores I was aiming for on the PSAT, SAT®, and ACT® tests (1520, 1580, and 34). I really appreciate everyone's willingness to be flexible and accommodate my requests!”
“I'm writing to thank the KD team for all the help and guidance over the last couple of years! All the resources provided were very useful to me and helped me achieve the scores I was aiming for on the PSAT,... Read more...

Mithra A. – Class of 2022

"The resources that KD offers have greatly prepared me for the college admissions process. Without KD, I would not have been this prepared and confident... I am a rising senior, and I ended up receiving a 1570 on my SAT® test (third time) and a 35 on my ACT® test (first time). I remember the first ever practice test I took for the SAT test was a 1230 (about 1.5 yrs ago) and the first ever practice test I took for the ACT test was a 31 or 32 (about 6 months ago)."
"The resources that KD offers have greatly prepared me for the college admissions process. Without KD, I would not have been this prepared and confident... I am a rising senior, and I ended up receiving a 1570 on my SAT® test... Read more...

Elise P. – Class of 2022

“I want to thank KD College Prep for helping both of my kids over the last years reach successful outcomes on their SAT® and ACT® scores, which helped them get into great colleges. I found the college prep class for parents very informative and helpful during the process as well.  My son (Jacob) graduated in 2018 and got a 32 on the ACT test. got accepted into Texas A&M but chose Baylor for Health Sciences.  My daughter (Morgan) graduated in 2020 and got a 1450 on the SAT test and a 32 on the ACT test. got into an Ivy League school (Cornell) for Engineering.  Both my kids say that they apply the test taking skills they learned at KD Prep to... Read more...
“I want to thank KD College Prep for helping both of my kids over the last years reach successful outcomes on their SAT® and ACT® scores, which helped them get into great colleges. I found the college prep class for parents... Read more...

Jon D. – Parent

“Coming into this whole process, I had absolutely no idea what anything was, and your help was invaluable—your encouraging words, strategic advice, and wholesome stories and jokes really got me through a stressful time! I'm still on the waitlist at Harvard and other schools, but I've really started to immerse into the Emory culture, especially their debate team. Not having to pay for college and still attend a private institution is really a dream come true, and it wouldn't be possible if it were not for you.”
“Coming into this whole process, I had absolutely no idea what anything was, and your help was invaluable—your encouraging words, strategic advice, and wholesome stories and jokes really got me through a stressful time! I'm still on the waitlist at Harvard... Read more...

Shreyas R. – Class of 2020

“The most beneficial guidance I received during my College Counseling experience was being taught that it's completely ok to not know what I want to do with the rest of my life at 17/18 years old. Steve told me that a good school will help me find my path. Also, Steve's knowledge about what colleges were wanting to see in potential admissions candidates was a huge help... “There was not one specific beneficial moment or turning point in my time working with Steve, there were many. He encouraged me during the entire application process and brought to my attention many colleges I wouldn't have considered or heard about without his help.”
“The most beneficial guidance I received during my College Counseling experience was being taught that it's completely ok to not know what I want to do with the rest of my life at 17/18 years old. Steve told me that a... Read more...

Jake W. – Class of 2020

"I'm very happy my daughter chose KD as her learning partner to achieve her goals. All the experiences with KD and the Directors there are fabulous. My daughter has improved significantly."
"I'm very happy my daughter chose KD as her learning partner to achieve her goals. All the experiences with KD and the Directors there are fabulous. My daughter has improved significantly."

Zarni, Daughter – Class of 2021

"I took KD classes the summer before my junior year, and I was finished with my SAT® test by December...The test prep classes also helped me earn the award of National Merit® Finalist."
"I took KD classes the summer before my junior year, and I was finished with my SAT® test by December...The test prep classes also helped me earn the award of National Merit® Finalist."

Claire I. – Class of 2020

"It's been super helpful, and I've noticed my scores go up both on my SAT®/ACT® scores as well as test scores in school... Overall, I believe this to be the best college prep that money can buy."
"It's been super helpful, and I've noticed my scores go up both on my SAT®/ACT® scores as well as test scores in school... Overall, I believe this to be the best college prep that money can buy."

Gopi C. – Class of 2021

"KD helped me come up with a game plan for the colleges I wanted to attend, as well as any backups, and how to manage my time during this stressful period. They helped to ease the stress and made sure that I would be successful in whichever college I picked, and I am eternally grateful for all their help and hard work!"
"KD helped me come up with a game plan for the colleges I wanted to attend, as well as any backups, and how to manage my time during this stressful period. They helped to ease the stress and made... Read more...

Omar S. – Class of 2020

"My initial goals when I first started working with the KD Counseling crew was to compile a list of colleges that I would be somewhat interested in attending and fit my career goals. I think that this step I was by far the most concerned about. I didn’t know how exactly I should go about choosing which places to apply to and if I were to be accepted, if they would fit me. The team did a wonderful job considering my likes and dislikes and helped me compile a list of colleges that suited my tastes and would further my academic career. "After this integral first step, my focus turned towards time management and writing quality essays that would stand out to colleges. I got... Read more...
"My initial goals when I first started working with the KD Counseling crew was to compile a list of colleges that I would be somewhat interested in attending and fit my career goals. I think that this step I was by... Read more...

Nina H. – Class of 2020

"I was thankful for all the help I received from KD in preparing for my SAT® and ACT® exams. The workshops they offered, as well as the practice exams, gave me the tools I needed to do my very best."
"I was thankful for all the help I received from KD in preparing for my SAT® and ACT® exams. The workshops they offered, as well as the practice exams, gave me the tools I needed to do my very best."

Morgan D. – Class of 2020

"KDCP is a must for students wanting to stay a step ahead of the game for getting into college. My son has gained huge insight from the ACT®/SAT® practice workshops, practice tests, and essay class."
"KDCP is a must for students wanting to stay a step ahead of the game for getting into college. My son has gained huge insight from the ACT®/SAT® practice workshops, practice tests, and essay class."

Tiffany – Son, Class of 2021

"KD helped to increase the efficiencies of how I took the national exams. I was also able to implement these efficiencies in my daily school studies within the IB program at PESH. I would (and have) recommend KD to those students wanting an edge on their national test scores!"
"KD helped to increase the efficiencies of how I took the national exams. I was also able to implement these efficiencies in my daily school studies within the IB program at PESH. I would (and have) recommend KD to those students... Read more...

Daniel J. – Class of 2020

"Not only have I been able to significantly improve my test scores, I have learned a tremendous amount of information about the college application process due to complimentary events that KD offers."
"Not only have I been able to significantly improve my test scores, I have learned a tremendous amount of information about the college application process due to complimentary events that KD offers."

Sam H. – Class of 2020

"I came to KD the summer before my senior year with only my determination and big goals! KD provided me with the resources necessary to improve my test score to increase my chances at my dream school, Notre Dame, with the help from amazing teachers and staff. I am so grateful for KD!"
"I came to KD the summer before my senior year with only my determination and big goals! KD provided me with the resources necessary to improve my test score to increase my chances at my dream school, Notre Dame, with the... Read more...

Matt K. – Class of 2020

"I started classes at KD the summer before 9th grade. I...made a perfect score on the PSAT (earning the National Merit® scholarship) and, after taking the SAT® test only once (a relief!), scored a 1590/1600."
"I started classes at KD the summer before 9th grade. I...made a perfect score on the PSAT (earning the National Merit® scholarship) and, after taking the SAT® test only once (a relief!), scored a 1590/1600."

Thomas D. – Class of 2019

"In just one year, I was able to raise my score by 300 points and get into my dream school."
"In just one year, I was able to raise my score by 300 points and get into my dream school."

Piper F. – Class of 2020

"Having our recent GHS graduate attend KD was life changing. It provided our son with choices and opportunities that he might not have had otherwise."
"Having our recent GHS graduate attend KD was life changing. It provided our son with choices and opportunities that he might not have had otherwise."

Kathy – Son attends Mizzou

test prep testimonial grace
“I came to KD College Prep after already using another tutoring service which we were not seeing results with. Due to time constraints, the traditional classes were not going to be feasible for my daughter. They took the time to figure out a personal plan that would work for her and were always available for our questions and helping her reach her goals. Every employee from the managers to the students working at their locations are top notch.”
“I came to KD College Prep after already using another tutoring service which we were not seeing results with. Due to time constraints, the traditional classes were not going to be feasible for my daughter. They took the time to figure... Read more...

Tracy – Daughter, Class of 2020

"The KD College Prep course not only provided test practice but also motivated her to work hard for her college applications. It gave her the confidence to dream big!"

"The KD College Prep course not only provided test practice but also motivated her to work hard for her college applications. It gave her the confidence to dream big!"

Prema – Daughter attends Rice

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