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.
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:
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Bank of America
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.