Convinced internships are only for college kids? Think again. Ambitious teens who get some real-world work experience under their belts during high school can get a leg up on college admissions and future job opportunities – all while giving their confidence a healthy boost. Internships give teens a unique opportunity to explore career paths that might interest them (and potentially rule them out).
According to a study by Internships.com and the consulting firm Millennial Branding, 89 percent of employers believe that high school interns will have a competitive advantage when looking for a college internship or full-time job, while 83 percent thought those internships would lead to better-paying jobs.
Fortunately, there are ample opportunities for high school internships in L.A., along with some excellent resources to help you find them.
A Hot Tip: Summer Internships for High Schoolers
A program sponsored by the nonprofit L.A. Promise Fund, The Intern Project (TIP) helps place deserving high school students (mostly juniors and seniors) throughout L.A. County in paid summer internships – with priority given to high-need students.
Last year, TIP placed 85 of its 450 student applicants in summer internships in fields that span healthcare, film production, new media, finance, interior design, engineering and government. In addition to work experience, students learn about everything from financial aid applications and opening a bank account to building a resume and creating a LinkedIn account.
“It was a completely new experience to just get thrown into the professional world without any prior background,” says Davit Antonyan, who spent the summer interning at Ares Management. “It’s been super exhilarating, and I’ve loved getting to know more people in the industry and refine my interests.”
Regardless of eligibility or acceptance into the program, TIP’s website (theinternproject.org) is an invaluable resource for any prospective high school intern. In addition to a diverse list of internships, students will find a host of volunteer and mentorship opportunities and helpful tips on interviewing and writing resumes and cover letters.
Expanding Their Horizons
The Constitutional Rights Foundation’s Expanding Horizons Internships (EHI) help place first-generation, college-bound sophomores and juniors who attend a Title I high school in paid summer internships at prestigious law firms, corporations and nonprofits.
The program has been expanding the lives of high school students since 1995. Every year, more than 300 applicants vie for 60 to 75 spots. This past summer, EHI interns worked at 61 different companies, including the Aerospace Corporation, 20th Century Fox Film Corporation and various law firms.
In addition to a five-week internship, participants attend 16 educational seminars, starting in the spring, to work on communication, presentation, networking and collaboration skills. Interns also learn about the college application process, financial aid and SAT preparation.
“EHI made us more driven in pursuing our academic and professional goals, while furthering our understanding and awareness of the communities we live in,” says Karla, a participant from the class of 2016. “It made our dreams feel like they were attainable.”
A Hands-on Hospital Job
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ popular Camp CHLA provides students with hands-on opportunities to explore diverse careers in healthcare. For five days, participants suit up in scrubs and shadow healthcare professionals, observe medical procedures, participate in skills labs (CPR, vital signs, etc.) and attend presentations on various healthcare specialties.
Around 100 students are chosen from 400 applicants for this highly competitive program; only the first 400 applications are reviewed, so it’s important to apply early. Current freshmen, sophomores and juniors may apply to attend one of two summer sessions.
Participants choose the top three professions they’d like to shadow, ranging from physicians and clinical dietitians to speech language pathologists and art/music therapists. Students can also explore units or clinics ranging from the neonatal intensive care unit to radiology.
Children’s Hospital also offers the Samuel Family Latino and African American High School Internship Program (LA-HIP). Open to up to 14 Latino and/or African American high school juniors, the immersive laboratory-based research-training program takes place over a seven-week summer session, plus weekends starting in April.
Participants perform experiments in a lab at the Saban Research Institute, where they learn college-level lab skills and contribute to groundbreaking research. Interns discuss their experiments at weekly lab meetings and present a scientific abstract at a science symposium at the end of the session.
They also participate in a college-prep program that starts in April. The program includes 24 hours of mandatory SAT-prep classes, personalized college and financial aid counseling, local college tours and information sessions and exercises in college readiness.
“LA-HIP not only immersed me into the real-life environment and cutting-edge field of science, but it also allowed me to develop the necessary independence, responsibility and confidence that will allow me to continue on a path towards a Ph.D. degree,” says Roberto Gonzalez, a participant from the class of 2017.
In addition to the potentially life-changing experience, LA-HIP participants receive public transportation costs, free meals at the hospital cafeteria and a stipend of $1,500.
Children’s Hospital also offers a Summer Junior Volunteer Program for students ages 15 to 17. Twenty volunteers are chosen from more than 200 applicants for this sought-after opportunity. For seven weeks in the summer, participants volunteer four hours a day, three times a week.
Volunteer tasks may include escorting family and visitors, bringing play carts to common areas and providing administrative support. Students may also participate in optional health career lectures that cover everything from radiation-oncology to nurse practitioners.
Backstage at the Museum
MOCA’s Teen Program is a yearlong position that pays minimum wage and gives high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to go behind the scenes at the museum and learn about contemporary art. Around 15 students are selected each year from a pool of nearly 100 applicants.
Participants meet at MOCA on Thursday nights and some weekends to make and discuss art, investigate current exhibits, engage with professional artists and museum staff and help plan and execute museum events such as Sunday Studio and Teen Night. Students also visit artist studios, galleries and other cultural institutions.
Those who are interested in applying are encouraged to explore MOCA and learn more about the program by going to Teen Night, a free event created by teens for teens.
Science Sports for Volunteers
Volunteering and mentorships can provide the same benefits as traditional internships can, and aren’t generally restricted to the summer months.
The Natural History Museum welcomes 16- and 17-year-olds to become youth volunteers. Science-minded students can develop new work skills while working alongside adult volunteers in exhibits and behind-the-scenes projects.
Most students serve as “Interpretive Volunteers” who help visitors connect with our natural and cultural worlds through the museum’s exhibits. This includes customer service and wayfinding for museum guests, along with acting as informal educators. Youth volunteers are trained to engage with guests in various locations throughout the museum, using a variety of objects.
Student volunteers must commit to at least one three-hour shift per week and may work during the week or on the weekend. Volunteers are accepted year-round, and orientation sessions are held monthly. Youth volunteers also have the opportunity to participate in more in-depth training to get certified to work as educators in the Butterfly Pavilion, Dinosaur Hall and other exhibits that interest them.
Students age 16 and older can apply to work as education volunteers at the La Brea Tar Pits, where research is ongoing and fossils are continually being removed from the ground. Education volunteers hone their public-speaking skills as they lead tours, assist with educational programs and events and interact with visitors. Orientation and training for this program is offered throughout the year.
Detail-oriented teens who would rather get their hands dirty can apply to be fossil-lab volunteers. Volunteers help staff sort fossils encased in earth, prep fossils in the lab and even clean and repair the fossil bones pulled up from the pits. Full disclosure: This work is challenging and meticulous, so patience and strong hand-eye coordination are required. This popular opportunity is competitive, and the museum generally has more applicants than open positions. Participants must be at least 16 years old and commit to a full eight-hour day of volunteering every week (Wednesdays through Sundays) for at least three months. Volunteer opportunities open up throughout the year as projects become available, and applications are accepted on an ongoing basis.
Once fossil-lab volunteers have worked at the La Brea Tar Pits for three months, they may be eligible to join the excavation team on site in Hancock Park.
Members of the L.A. Zoo who are entering the ninth or 10th grade are eligible to apply to become student volunteers. Participants meet on 12 Sundays from January through March to learn about conservation and ecology issues, biomes and the plants and animals at the zoo. Volunteers must successfully complete the 12-week course and pass an annual test with a minimum score of 90 percent.
Participants must volunteer for 60 total hours in areas that may include special events, education stations, food prep and “teen talks.” Applications are available online and will be accepted through Oct. 21. The next mandatory information session will be held on Nov. 4, when interviews will also take place.
No matter what subject or career path your high school student is interested in exploring, opportunities abound throughout L.A. There’s no better way for your teen to get some experience in the working world, stand out on their college applications – and maybe even earn a little extra cash.
Melissa Gage has been an L.A.-based freelance writer for 15 years and is the mother of one son.
Camp CHLA (Children’s Hospital Los Angeles), chla.org/camp-chla-health-care-career-exploration. Application deadline: January
Expanding Horizons Internships (Constitutional Rights Foundation), crf-usa.org. Application deadline: January
La Brea Tar Pits & Museum, tarpits.org/join-us/volunteer. Application deadline: Ongoing
LA-HIP (Children’s Hospital Los Angeles), chla.org/samuels-family-latino-and-african-american-high-school-internship-program-la-hip. Application deadline: January
Los Angeles Zoo, lazoo.org/volunteers/student. Application deadline: Oct. 21
MOCA, moca.org/education/teens. Application deadline: June
Natural History Museum, nhm.org/site/join-us/volunteers-docents/youth-volunteering. Application deadline: Ongoing
Summer Junior Volunteer Program (Children’s Hospital Los Angeles), chla.org/summer-junior-volunteer-program. Application deadline: February
The Intern Project, theinternproject.org. Application deadline: February