There’s no substitute for experience when it comes to career planning. And that’s just one reason why high school students who want to try a career on for size, get into better colleges, or find better jobs down the road should consider an internship.

“High school isn’t too early to be getting serious about a career,” writes Caralee Adams of Education Week. “Getting work experience—through an internship or volunteering—may be the ticket to a selective college, a prestigious college internship, and a good job after graduation.”

Adams cites a 2014 “High School Careers” study by Millennial Branding, which surveyed 172 high school students, 4,597 college students. and 326 employers from across the country. The Millennial report, authored by Dan Schawbel, concludes that internships are a win-win for students and employers.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Although 55 percent of high school students feel pressure from their parents to gain professional experience during high school, 54 percent of parents have not helped their children obtain work experience during high school.
  • Seventy percent of companies said high school students who complete their programs were “very” or “completely” likely to gain a college internship with their company and 45 percent said that high school internships were “very likely” or “completely likely” to evolve into full-time positions at that company.
  • The willingness to volunteer (77 percent among high school students) falls to 63 percent among college students as financial considerations become more pressing.

“In today’s economy, students have to start building their careers in high school in order to better compete in the college admissions process, for college internships and eventually full-time jobs,” writes Schwabel, explaining why internships aren’t likely to go away anytime soon. “Employers who offer high school internships will build brand awareness early, fill up their talent pipelines and be able to remain competitive in their marketplace.”

Commenting on the same report, Robin D. Richards, Chairman and CEO of Internships.com writes: “For students, work experience is the key to ensure they make a good career decision and build their professional network.  By employing students, companies get exposure to talent early in their career journey and help support the well-being of the local community.”

Although job responsibilities can vary widely, the Millennial survey found that the social media marketing projects, data entry. and administrative work were the three most common areas of focus for interns in 2014.

Some high school students have a good idea about what career path they’d like to pursue. For them, internships can provide the chance to dip a toe in the water to see if the reality of a particular job meshes with their perception. Other students have yet to refine their ambitions. For them, an internship can help them find or dismiss potential fields.

As important at the job itself can be the wealth of real-world opportunities and benefits an internship can provide–everything from improving their college application or work resume, to gaining skills and confidence, to making potential future employment contacts.

“Every student should graduate from high school having experienced success in several work settings,” writes Tom Vander Ark of Education Week. “There’s no better way to earn job skills than on the job. Work-based learning experiences are a great way to narrow interests and focus future learning.”

K12 conducted its own survey, interviewing students who participated in the Arizona Virtual Academy internship program in 2013 and 2014.

“When asked about the most valuable part of their internship, students repeatedly mentioned their improved social and communication skills, learning what it takes to enter certain career paths, and the transferability of their newly acquired skills to other professions,” says Beth Scott, employment outreach consultant at Arizona Virtual Academy.

The K12 survey concluded:

  • Students gained exposure to career choices and work roles. “For some, it’s a way into a profession,” Scott says. “Others learn that a particular field just isn’t for them or isn’t what they thought it would be.”
  • They acquired knowledge and skills necessary for workplace success. “We see their social skills just take off,” Scott says.
  • Benefits included increased self-esteem and personal growth by successfully meeting new interpersonal and intellectual challenges.
  • Students developed positive relationships between school, internship mentor, and the local community. “Students have a need to connect back to their community and this is an excellent way,” Scott says.
  • Students received high school credit upon successful completion of the internship. Although internships are often non-paid, K12 students receive half an elective credit for each semester completed (minimum 60 hours in the field).

Scott observes an additional benefit that students might not realize—one that takes effect behind the scenes when it comes to their college application.

“If you have two kids with the same credentials and with the same aptitude going into a college application process,” she says, “and one can speak to having real world experience, I would think they’d have that going for them.”

Internship opportunities are just one way K12 schools help online learners get the jump on the competition. To receive a free information kit about K12 schools or to speak with an enrollment consultant, visit K12.com.

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