Summer Programs for High Schoolers vs. Internships: Why Internships for High Schoolers Are Best

You’ve probably thought about taking college classes offered to high school students to further your exploration of certain skills. You’ve probably also thought about taking your learning outside the classroom in an internship for high schoolers. Which one should you spend your summer on? Here’s Cardinal Education’s answer as to why we prefer internships over summer college classes.

How To Choose Extracurriculars: Build Stories, Not Just a Resumé

We’ve already gone over our top tips on how to spend the summer wisely here, here, and here. In general, colleges like extracurriculars that you can tell a story about. The story you tell–like many other riveting tales–must end in what you as the main character have learned, and most importantly, your personal development. You need to demonstrate to colleges that you’ve done things out in the world, things that have affected you in profound ways. While college class programs can be illuminating, they don’t provide the opportunity to build those stories that you need. Therefore, while you’re reviewing academic subjects and working on college apps over the summer, you’ll want to add internships into the mix. 

High school internships are a better option than summer classes and will provide you better, more fulfilling experiences. They are more challenging, as they’re often directly tied to real-world issues, on which you’ll get to apply what you learned in class. They involve more collaboration, especially with your equally bright peers and highly experienced adults. The real-world impacts that you create will resonate with you for the rest of your life, and with the people whose lives you could potentially change. Not only will you be able to make a real change in the world, you’ll also be able to build the sort of narratives that college admissions officers are looking for. And last but not least, if you build a strong relationship with your mentor, you can ask them for a strong letter of recommendation.

In contrast, summer college classes are lectures, with little opportunity for you to put your knowledge to use. They’re also often cash cows, built primarily for university profit. With significantly more input instead of output, you, unfortunately, won’t be able to make a big impact with all the college-level knowledge you’ve learned in class. You’ll be able to learn a great deal and you might even get some college credit. However, when you can learn even more from getting hands-on in the field, summer courses may not be the best use of your time.

What If I Can’t Find an Internship?

There are, of course, only so many internships to go around. What’s more, you may not yet be old or experienced enough to participate in the opportunities you’ve been eyeing; some internships and research programs have prerequisites and age minimums. If so, there are still plenty of summer programs that we’d love to recommend. 

The Stanford Summer Humanities Institute is a classic, where you can study complex and niche fields from political revolutions to magical realism in fiction. If you’re more business-oriented, have a taste of Wharton Business School’s diverse array of summer classes. Harvard Summer School, Summer@Brown, and Columbia’s Summer Immersion Program are available to students who have more or less just entered high school, with Columbia being available to incoming ninth graders as well. While you should aim for an internship first, these summer courses will provide great experiences if you are unable to find one.