General Education

Using Your High School Internship as Inspiration for Your College Essay

Using Your High School Internship as Inspiration for Your College Essay
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Joan McLachlan April 8, 2015

A high school internship can provide a wealth of knowledge and growth. Read on to learn how you can turn those experiences into an application essay.

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Building on an internship experience can help you take the next step toward your future. Internships give valuable work experience, which can be one factor in making important college and career decisions.

Some students look at their internship experience as “grunt” work and don’t take the time to reflect on what was learned or how the experience may have changed their outlook. But when taken advantage of, internships can provide you with valuable lessons.

If you are able to look at the experience not as a series of day-to-day tasks but as a way to demonstrate how you tackled problems and found solutions that worked in the real world, the reflections you generate can be great content for your college admission essay.

Consider your internship as a jumping off point to examine a specific aspect of your experience, such as a unique moment, a lesson learned, a problem solved, or a point of view that changed; describe the impact this experience had on you.

Using Your Internship for Your College Essay

It is important to be specific when writing your college essay. You can use the following tropes as a way to think about your internship experience:

# Overcoming a Challenge

Talking about how you overcame a challenge can illustrate many things about your personality, such as your grit, your ability to persevere, to grow, and to explore new possibilities. If you faced a challenge at your internship, it can provide you with an anecdote that allows you to describe those strengths.

For instance, a student intern at a community newspaper was given many assignments covering local school and community events. As a senior, she was also involved in organizing graduation activities — on top of completing all of her class assignments. She was feeling overwhelmed. In discussing this with her internship coordinator, she drew up a list of priorities and then talked to her editor about the situation: They agreed that some events did not need to be covered. She was also able to cut back on some of the event planning around graduation. In her college essay, she used these experiences to discuss the lessons she learned about the value of prioritization and time management.

# Finding a Solution to a Problem

This is a great way to write about your problem-solving skills. Think about a time when you had to come up with a creative solution at your internship and the knowledge you gained from that experience.

For example, a student who interned at a large sports retailer was asked by his manager to review the company’s website and social media presence to see how the store could attract more young people. He quickly saw that the website and Facebook page were “old-fashioned,” but he did not want to criticize it. Instead, he worked on a proposal for ways the company could change its online presence to appeal to a younger demographic and shared it with his manager. As a result, his manager asked him to work with the web designer to help redesign the store’s social media profile. In his college essay, the student was able to show how his positive suggestions led to change and solved a problem.

# Working Through an Emotional Experience

Talking about an emotional experience can bring your college application to life and enable admissions officers to get to know you more. Consider whether you had to work through complicated feelings at your internship to get the job done and remain professional; this may be a good topic for an essay.

One student who interned with a veterinary technician found that he had strong feelings when he assisted in euthanizing an animal. He worked through his feelings by talking with his supervisor and mentor, sharing his experience with other interns, and reading about animal care. In his college essay, he was able to write about this work and how his perspective changed.

# Speaking Up to Make a Change

As an intern, you may be the most junior person at the company or organization, so voicing your opinion can be intimidating. If you took a stand for what you believed in, this may be a topic to explore in your application.

One student who interned at a computer company was very busy with routine work each day and did not feel part of the team. She believed that she could make more of a contribution if she were an active team member. She talked with her mentor who helped her identify her concerns, and was then able to share them with her team leader. They were both satisfied with the conversation because it resulted in the intern playing a more active role at the company. In her college essay, the intern was able to show how both she and the company gained by her active team participation.

Tips to Help You See the Big Picture

The following are tips that will help you reflect on your internship experience as a whole:

  • Update your resume. Taking the time to describe your internship for your resume will help you see what you gained from your experience.

  • Read through blog posts or tweets you wrote while at your internship. This can help you jog your memory in terms of what to write. If you are starting an internship now, try to keep a record of what you do.

When it is time for you to tackle the college essay, not only will you have interesting content, but you will show what you learned from the experience.

Remember, it is not where you interned, but rather what you experienced. Use what you were able to take away from that experience and how it has influenced your decisions and choices going forward to develop a strong college essay. Moreover, these experiences can be the basis for a great college interview conversation.

Further Reading on Noodle

What Admissions Officers Want in a College Applicant

Get Your Resume Internship Ready

How to Make the Best of a Bad Internship Experience


Turning a High School Internship Into a College Essay. (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from EdWeek


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