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Top 5 Extracurricular Opportunities to Look for as a High School Student

“Colleges will value extra experiences or activities that you accomplish during high school,” wrote Diane Willock, the College & Career Program Manager at Adlai E. Stevenson High School. “This is not limited to internships but includes: part-time jobs, volunteering, and perhaps certificates or extra courses or training.”

As a high school student who also wanted to take advantage of such opportunities in order to gain work experience and strengthen my college application, I made a plan to get the best opportunity possible. I wanted a business administration internship, so I focused on networking and putting myself in front of as many people as I could who could give me these valuable opportunities. I learned how to sell myself as a qualified individual who was willing to put in as much effort as possible.

That’s why I co-founded Ideate X, a startup that helps talented high school students secure extracurricular opportunities, such as internships, that will help them stand out to admissions officers at top schools.

Here are my top 5 best extracurricular opportunities to look for as a high school student - and how to find them:

  1. Internships

Internships are 3-6 month work experiences that give students entry-level exposure to a particular industry or field. Although widely thought of as an opportunity only available to college students, internships are becoming an increasingly popular way for ambitious high school students to stand out within the fiercely competitive application pools of top colleges like Harvard, Stanford, and Georgetown. And with COVID-19 greatly increasing the accessibility of remote opportunities, traditional internships aren’t the only option.

“There are many opportunities available to high school students for the 2021-2022 school year,” Willock said. “While there might not have been as many in-person experiences last year, there were many virtual opportunities that students could participate in.” With the pandemic still playing a prominent role in our everyday lives, I definitely expect online internships to remain a great alternative for high school students to explore.

Getting internships is pretty similar to getting job shadowing opportunities, except this time the people you should reach out to from the companies will be those working in Human Resources (HR) and those with administrative positions like CEO, CFO, etc. These people are the decision makers when it comes to giving out internship positions, so reaching out and pitching yourself for an internship position will put you at an advantage by showing initiative and networking skills. This is usually much more effective than just applying to whatever internships are on the Internet, and will save you from spending tens of hours filling out tedious applications. More often than not, if the company is open to having a high school intern, they’ll give you an interview or some other way to prove yourself worthy of working with them.

  1. Job Shadowing

Job shadowing involves spending a few days at work with a professional (e.g you’d want to shadow a doctor or nurse if interested in pursuing a career in healthcare). Seeing the ins-and-outs of a day in their work life can give students firsthand knowledge of what the career entails. Whether you’re thinking about what career you want to pursue or you’ve been preparing for your dream job for several years, job shadowing is vital because it helps you fully understand what your career asks of you and can give you the confidence in your chosen passion.

The best way to find a professional to shadow is to reach out to people through your school career office, LinkedIn, Facebook groups, and family connections. LinkedIn is especially useful since it allows for searches to be filtered by location, company, and more; looking for professionals near you will almost always eventually lead you to someone willing to give you an opportunity to shadow. If your parents work in the field that you want to go into, don’t hesitate to ask them if they, or someone they know, can let you shadow them. It also can’t hurt to ask your school guidance counselor if there’s any school staff or services that can help you find extracurricular opportunities like job-shadowing.

  1. Research

Professors and PhD students at local colleges will often be working on high-level research projects in their fields, which presents an opportunity to gain an impressive extracurricular experience that is very rare among high school students. Generally, this involves doing organizational tasks like entering data into spreadsheets, along with other simple things since you won’t be as experienced as the other people doing the research, but if you stay persistent and sell yourself well, there’s a good chance that you’ll find an opportunity within a few months where you’ll be involved in more noteworthy tasks like helping out with experimental design.

Definitely consider formal research assistant programs like MIT’s Research Science Institute and Stanford’s Office of Science Outreach Programs. If you’re fortunate enough to live within commuting distance of a college or a scientific research center, you might also be able to find summer programs by contacting the head of the department in which you’re interested to see if any research programs exist for high school students. Additionally, emailing any nearby professors and PhD students for your desired subject and asking to assist with their research is the best way to land research assistant positions outside of established programs. Just make sure you attach your resume with the email and let them know how much in-school and out-of-school education you have in the field, but still keep the emails clear and concise. Moreover, taking an advanced course that is related to your chosen subject can also significantly increase your chances of landing one of these positions - as long as you get a good grade in the course - so definitely check out what Coursera, Udemy, and EdX have to offer if you’re really serious about getting involved in research.

  1. Summer Programs

Summer programs or another good way to expose yourself to High-level activity and professional connections that will in addition to serving as a great addition to your college application give you a great advantage in the future if you do end up pursuing a career in that field many top colleges institutions and companies have summer programs for students and while these often need to be applied for and can be competitive so definitely worth a try since there’s usually no better way to spend your summer except for the case where you have a paid internship because this it’s a little bit more valuable and hands-on.

Google is actually all you need to find great summer programs for your chosen subject just search up best summer programs for you were subject and look for ones by reputable colleges and companies for example in the summer programs by Stanford Google and Facebook would be great for computer science if you really want to set yourself apart from all the other applicants Reach out to whoever is running the camp or whoever is running the selection process and ask them specific questions about what you’re looking for an applicant and signs of future success for people pursuing a career within that particular subject

  1. Nonprofits

Last but not least a great way to show initiative and leadership while building your extracurricular profile is to join or start a nonprofit related to your desired career or major with your friends or other people who you know are interested in the same subject.

Online communities on apps like Facebook slack and discord are the best place is to find high school students that share a common interest; simply join several groups or servers that are based around your desired career and engage with daily discussion until you identify people who you can pick for your nonprofit or ask for a leadership position in their nonprofit. Just make sure that you clearly define your responsibilities and time commitment towards the nonprofit because if you do not do this and then I’m classified, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and start wearing a lot of hats that you didn't intend to have to handle in the first place.

“In my experience, it is a mistake to believe that internships are somehow a requirement to get into good schools,” Willock said. “Rather, a great experience no matter what that is, that can help demonstrate and distinguish who you are as a person, is important.”


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