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Examining the Importance of Work Experience for Students

Examining the Importance of Work Experience for Students

The Importance of Work Experience for Students

Newly graduated students often bemoan a catch-22 situation when they are searching for their first job. It’s very rare for a potential employer not to require a certain amount of experience for a position, but how are students supposed to gather that experience if they have been in school? 

The answer, of course, is work experience in the form of internships and externships.

The importance of such opportunities has filtered down to the high school level for both college-bound students and those who will be directly entering the workforce after graduation—especially those participating in a career and technical education (CTE) program. Understanding work experience can be the difference in success for a student.

Internships vs. externships

Internships and externships provide two different experiences for the student.

An internship tends to be a long-term position lasting months at a time. Interns will have responsibilities and expectations in the workplace at the discretion of the employer, ranging from menial tasks to opportunities to add real value to a project. Because of this, some internships come with a small wage, reimbursement for travel, or another form of compensation. With outstanding performance, it is not uncommon for interns to be offered employment at the end of their term.

Externships are shorter, usually measured in weeks. Some are even designed to take place during spring or winter break. Externships are primarily a job-shadowing experience, and very little, if any, performance is expected. Because of this, externships tend to be unpaid. For students unsure of what they want to do after graduation, externships provide a great way to really see what a job is like

How to land an opportunity

For both internships and externships, a good first step is to generate a resume. With enough information, a student can even create a profile on the professional network site, LinkedIn. On both resumes and online professional network profiles, focus on listing skills that are transferable to the workplace.

The best route to gain work experience is through personal connections. Talk about career aspirations and the search for opportunities with anyone who will listen. You never know who might have a hot tip to explore and the means to get you an interview.

Also, the major job-search sites like LinkedIn and Indeed have sections for high school internships. is a great place to search as well, especially by major/category, location, and other measures that are important to students.

What is possible

No work experience position will have as much reward as a full-time opportunity, but there are some experiences that engage, reward, and really stand out on a future resume.

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore’ (UMES) Geosciences Bridge Program is a six-week paid internship for graduating high school seniors planning to pursue careers in the geosciences.

Microsoft’s high school internship programs are some of the most coveted positions in the country, particularly for students pursuing careers in STEM fields.

In the United States Secret Service’s internship program, students may not be asked to guard the president, but they will receive hands-on experience in one of the world’s premier law enforcement agencies.

Looking for more resources to help your students succeed beyond the classroom? Read up on the importance of CTE programs in this blog post.

scott.sterling's picture
Scott Sterling

Scott Sterling is a former English teacher who worked in Title I middle and high schools in St. Petersburg, Florida who is now a freelance writer who focuses on education. He is also a stay-at-home dad to his 4-year-old daughter Lily, who will soon be starting her own educational journey.