Government internships afford teens on-the-job experience and a chance to network with powerful professionals before they leave high school. Agencies sponsored by federal, state and local governments provide internship opportunities to teens as a way to promote their missions and develop potential future employees.
National Institutes of Health
If you're interested in an internship in biomedical sciences, the Office of Intramural Training and Education offers several options.
Teens, ages 16 and up, who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents enrolled at least half-time in high school can apply for an eight-week Summer Internship. This program includes work in a laboratory or research group located in Maryland, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Montana, Arizona and Michigan. Students will have the chance to attend lectures, work on professional development, and see how biomedical research is conducted. Current high school students receive a monthly stipend of just over $1800. Watch the application video then apply online or use the Eligibility Wizard to see other opportunities you qualify for.
Training and Enrichment Program
High school seniors can apply for the High School Scientific Training and Enrichment Program 2.0. In this internship, open to students with little or no research experience, teens are matched with a mentor whom they help for eight weeks. Additional application criteria include having a GPA of 3.0 or higher from a school where at least 30 percent of students participate in the Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program. To increase your chances of landing internships like these, make sure you provide reference letters from people who can speak to your abilities in a laboratory and who have a science background. Research the program you are applying for and see if you can find more information on the scientists and specific studies associated with that program so you can tailor your application to closely related topics.
Head to the NASA Interns, Fellowships and Scholars One Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI) webpage and scroll to the bottom where you can click on "internships." Here you'll see high school students can apply for eight-week summer internships. Opportunities vary from research to operational and may take place at any NASA facility or the facility of one of their contractors. To find internship details, you'll need to create an OSSI account including your grade level, preferred location and academic interests, then log into their system. Internship opportunities are available for teens starting at age 16 who are U.S. citizens. Watch the OSSI videos to understand how the internships work and how to apply. Before you apply for an internship, take a look at the website specific to that facility or contractor. Get to know their mission and their employees so you can engage in meaningful exchanges with your cover letter and in your interview. Your ability to be proactive and informed will help them see you as a valuable team member.
U.S. Department of the Interior
Students with a passion for public land conservation can learn on the job with an internship at the Bureau of Land Management. Internship opportunities include both long-term and short-term projects. Applicants must be at least 16, maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher, and be enrolled in school at least half-time. Students search for open opportunities, then apply online. For help finding internships and applying for them, contact the National Program Manager or individuals in specific states or offices. By working with one of these professionals, you'll have the chance to make a first impression and develop a valuable relationship before your application is received. For an internship like this, you need to find ways to highlight your passion for the environment.
U.S. Department of Education
Teens ages 16 and up who are U.S. Citizens attending an accredited high school can apply for customized internships with The Department of Education (ED). International students living in the U.S. who meet eligibility requirements are invited to volunteer with the department. A typical internship lasts eight to ten weeks with hours ranging from 20 to 40 per week. The ED tailors each internship experience based on student interests and department needs, including negotiating weekly hours. Interns also have the opportunity to attend intern-only events like social gatherings, workshops and landmark tours. Housing and compensation are not included. Your cover letter and resume will be included in the online application where you can also select an ED department to work with. Teens who demonstrate a commitment to their education and a willingness to help others in school-related tasks or events best exemplify what the ED is looking for.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Internships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) include exploration of careers related to international agriculture, food safety veterinary studies and agricultural marketing among other topics. High school students, ages 16 and older with at least a 2.0 GPA who are U.S. citizens or residents, may apply for USDA internships. To apply, you first need to search openings. Take time to read about any current USDA initiatives and be prepared to show your participation in activities related to these missions. Take a look at the various agencies within the department and narrow your focus to a particular topic or agency. This extra research helps you seek out meaningful opportunities and shows internship committees your dedication to the field.
Congressional Page Programs
A page is essentially an assistant to a legislator in either the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives. Depending on the legislator, pages can range in age from 12 to over 20. Typically, to become a page you must contact your local legislator who will need to sponsor you as a page. If accepted, you will serve as the helper for this person before, after, and during legislative sessions. Duties include running administrative errands and preparing chambers. The Alabama House of Representatives has a page program open to people ages 12-23. The U.S. Senate Page Program includes classes at Senate Page School for highschoolers who are at least 16 years old. Since the tasks typically include clerical duties and organizational skills, highlight experiences where you excelled in these areas and look for references who can speak specifically to your abilities in these areas.
Your Internship Search
Finding an internship best-suited to your background and interests requires focus and research. There are countless opportunities in a variety of fields. Start by understanding your own career or personal goals then narrow your interests down to the branches of government concerned with those interests. Look for websites and other resources with internship lists and application advice to make the most of your search.
- USAJOBS is a job search engine backed by the U.S. government, but you can also use the site to find internship opportunities. As part of the federal Pathways Program, the website features a list of paid and unpaid internships for high school or college students and recent graduates.
- Start your search by exploring U.S. Government departments and agencies. Choose the ones you are most interested in then explore their websites. Each agency has specific information about their unique internship opportunities.
- The National Conference of State Legislatures offers a comprehensive list of internship and fellowship opportunities in legislative offices by state. Not all listings are open to high school students, so you may need to dig deep on this site.
- For local internship opportunities, check with the office of your Mayor, Governor, or other public officials.
Government internships can be highly competitive because they represent some most experienced professionals in the country. Give yourself an edge in the application project when you:
- Showcase individuality and creativity in a professional manner.
- Begin your research early to ensure time to collect application materials.
- Understand application deadlines and adhere to them.
- Take considerable time to explore all resources provided by the agency about their programming.
- Reach out to past interns for advice when possible.
- Craft an outstanding resume highlighting your biggest accomplishments and experience.
- Write a professional cover letter that is clear, concise, and free of errors.
- Only apply for internships where you clearly meet the criteria.
- Apply to more than one internship to increase your chances of landing an opportunity.
If you make it through the initial application process, you'll probably move on to an interview phase. Choose professional attire, practice interviewing with a parent or friend, and try to be yourself. They are looking for promising, unique individuals who can help advance their field.
Before you're asked to choose the career you'll likely hold for a large portion of your adult life, explore your options through internships. You may discover your dream job or come to realize the job just isn't for you. Either way government internships provide teens with valuable knowledge they may not find elsewhere.