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High School Internships Seen as Valuable Stepping Stone

High school isn't too early to be getting serious about a career.

Getting work experience—through an internship or volunteering—may be the ticket to a selective college, a prestigious college internship, and a good job after graduation, according to a new survey of students and employers.

The website Internship.com and Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm, surveyed nearly 4,500 college students, 170 high school students, and 325 employers to get their perspectives this month for a new study, High School Careers, released Monday.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents from businesses said that students should focus on their careers in high school to compete for internships and jobs in the future. Having an internship in high school can help students get into a better college, according to 90 percent of companies surveyed, and 89 percent said the experience would give them a competitive advantage in securing a college internship or full-time job.

For the past five years, college graduates have faced a dim job market, leading many to look for ways to improve their employabilty. Research has found that employers value work experience more than grades or where a student went to school.

The new survey found high school students were more willing to gain job experience through volunteering (77 percent) than college students (63 percent). They were also more entrepreneurial.  About 72 percent of high school students said they wanted to start their own businesses someday, compared with 64 percent of college students.

As high school students look for internships, it's helpful to know what employers are considering in their recruitment. About half of employers say the overall reputation of the high school matters, the survey revealed. Other top factors include interview performance (50 percent), high academic performance (41 percent), and references (36 percent). Employers said they are offering internships to support local high schools, gain new ideas, and find future college interns.

What kinds of jobs are high school students doing? According to this survey, nearly three-quarters focus on social media marketing projects. The next most prevalent fields are data entry and administrative work.

Students can get the most from an internship experience by staying in touch with mentors they meet in the workplace, counselors say. Also, keeping a journal of the experience can be useful if a student decides to use an internship as material in college-application essays.

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