Work And Internships

Academic Success Series: Part 1 of 12

What do the best and worst students have in common? Work. What can average students do to improve their academic performance? Work! And what kind of experience do you need in order to get a job? Work, work, work!

The highest-achieving students have time to work – either at a paying job or unpaid internship – because their study skills allow them to carve out some time in the week to earn a little money, gain substantive pre-professional experience, or both. (Both is always best.)

However, under performing students often aren’t doing well not because they’re less academically capable, but because circumstances force them to work too much at one thing and not enough at another. Think of the high school student who works 20 hours a week on an unpredictable schedule at a fast food job to help her single parent pay the rent, or the middle schooler whose passion for video games causes him to devote too much time to learning programming on his own and neglect his schoolwork.

The trick is to balance school with work. Students who don’t work are either spending too much time on school or simply haven’t realized the value that a job or internship will add to their lives, in the form of exposure to possible careers and the opportunity to find mentors.

Becky Claster, of Claster Educational Services here on the Hill, has both interned and hired high-schoolers as interns: “When I had students interning for me, I looked for applicants who were engaged and interested in learning, whether it was by doing or just by being a ‘fly on the wall’ in the office.”

High school kids should work 10 hours per week. College students should work 10 hours per week for pay and 10 hours per week at a career-related internship, with the ultimate goal being a 20-hour-per-week job that could lead to full-time employment upon graduation.

Free time is a teenager’s worst enemy. Not being busy enough creates an illusion of invincibility that causes procrastination. Not realizing that life is mostly about work and not about school causes students tremendous shock – and forces them to move back in with their parents (!!!) – after their eventual college graduation.

Claster found that when it came to her own internships as a student, one thing led to another: “My first internship in politics got me my first paid job in politics and led to a 17-year career on Capitol Hill and witha federal agency.”

The added responsibility of work forces students to improve their time management and study habits. The added reward of a job well done increases confidence and ability in a way that better prepares young people for the real, working world.

Paul Rivas is the founder of Smith Rivas Academic Coaching & Consulting and can be reached at