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Summer internships & pre-college programs

by Mary Mazzoni on January 22, 2012

Summer is an ideal time for teens and young adults to explore careers or get a taste of college.

Now is the time to plant seeds for summer experiences that will help your child grow toward future goals.

Internships, volunteering, and pre-college experiences help youth clarify their interests, gain skills, develop networks, and expand their resumes.

Many programs are available, and though we’re in the dead of winter, now is the time to research and apply for them.

Existing programs may not be available in your area, or they may be unable to provide what your child wants and needs. Not to worry. You can network locally to create opportunities.

Let’s look at some possibilities.

Begin with the end in mind

What does your child hope to gain from a summer experience?

  • Does he want to learn about careers of interest?
  • Is earning college credit important for her?
  • Does he need to develop work skills and expand his resume?
  • Does she need to develop organizational and study skills for college success?
  • Is her intent to test-drive a particular school?
  • Does he want to get his foot in the door with a particular company or field?

Getting very clear about your child’s goals will guide planning and maximize the benefits of any summer experience.


You won’t find a better guide to planning internships than the one developed by the National Consortium on Leadership and Disability (NCLD-Youth). Download it here. ‘Nuff said.

Work based learning and the IEP

If your child is still in high school, your district can help develop “work based learning” experiences with local employers. These may be paid or unpaid, but they must comply with certain Department of Labor requirements, be included in the IEP, and involve a written agreement with the employer.

These experiences typically occur during the school year, but the IEP team can consider them for the summer if a student is eligible for extended school year services.

Summer work experience programs

Your local Workforce Investment Board (WIB) may offer summer employment programs. Eligibility for these programs is based on income. However, youth with disabilities are considered a “family of one” – which means that family income is not considered.

Typically these are basic entry level jobs. But they provide opportunity to build general employability skills (work habits), and they add experience to your child’s resume. Check with your child’s guidance counselor or transition coordinator to see if a program like this is available in your area.

You can search for your local Workforce Investment Board (WIB) here.


Adults as well as youth have discovered the benefits of volunteering. It’s a great way for anyone to expand their skills, networks, resume, and career possibilities – while making a real difference in the world.

Internships are typically connected to an educational program, but volunteering is open to anyone. Volunteering can be done at any time of year, but summer is ideal because kids may be able to extend their volunteer hours to more closely approximate a work day or work week.

The key is finding a volunteer opportunity that matches your child’s interests, goals, skills and schedule.

A great place to start planning is “where the study and practice of volunteerism meet”.  Check out “Advice for Volunteers” articles here.

Once your child is clear on what s/he’s looking for, it’s time to find local volunteer opportunities. Start with your child’s personal network. Ask family, friends and associates with similar interests about organizations that are looking for volunteers.

Also check with your local United Way. Most chapters have databases with hundreds of local volunteer openings. Nonprofits are often happy to customize a role to meet the skills and interests of potential volunteers.

What if your child needs support to volunteer? You and your child should check with his or her special education teacher, transition coordinator or supports coordinator to see if job coaching is available for unpaid summer work experiences. If funding for job coaching isn’t available, there’s another option.

Once again, consider your child’s personal network. Who would enjoy volunteering with your child? You may be surprised. I’ve done this with great success and I tell of one such experience near the end of a post on volunteering here.

I often write about volunteering.  There’s simply no way to overemphasize it’s benefits.

Pre-college programs

Many colleges offer summer programs that allow high school students to try out college life, earn credits, gain skills and beef up their future college applications. sums it up well. “You wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it would you?” You’ll find an extensive directory of summer pre-college programs on their website here.

A directory of pre-college programs specifically for students with disabilities can be found at the Heath Resource Center site here.

Neither site claims to offer comprehensive listings. Colleges add programs all the time. If your son or daughter is interested in a college that’s not listed- contact that school directly. Ask staff in the admissions and disability support office if a pre-college program is available.

These programs offer various features but they’ve all got one thing in common. They’re expensive. Especially residential programs that include room and board.  And scholarships or financial aid may not be available. You’ll need to determine if the costs are doable for your family.

A less expensive local option can provide some, if not all, the benefits of residential summer programs. (Although it’s important for your child to have some type of group living experience away from home before going away to college. Perhaps a less expensive camp can fill that bill?)

If there’s no formal pre-college program available locally – you can create one!

DIY community college experience

Most community colleges allow high school juniors and seniors to take credit courses. You and your child can set up an appointment with the disability support office at your local community college. Together, select a course your child can take over the summer.

A good choice may be a freshman “college success strategies” class. Or, your child may prefer a course related to a personal interest. If you choose an academic credit course, check with your child’s guidance counselor to see if high school credit can also be earned through dual enrollment.

Ask the disability support office about college application procedures, allowable accommodations, and required documentation. Also find out if a college placement test will be required for the course your child will be taking. Check into accommodations for the placement test as well.

For the reasonable cost of community college tuition, your child can gain experience with the college application process, earn college credit, and learn about college expectations, allowable accommodations and placement testing. Now that’s value!

Next steps

There’s a lot to think about here.

It’s time to talk things over with your child to clarify his or her vision for the future. How might s/he grow toward that vision this summer? Create an action plan together. Be sure to check relevant application dates – some will be coming up soon.

Don’t let the cold and snow fool you – summer’s coming! It’s time to plan.

Your turn

Do you and your child have experience with internships, volunteering and/or pre-college programs? Please share your insights with us in the comments. Got questions? Please ask!

If you find this post helpful, please pass it on. Thanks!

Image credit – Kevin Dooley on Flickr

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