Over the past ten years, high school students have been increasingly turning away from summer camp counseling and ice cream scooping towards learning more about their career interests with an internship. According to a 2023 survey from the University of Chicago Consultancy PRISM, 70% of students attending a US News top 50 University have completed at least one internship while in high school. Usually, students find these opportunities through personal connections.
Their uncle’s friend happens to be a professor at Stanford, or their mother’s colleague happens to be a tech CEO. Students who often are not in this privileged position find themselves out of luck.
A team of students and alumni from The University of Chicago led by venture capitalist Estelle Reardon is working to change this. In 2023, they launched StandOut Search, the largest existing database for high school internships containing over 1000 professional opportunities just for high school students across the US.
The team performed extensive surveys of current college students across the US to identify the opportunities they pursued in high school that they would recommend to their younger peers. They then grouped all of these opportunities across nonprofits, government agencies, universities, and businesses into one easy free search tool.
The team started out in 2020 by matching 500+ New York and Chicago high school students with internships through Reardon’s personal network and the Chicago Booth entrepreneurship ecosystem. This soon caught the attention of the University, helping StandOut Search win funding from The University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Innovation through The College New Venture Challenge in 2022.
Today, StandOut Search helps over 800 teens per day find internships just for high school students through the database. For students who want an additional helping hand, StandOut Search also offers its own highly selective summer program, StandOut Connect, that directly matches students with a internship at an innovative company. The program starts by giving students comprehensive professional training covering everything from resume-building and networking to integrating new technologies such as OpenAI into their workflows.
The StandOut Connect program is recognized as unique by high schools and universities as most programs that purport to match students with internships, in reality, provide a simulated “internship” class where students are given no real professional responsibility. In contrast, each StandOut Connect student is actually hired by a company to complete meaningful work, with many students continuing in their position long after the summer ends.
One previous program participant Cathrina Rudolph-Math commented that “After applying to what felt like a million jobs and internships only to have them tell me to come back when I’m finally 18, StandOut was exactly what I needed! As a high schooler, having easy access to amazing opportunities that employ teens was super nice.” Cathrina is now an undergraduate student at Columbia University in New York.
When asked where the idea for StandOut Search originated, Reardon said it came from her experience growing up as a student with dyslexia and ADHD. Throughout high school, she struggled to validate her skills through traditional academic assignments like timed exams. This all changed after she found her first internship at age 15.
Her internship mentor showed her that she had valuable real-world skills and inspired her to re-invest in her education. Reardon completed two more internships in high school in law and through a NASA program, helping her realize that her true passion was for business and economics.
This knowledge helped her make the most of her time at The University of Chicago, completing half of her MBA at Chicago Booth as an undergraduate through the selective Dougan Scholars Program while working for two venture capital firms. By the time she graduated with a 3.94 GPA in economics, she had saved over $100,000 on her education, all thanks to the opportunities that stemmed from the internships she had pursued in high school.
“My goal with StandOut Search,” said Reardon, “is to help other students use their high school years to discover their true interests so they can start their career doing what they love.” She said she is grateful to her team, her mentors at The University of Chicago, and her parents, for supporting her in this dream.