Summer Jobs Pay Off in More Ways Than One: Taking the Non-academic Path Makes a Difference


Cartoon by Michelle Lam
Cartoon by Michelle Lam

For ten months of the year, students are confined to the classroom, and school consumes much of their time and energy. Summer, a time free of academic obligations, is the perfect time to explore neglected interests. You might feel pressured to take academic courses to impress colleges, but summer should be a time to enjoy yourself and pursue a new, unique challenge. Try getting a job. Be a camp counselor, a lifeguard, a sales clerk.
Many students neglect these non-academic experiences, hoping to enhance their résumés and gain a competitive edge over their peers, but summer jobs such as lifeguarding or being a camp counselor have their own merit. These experiences teach life skills that cannot be learned in a classroom or laboratory because working requires a different type of responsibility than most academic courses do. Being held accountable to an employer and co-workers teaches personal responsibility, especially because these actions affect other people, not just you.
Jobs also allow students to gain a new perspective by engaging with employers, coworkers, customers, parents and children. This focus on interpersonal skills differentiates the experience of working from that of learning in a classroom. Dealing with these distinct relationships provides students with experience invaluable for maintaining positive relationships later in life.
You might also find a summer job to be a refreshing, fulfilling experience. Though schoolwork is interesting, week after week of homework and tests leaves students jaded. Summer jobs allow for boundless intellectual freedom. You can use spare time to read fascinating new books, discover new hobbies, or start learning new languages, expanding your horizons in ways you cannot during the school year. This exploration is important because it develops curiosity—you can learn to perceive education as a lifelong personal journey, not a race to accrue impressive titles for a résumé.
Most importantly, having a summer job teaches financial responsibility. Students, typically immersed in school and dependent on parents for money, often do not fully comprehend the value of the dollar. Long hours of working for a paycheck in the summer put prices and fees in perspective. Earning your own money and deciding what to do with it prepares you for a future of monetary decisions.
Understandably, many South students worry about how colleges will view their summer plans. Contrary to popular belief, college admissions officers value the experience of holding a job just as highly as any college program or community service trip. Jeff Brenzel, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University, told the New York Times, “We also honor and value summer jobs; they can be just as important a learning experience as anything else.” Colleges understand that earning money, as opposed to spending it on a program to impress admissions officers, takes initiative and drive, important qualities for a college student.
Brenzel also said, “What’s important to us is not what you chose to do for the summer, but what you got out of it.” Though many students dismiss summer jobs, they offer ample opportunity for personal growth. No matter how you choose to spend your summer, prioritize how you will benefit from the experience over how the experience will appear to others—it pays off!