girl working at bakery

by Jeanne Mahan, former financial aid officer at Tufts University

Summer is coming and we’re hoping we can all be out and about this year. Summer is my favorite season, and it always brings back memories of my high school and college years, when the academic work ended and summer fun and jobs began. I had several different summer jobs in those years: babysitter, hospital food service worker, waitress, and medical secretary. Each one of those jobs taught me important skills that I’ve carried with me throughout my work life: flexibility, patience, teamwork, and camaraderie.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the number of teenage summer workers has declined significantly since 1997, when 54% of teens had jobs. In 2015, that number had dropped to 34% and the Bureau estimates that by 2024, the percentage of teens employed in summer work will decrease to 25%. There are some obvious reasons for the decrease: the Great Recession of 2008, which lasted for several years, reduced the number of summer positions available and many workers who had been laid off were taking jobs usually filled by younger, inexperienced workers. But teens and their families are focused on college admission and believe that colleges will not view a summer spent scooping ice cream or working in a recreation program as favorably as going to a specialized camp or taking college courses.

Colleges do, however, love to see applicants who have had summer jobs. Many students arrive on college campuses these days without basic life skills, such as managing money, time management, or even speaking to adults they don’t know. Summer (and academic year, when appropriate) jobs allow students to learn things such as keeping a schedule, showing up on time, being managed by others, learning to use various types of equipment, and interacting with the public. One of my summer jobs, waitressing, taught me organizational skills, how to efficiently use my time, how to defuse uncomfortable situations (“The espresso is too strong!”), and become more confident dealing with all kinds of people.

Earning money is probably the biggest reason teens might consider summer work. Having their own money is powerful, because it allows them to make decisions about how they spend. It’s a great opportunity for parents to help teens learn money-management strategies including saving for short- and long-terms goals, budgeting, philanthropy, and maybe even paying for things such as cell phones or their share of the monthly phone bill. Understanding the power of money will help teens make good financial decisions that will last a lifetime.

I often encourage working teens to be willing to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities; raise your hand when the manager asks, “Who would like to (insert skill/responsibility here)?” Every job teaches skills that we can take to our next job. My waitressing job taught me to manage my time: you need to know when to get the salad off the table so the main course is still hot when it’s delivered. Other jobs gave me computer skills, supervisory experience, and an understanding of how to work collaboratively.

Parents, I hope these thoughts encourage you to help your teen start their summer job search. The things they’ll learn are invaluable!

College Application Prep 101

Written by Jeanne Mahan
Jeanne Mahan is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. She worked as a senior financial aid officer at Tufts University and Quinsigamond Community College before joining College Coach. Visit our website to learn more about Jeanne Mahan.