College Corner: Summer and part-time jobs: making work work for you

Published on Monday, 7 April 2014 18:07 - Written by

When it comes to teens and part-time or summer jobs, any kind of work can be good — and not just in terms of the money earned. The pride and sense of accomplishment a student gets from earning a paycheck, the solid work habits developed when a student learns to do whatever it takes to get the job done, the understanding of what it means to work as a team: all of these skills can be learned at any job, from making burgers to lifeguarding at the neighborhood pool.

But as students get older and closer to making a career choice, I like to encourage them to think of their summer jobs as more than just a way to earn a little extra cash. Even in early high school, many students can start getting experience in fields they might like to enter as adults. The payoff can be worth far more than just the paycheck.

My client “Ashley” is a great example. By the time she was a high school sophomore, she was interested in becoming a veterinarian. She began volunteering at the local Humane Society — helping with adoptions, bathing new arrivals and cleaning kennels.

It was hard, physical work, but she loved it. So she went to a local veterinarian’s office and offered to volunteer there as well. Soon, that volunteer position turned into a real, paid, part-time job. Throughout high school, she worked after school and weekends, progressing from cleaning up puppy messes to assisting in the office to shadowing the veterinarian during checkups and surgeries.

Ashley was happy to put this job on her résumé when she began applying to colleges. She even based an application essay on what she learned on the job. But the best reward? She’s sure the experience she gained was a factor when she was accepted for early admission into veterinary school.

Of course, not every student is going to find such a great fit, especially not on the first job. But even realizing that veterinary work was not for her would have been very useful to Ashley’s career search.

The Department of Labor estimates that 80 percent of teens will hold a paying job at some point during their high school career. That’s why I recommend that students try to treat their job searches as a practice run.

For instance, if you’re interested in the hospitality or tourism industry, a job in a fast-food restaurant may seem logical. But why not look further up the ladder? Maybe you can find a job in sales or catering for a hotel where you can build more business experience and learn how the industry really works.

For those interested in teaching, babysitting the neighbor kids is an ideal job for a younger teenager. But a junior or senior might consider working at the local community center or daycare provider, where he or she could get a sense for what it’s like to work with a whole classroom of children.


Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college adviser for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to You just may see your question answered in a future column.