Get a job

Every teenager should have a part-time job at some point in high school.  And I don't mean a fancy-sounding job you get at your mom or dad’s company.  I mean a regular, honest-to-goodness, flipping burgers, bagging groceries, ringing a cash register, sweeping the floors kind of job. 

There’s some discussion on The Choice blog today about part-time jobs and how they’re viewed in college admissions.  Most of the comments reassure kids that part time jobs are perfectly acceptable, that colleges understand the realities of financial need.  Sorry, but that’s just not a strong enough endorsement.

If there's space on an application to list activities, part time jobs help you get into college.  Every admissions officer I’ve ever talked to (including the ones who work at Collegewise now) would tell you that it’s just impossible not to like a kid who scoops ice cream or pours coffee or takes tickets at the movie theater to make some extra money.  There’s no ulterior motive, no hidden strategy to impress colleges when a student chooses to serve frozen yogurt part time.  You can’t always say the same about the kid whose family pays $6,000 to send him to summer school at an Ivy League.

Kids who have part-time jobs also learn a lot.  They learn how to deal with angry customers.  They learn how to show initiative, how to work well with people, and how to make an impact in their roles.  I’ve read some wonderful college essays from kids who worked at McDonald’s and talked about how good it felt when they got promoted to shift manager and didn’t have to take orders at the drive-thru anymore.

So get a job.  You'll make some money.  You’ll have the first item to list on your professional resume.  And you’ll improve your chances of getting into college without spending any money to do it.  You can’t do those three things at Harvard Summer School.