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Is Working Part-Time During High School Really Possible?


I started working unofficially at the age of 7, helping my aunt file papers in her small accounting practice. When I turned 14, I got my first real job, at McDonald’s — the only place that would hire anyone so young at that time. And on the day I turned 16, I went from my driving test straight to the bookstore where I would work until college. Not only did I have to work to be able to pay for the activities I wanted to participate in, but I wanted to work.

One of our other counselors was taking orders in her parents’ coffee shop as soon as she could reach the cash register. Another worked as a waitress throughout high school and college. She can handle tough people like nobody’s business. One of our students takes the bus from school to her job at an office supply store three days a week, and manages to keep a 3.8 GPA.

But more and more these days, I see parents not wanting their kids to work while in school. For some it is a pride issue — “we don’t need the money.” For others, they don’t want their kids to focus on a short-term job and lose sight of a long-term career. And for a few, they really just don’t see value in their kids having a job. But beyond the hourly wage, there are many benefits to having a part-time job while in high school and college.

  • Awareness of money. Learning how to handle one’s personal finances is not a skill best learned in the classroom. On my first day of work, I remember thinking I would make enough money that day to buy the really cool pair of jeans there was no way my aunt was going to buy me. But I quickly realized that the IRS has something to say in how much money I actually take home. I also realized that working was a privilege. I worked alongside others who were trying to raise families and live off the meager wages. I learned to respect the work I was doing, no matter how mundane or menial. The jeans really did not seem important anymore.
  • Learn responsibility and time management. If you show up late for work or don’t show up at all, someone is probably going to get pretty mad at you. You might get yelled at. You might even get fired. Your parents might forgive you, but the company you work for will always remember. Working teaches teens that they are accountable to somebody and that there are consequences to not performing. And during the time they are at work, they will be forced to complete tasks on time. They will more easily learn to multitask and manage their time simply because there is no other option.
  • Deal with difficult people. There is nothing like getting yelled at by someone over a mistaken order or a long wait to teach people how to learn with difficult personalities. Customer service is at the center of most jobs teens can take on, and it is a skill that will serve them well throughout their lives. This type of social development rarely happens in schools. Don’t shield your kids from these experiences. They will make them stronger, more capable of being out in the real world.
  • Strengthen a resume. One job leads to another and another. The skills you learn from one job will help you when you apply for another, and so on. If you wait until the summer after your first in year in college to get a job, you are going to be competing with others who already have more experience than you. More importantly, you are developing strong skills — responsibility, money management, initiative, customer service, problem solving, and the list goes on. These skills are as valuable to an employer as specific technical know-how.
  • Colleges love work experience. I am hesitant to list this as a reason to work, because it should not be the reason to get a job. But the reality is that colleges love to see that students have had real-world experience, that they have ventured out of their comfort zone, and that they have learned important life skills. It likely means that you will take college more seriously.

The most important thing that teens learn when they get a job is independence, something most crave immensely but often don’t know what to do with once they have it. A job may also show them what they would like to do with their lives, and equally importantly it might show them exactly how they do not want to spend their lives. Both are valuable learnings!

So rather than discourage work during high school and college, encourage it. 


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