Last summer your teenager lazed around the house complaining she was bored. This summer, though, she's old enough to get a job. So should you send her to the nearest fast-food place to make her earn his keep? Before uttering an unequivocal and enthusiastic "yes!" take a little time to sit down with your teen and discuss the long-term effects of how she chooses to spend her summer.
Undoubtedly, there are benefits to your teen getting a summer job. When she's bringing home some money, she can start paying some of her own expenses. She'll be occupied, less likely to get into trouble and won't be complaining that she's bored. But did you know that getting a job, even as early as the summer after her freshman year, can make her more attractive to colleges, too?
"Colleges want students to use their free time wisely and well," states Lisa Sohmer, a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling's Board of Directors. "Students can have summer jobs to earn money, but they can earn –and learn – other things as well, such as maturity and responsibility." That sense of responsibility may catch a college's attention, but the type of work a student does will keep it. According to Elizabeth Wissner-Gross, author of What High Schools Don't Tell You: 300+ Secrets to Make Your Kid Irresistible to Colleges by Senior Year, it's not enough to get a job at the local pizza place."Ideally," she says, "the student’s work experience should help further the student’s interests and academic passions." In other words, the teen who aspires to be a doctor should be working in a hospital or research facility this summer instead of flipping burgers.
Both Wissner-Gross and Sohmer encourage teenagers to use their summers as a way to develop their interests and strengths, while finding ways to stand out from the crowd. "Colleges are most attracted to students who do things, not students who watch others do things," explains Wissner-Gross. In other words, your teenager's summer experience doesn't necessarily have to be a paying one, but it does have to be something that promotes intellectual growth and shows the ability to take initiative. "Students can do this through summer jobs, certainly, but also through internships, summer courses at colleges, volunteer work and study abroad programs," says Sohmer. Wissner-Gross' book provides information about hundreds of such opportunities, many of which have no fees for participation.
Internships and volunteer work may be a better option for some students anyway. Not all teenagers are ready –or old enough –for the workforce. Even if your 14 or 15 year-old has reliable transportation and can get out of bed without prompting, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) significantly limits the types of jobs and hours she can work. Furthermore, some states require teens to have a work permit in order to work, but require teens to have a job before applying for one. To make it less confusing, the U.S. Department of Labor runs a website, YouthRules!, specifically devoted to explaining the rules governing teenager workers.
Whether your teen chooses to earn money, take classes or organize a community service project this summer depends on her personality and what's most beneficial to your family. "The important thing," says Sohmer, "is to be busy and to avoid describing their summers as a time to hang out." Wissner-Gross wholeheartedly agrees. "I’m against dull summers," she says. "The best summer experiences are the ones that allow teens to explore their academic and career passions through exciting, engaging experiences."