Want to do something "extraordinary" with your summer? Something that shows up on fewer and fewer college applications? Something that will stand out and impress a college admissions officer? Get a job. Yes, a standard hourly gig serving up cones at the local ice cream parlor, selling clothes at a retail outlet in the Mall, or mowing lawns can be the best way for you to pass the golden days of summer.
Understanding why this is true depends upon your understanding why admissions officers care about anything besides your academic performance and potential. Admissions officers care about all the other stuff for a reason and the reason is this -- all that other stuff you do (or don't do) demonstrates a lot about your "non-cognitive knowledge and skills," which in turn predicts how well you will do in college. And college admissions officers want to admit students who will do well in college.
College admissions officers consider a variety of non-cognitive criteria when evaluating your application and each college determines which criteria will be used and how they will be weighted. But Professor William Sedlacek has spent significant time researching this topic and he names eight criteria in his influential book, Beyond the Big Test: Noncognitive Assessment in Higher Education. Those eight criteria are: 1) positive self-concept; 2) realistic self-appraisal; 3) success at handling the system; 4) preference for long-term goals; 5) availability of a strong support person/network; 6) leadership experience; 7) community involvement; and 8) knowledge acquired in a field.
A summer job offers you the chance to nail six of these criteria in one experience!
You need a positive self-concept and a realistic self-appraisal to get a job. Think about it -- in order to convince someone to hire you, you need to project self-confidence and be able to identify what you can do that is worth being paid to do. And as you work at the job, you feed your positive self-concept because you are achieving what you set out to achieve. You are competent. You are doing the work. You also get feedback that helps with your realistic self-appraisal. Cocky that anyone can do the "lowly task" that you are assigned on your first day on the job? You'll be corrected in that assumption very quickly. (Watch any episode of Undercover Boss if you don't believe me!) Convinced that you'll never learn how to do that? Stick with the on-the-job training and you'll get there.
You'll also be forced into handling the system with any job. You must conform your working hours, your behavior, your energy to whatever workplace you're in. You won't make the rules, but you will have to follow them. Want a day off? You'll have to figure out how to make that happen. And by the way, your parents won't be able to work this system on your behalf. Your Mom can't call the Boss and explain you're sick and won't be at work even if she calls the school and tells them that. Bosses don't "partner" with parents. It is definitely YOYO (You're On You're Own) time. And if you think you've worked a sweet deal because you are working for your Mom or your Dad, think again! At work, your Mom/Dad is your Boss. Different rules entirely. In fact, sometimes parents are the strictest of Bosses because they don't want to show any hint of favoritism or bias.
You should see your job as a step on the road to your long-term goals. This is true even if the job you have the summer after 10th grade has absolutely nothing to do with your ultimate career interest. This job is a step toward getting into college. It is an opportunity to develop your non-cognitive abilities. And that means it is worthwhile in the long-term, even if it is somewhat boring and low-paying. And that is the definition of someone committed to achieving the long-term goal -- someone who does what it takes along the way!
You can turn your job into a leadership experience if you work hard and get promoted to a position of authority. You don't have to be the big Boss in order to be a leader in your workplace. You could be the "team leader" for a particular project or task. You could be the "night closer." You could be the head cashier. All of these positions of authority and responsibility offer you a different kind of leadership experience than you have access to at school. So seize them!
Finally, you will also have opportunities for community involvement with your job if you look for them. Most businesses see community involvement as important to their survival. So they will support a cause or various community organizations. Find out how you can join in their efforts and make thoughtful suggestions about how they can do more of it. Join the company team walking a charity walk. Donate a part of your pay to a community organization supported by the company. Suggest that they have a community bulletin board for community event posters.
All this benefit to your college application AND a paycheck too! Really, what could be better than that? So dust off that resume and hit the pavement....summer is just a few weeks away and the best summer jobs get snapped up by early June.
Comments or Questions?
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Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (most recently at Dartmouth College). She works with students and families throughout the U.S. and abroad. Follow Alison on Twitter (@IveyCollege)