Working a job in high school

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Of all the experiences that go on a college application, high school jobs are often prioritized the lowest. These experiences are often put behind extracurriculars and volunteer experience, but having a job in high school can be what equips you with skills that are critical to your success in college. 

Experience in the high school classroom prepares students for the skills they are expecting to need in college, such as reading comprehension geared towards academic styles of writing or conducting scientific experiments in a laboratory setting. However, the skills that set college students up for success both within and beyond the classroom cannot be gained from the high school classroom.

To maintain a successful and fulfilling college experience, students must master skills like time management, prioritization, assertiveness and the ability to be successful while working independently. These are skills that are not explicitly taught to young people, whose daily schedules are prescribed to them by the adults in their lives and whose daily experiences often discourage them from being assertive or making decisions about their own priorities.

However, the one part of the life of a high schooler where these skills are taught, although indirectly, is in the workplace. To be successful at that job, you must be able to employ skills like prioritizing tasks assigned to you by your boss and being assertive in situations where you have to stand up for yourself. My job in high school was lifeguarding, and the experience that I gained at that job has been more valuable to me than anything else I did prior to studying at Tech in terms of how much the skills I gained have been transferable to my everyday life as a college student.

This skill has proved to be so critical to success in college where all of your schedules for involvements somehow seem to overlap and where you are fully in charge of managing all of your time on your own.

As a lifeguard, I also learned how to work with a variety of coworkers in quite stressful emergency situations, which has made dealing with stressful situations in college (for example: a midnight roach stakeout, the time my toilet overflowed at 3 a.m. or heated roommate disputes about Brita filters) much more manageable. 

Had I not had experience working in situations where my ability to work in a team was critical to an outcome with greater stakes than a project grade, my conflict resolution skills would be much more limited. Limited conflict resolution skills can lead to very tense living situations in college, particularly freshman year, when you are likely living in much closer proximity to others than you are used to.

Learning how to be self-assertive through work experience has also been incredibly useful as a college student. In order to get the help you need, more times than not, you have to be the one to seek it out. Whether it is attending office hours or signing up for one-on-one tutoring or submitting a regrade request, it is so important to be able to identify what help you need and seek it out directly. 

The experience of working late at night after the pool closed, taking out the trash and cleaning the bathrooms taught me the value of the work that gets put into everything that no one else sees. At the time, this was just the daily pool maintenance that had to be done to keep a pool functional, but now in college, this is the hours spent on homework, personal projects and everything else that has to get done. 

I spent one summer in high school as a manager at the pool I had lifeguarded at for the four previous summers, which certainly brought on its own challenges and lessons. In particular, learning how to effectively manage a team of people who had varying levels of enthusiasm about the task at hand has turned out to be incredibly useful in college. Whether I’m the only person in a group project that seems to care about their grade or the only person in a group going out to dinner that is willing to make a restaurant suggestion, being able to get a group of people to get things done, regardless of varying levels of apathy, has certainly been useful.  

While academic skills are obviously not unimportant towards your success in college, as you cannot be successful at learning multivariable calculus if you do not first know differential and integral calculus, the skills learned in the classroom prior to college only really prepare student for a fraction of the challenges they will encounter on a daily basis in college. 

Meanwhile, my minimum wage job that felt unimportant at the time taught me the skills that have helped me be successful as not only a student in college but also as a person.