Many of our most important life lessons are learned outside the classroom — and I'm not pooh-poohing traditional education one bit when I say this. (In fact, I earned two bachelor's degrees and I also have a master's in another subject, if that's any indication.)
But I also know there are many things that can't be taught; they have to be experienced, embodied and personally felt to be learned.
One of those things is how absolutely awful it feels to be treated badly by someone because you're doing a job they consider "lesser." You can explain that to a kid all day long, but until they've been talked down to as they scoop their 1000th ice-cream cone, or buss tables with sore feet, or make up a hotel bed, they'll never know how horribly unfair it is to work hard and be treated like less of a person.
These lessons are about empathy, pride, communication and patience, and they don't come from a textbook or from a teacher.
Those are just some of the lessons I learned doing summer service jobs, including working for a catering company, a brunch waitress, a camp counselor, and a nanny (which included childcare and cleaning duties). And while so many parents consider these types of jobs a "waste" of their kids' time, that's just not true. These jobs simply teach different lessons than what you learn from a biology camp in Maine or a backpacking trip in Montana or a cushy internship — and I've done those things too.
Which is why plenty of experts are recommending that teens take the summer jobs that some people deem unimportant — gigs like food service, factory work or cleaning rooms at a summer getaway spot.
These jobs — which are already pretty much guaranteed to make you a better, more well-rounded and compassionate person — may also help you get into college. For colleges these days, character matters, and a summer job that requires getting the job done well is a surefire way to forge character.
With that in mind, the video below offers tips for getting a summer job:
A lesson in how to treat people
“The lessons are huge. You see how hard people work, how rude and unthinking people can be to them. It’s a real lesson in how to treat people,” Richard Weissbourd, a lecturer and researcher at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, told Quartz.
In a new report that colleges are getting behind, "Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern For Others And The Common Good Through College Admissions," (which Wiessbourd wrote), the idea is to: "... collectively encourage high school students to focus on meaningful ethical and intellectual engagement."
That means, according to the report:
- Promoting more meaningful contributions to others, community service and engagement with the public good.
- Assessing students’ ethical engagement and contributions to others in ways that reflect varying types of family and community contributions across race, culture and class.
- Redefining achievement in ways that both level the playing field for economically diverse students and reduce excessive achievement pressure.
This isn't just a feel-good program; it gets kids to think about their ethics and where they stand before they get to college. Those who have taken this step will be better students and more successful adults. Wiessbourd sees the un-glam summer job as one of the ways to get there, and he's not alone. Colleges as diverse as Babson, Cornell, MIT, Dartmouth, Wake Forest, UPenn, Yale, and many more are getting behind the idea.
Kids who have held summer jobs tend to be more mature, better at handling their own problems, and are more empathetic, all of which makes them stronger college students. Most colleges would rather see a summer job over enrichment programs, SAT-prep, an internship in an office, or other additional educational programs. This is especially true for privileged students.
“Kids think summers are part of the college admissions Olympics, that it’s about finding a high-profile, impressive activity,” Weissbourd said. “That’s not what colleges care about.”
With so many qualified applicants, standing out these days could mean showing how you can handle the stress and boredom of standing over a hot fry machine, doing someone else's laundry, or staying at your catering job until the event has wrapped and everything is cleaned up. After those kinds of jobs, the challenges of college just aren't as tough.