I asked some high school students at my church what their plans were for this summer and I received the same answers over and over again. These answers tend to revolve around sleep, friends, and fun. I surely cannot blame them; I had the same mentality when I was in high school. I had worked hard all school year and now it was my time to live life to the fullest. My goal was to earn some money, have some fun, and be well rested when the new school year began. Yet, it was that same attitude that contributed to my leaving the University of Tennessee with over $20,000 in student loan debt; a debt I would repay over the next TEN years. If I could go back in time and give high school or college “me” some advice, I would suggest to him the following: use the summer break to work, to give back, and to grow.
A 2012 US Census study revealed that 25% of high school students work. While the data did not distinguish between school and summer employment, my guess is that the survey recorded employment during the school year, because you and I know that far more than 25% of your peers work over summer break. I’m certainly not going to discourage those who already have summer jobs; in fact, I would encourage every student to find gainful employment during the summer. While most students focus on compensation as the primary motivator for summer employment, from a scholarship perspective, summer jobs are a great way to gain valuable experiences that can be discussed in your scholarship applications, to deepen relationships with future supporters, and to earn money for college.
First, appreciate your job for the experiences you gain. When writing for a scholarship you always want to set yourself apart by telling a compelling story. Jobs provide a perfect opportunity to acquire material for those questions. Write down for future reference stories that highlight your leadership or diplomacy skills, times of success or growth, and especially awards or commendations. Also, remember that most applications are looking to see what contribution the student is willing to make in order to further their education. A history of employment and your continued commitment to working while in school will go a long way in showing the committee you are serious about your need for funding and your willingness to be a part of your funding solution.
Second, jobs provide the opportunity to develop relationships. If you have not learned this lesson yet, learn it now: life is all about relationships. From a scholarship standpoint, relationships with your management are important, as they can serve as future references, speaking to your character and your contribution to the organization. Moreover, sometimes these relationships open doors to potential scholarship opportunities, be it at the organization or with another scholarship fund. I had my last three years of tuition covered at the University of Tennessee because I spoke to the owner of the organization for whom I interned at the time about the fact that I was paying my own way for school and my budget could not handle any more tuition increases. I had no idea that he had a scholarship fund at the University.
Finally, besides actually earning an hourly wage, did you know that many companies which employ teens have scholarship funds available specifically for employees continued education? Even better, these funds are limited to only those working for that particular organization. When you can find a scholarship that excludes a large number of people, you have found a winner. And these opportunities are potential goldmines. Even better, if used for tuition or books, they should be tax free. Talk about a great bonus!
A word of caution: Remember that you need to maintain balance. Work is great and it provides many opportunities for the high school and college student; however, work is not the end, just the means to it. If work becomes your sole identity, you have given work too much power and too much control of your life. Leave yourself time and energy for other opportunities that come your way. In my next post, I am going to discuss an opportunity you should strongly consider: finding a cause dear to you and making a commitment to volunteer.