Remember summer jobs?

For decades they were a good way for college students, rich or poor, to earn money for living expenses. Not so much anymore. According to an article by Jeffrey Sheban at the Columbus Dispatch:

Seasonal work flipping burgers or bagging groceries – long a rite of passage for American teenagers on summer break – is becoming increasingly passe for many high-school students.

With the job market tight and competition keen for college scholarships, more students are forgoing summer employment to pursue activities that will give them a leg up on college admissions. High-school students are being drawn in increasing numbers to sports camps, academic camps, mission trips and volunteer work….

In 2001 half of 16- and 17- year olds had summer jobs. Last year less than 30 percent of them were employed. This is because “volunteer work in Haiti” looks a lot more impressive on a college application than “waited tables at local country club.”

As 17-year old Carly Bedinghaus, quoted in the article, explains, “I wouldn’t mind having a job, but I don’t have time to fit it into my schedule during the summer.” Bedinghaus plans to volunteer at a 4-H camp and at a local hospital, judge horse riding competitions, and on her college applications.

This logic makes sense but the implications of this behavior are troublesome. This is the dark underside of college admissions; while college prices have increased it’s sort of hard for students to earn money in the summer to help pay for college. That’s because holding a job during summer months is a risky decision when a student risks missing out on the crucial extracurriculars that might help him get into his top college.

This means that students have to take out more loans when they get to college. It also means that for relatively poor high school students, who actually have to work during the summer, their chances of getting into top schools go down; they can’t afford to volunteer during the summer. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer