Having a job used to be a rite of passage for high school students. They’d put in some hours during the school year and over the summer and often be able to pay for most of their college expenses with the money they earned. However, as today’s current high schoolers are facing piles of homework, pressure to excel on sports teams and clubs, and tuition costs that no entry-level job could ever cover, many people are rethinking the concept of high schoolers working.
Are there still benefits to having a job in high school? Yes. There are many reasons for a high school student today to have a job, and those benefits extend far beyond just a paycheck.
Having a job in high school can not only be a great experience in and of itself, it can also set you up to get even better jobs in college and beyond. In this article, I use my experience of working as a teenager to go over the key benefits of having a high school job. I also end by giving tips on the best jobs for high school students.
My High School Work Experience
When I was 14 years old, my mother told me that I needed to get a job in order to pay for college. Happy with my sporadic babysitting work, I resisted and told my mother that, no matter what job I got, I’d never be able to pay for college on a high school worker’s salary. To prove my point, I even got a calculator and showed her it’d take several years of full-time work on a minimum wage salary to cover college costs.
My mother dismissed those arguments and told me that there were plenty of other reasons why I should get a job beyond just the paycheck. So I found myself applying for and eventually accepting a job as a swim instructor and lifeguard at my town’s local pool. I ended up working at the pool through all four years of high school and eventually was promoted to a manager position. In the summer, I’d teach swim lessons in the morning and lifeguard in the afternoon, and during the school year I’d teach swim lessons weekend mornings and supervise the office occasional weekday evenings.
Not everything about the job was great, and there were times I hated jumping in the pool on cold mornings and trying to convince cranky kids to follow my instructions, but overall, like my mother said, I got many benefits from the job beyond just the paycheck (although having spending money of my own was definitely nice).
At my job, I made lots of new friends, more than I had made in high school actually. I also gained numerous skills including CPR training and office experience. Additionally, I was also able to use my work experience (as well as my experience as a manager) to stand out from other job applicants in college and get a paid research job as a freshman in college.
Having a job in high school gave me work experience, independence, and a better idea of the type of career I wanted, and many other high school students can benefit from having a job. Even if the job doesn’t pay well, or relate to your future career, or seem all that fun, there are still tons of benefits to having a high school job, and we’ll go over them in this article.
The 6 Key Benefits of High School Jobs
There are numerous benefits to getting a job in high school, some of which are obvious and others less so. This section covers six of the main benefits you can expect to get from having a job as a high school student.
#1: You’ll Earn Money
The most obvious benefit to getting a job in high school is that you’ll be making money. Now, since you’re starting at the bottom rung of the ladder, this likely won’t be a ton of money. When I first started working, I made the princely sum of $5.25 an hour (before taxes), and that’s not going to make anyone rich.
However, even the salaries of low-paying jobs begin to add up over time, and since you’re in high school, your expenses are very low or non-existent. That means you can put all that money towards whatever you want, like a college fund or new clothes or attending concerts, instead of having to pay bills and students loans.
My parents recommended that I put half my paychecks in my savings account, so I did that and used the other half to buy an expensive guitar that I could have never have afforded without my job. And even if your high school job is an unpaid internship or volunteer work, not to worry. There are plenty of other benefits of a high school job, which we discuss below.
#2: You’ll Learn New Skills
No matter what your first job is, even if it seems incredibly easy and/or incredibly boring, you’re guaranteed to pick up skills you didn’t have before. These skills can include anything from learning how to work a cash register, to building customer service skills, to figuring out the trick to balancing all those restaurant dishes on your arms at once.
The skills you learn may not be that interesting to you, and they may not be anything close to the skills you need for your future career, but it never hurts to gain new knowledge. It may end up being interesting or useful to you down the line.
At my job, I learned how to teach different swimming strokes, how to administer CPR, and a host of first-aid skills. These are all pretty helpful to know, however; I didn’t end up using most of them in my future jobs. The main skill that was useful for other jobs I had down the line was learning how to use a pretty obscure computer program to track pool visitor numbers. It was clunky and annoying to learn, but, years later, I applied to an internship that also used the same program, and my future boss told me that having that random skill helped me beat out the competition and get the job.
So don’t knock any of the skills your job teaches you because they may come in handy someday.
#3: You’ll Gain Work Experience
In addition to learning new skills, your high school job will help you gain valuable work experience. Everyone goes through a learning curve when they first begin working as they learn how to manage their time effectively, how to interact with coworkers, how to make sure they get to work on time, etc.
No matter what other strengths you have, you’re going to be a pretty bad employee until you figure those basic work skills out. This is why a lot of employers are hesitant to hire someone who’s never worked before, even if they have great grades and otherwise seem like they could be an excellent worker.
A few months after I started working, my job had a mandatory meeting one night that every employee had to go to. However, I didn’t go because, for some reason, I didn’t believe it was really mandatory or important for me to attend that meeting. Afterwards, I got a stern talking to from my boss and it was embarrassing, but it’s better to make those mistakes early on, when the stakes are low and your boss is more likely to be understanding. By college, with four years of work experience under my belt, I definitely wasn’t making those beginner mistakes during my research job.
So, even if your high school work experience only amounts to flipping burgers for a summer at your local fast food joint, that can still give you a huge leg up over people with no work experience when you apply to jobs in college and later on. If you start learning the skills to being a good employee in high school, you’ll set yourself up to be an outstanding employee later on down the line. So make your mistakes now instead of later (but don’t make the same mistake I did because that was pretty dumb of me).
#4: You’ll Learn More About What Kind of Career You Want
As a high school student, you’ve likely spent a lot of time thinking about the type of career you want to have, even if you haven’t come to any firm conclusions about what you want to do. Thinking about and researching different types of jobs is great, but the best way to figure out what you want to do is to actually try different jobs out.
Now, your high school job likely isn’t the job you want to get after you finish school, but it’s still a great way to get a taste of the working world and figure out which things you enjoy in a job and which you don’t.
When I was a teenager, I was pretty sure I was going to be a scientific researcher and possibly a professor. That career had nothing to do with my high school job of teaching swim lessons and being a lifeguard. However, I was able to use my high school work experience to get a better idea of what kind of job I would enjoy.
One of the best ways to do this was to think about what I liked and what I didn’t like about my high school job. Things I liked included being around people, being active and outside, and working with kids. Things I disliked included knowing I was responsible for the safety of everyone in the pool, giving kids low marks on their swimming tests, and dealing with parents who were angry their child didn’t pass to the next swim level.
None of this radically changed my career goals, but it did encourage me to consider having a job that let me do more than just sit at a desk or in a lab, and it made me think more critically about being a professor, where I’d regularly have to give out low grades and speak with unhappy students and parents.
#5: You’ll Meet New People
Unless your high school job involves sorting old moss specimens in a warehouse by yourself (a job I also once had), you’ll meet lots of new people at work. Your coworkers will likely be people you wouldn’t have met otherwise, which is a great way to expand your social circle beyond your high school friends and learn more about different types of people.
Many workplaces that employ high school students have a lot of similarly-aged people working there who often develop a strong camaraderie, which means your new coworkers could end up being some of your best friends.
However, there’s also the possibility that you won’t like someone you work with, whether this is your boss, customers you need to help, or that one coworker who steals everyone else’s lunch. And even though that’s not as fun as being friends with everyone you work with, it’ll help prepare you for the many times in the future you have to work with or interact with someone you’re not crazy about.
#6: You’ll Gain Independence
One of the most important benefits of teenager jobs is that you’ll achieve a degree of independence you likely haven’t experienced before. As a high school student, you’ve probably lived your entire life with your parents and been under their rules or your school’s rules when you’re in class.
At a job, you’re deemed responsible enough to manage your own duties, and you’ll have fewer restrictions than you likely do at home or school. As an employee, you’re not just a student or a kid; you’re a full-fledged member of the team who’s considered smart enough to handle some responsibility.
Your teacher won’t be there to tell you to stop talking and pay attention, and your mom won’t be there to remind you to clean up after yourself. You’ll be responsible for taking care of all your job duties yourself.
Some people worry that teenagers who have jobs give up their childhood too soon and take on too much responsibility, but in my experience and the experience of my friends who worked as teenagers, I never found this to be true. My job, even when I worked full-time in the summer, still gave me plenty of time to socialize and have fun, and I was proud to feel more “grown up” and know I was trusted by my boss to do my job well.
Succeeding at a job and earning money--all on your own--can help you gain a lot of independence and self-confidence, and it’s a great way to help prepare you for college and the future when your responsibilities and independence will only increase.
What Are the Best Jobs for Teens?
Sometimes high school students and their parents worry about what the “best” job for a teenager to have is or if the job they’re thinking about taking is good enough. The truth is that most teenager jobs are about the same prestige-wise. Working as a waitress is no better or worse than working in customer service or at a summer camp. Each of those jobs can provide the benefits we discussed in this article.
No one is expecting a high schooler to get a job as an investment banker or astrophysicist, so don’t worry about a job that doesn’t seem like it’s “good enough.” Many rich and successful people starting out flipping burgers or folding clothes at their local mall.
Ditto to people concerned about getting a job in high school that matches the career they want to have. If you can find a job as a high school student that’s in the field you eventually want to work in, that’s great, but be aware most high schoolers take jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with their career paths. That’s OK since your career goals are likely to change between high school and when you actually begin working full-time.
The most important thing is just to get a job so you can get the work experience, new skills and added sense of responsibility. It’s OK if you don’t think the pay is that great or the job isn't something you’re really interested in. My first job paid very little and had nothing to do with my career goals, but I still got a lot out of it.
If possible, I’d recommend an “official” job as opposed to under the table work like nannying since the former gives you more experience with common workplace tasks like clocking in and out, attending meetings, and working with managers and coworkers. These are all things you’ll probably need to know for future jobs, so it’s good to start getting used to them now. Workplaces known for treating young and new workers well are also a good bet.
Finally, when you’re looking at jobs, make sure they’re convenient for you to get to and will work with your schedule. You don’t want to take a job only to find out a few weeks later that it conflicts with a sport or club you're in.
Conclusion: The Benefits of High School Jobs
Having a job is not for every high school student; many teenagers these days already have jam-packed schedules between school and sports and clubs. As a junior in high school, I had to cut back on my job hours during the school year because I was feeling overwhelmed with homework. However, for many high school students, there are numerous benefits to be gained by having a job.
Not only will high school jobs give you a way to earn some money, meet new people, and gain some more responsibility, you can use your teenager jobs to get yourself a better job in college since can prove to employers you’ve already succeeded at one job.
Some people wonder what the best jobs for teens are, but the truth is that any job with a decent boss, fair pay, and work that isn’t too miserable can get you all the benefits we discussed in this article. The most important step is just to go out there and find yourself a job.
Looking for job ideas? We've written a guide on the eight best jobs for teens as well as steps to take to find the best job for you.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.