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Ivy League Schools Care About Your Summer Job—So You Should, Too

Jun 11, 2024

With summer break on the horizon, high school students across the country will soon start working summer jobs to earn extra money and build their resumes. While many students assume that scooping ice cream or walking dogs will contribute little to their college applicant profiles, summer jobs are what students make of them. Ivy League and other top schools want to admit students who are motivated self-starters, leaders in their communities, and industrious and conscientious members of society. A summer job—whether prestigious or seemingly insignificant—is often a student’s first foray into the professional world, offering them the opportunity to practice their networking acumen, develop teamwork and leadership skills, and build connections with potential recommenders for their college applications. Students who choose to coast and collect a paycheck may get little out of their summer jobs, but those who have Ivy League aspirations should take their summer work seriously—the colleges they apply to certainly will.

Here are five ways you can maximize your summer job to enhance your professional skills, develop networking opportunities, and level up your college admissions profile:

1. Start with a Professional Mindset

The first step to making the most of your summer job is adopting a professional mindset. Take your job—no matter how small it may seem—seriously and dedicate yourself to it. It may not be the vocation you ultimately wish to pursue, but focus on how the skills you can develop in your position will contribute to your future career goals. Show up on time, dress appropriately, and be enthusiastic about your tasks. Your attitude towards your job will not only impress your supervisors but also set a strong foundation for your professional reputation.

2. Network with Colleagues and Supervisors

Networking is not just for seasoned professionals; it’s a valuable skill for high school students. First and foremost, students should seek to make their presence known at their job rather than clocking in and out without building relationships. Take the time to learn about your managers’ career paths and seek their advice about how to navigate your own. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and show genuine interest in their experiences. These connections can provide valuable insights and potentially open doors for future opportunities.

Maintaining these relationships after your summer job has ended is just as important as building them in the first place. You never know how a connection may benefit you in the future as you build your resume, and recommenders with whom you have a longer history will offer great insights in your college letters of recommendation.

3. Develop Your Professional Skill Set

No matter what your summer job is, you will have opportunities to hone valuable skills that will serve you throughout your career. If you are working a job in which you interact with clients (whether retail, food industry, child or pet care), you can develop your professional persona: speaking politely with clients, learning how to handle negative feedback with grace, solving problems creatively, and representing the company well. If you’re in an internally facing role, you can be diligent about showing up on time, being a team player, communicating effectively with peers and superiors, and creating an organized and effective workflow.

4. Seek Opportunities for Growth

One of the keys to maximizing any professional opportunity is setting measurable goals and taking proactive steps toward reaching them. Particularly if you return to the same job for multiple summers (which you should consider in order to demonstrate commitment and build lasting professional connections), be proactive in seeking opportunities for growth—doing so will demonstrate initiative and a willingness to learn, qualities that are highly regarded by employers and college admissions officers alike. For example, if you are working in a retail store, offer to help with inventory management or marketing efforts. If you are in a food service job, learn about the business side of the restaurant industry and offer to take on extra responsibilities. By taking on these extra tasks, you can gain a broader understanding of the business and demonstrate your commitment to professional growth.

5. Reflect on Your Experiences

One of the best things high school students can do to maximize their summer job experience on college applications is to keep a journal or written log of their experiences. Writing down the responsibilities you had and lessons you learned will help to jog your memory when it comes time to compile your activities list, help you articulate the qualities and duties you would like your supervisor to highlight in a letter of recommendation, and could even provide inspiration for your personal or supplemental essays!

Originally posted on Forbes.

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