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While some high school students participate in summer programs, those types of summer activities aren’t for everyone. Perhaps you can’t find a summer program that met your interests or perhaps you need to earn some money for college; in those cases, look into getting a summer job.

If you’ve never done it, looking for a job may seem intimidating, but it’s really not. From life guarding to working at local museums or restaurants, tons of young people find interesting and rewarding jobs every summer.

The benefits of bypassing a summer program

Lots of people turn to summer employment not only to save up for college expenses, but also to earn spending money or even to help out their families. Competition for jobs can be stiff, but keep in mind that summer employment can provide the background you’ll need to compete aggressively with other college-bound students when applying to schools — and with other job seekers when looking for a full-time job.

Guidance counselors, admission officers, and corporate human-resource managers look for college and job applications that display outside activities, work experiences, and additional credentials. A good summer job record is a plus that colleges and employers now routinely expect to see.

“Strong academics are not enough anymore,” says a college admission officer at a small university in Georgia. “We’re looking very hard at what else students are doing, how they use their time, what other skills they are acquiring. Even the less competitive colleges are becoming much more demanding in evaluating prospective students.”

Getting hired

Landing the summer job that will put cash in your pocket and dress up your resume is a bit harder than it used to be. To increase your chances for success, you must be willing to work at mounting an organized, targeted job search; the sooner you get started, the better!

“The key is to start early,” emphasizes the personnel director of a large state park that employs many young people each summer. “You can’t wait until May and then see what’s around, because there truly won’t be anything left. I see this over and over. We have all of our hiring done, and then we get call after call and letter after letter from panicked students who are just applying much too late.”

Search strategies

Ask around to find the opportunity that’s right for you. If a family friend or relative works in an industry that you find interesting, see if there’s anything you might be able to do. You may also want to consider working in a summer youth program. Just because participating isn’t right for you doesn’t mean that you can’t be part of a staff.

Start your search early because the longer you wait, the less options you’ll have to choose from. You have to make the effort — a job isn’t going to find you, unless you’re really, really lucky. Get out there!

Earning steady employment

If you’re fortunate enough to get your application in early and get hired, you also have the opportunity to ensure a somewhat more secure summer job situation throughout the rest of high school or college. When you prove yourself valuable, you will likely have first crack at getting the job back the following summer.

If you’re happy with your situation, that can be an advantage, but don’t feel obligated to return if you want to try something different, such as a different job or a new student summer program opportunity.