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Summer Experiential Learning: The Value of Job & Volunteer Opportunities for Students

Summer jobs provide invaluable college and career readiness experiences for high school students. Here are some tips for school counselors to help their students find opportunities and make the most out of their experiences.

SchooLinks Staff
SchooLinks Staff

Jul 11, 2022

Many teenagers spend their summer months working at a summer job or volunteering at a local organization. Though the purpose of taking on these roles is often to make a little extra spending money or fill the time off from school, these opportunities build skills that are vital for economic, social, and civic life beyond high school graduation. 

Oftentimes, working at a job exposes students for the first time to situations and perspectives beyond their own family, community, and school. This is an important stepping stone to becoming an independent adult as it allows students to learn about themselves, their passions, and their strengths. School counselors can encourage students to find these opportunities, help them to prepare so they are a viable candidate, and work with them to use these experiences to inform postsecondary decisions. 

Skills Gained in a Summer Job or Volunteer Role

The skills and lessons that students develop while working at a job or volunteering cannot be gained in a classroom or reading a textbook. They require real-world, authentic, lived experiences and interactions. Whether working at a local grocery store to babysitting to volunteering at a library or dog shelter, these experiences can be invaluable to long-term success. 

  • Preparation: From creating a resumé, having to interview for a position, advocating for oneself, or waiting through the uncertainty of getting the job, taking the steps to apply for a paid or volunteer position trains students for doing so in future roles. In this process, students begin to learn and practice articulating who they are and what makes them a good fit for the role. 
  • Participation: A job or volunteer role teaches students professional norms and practices, often for the first time. Jobs require that students show up on time and dress appropriately. They often involve teamwork–including listening to others, asking questions, sharing in the work, and receiving feedback. These experiences teach students that others depend on them when they are responsible for something. And, students learn the satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from doing a job well done. 
  • Reflection: When students use these summer experiences to help deepen their understanding of themselves and their own likes or dislikes, these job or volunteer opportunities can be incredibly beneficial for long-term planning. Even if the position is not in a field they ultimately want to work in, students can assess whether they enjoy customer service, whether they like working with others or independently, whether they prefer a job that keeps them actively moving between different responsibilities or one that calls for more sustained focus. 

 Ways Schools Can Encourage These Opportunities

School counselors can encourage students to find opportunities for summer work or volunteering in their local communities and help them get the most out of these experiences. This can be an important component of a college and career readiness culture. 

  • Resumé-Building and Interview Practice: During the school year, schools can help students create resumés and portfolios of work to use when applying to local businesses or organizations. They can have students engage in practice interviews and think through how they would answer different questions about themselves and their experience.
  • Partnerships with Local Businesses & Organizations: District administrators and college and career counselors can help make the case to local businesses and organizations that high school students can be a strong addition to their organization and that partnerships with local schools benefit all involved. Building relationships with local nonprofits and companies and formalizing channels for summer work or volunteer positions can help maximize opportunities for students. 
  • Reflection & Feedback: As students return to school in the fall, college and career counselors can find ways to encourage students to consider different aspects of their summer experiences and reflect on what they can learn from these opportunities. Counselors might prompt students to think through what elements of their summer work they enjoyed and what they did not. They might talk with students about how these different pieces map on to future decision-making.
  • Creating a Record of the Experience: College and career counselors can help students find ways to create a tangible record of their experiences to assist them in the future when they look for employment or apply to college or postsecondary training programs. Counselors can help connect students to any relevant work-based learning credit opportunities within their school or district. This will help students have a transcript of their experience as they go forward. They might also suggest to students that they request letters of recommendation from supervisors to document the positive attributes that they brought to the position.
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