Recognize the real value of your summer job

Look beyond salary while deciding where to work come May

Adam Davis credits his job as a summer camp counselor with the development of important life skills.
Adam Davis credits his job as a summer camp counselor with the development of important life skills.
Supplied by Adam Davis

With the end of the school year fast approaching, students face another challenge: summer employment. This is perhaps an even greater factor in determining the kind of career we’ll pursue. 

At this time of year, we have one question on our minds: Do we take a job for the money, the career prospects or the experience?

Unfortunately, many of us face the reality of not being able to land that dream internship, or take that low paying job for the sake of an amazing experience. 

Even so, most students won’t make enough money over the summer to support themselves for the following eight months. With that being said, it’s better to look to the skills and experiences a summer job might lend you, rather than solely the income when deciding how to spend your break.

A colleague of my mother’s recently told me that her daughter had landed an unpaid internship at the UN in New York for the summer. 

While I was struck by the difficulty of achieving this prestigious position and the amount of hard work that must have gone into accomplishing this, something else hit me. 

An average student could never afford to take such an amazing opportunity. While having this on your resume could vault you over the competition and into a critical position for your future career, it’s not realistic for everyone. 

Students with similar dreams of working for the UN, but with a lower socio-economic background, won’t necessarily have the resources to make these dreams a reality.

Looking at my own experiences with summer jobs, I’ve been fortunate to work as a camp counselor at the same camp that I attended since the age of nine. 

While I do get paid and have important responsibilities in programming and caring for the campers, I’m employed only from June through August, which doesn’t provide sufficient income to support myself for a full school year. 

Thankfully, with the help of my parents who are able to support me, I’ve been able to keep working this same job for the past four summers and have some incredible experiences.

Looking at my job at camp, you might ask whether it’s possible for the average student to work at a summer job they fully enjoy, while making less money and decreasing their self-sufficiency. 

Another question: What career prospects am I furthering by working at a summer camp while others in the same field of interest are landing more relevant jobs and internships that may appear more impressive on a resume?

While I personally believe that I’ve learned many important life skills from being a camp counselor — try being responsible 24/7 for a cabin full of eight year olds — this type of job may still be out of the question for many students. 

Both the UN intern and I have had to make calculations about what we value the most in our summer jobs. But, perhaps more importantly, both of us have been able to realize the value of taking summer positions we enjoy. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that not everyone can afford to take the job they want. For some, income is the most important criterion, while others value work or life experience.

So, what job should you take? While income generation is obviously an enormous part of a decision to take a summer job, the reality is that most of today’s summer jobs for students don’t completely satisfy our financial needs anyway. 

It may be true that a particular position can deliver a couple thousand dollars extra to your bank account (and that’s no small amount), but in the grand scheme of a four-year degree, students are still strained for money. 

The realities of available summer jobs suggest that we’re better off taking a position that delivers more in the way of incredible experiences or advancing career prospects.  Because despite our worries about our financial futures, chances are we will have debts to pay off anyway. 

Our time in university presents us with perhaps the greatest amount of variety and opportunity for employment, so take advantage of something truly unique. A time in our lives when this option is available again may not appear any time soon.

Although I haven’t made as much money from my summer job as I could have elsewhere, the experiences I’ve had will stay with me for life. Skills such as patience, tolerance, level-headedness and communication are all things I’ve learned as a camp counselor. 

So when it comes down to it, what do you value most? Maybe you value some peace of mind that you’ve done your best to protect yourself from looming student debt — and that’s definitely something to be proud of. 

However, try thinking about less quantifiable measures of a summer job, and you might find that these are the things that you value the most, and will stick with you for life. 

Adam Davis is a second-year Political Studies major.

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