Admissions

After-School Jobs Vs. Extracurricular Activities on Your College Application

Elizabeth French/College Confidential

I get to meet tons of college applicants at the talks I give on the college admissions process. Students with responsibilities outside of school, whether they have a part-time job or family obligations, are often anxious that they are missing out on extracurricular activities that they need for their college application. If that sounds like you, I’m here to allay your fears!

On a college application, an after-school job conveys that you rise to responsibilities and challenges. Admissions officers are not going to wonder why you weren’t playing baseball or starring in the school play -- they will see that you’re mature and professional. If you have had to dedicate significant time to family obligations, you might consider writing about that experience in your college essay. It’s a great opportunity to show admissions officers what’s important to you and demonstrate your “grit.”


Classes Come First

Your classes and grades should always come first, and if you’re considering applying for a job in high school, you should feel comfortable with the amount of time and flexibility you have for your homework. If an employer is willing to ask a high school student to sacrifice school or study time for work, they probably shouldn’t hire high school students. If you’re already managing a challenging school/work schedule, you’ve taken on a great deal of responsibility, and I’d encourage you to address any time management issues with your high school guidance counselor.

Working part-time while in high school might sometimes feel like you’re missing all the fun, but it’s incredibly valuable for your future — in college and beyond. It might not always feel like much when you’re stacking boxes or serving coffee, but each work experience leads to the next, so congratulations on entering the working world a little ahead of your peers. No matter what you do for work, there’s a way to frame it strategically on your college application. For your essays and interviews, cherry-pick examples from your work experience to demonstrate that you are accountable to yourself and others, capable of constructive collaboration and have developed your communication skills. Highlight moments of accomplishment and take pride in your work (even if you’d rather be playing video games during most of your shift).

If you hold a job in high school due to financial necessity, don’t be afraid to make that clear on your application. Your experience can help you demonstrate how you handle obstacles, course-correct when work or schedules don’t go as planned and accept responsibility. Admissions officers know as well as you do that tuition is expensive, so working to earn money for tuition shows them how motivated you are to pursue higher education.