For ambitious high school students, summer is for resume polishing, reports the New York Times.

Once, summer for teenagers meant a season of menial jobs and lazy days at the local pool. But for a small but growing number of college-bound students like Craig, summer has become a time of résumé-building academic work and all-consuming, often exotic projects to change the world.

Driven largely by increased competition to get into elite colleges and universities, teenagers are jumping from demanding school-year commitments into equally challenging summer activities, school administrators and parents say. College admissions officers, meanwhile, are sifting through personal essays that could have been written by Peace Corps alumni

My daughter learned a great deal in her summer jobs, which included selling lotions and soaps at a retail store, serving designer coffee and working as a flunkie at a law firm, government office, ad agency and think tank. She learned to work for a boss, work without a boss around, deal with demanding customers and keep going through tedium and aggravation. Now my niece, who’s never held a paying job, is finishing her junior year in high school. I think she’d learn far more as a waitress at the coffee shop, which happens to be hiring, than taking another summer school class or pushing the magazine cart around the hospital.

About Joanne


  1. edgeworthy says:

    Permit me to voice an unpopular opinion.

    Elite colleges should not be in the business of judging applicants on non-academic grounds. Moreover, I have not seen any good research to indicate that the non-academic criteria used by elites actually select for leadership or success in life. For the most part, as Karabel suggests in The Chosen, the Ivies just use these criteria to enforce their class prejudices and odd ideas about social engineering.

    I think it’s wasteful that the top high school kids are spending their time padding their resumes with so-called community service or leadership activities. Let them help others if they truly wish to do so. But let it have nothing to do with admissions.

    Funny, but when it comes time to select grad students and professors at those elite schools, all considerations of extracurricular activity or community service go right out the window.

  2. >Putney Student Travel, a private company, offers a five-week summer program
    >of seminars at Yale and a trip to Cambodia to address poverty issues for $6,990.

    It costs about $25 to sponsor all the expense of a Cambodian child. So if someone really cares about poverty in Cambodia, he should donate the $6990 and that would be good for 23 children for one year. Of course then you cannot put it on you application.

  3. I don’t care one way or another about resume building, but if you think being a waitress is so edifying, how come you aren’t doing it? The educated classes seem all in favor of teens working jobs they themselves wouldn’t do on a bet. Try building a list of lessons, and then ask yourself if you really think that the only way she’ll learn them is by slinging hash for minimum wage and tips.

    I notice that your daughter got much better jobs than the one you’ve got in mind for your niece, btw. “Flunkie at a lawfirm” has a lot more value from a resume perspective than serving up coffee.

    As for the article’s assertion that teens are polishing their resumes rather than working, that’s just absurd. A very small percentage of teens are building resumes. The most likely reason that teens aren’t working is that they can’t find jobs. Unemployment in teens goes hand in hand with illegal populations–the higher the latter, the higher the former, as a rule.

  4. Joanne Jacobs says:

    Cal, lots of teenagers work during the summer and during the school year. They all start in menial jobs: My daughter started as a retail sales clerk and worked her way up to flunkie. She also served coffee: Tips, which all workers shared, went up so much during the shifts she worked that other employees were fighting to work her shifts.

    The New York Times article is about middle- and upper-middle-class students who plan to apply to very competitive colleges. This is 10 to 15 percent of American high school students.

  5. superdestroyer says:


    I think the resume building has more to do than maintain class. I think it is a method that elite whites can distinguish themselves from Asian Students. If the white kids at Sidwell Friends cannot get the same SAT scores as the asian kids at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the white kids can travel, volunteer, and “lead” their way to the elite college admission.

  6. edgeworthy says:


    That is exactly my point. As Karabel noted, many of the “character” criteria were first introduced in mid-century to restrict the number of Jews getting into the Ivies. Virtually the same rules are now being used to restrain the East Asians.

    But regardless of the motives, these criteria are wrong and wrong headed, with no demonstrable benefits in terms of selection. I only wish the SAT were made even harder and more discriminating (so as to reduce the number of perfect scores substantially). If many fewer top students scored in the near perfect range, it would be harder to play these games without revealing that schools are in fact admitting some objectively WEAKER students for their own reasons.

  7. Andy Freeman says:

    > The educated classes seem all in favor of teens working jobs they themselves wouldn’t do on a bet.

    Many of us in the “educated classes” have worked those jobs. If you do those jobs early enough in life, you have an opportunity to do the things that let you avoid them later in life.

    Why is that bad?

  8. Joanne, are you saying that 10-15% isn’t a very small percentage of all teens? And a smaller fraction of that group is involved resume polishing. So the Times, as usual, is talking about a group that might be in the tens of thousands and pretending like it’s something that applies to millions.

    ” lots of teenagers work during the summer and during the school year. ”

    The dispute wasn’t over teen employment, but over your contention that your niece would “learn far more” as a waitress. There aren’t a whole lot of skills learned that apply to being a lawyer or government analyst. Any employment can be educational, of course, but I can’t think of anything you can learn as a waitress that can’t be learned in an internship or indeed, by being a good student (eg, working hard, showing up on time). There’s no employment lesson so critical that it can’t be put off until 22, rather than 17.

    If a teen wants to maximize her chances of an elite school by volunteering or more education, it may or may not work. But unlike employment, these activities must be done in high school or not at all. So if she doesn’t need the money, the class or volunteer work has a far better chance of paying off than a stint at Joe’s Donut Shop.

    It’s extremely condescending for educated people to pump up the value of teens working in jobs that they themselves wouldn’t dream of taking. There’s nothing educational or ennobling about unskilled or semi-skilled jobs. They are jobs you do when you need or want money and you’re not eligible for anything else. That rule applies just as well to teens as it does to adults.

  9. Jack Tanner says:

    While I don’t favor forcing people to do things if I did one thing every teenager should do is work for a summer in a job serving the public. They’d learn moe in a mmonth there than in a year of school.

  10. SAT scores: perfect score is not really distinguished from a high score for schools reading admissions (less true for those using an SAT/GPA matrix) it ends up a hygiene test: that is a high score is analogous to having you’ve washed your hands. A even higher/perfect score would be like washing your hands 3-4 times, not meaningful except as a signal for compulsive disorder.

    Service jobs: have held them and hold them in value — just not as a substitute for education.