OMG S.O.S! 5 emergency summer job hunting tips for college-bound slackers

summer jobs

School's out and you have no plans. Well, no useful plans that will help fill in those blanks when it comes time for you to complete those daunting college admission and scholarship applications. Don't worry that you've blown your chance just because you didn't sign up and pay for a fancy summer enrichment program--you can still salvage your summer.

According to parenting expert and board-certified family physician Deborah Gilboa, the key to finding something useful to do this summer is to ask yourself a question about your future--and then set out to find a way to answer it.

Try these questions on for size:

  • How can I figure out what kind of career I really want?
  • How will I ever pay for college?
  • What is it like to be a doctor, teacher, or even a professional athlete? Am I cut out for any of these professions?
  • How can I improve my chances of getting into my dream school?

Once you've identified a few of these questions, you can look for or create specific opportunities this summer that will help you answer those questions and will most likely give you something worthy for those applications' blank spaces. These five great ideas can inspire you to find opportunities that will make your summer essay-worthy.

1. Ferret out the perfect volunteer gig

Though volunteerism is in many ways its own reward, the time you spend volunteering can pay off in big ways. For example, if you're wondering if you could become a professional athlete or are interested in a broadcasting or writing career, Gilboa recommends approaching your local minor league team to volunteer.

"If you're hoping to find a position where you'll be given a lot of responsibility, it's always in your best interests to start your search early," says David Boyer, executive director and founder of Ways To Help, a national non-profit organization that aims to inspire high school students to make a difference in the world through volunteerism. "That said, many times, you can find--or make--great volunteer opportunities for yourself after all of the paying positions are gone, so we'd encourage teens to look at the opportunities available on WaysToHelp.org frequently."

Volunteering can also pay off literally as future scholarship opportunities. If you're wondering how to pay for college, check FinAid.org for information on scholarships for volunteering and community service requirements.

2. Get a job, but not just any job, if you can

Though flipping burgers this summer might pay for gas money, it might not be the best solution for funding your college education. Make sure the job you choose is helping you figure out a question about your future, such as helping out at a doctor's office if you want to be a doctor or working in a daycare if you want to be a teacher.

Even though you don't get paid to volunteer, it might be the better option, explains Boyer: "When comparing alternatives, focus on whether the skills you'll learn, and the amount of responsibility you'll be given, can help you with your longer term goals. For instance, if you aspire to be a doctor, general contractor or office manager you may make more money painting, working retail or serving fast food for the summer--but the experience you'd get volunteering for a hospital, Habitat for Humanity, or in the offices of a non-profit would be viewed much more favorably by the schools and/or employers that you'll apply to work for in the future."

3. Create your own opportunity

Michael Warshafsky of Toronto, Ontario in Canada just finished up high school in time to start 60 days of marathon job shadowing on June 20. Warshafsky had been giving a lot of thought to his future career, but couldn't find anyone with extensive knowledge of many career paths. What started as a joke to his brother at the dinner table has become "60 Jobs in 60 Days."

He reached out to local professionals to arrange job shadowing and hired a web developer through Elance.com to help him design his website. In addition to getting an answer to his question about career information, this 18-year-old has created an opportunity to work directly with a web developer, learn website management, get hands-on marketing and social media experience and gain 60 professional contacts. Not bad for a summer project.

Whatever opportunity you care enough about to create, take some advice from Warshafsky: go for it!

"If you are passionate about an idea, you'll do a great job and be willing to work hard at it. I've discovered that there's a ton of resources out there and people that want to help if you take the time to reach out in an honest way," said Warshafsky, who will be blogging and tweeting about his experience so other high school students can also benefit from his project.

4. Research enrichment programs - it might not be too late

If you've determined a summer enrichment program really is the best chance you have to get into your dream school or pave the way to your future career or help you nail the SAT score you need to get that free ride, research several programs now. You may be able to find an available spot for this summer.

Tina Krinsky, Chief Visionary Officer of Julian Krinsky Camps and Programs in Philadelphia, says the programs at JKCP are filling up later every year. Though the competitive academic programs tend to fill up more quickly, JKCP's programs draw participants from 35 states and 40 countries and sometimes still have openings in June and July.

These programs, particularly the residential variety, come with a price tag that may require you to save your allowance and birthday and holiday money until next summer--and flip those burgers after all. The three-week residential enrichment program costs $5,385, and the four-week residential nursing institute runs $6,175.

5. Make lemonade out of lemons: find meaning in a menial job

So, if all else fails, and it turns out you'll be scrubbing toilets for the local motel chain or bussing tables all summer - don't fret. Often, some of life's most poignant lessons can be learned while doing the jobs nobody else wants. In short, you don't have to be a research assistant in the Galapagos or building homes for the needy to have a meaningful experience that you can highlight in a college essay or on a university application. Opportunities will present themselves if you have an open-minded attitude and are engaged with your co-workers or customers.

For instance, perhaps while doing a menial job, you can come up with a way to improve the way the task is done - a more efficient workflow or a method that costs less--and pitch it to management. Who knows? It could be adopted company-wide. On an interpersonal level, maybe you find that some fellow employees speak English as a second language. You can offer to provide conversational English tutoring to those who are interested, or act as a liaison, helping them find and register for affordable ESL classes--or work on your own second language skills.

And, sometimes, the wisdom you gain can be for your own benefit - you might discover that you have a knack for certain types of problem-solving or for mediating conflict, which can help you decide what types of courses you may like to take in the future. This type of self-discovery and epiphany can be great material for an essay or application.

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