Professional Students: Benefits and Risks of Working While in High School

Professional Students: Benefits and Risks of Working While in High School
Caitrin Blake June 4, 2015

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As someone who students and their families look to for guidance and advice—even for issues outside of the classroom—you may at some point be asked your thoughts on high school students holding part-time jobs. If you could use a refresher on the benefits and risks of students working while in high school, this article is for you.

First of all, there are obviously a number of reasons why high school students choose to get jobs—to help support their families, to save for college, or to just earn some extra money. Nearly 1 in 4 high school students worked in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here are some things you need to know about high school students and part-time jobs.

High school students benefit from part-time employment, but they need time management skills

Learning to budget time and to use it well is a skill that many students don’t learn until they’re in college or in their actual careers. Yet knowing how to handle numerous responsibilities helps students prepare for the academic vigor of college.

Going from school to extracurricular activities and then to a job means having to do homework late at night, or, in some cases, working ahead during the weekends to ensure everything is complete for the coming week. It’s possible for students to overcommit themselves out of a desire to make more money or because they are not yet adept at time management.

While the line between how much work is too much may seem nebulous, experts have found that students who work more than 15 to 20 hours a week see a decrease in academic performance. Teens shouldn’t exceed the recommended number of hours at their jobs, nor should they spend sleeping or studying time at work.

If you’re advising students or their families on this issue, be sure to mention these points and that time management has to be a factor in their schedule—because the last thing you’d want is for their performance to drop in class.

Federal rules for working teenagers

Here are just a few facts that may good for you to know if the conversations come up: The Department of Labor sets rules for working teenagers in the Fair Labor Standards Act. The minimum age for non-agricultural work is 14.

Working hours for 14- and 15-year-olds are limited to:

  • Non-school hours
  • 3 hours in a school day
  • 18 hours in a school week
  • 8 hours on a non-school day
  • 40 hours on a non-school week
  • Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. (except from June 1 through Labor Day, when hours are extended to 9 p.m.)

Students who are 16 and 17 can work unlimited hours, but only in jobs declared non-hazardous by the Secretary of Labor. Once they turn 18, students can work unlimited hours and are not barred from hazardous jobs.

Because teens over 16 can work unlimited hours, they have the most responsibility for balancing school and work. Parents of students ages 16 to 18 should make sure their jobs don’t expect them to work late hours and should carefully monitor work schedules. If students appear to be spending too much time at work, parents should help them refocus on their studies. 

Learning in the field: How students can develop skills related to their interests

In addition to teaching students real-world skills such as working with the public and as part of a staff, jobs give them exposure to fields they may hope to enter as adults. A job answering phones, running errands, or performing administrative tasks enables students to understand how fields they’re interested in work day to day and what those careers demand in terms of education, skill, and time commitment.

Furthermore, taking a job in their field of interest allows a student to show enthusiasm and aptitude for that field of study, which makes their application more desirable to college acceptance committees. Is your student interested in teaching? They could work for an after-school program or as a camp counselor. What about accounting? A job in an accounting office helping with administrative work could give them a glimpse into what their future may hold. 

Students should also think outside the box when looking for jobs to help develop skills related to their fields of interest. For example, a student interested in medicine might want to become a licensed lifeguard, which would enable him or her to learn lifesaving skills such as CPR. Working in the field, in some capacity, helps students build job-related skills and further ensures that their interest in the field is warranted.

Teachers and parents can create a framework for successful high school employment

While working during the high school years can help teach students responsibility and other important skills, parents and teachers need to help set students up for success. Ideas include:

  • Develop or take advantage of existing relationships with local service providers, stores, and other businesses that employ teenagers to ensure productive (and legal) working environments
  • Help students set up weekly schedules that allot time needed for homework and studying
  • Teach students how to keep a calendar or daily planner, either digitally or on paper, to avoid overcommitment and scheduling conflicts

As long as the job is safe, legal, and leaves ample time for academics, working during high school can benefit students, parents, and the surrounding community. Students learn skills and responsibility by working, remove some financial burden from their parents by earning their own money. and serve the people of their communities. And as their teacher, you may very well see their new skills and desire to work harder right in your class.

Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.

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