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Finding a balance

Helping your students decide whether to work during high school is an important discussion that can have repercussions on their success in high school and beyond.

"College costs are high, and young adults also want the amenities that extra money brings," according to John B. Boshoven, counselor for continuing education at Community High School in Michigan. However, he warns, "school is my students' full-time job."

For some students, especially those in traditionally underserved populations, taking a job is not a matter of choice, but necessity. They need to work to save for college or even to supplement family income. Counselors should help students who have a real need to work improve time-management skills and seek employment that helps their educational goals.


Studies show that students who work are more confident and possess better time-management skills than students who are not employed. In addition to offering a paycheck, some independence and satisfaction, a part-time job can provide both training and experience. Working teaches students about responsibility and can also reinforce what they are learning in school.

"Admission representatives want to find candidates who demonstrate maturity, responsibility, independence and initiative — and good workers certainly demonstrate those important character traits," Boshoven says. "Employers can write excellent recommendation letters for the students who have worked for them."


On the other hand, experts agree that students who work more than 15 to 20 hours per week often experience decreased school success, which can lead to dropping out entirely. Working long hours can also limit opportunities to build friendships and explore interests that enhance intellectual and emotional development.

Advising your students

Drawing out your students' interests and goals is an important part of helping them understand the responsibility of having a job during high school. Your students may find it helpful to ask themselves:

  • Am I flexible and willing to make sacrifices? Am I open to cutting down on some of the things I like to do to fulfill my school and work commitments?
  • How does my family feel about me working?
  • Do I make effective use of my time? For example, am I the type of person who can complete reading assignments while waiting in line or riding the bus?
  • Can I fit in work, maintain my grades and still get enough sleep?
  • If I work, will I still have enough time to spend with my family and friends?
  • Will the job be flexible around study and exam commitments?

The bottom line: balance and moderation

The major point that students should keep in mind is the importance of balance. Dan Crabtree, college and career counselor at Wheaton Academy in Illinois, explains, "We want our students to establish . . . a healthy balance in life . . . and work to maintain it throughout their lives."

If working will interfere with completing schoolwork, participating in extracurricular activities, spending time with family and friends or getting enough rest, it may not be a wise decision.