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The Pros and Cons of Getting a Summer Job During University

Welcome to the world of adulthood, where long hours, letting your friends scrounge off you and babysitting horrible teens is your new reality.

Illustrations by Nick Gazin

Every May, students the UK over face a choice: they can get a summer job, or they can not get a summer job. There are variations on this, of course – hanging around wherever your university is and getting a job there; going home and getting one; doing nothing and mooching off your parents; doing nothing and being poor; studying abroad as a way of conning your parents into paying for your life while you get drunk and fuck around in a foreign country; or my personal favourite, the unpaid internship, which combines the worst parts of having to work with the worst parts of not making any money.


For what it's worth, I spent the summer before last as a barista at a bubble tea shop in my university town. It was, perhaps, the ideal summer job. If you don't know, bubble tea is a Taiwanese drink made out of a milk tea base with tapioca pearls at the bottom. It is served either hot or cold, and it's incredibly easy to make. I spent most of my time at the job fucking around on the horrifically slow Dell computer connected to the cash machine, giving my friends free drinks and getting dirty looks from local mothers for playing DMX over the shop's speakers while their children were trying to pick between mango and vanilla-flavoured bubble teas.

But do you want to work in a bubble tea shop this summer? Do you want to toil away as a nanny or an intern? I'm here to help you answer that one eternal question: Do you work this summer, or do you not work this summer?

Here are the pros and cons.


Having a job sucks. Jobs are tedious and thankless, and, in all likelihood, the reason you have one is because someone else had something they didn't want to do so badly that they were willing to give someone else money to do it. But that last part – the money – is also totally the upside to having a job. In exchange for spending a certain amount of your time doing something you don't necessarily want to do, money magically shows up in your bank account every two weeks. How great is that?


What you do next is up to you, really. You could use that money to pay your rent. You could use it to go skydiving. You could use it to see a movie. You could use it to buy a goat, then use more of that money to bribe whatever local government office in your town is in charge of telling you to not have a goat into looking the other way. Which is to say: money is wonderful.


You remember that scenario I outlined literally just now in which you used your money from your summer job to buy a goat and then bribed someone so you could keep it? Well, bribes are expensive. The average UK graduate salary is between £18,000 to £24,000. Considering you're still at uni, you're going to be on the lower end of that, and since a summer job lasts for about two months, you'll realistically earn a sixth of that sum – meaning something like £3,000 maximum, before tax.

The average cost of food and rent for a student in the UK is around £770 per month. Add on the booze, drugs, clothes, festival tickets, Ubers, hungover Dominos and all the other shit you buy that you really don't need, and you're not going to be left with a huge amount to tempt crooked bureaucrats. But hey! Why not get yourself a credit card and pile extra backbreaking debt onto the thousands you're already going to owe post-graduation? Or if you're more into short-term misery, I suppose you could just pawn all your belongings and resort to drinking half-empty cans of Tyskie at house parties.


READ ON NOISEY: You Will Encounter At Least One of These Douchebags at University


Another great part of holding down a summer job is that your parents no longer own you. Whatever money you make is totally yours; you don't have any kids or a spouse (statistically speaking), and nothing you do before you graduate means anything, so you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you want. You could spend eight to ten hours a day on your phone (as many students reportedly do), and because you're making your own money, your parents can't say anything!

Maybe take advantage of the summer festival circuit and become part of the 65 percent of British millennials who'd rather spend money on experiences – watching Kanye at Glastonbury, smoking Spice during Kanye at Glastonbury, feeling fucking horrendous after smoking Spice while watching Kanye at Glastonbury – than possessions. Or make your parents proud by being like the average university student and spending twice as much on alcohol as you do on food.


While the government doesn't define how many hours constitute a part-time job, it's generally understood to be anything less than 35 hours per week. That kind of commitment will really eat away at time that could be spent participating in traditional summer activities, like going to house parties and festivals and discovering what blood alcohol content is right for you. Your jobless friends will text you while you're at work incessantly. The pictures of them at the pub or in the park, broke but living, not stuck inside a broken global system that fucks over the lower-rung workers (which you will definitely be) for the guys at the top (middle-aged regional chain managers) will weigh heavily on your mind while you scrub congealed cheese off an endless stream of plates. It will never stop weighing heavily on your mind.


One of the most important things about your summer job is abusing it in whatever way you can to help your friends. If you work at a bar, that means sneaking them free drinks. If you work at a restaurant, that means bringing them extra food home. If you work at a clothes shop, that means giving your friends the employee discount. If you work at a spa, that means using your key to break in at night so everybody can use the pool. If you work at the DVLA, it means helping your blind friend pass the written test. Ideally, your friends will also use their jobs to hook you up, and together you'll create an underground summer job sharing economy. Some people might say that's taking advantage of your employer, but those people aren't your real friends. Abandon them.


The thing about employers is that they don't like it when you give their stuff away to your friends. So if you participate in the aforementioned summer job sharing economy, you should know that getting fired is a very real possibility. But even if you aren't hooking up your pals, there are plenty of other pitfalls lurking out there for the money-hungry university student. You could get caught swearing on the job, or taking too long of a lunch break. You could send a tweet, only to get fired for it, maybe before you even start. Or you could get the boot because you wrote about your job for the student paper.

You could also get fired for simply sucking at your job. My summer at the bubble tea place stretched to a year and a half. I was never a very good employee – I'd show up late, often hungover, and took forever making what should have been an extremely rudimentary beverage. After the place changed management, one of my co-workers told me that I'd been categorised as "expendable" by the new owner. A couple of weeks later, I was fired.



Look. There's ONE way to get out of having a summer job while also not mooching off your parents, and that's selling drugs. (Or donating plasma, but that's painful and not all that profitable.) It really is kind of maddening, spending hours shelving books in the library for pretentious nerds while your friend is playing Xbox all day, occasionally interrupting his GTA V marathons to sell weed to freshers, MDMA to second years and ketamine to pretty much everyone else.

In April of this year, a student at the American college Columbia wrote an op-ed in his student paper titled Confessions of a Departing Drug Dealer, boasting that he'd become the chief source for drugs on campus. "I find something so fulfilling and exciting," he wrote under the veil of anonymity, "in being the person that people rely on for fun." He claimed that, at the end of term party, "Several hundred students… will be smoking my weed this Saturday. There will be more than 100 students rolling on MDMA, thanks to me alone." Selling drugs in that kind of quantity is basically printing money.


Two days after the blog post went live, it was reported that a student drug dealer at Columbia had been arrested and charged with two drug felonies, as well as a few non-felony drug charges. It's rumoured that the dealer, Michael Gelzer (a former copy-editor for the student paper), was behind the brazen post in question. In a bit of added fun, it was also reported that Gelzer accepted payment over the personal finance app Venmo, on which the default setting for transactions is "public".


The penalties for university students facing drug charges aren't fun. Two students at the University of Salford were caught selling pills, weed and K, and were each sentenced to two years at a young offenders institution. Last year, a Loughborough student was caught selling skunk and jailed for six months. This year, a politics student at Dundee was caught trying to sell ecstasy to club bouncers and given 200 hours of community service. The list goes on.

Even if your drug-dealing friend gets caught and doesn't face jail time (as many first-time offenders can manage), there are still court dates, court-mandated hangs with a probation officer and extremely tense conversations with your parents to deal with. So don't be stupid: get a job already.


More on VICE:

What the British University You Go to Says About Your Drug Taking

Here's What Happens to You Immediately After You Graduate University

A Big Night Out with… Britain's Newest Freshers!