The Pros and Cons of Getting a Summer Job

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

by Drew Millard
May 19 2015, 3:20pm

Illustrations by Nick Gazin.

Every May, college students the nation 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—getting a summer job in your college town; getting a summer job at home; 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 favorite, the unpaid internship, which combines the worst parts of having to work with the worst parts of not making any money.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of 2014, 2.1 million people age 16 to 24 got summer jobs, and that 51.9 percent of young people were employed in the month of July. In 2012, Forbes determined that common summer jobs included freelance writing, internships, nannying, and gigs in the service industry.

For what it's worth, I spent the summer before my junior year as a barista at a bubble tea place in my college 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 register, giving my friends free drinks, and getting dirty looks from local mothers for playing DMX over the store's speakers while their children were trying to pick between mango and vanilla-flavored 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.


There's really no easy way to say this: having a job sucks. Jobs are tedious, thankless, and, in all likelihood, the reason you have one is because someone else had something they didn't want to do so bad 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 sweet 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 go see a movie. You could use it to buy a goat, then use more of that money to bribe whatever 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.


OK, you remember that scenario I outlined above 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, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person under 25 earns about $30,129 annually. Since a summer job is about two months, you'll realistically earn about a sixth of that—$5,021, before federal and state taxes. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that people under 25 on average spend $5,295 in that same period of time. But hey! Maybe you can join the 84 percent of college students with credit cards, eventually becoming one of the 21 percent of undergrads with $3,000 to $7,000 of credit card debt. Or you could go the deadbeat route, pawning your TV so you can make rent, cashing out at the Coinstar machine so you can buy beer, and drinking half-empty bottles of Coors Light at parties.

Related on VICE News: The Business of Life


Another great part about holding down a summer job is 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 cell phone (as Baylor reports many college students do), and because you're making your own money, your parents can't say anything! Maybe take advantage of the summer festival circuit and join the 14.7 million other millennials who attend fests such as Bonnaroo, Lollapallooza, and Pitchfork (and if you want to fuck some of those millennials, here's a guide). Or, make your parents proud by being like the average college student and spending twice as much on booze as you do on books. For what it's worth, when I was in summer school and working part time at that bubble tea place, a friend and I used the money we'd earned at our jobs to drive six hours to Washington, DC for a rap concert, and then drove all night back. I then took an exam on three hours' sleep, because college doesn't actually matter.


While the Department of Labor 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 BAC is right for you, or looking at Twitter. Your jobless friends will text you while you're at work incessantly. The pictures of them at the bar or the beach, 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 of 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 clothing retailer, that means giving your friends the employee discount. If you work at a golf course, that means using your key to break into the grounds at night so everybody can use the pool. If you work at the DMV, 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 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 college student. You could get caught swearing on the job, or taking too long of a lunch break. You could fire off a tweet, only to get canned for it, maybe before you even start. Or you could get the boot because you wrote about your job for your school 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 categorized as "expendable" by the new owner. A couple 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, sometimes interrupting his GTA V marathons to sell dry weed to freshman, stepped-on coke to frat dudes, and his brother's Adderall to grad students.

In April of this year, a Columbia student wrote an op-ed in the school 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, at the schoolyear-closing event Bacchanal, "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 amount is basically printing money...


Two days after the blog post went live, Capital NY 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 rumored that the dealer, Michael Gelzer (a former copy-editor for the school paper), was behind the brazen post in question. In a bit of added fun, Capital NY reported that Gelzer accepted payment over the personal finance app Venmo, on which the default setting for transactions is "public."

The penalties for college students facing drug charges aren't fun. Five students also from Columbia—which at this point is seeming like a pretty fun place to attend—were caught in a drug bust and faced penalties ranging from probation to jail time. In February, a 19-year-old Villanova drug dealer was hit with nine to 23 months in county jail, and in 2013, a Georgetown Law student and meth dealer was sentenced to four years in prison.

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 and get a job already.

Drew Millard is on Twitter.