The summer job: earning big bucks to pay big bucks for college

summer jobMy mom found the ad in our weekly newspaper asking for “summer help.” It was at a plastics factory about 1 mile from our house. I knew I had to get a job in order to go to college – especially an expensive private college.

The factory didn’t seem to have a formal interview process. I went in that Wednesday, signed an application sheet and left. Within a few days, they called and hired me. Just like that. Personally, I think they hired me because they are always short of help; it also probably helped that my resume pointed out that I was an honor roll student, an experienced farm worker and an athlete. I graduated May 18, and I began one day later.

When the alarm clock began blaring at 6 a.m. that first day, I had my doubts about what I was getting into. I had to be at work by 6:50 a.m. O.K. That is early for me. Thank heavens I only had to drive a short distance.

They trained me for a few days before I actually ran one of the machines. I didn’t really know what I would be doing all summer, but I figured it wouldn’t be exciting work. I just kept reminding myself that I was making $10.70 an hour to stand there and take plastic parts out of these machines. For an 18-year-old with really no past job experience, that was pretty good.

During those three months I just went to work and didn’t think about it. The work was mind-numbing. I became one of those “can’t wait ’til Friday” people. Some of the jobs were better than others. I made everything from plastic balls (I have no idea what they are used for) to oil pans. I hated the oil pans–they were the worst because you had to cut around the soft plastic flashing to shape the product into an oil pan. I also made plastic stadium seats for all the new football and baseball arenas going up around the country.

I couldn’t wait for the summer to end. When it finally did, I had made over $4,200–wow, that’s a lot of money. Little did I realize how fast that money would go.

During my first day on campus at this private college, my checking account was nearly depleted by the $3,000 check I had to write out for the first semester bill. That is one big number to see on a check, not to mention the fact that it happened to be the first check I had ever written. The sad thing is, that that didn’t even include the loans I had to take out. Did I make a mistake not going to a less expensive state school?

All in all, I can’t disparage the plastics job too much. I am grateful for the paychecks. My boss and a few other higher-ups at the factory told me I could work every summer during my college years and even during any holidays or spring breaks that I want to make some money. I know I’ll have to take them up on their offer because those college bills won’t be going away anytime soon. Can’t wait to see what they’ll be making out of plastic when I get back there again.

Tips for your summer job search

As fun as it is, relaxing your way through summer break is not a very good way to earn money. And since another semester, and therefore another tuition bill, is just around the corner, it pays to plan ahead and do a little labor. The problem, though, is that most college students want summer jobs and, naturally, there just aren’t enough of them to go around. You need to stand out.

The benefits of working during summer

Getting a job now makes getting one in the future easier. Future employers will be glad to see prior work experience on your resume and higher-level jobs require it. Also, when you start working you begin building your network of personal contacts, many of whom you can (and should) use as future references.
The most obvious benefit of having a summer job is that you’ll be making money. Even if you’re working part-time and making minimum wage, having a summer income is great. It can help alleviate the cost of college, even if you’re saving a few hundred dollars here or there. Put aside as much as possible toward your college savings. A mantra: every dollar you earn now is one you don’t have to borrow later—which is one less dollar you have to pay back with interest.

A Word of Financial Aid Warning:

Making money over the summer is great, and it will be a big help to you when it comes to paying off college costs. However, if you rake in too much, your earnings can impact your financial aid award. You can make about $4,000 per year without a significant effect on your financial aid eligibility, not including any income from a work-study program. Once you cross the $4k threshold, your expected family contribution (EFC) will be increased by as much as 50% of every dollar you earn above that $4k.

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