Summer Job or Professional Job-Shadow? The Role of “Impact” and Why It Matters in Admissions

Article written by College Inside Track consultant Paige Feldman

With the school year winding down, many students and parents are still fully immersed in that age-old conversation –what will you do with your summer break? In our continued effort to demystify and provide encouragement to students and families looking to make summer count, we want to tackle a question that often comes up this time of year: What about job shadowing?

Much is made of the need for students to engage their academic and career interests through the ways they spend their time outside of school. If this has you thinking: shouldn’t job shadowing a professional in a field of interest be the perfect addition to a student’s summer plans, think again.

While admissions officers do look to see evidence that students have been engaging their intellectual and professional interests through their activities, there is something even more important on an admissions reader’s mind as they review an applicant’s activity list: Impact.

Perhaps the most important thing a student can communicate through how they spend their time is that they are positively and meaningfully impacting the lives of others. This type of impact can take many shapes and forms:

Working a summer job:

  • A summer job conveys your dedication and work ethic, provides opportunities to reflect on the relationships you form, the people you serve, your interactions with people different from yourself, and what this helps you learn about your place in the world, your privilege, and the impact you wish to have. Whether you are scooping ice cream, clearing a hiking trail, or lifeguarding, your labor is a contribution to your community.

Family Responsibilities:

  • Playing a significant, ongoing role in providing child care or elder care in support of your family conveys reliability, dedication, humility, responsibility, and compassion.

Community Engagement:

  • A very powerful form of impact takes shape when a student aligns their time and effort with an area of interest.
  • For example, a student interested in computer science could offer a coding class at a local community center or library for middle school girls.
  • A student with an interest in law could volunteer at a nonprofit that supports community members with navigating barriers to affordable housing.
  • A young person passionate about art and Spanish can offer a bilingual art class for children at a community organization serving immigrant families.
  • A student interested in a medical career can obtain an EMT license and begin serving in the field.

The reason job shadows are quickly breezed over by many admissions readers is because they serve only the student. An admissions reader would much rather see a student engage their interests in ways that connect them with a broader community, build meaningful relationships, reflect on their role within the community, and grapple with the systems at work.

Particularly for students who will be perceived as coming from privileged communities and upbringings, admissions readers are eager to see young people developing an understanding of this privilege and demonstrating that they will be thoughtful, engaged, and active community members on the campus they seek to join.