I worked steadily through high school and college. I held a steady succession of mostly menial, mostly entry-level jobs: grocery store cashier, movie theater attendant, youth sports official, food delivery driver.
My motivations were largely financial. During high school, I worked to fund the purchase of my first car and earn extra money to cover my admittedly modest discretionary expenses. I didn’t think much about the workplace experience and practical skills I was undoubtedly gaining along the way, largely because I didn’t connect any of the jobs I held with my then-theoretical career after graduation.
With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had. At least, I wish I’d thought more deeply about how those early jobs prepared me for life in the “adult” workforce and done more to prepare for that life.
All I can do now is encourage current and soon-to-be high school students to seek jobs of their own — and do their best to learn from those roles, no matter how menial, tedious, or seemingly irrelevant to the future. Working part-time through high school affords some of the same benefits as working through college: increased cash flow, less reliance on parents or other relatives for financial support, better money management skills, even a head start on the path to financial independence.
Best Part-Time Jobs for High School Students
To that end, I’ve compiled a list of the best part-time and summer jobs for high schoolers. All are entry-level positions that require little or no prior experience. Many are “traditional” jobs that high school and college students have held for decades, such as babysitting and retail clerking, but some are artifacts of the digital age, such as app-based food delivery and virtual assistant work. And although most aren’t direct prerequisites for career-track roles, all help develop the soft skills and basic workplace competencies that are so essential to future workplace success.
1. Babysitter or Nanny
Babysitting is one of the oldest jobs in the world — predating the cash economy, the invention of the wheel, and who knows what else. It’s also one of the most familiar. Even if you’ve never worked as a babysitter, you’ve probably been supervised by one, whether an older sibling, a neighbor, or a hired employee.
Many babysitting gigs are informal arrangements. They emerge through personal or social connections, may not require application forms or personality tests, and tend to be paid in cash or digital transfer rather than a proper payroll process. This informality makes them perfect for enterprising but busy high schools eager to earn some cash without committing to a steady part-time work schedule.
Find the right parents and those infrequent or irregular babysitting gigs might turn into a steadier job as a nanny — watching kids every day after school, perhaps, instead of a few hours every third Saturday night.
Aspiring babysitters able to commit more time to the endeavor can venture outside their social networks to find gigs using trusted third-party platforms like SitterCity or Care.com, which specializes in caregiver jobs unlike general-purpose digital jobs marketplaces.
Babysitting and nannying wages depend on the caregiver’s experience and job duties. High schoolers tend to earn less than more experienced caregivers with childcare certificates or degrees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the average childcare worker’s hourly wage at just over $11.50 as of mid-2019, and that’s probably a reasonable expectation for high school babysitters, although $15 per hour or more isn’t out of the question for jobs that involve more work.
2. Grocery Store Employee
Automation looms as a major threat for grocery store cashiers and baggers, known as front-end workers, but these jobs aren’t obsolete quite yet. Importantly for enterprising high schoolers, they remain open to applicants under age 18 where local labor laws permit. Grocery store department jobs — deli clerk, butcher, stocker — are less prone to automation but more likely to be restricted to over-18s due to occupational hazards, training requirements, or late hours.
Grocery store baggers typically start at or near local minimum wage. Cashiers might earn a dollar or two more per hour. Wages tend to be higher in stores where the workforce is unionized, which is more common in the northern U.S. and on the West Coast. (I earned about 30% more than minimum wage as a union cashier — a nice rate for a high school student.) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail cashiers earned a bit less than $11.50 per hour as of mid-2019, but that’s an average. Entry-level cashiers should expect to earn less, except where minimum wage laws forbid.
3. Digital Entrepreneur
Starting an online business as a high school student is an excellent way to get a head start on life. Just ask David Karp, founder of a pioneering social blog platform site called Tumblr. Karp started Tumblr from his bedroom at the tender age of 15. In 2013, he sold the company to Yahoo for a cool $1.1 billion. That turned out to be a good financial decision in hindsight, as Tumblr’s value subsequently, er, tumbled due to changing user tastes and poor management, per the Hamilton Spectator.
The best thing about starting an online business — or working an online job in general — is that the startup costs are often minimal. You’ll need to work hard to make money with your personal blog or website, but you won’t have to spend much to get started. Hosting plans from low-cost providers like Bluehost start at just a few dollars per month; beyond that, you won’t need much more than a laptop and a comfortable, productive spot to work from home.
4. Food Delivery Driver
People need to eat. And until some combination of self-driving cars, robotic couriers, and airborne drones replace them, they’ll need people to deliver that food when they can’t or don’t want to get it themselves.
App-based food delivery services like DoorDash (for restaurants) and Instacart (for groceries) gained new visibility and hordes of new users during the coronavirus pandemic and look likely to stick around — one of the many long-term changes wrought by the ordeal. Unfortunately, delivery apps generally require workers to be at least 18 years old, putting them out of most high schoolers’ reach.
Good thing delivery apps aren’t the only game in town for aspiring delivery drivers. Thousands of independently owned sit-down restaurants and national fast food franchises alike still employ drivers or couriers in-house, often without minimum age requirements except those imposed by local labor regulations.
Base pay for delivery drivers isn’t great. The BLS pegs the average wage for food and beverage service workers — a much broader category that includes restaurant-based food delivery employees — at about $11 per hour, although entry-level workers should expect a lower wage. The upside is that delivery drivers earn tips, which can far outstrip wages during busy periods. (I’d routinely earn double or triple minimum wage as a tipped delivery driver.) Bottom line: Delivering food is a fantastic way for young people to make money with their cars — or bikes, for those still saving up for that first ride.
5. Landscaping and Lawn Care Worker
One of my first “jobs” as a teen involved clearing brush, raking leaves, and trimming shrubbery for an older couple. The work — glorified yard work, really — was grueling and paid little. Yet I have nothing but fond memories of the gig, which kept me outdoors and active for hours at a time in what I remember to be beautiful fall weather.
I’m surely not the only high schooler to benefit from a landscaping job. Like babysitting, landscaping and lawn care offers boundless opportunity for enterprising high schoolers seeking a flexible, informal, decent-paying work arrangement that’s easy enough to scale by stringing together multiple gigs. More so than most other high school jobs, landscaper pay is directly proportional to effort: Find seven paying clients to charge $25 for a weekly mow — one per day — and you’re pulling down a cool $175 per week.
Landscaping and lawn care also promises variety. Depending on the season and locale, this work might involve mowing lawns, raking or blowing leaves, planting and tending flower beds, trimming shrubs, and shoveling snow. And because true success requires some degree of self-promotion, whether that’s flyering the neighborhood or seeding word-of-mouth referrals, it’s better experience for aspiring entrepreneurs than, say, working at a grocery store.
Helping people move is another physically demanding job that’s ideal for enterprising young folks with little skilled experience. Because people tend to move more during the summer, especially in college towns and vacation towns, working as a mover is a fine way to earn extra cash during school breaks.
Moving involves heavy lifting, commercial trucks, and other occupational hazards, so many moving companies require applicants to be at least 18 years old. But this requirement isn’t universal. Where labor laws permit, moving companies — especially smaller outfits — recruit high schoolers.
Movers earn decent pay. According to Payscale, the median hourly wage for this occupation is about $14.30, although entry-level workers should expect to earn more like $10 to $12 per hour. Still, that’s a few ticks above minimum wage in many places.
My wife worked several summers as a lifeguard at her community pool and loved every minute of it. The pay wasn’t great — minimum wage, she remembers — but she rarely had to climb down from her perch and never had to assist anyone in real distress. The only true prerequisite was a basic CPR certification course.
Sounds nice, right? Although my wife’s lifeguarding job was probably easier than some, it’s fairly typical of an entry-level gig at a community pool or water park. The rub is that lifeguard jobs don’t grow on trees like landscaping jobs (literally) do. In a bigger town with a more competitive labor market, my wife might not have landed this plum assignment.
Working as a coffee shop barista is a fairly low-stakes way to acquire the sorts of basic skills you’ll need to succeed in career-track jobs: teamwork, efficiency, time management, following instructions, customer service. And of all the high school-friendly jobs on this list, it’s probably the most likely to offer legitimate employee benefits. Starbucks is famous for offering health insurance to part-time workers — as well as an employee stock ownership plan, a rarity in the food service industry — as part of a benefits package called the Special Blend.
Baristas are part of the BLS’s broad food and beverage service workers category. Most entry-level baristas start within pouring distance of minimum wage; pay at deeper-pocketed chains like Starbucks is likely to be better than at independently owned, single-location shops.
9. Dog Walker and Pet Sitter
Like landscaping and babysitting, pet care services — dog walking, pet sitting, and related activities — is a flexible, scalable, often informal gig that’s great for entrepreneurial high schoolers. Because you almost certainly have pet parents in your extended social network, tapping that network might be all that’s needed to land a steady stream of part-time pet care work. But platforms like Rover.com — the main Care.com alternative for furry friends and their human companions — can help turn an occasional activity into a legitimate enterprise.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegs the median wage for animal care and service workers at about $12 per hour as of mid-2019. Jobs that involve less work or responsibility, such as feeding a neighbor’s cat once per day while they’re away on vacation, might pay a bit less.
10. Camp Counselor
The phrases “summer job” and “camp counselor” are practically synonymous. The typical overnight summer camp might be physically and culturally removed from the “real world,” but this quintessential seasonal position nevertheless prepares young people for life in the workforce.
Opportunities abound at summer day camps and childcare programs for aspiring camp counselors who’d prefer not to spend an entire summer away from home. If you like working with younger kids and want to work in an environment where entry-level workers have real responsibilities, being a camp counselor is close to an ideal gig. The biggest drawback is low pay. PayScale reports a median hourly wage just over $8.50 for summer camp counselors, and residential camps — which house and feed seasonal employees — are typically exempt from minimum wage laws.
11. Retail Store Clerk
Retail store clerks are losing ground as automation and e-commerce gain steam, but they’ll likely remain part of the in-person shopping experience for the foreseeable future. Higher-skill retail jobs seem more durable; human employees remain integral for electronics retailers like Best Buy and the Apple Store, for example.
That durability has tangible benefits. Apple joins Starbucks as one of the few retailers to extend stock ownership eligibility to hourly workers, and Best Buy’s average hourly employee wage exceeds $13, per PayScale — well above minimum wage in most jurisdictions.
Tutors’ compensation correlates closely with their credentials. In other words, really well-paid tutors — the kind who earn $50 or more per hour through tutor-student matching platforms like Tutor.com — generally have college degrees. And, like most tutor matching platforms, Tutor.com requires its tutors to have high school diplomas or equivalents, so it’s no dice for high schoolers.
That shouldn’t stop enterprising, whip-smart high schoolers from seeking out tutoring jobs through their social networks or local advertising. Several of my high school friends made good money as tutors; all found work through classified ads and client referrals rather than agencies or digital platforms. Depending on the subject matter and your qualifications — such as a high standardized test score in your chosen subject — you can expect to earn anywhere from $15 to $25 showing younger students the ropes. PayScale pegs the average hourly earnings for tutors at just under $18.50.
13. Web Developer or Designer
“Learn to code,” they say. Should you listen?
If you’re more comfortable in front of a double-monitor workstation than a cash register or moving truck, the answer is an unqualified “yes.” Web development and design are among the best-paying office-based, freelancer-friendly occupations that require no formal credentials, experience, or education. Many full-time developers and designers are entirely self-taught, although it doesn’t hurt to pursue a degree in computer science or a related field if you plan to make a go of it.
But there’s plenty of time for that. Your best bet as an aspiring pre-college developer is to create a profile on LinkedIn and use it to advertise your services, as most reputable U.S.-based freelancer platforms require users to be at least 18 years old. (LinkedIn’s minimum age is 16.) Set rates commensurate with your experience; you might want to undercut the U.S. average of about $35 per hour (per the BLS) to start.
And if you’re entirely new to coding? No sweat. Sign up for a coding course or two with Coursera or become a Codecademy member and work through progressively more difficult website and app coding assignments.
14. Warehouse Worker
Yes, the accelerating shift to e-commerce is bad news for brick-and-mortar retailers and their employees. But it’s great news for a growing army of logistics workers responsible for filling, shipping, and delivering orders.
Many logistics jobs are off-limits to high schoolers, including delivery roles that involve driving commercial trucks and any warehouse positions with Amazon, which doesn’t hire under-18s. But many non-Amazon warehouses do hire high schoolers, contingent upon local labor laws that restrict minor employees from working late at night or early in the morning, when warehouses tend to be in full swing. A cursory search for “High School Warehouse Jobs” on Indeed returns tens of thousands of positions paying $15 per hour or more.
15. Food Server
Serving is a super-popular first job for high school students. Although local regulations often prohibit minor employees from bar service, they’re usually free to wait and bus tables — and earn tips enough to significantly boost their admittedly low base pay. The BLS includes servers and buspeople in its massive food and beverage service workers category, for which the median hourly wage was about $11 in 2019. During peak periods, tips can push earnings well above that midpoint — north of $15 or even $20 per hour.
16. Kitchen Worker
If you prefer to operate behind the scenes, working in a restaurant kitchen might be more your speed. Although state and federal law restricts minor employees from certain hazardous kitchen functions, such as operating deli slicers, less dangerous work — prepping ingredients, washing dishes — is fair game. The big downside here is that tips don’t always reach the kitchen staff; entry-level back-of-house employees shouldn’t expect to earn much more than minimum wage.
17. Administrative Assistant or Office Clerk
The summer I spent as an office clerk wasn’t my most exciting school break — not by a long shot. But it was oddly satisfying to organize files, make copies, drop off mail, and perform any number of other mundane functions that have slipped my mind in the years since.
I made decent money too: about 50% more than the minimum wage at the time, which felt like a lot for a high schooler. According to the BLS, I was actually underpaid; the average wage for office clerks in 2019 was more than twice the federal minimum wage. The average wage for secretaries and administrative assistants, a related field, is even higher according to the BLS.
Most low-level office jobs require high school diplomas, but not all. I was able to land one as a high schooler, and I suspect the path is easier for students seeking employment with their parents’ or parents’ friends’ employers. If you’re not fortunate enough to have an “in” like that, all is not lost. The worst that can happen is you’re passed over for someone with more experience.
Long gone are the days when the typical high school or college job provided enough income to make a serious dent in the student worker’s university tuition costs, if not cover the entire balance. The rapidly rising cost of a college education has many kids and parents posing a once-unthinkable question: whether that education is worth it at all.
I won’t go so far as to advocate writing off college and launching your “real-world” career in high school. That’s a personal choice that you’ll need to make in consultation with your parents, teachers, guidance counselor, mentors — anyone with a stake in your future. And avoiding higher education isn’t a realistic prospect for most workers in the present day. Even those who choose not to pursue four-year degrees typically need degrees or certifications from two-year institutions or trade schools to advance in their chosen fields.
Nevertheless, working through high school can help you keep your options open from the beginning and may well set you on a course for a productive career that doesn’t require years of higher education.
And if you do ultimately decide to pursue a career that requires a four-year or graduate degree? Your high school employment still won’t be for naught. You’ll have a head start on candidates without any real workplace experience.