I Didn’t Intend to Go to College Until I Was Offered a Job

by Megan Hartline

Most people attend college to get started on a career path. I also went to college for a job, but in a more immediate sense: I was headed toward the door of my high school, floating on that superior feeling of the final days of senior year, when the guidance counselor stuck her head of the office and hailed me by name.

“Are you looking for a job?” she asked.

I thought about my current job at Meijer, a Midwest supermarket chain. I worked for minimum wage at the customer service desk, where I cashed checks, corrected checkout errors, and processed returns of everything from spoiled meat to purloined razors.

“Absolutely,” I said, even though I hadn’t known it until that moment.

“Great,” she said. “Go down to the community college and see my friend Jane in the admissions office. She just called me to see if I have any good seniors looking for work.”

“Right now?” I asked.

“Sure,” the counselor replied. “I’ll let her know you’re coming.”

I walked the half mile downhill from my high school to the college, still riding that senior euphoria, and found the admissions office. The counselor was as good as her word; Jane was expecting me. She asked me a few questions, mainly about my ability to help a diverse group of prospective students. Thanks to the customer service hazing at Meijer, I nailed this casual interview.

Jane offered me a job on the spot, at fifty cents over the hourly wage I was making at Meijer. She could give me up to 35 hours per week over the summer, and then 30 in the fall, with a much more consistent schedule than the store. Then she paused.

“Are you registered for fall classes yet? You have to be enrolled for the fall to work over the summer.”

That’s when the penny dropped. This was a student job that depended on student status.

My senior bliss had a hazy quality to it. I didn’t have college plans, or really any post-secondary plans. Taking the SAT in junior year, I’d fantasized about small liberal arts colleges, or even the Ivy League, but the financial reality squelched that dream. I wasn’t going to attend college on merit scholarships, either. Despite solid scores on that SAT, I was an indifferent student with zero extracurriculars. I knew community college was an affordable option, but I wasn’t particularly excited about it.

In the final week of high school, I hadn’t even applied to any colleges. I looked at Jane, a kind woman in her mid-sixties. Behind her were the other college-aged admissions assistants, to whom she’d introduced me, sitting in office chairs at the front desk.

My shifts at Meijer never involved sitting; even counting down the cash drawer at the end of the day was done at a waist-high counter.

“I’m not enrolled yet, but I will register by the end of the week,” I said firmly.

“Great,” Jane said. “Give me a call as soon as you’re registered and we’ll set a start date.”

I whizzed through the collegiate paperwork, more motivated by this job offer than by anything in my previous 17 years. I applied, selected classes, registered, and plunked down a deposit on tuition within two days. Jane was as good as her word, and I gave notice to Meijer before the week was out. Soon I was ensconced in the admissions office, alphabetizing paper applications by last name and spinning happily in a swivel chair.

Looking back, that encounter with the guidance counselor was a sharp turning point in the course of my life. The work in the admissions office gave me a deep understanding of how colleges worked, helping me navigate the convoluted pathways of higher education. The community college students I met were all pursuing specific job paths in a way I wanted to emulate. I went from aimless teen to determined college student in the space of a week.

A few weeks into the job, I found out that I’d had competition. The guidance counselor had collared another student, my classmate Ron, after I strolled out the door and made him the same offer. Ron called Jane later that same afternoon, but she’d already filled the position with me and he was out of luck.

Sorry, Ron, wherever you are now! I hope you found your own life-changing job.

This story is part of our College Month series.

Megan Hartline grew fond of accruing college credits. She is now using them all as a librarian in Colorado.