Pay for College by Peeling Potatoes

paying-for-schoolThe unemployment rate for America's youth topped 50 percent earlier this year, making the national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent seem like a deal. Students have a tougher time finding work to pay for college while competing with experienced workers who have been laid off.

But more than 100 years ago, in 1906, Selby A. Moran, a stenography instructor in Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote the book 'Over 100 Ways to Work One's Way Through College' to encourage students to find work to pay for college. Times were easier then -- when the national unemployment rate was 1.7 percent and getting a higher education didn't cost the $9,000 it does now to attend a four-year public college for a year -- but Moran still encouraged students to get to work.

Even now, when paying for college without loans is difficult but possible, Moran's advice to get to work and pay for college is sound. It's also fun to look at the jobs he suggested and what they paid in 1906. One of his suggestions was to peel potatoes, although he gave no figure for what it would pay. However, one young man actually worked his way through school by inventing and patenting a potato peeler, according to Moran.

Many jobs were focused around the farm as America remained an agrarian society, and horses were a main form of transportation until Henry Ford's Model T made its debut in 1908. In 1906, when Mason's book was published, working with horses was a popular job.

-- See average salaries for workers age 18 - 25.

What you could earn

Here are some other jobs he suggested and what they paid in 1906, according to a recent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

  • Singing in church choirs -- $1 to $3 per Sunday
  • Distributing circulars -- $200 a year
  • Conducting a kindergarten school -- $8 a week
  • Repairing gasoline stoves -- 30 cents an hour
  • Mending for lady students -- 20 cents an hour
  • Setting type -- $100-$150 a year
  • Selling copies of lectures -- $3 to $4 per week
  • Mending shoes -- $500 a year (minus tool expenses)
  • Laundry agent -- $20 a week
  • Selling past copies of examination papers -- a few cents per student per exam
  • Selling shoes -- $1.25 a pair
  • Selling butter -- $10 a week
  • Selling orders for canned goods -- $6 a week
  • Acting as assistants to professors -- $100 to $300 a year
  • Giving massage treatments -- 50 cents to $1 an hour

Easy come, easy go

Of course, many of the jobs back then are no longer available (that's the nature of progress, after all -- jobs disappear, and often for the better). For instance, there are no longer copy boys, lectors to read to people, manual pinsetters at bowling alleys, ice cutters, telegraph operators or elevator operators.

I doubt whether many college students today would even take on such jobs, especially those that involved selling things face-to-face. You didn't have the anonymous Internet to hide behind and try to sell something. But if nothing else, students in 1906 got out into the world and learned how the business of selling a product -- and yourself -- worked.

10 ways to work one's way through college -- this century

There are more ways to find a part-time job now to help get through college, and restaurants always need waiters. You'll still be selling butter, but it will come with a roll.

Here are some creative modern-day equivalents to some of Moran's suggestions for working your way through college:

  1. Be a ticket scalper. OK, this is illegal in most areas, but do it legally online through legitimate companies, or sell to your friends at a slightly increased price for popular football games that sell out on campus.

  2. Repair things. If you're handy with a hammer and other tools, you can find work helping coeds or others around campus fix their sinks, toilets, windows, doors or anything else that breaks. And don't forget computers. Every student probably has a computer, and fixing them on the spot can pay well.

  3. Sell holiday gifts. Valentine's Day is a prime example when money is often no object and you can capitalize by charging for fresh flowers and candy to be delivered to campus sweethearts. Start by delivering for your friends, and expand to the entire campus. Pretty soon you might have a part-time business to run.

  4. Take notes in class and sell them. Much like Moran's suggestion to sell copies of lectures for $3 to $4 per week, you too can do this. Just be sure to take excellent notes and organize them well.

  5. Have your brain picked. Not literally, but by psychology students at your college. Check with the Psychology Department to see if it pays students to take part in its studies.

  6. Recycle. You don't want to dig through trash cans on campus for aluminum cans, but you could set up a recycling bin in your dorm and collect the cans to turn in for money.

  7. Host an event at home. Ask for a donation from $1 to $50 and have a party at your house. It could be something as tame as a board game night (Scrabble, Monopoly, etc.) to a party with a band. Serve drinks and food and be sure to ask your roommates for their approval ahead of time.

  8. Teach a sport. If you're good at tennis, charge $50 an hour to teach students, and non-students, how to play the game you love.

  9. Sell junk food. If you have a Costco card or access to someplace else to buy candy and soda in bulk, stock up and turn your dorm room closet into a small store for dorm students to buy late-night snacks without having to walk to a local grocery store.

  10. Sell photos to stock agencies. If you're a good photographer, submit your photos to stock photo agencies like If accepted, they will be available for download by subscribers. Each time someone downloads your photos, you get 25 cents.

More mainstream choices

Other jobs are more mainstream. Here are a few other jobs to consider to help pay your way through college:

  • Retail sales. These jobs often pay minimum wage to start; but employees often get discounts off merchandise, so if it's a store you shop at often, it's like having a daily sale. (Find retail sales jobs)

  • Call center. Beyond telemarketing jobs, which sometimes pay more money for successfully completing a sale, you can work as a customer service representative at a call center for insurance, hotels, car rental or other companies that need customer service help.(Find call center jobs)

  • Work on campus. When I was in college, I worked a few hours a day at the college bookstore for about a year, and enjoyed it because it was on campus and I didn't have to commute. It was fun to work with other college students. Other campus positions that need workers include the residence halls, food court and anywhere else where something is sold on campus. Departments, such as the English Department, often need students to work administrative jobs, so ask your professors if they know of any openings.

  • Tutoring. Check the campus tutoring center to see if it needs help. If you're an English or math major and get excellent grades, you could tutor other students in your area of expertise. Or write up a flier offering your services and post it on campus bulletin boards or in the school newspaper. Also check with local schools to see if a teacher needs your help grading papers. (Find tutoring jobs)

  • Blog. Set up a blog and an AdSense account, and start writing about something you know and care a lot about, and put related ads on the website.

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