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If you’re finding yourself swiping your credit card way more often now that you’re living a more independent life in college, it might be time to learn how to make a little extra money to offset your spending.
The bad news is that there are no get-rich-quick tricks that’ll magically deposit hundreds into your bank account. However, college couldn’t be a more perfect time to set up your savings and investing habits, work patterns, and mindset to ensure you’re getting paid what you’re worth for future money success — all while potentially taking on extra side hustles like social media content creation, dog walking, tutoring, and selling things online. There are college-specific side hustles to take up, wise mentors to be found, and thanks to the years ahead of you, lots of compound interest to be earned on your savings and investments.
Carrie Schwab, board chair and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation knows what it’s like to navigate your new money situation in college. “Kids who have jobs on campus tend to do better in school and in their careers because they build relationships and mentorships on campus. There are multi-level benefits to working during college,” Schwab notes. The financial literacy advocate — who has worked part-time jobs, had finance internships, and even did a stint as a dishwasher when she was younger — emphasizes that making money is just as important as saving it. “Savings and budgets are important, but keep in mind that those don’t help you create wealth,” Schwab pointed out.
If you're someone who's interested in learning how to make money little by little, all you have to do is take a look around campus to find a wealth (no pun intended!) of opportunities. College students are the ideal candidates for tutoring, babysitting, paid internships, resident advisor jobs, and social media brand ambassador positions. It's also a good idea to take on a mentor.
Deborah Golden, US Cyber Strategic Growth Offering and Cyber & Strategic Risk Leader at Deloitte, explains that a mentor is invaluable. "As I look back now on college, I really believe that my mentors saw things in me before I saw them in myself," Golden recalled. Whether they're talking you through an interview for a paid internship or celebrating when you score that big scholarship, inspiring mentors who can share tips, give money advice, and potentially connect you to your next internship are crucial to helping you become the kind of person who can bring in the big bucks.
Setting a foundation for your career and personal finances can begin in college. You can start working in your industry, save up to pay off loans, fight against the wage gap by asking to be paid what you are worth, and create financial stability for your future self — all while you're still a college student. Here are some expert-backed ways to make money in college that you might not have thought of before.
1) Apply for scholarships — it's free money
If you're a college student paying for your tuition with your own money, chances are that most of your earnings will be going toward those payments. A quick Google search will reveal that lots of scholarships (whether they're for certain racial groups, genders, fields of interest, hometowns, or majors) are just waiting to be applied for. Reducing your tuition expenses and loans is one of the best ways you can "make" money, because less of your paychecks will have to go towards those bills — your money will be able to sit pretty in your bank account instead.
2) Utilize work-study
Federal work-study, offered through FAFSA (Federal Application for Student Aid), allots an amount of money you can earn by working an eligible part-time job in order to pay for your education expenses. It'll feel like any other part-time job, but you'll be getting paid a set amount that the government has given you through your FAFSA application.
Check with your campus admin center or financial aid office to see what kind of work-study jobs they offer, whether they're front desk positions or administrative jobs in your department. Some people turn down the work-study because it's a scholarship that requires you to work shifts, but it's an easy way to score a part-time job and snag some extra money that you don't want to leave on the table.
3) Investing (it's simpler than you might think)
Is creating wealth in college even possible, with limited work hours and student debt? Yes, as long as you remember to think about the bigger picture. Investing allows you to take advantage of the power of compound interest (the interest you earn on interest) for long-term gains.
Say you deposit $300 into an investment account and gain 7% interest on your stocks in one year — you'll have $321 by the end of the year. The following year, you'll gain interest on your $300 again, as well as gaining interest on your $21 interest from last year. If you don't ever deposit any more money after that initial $300, in 20 years and assuming a 7% return, your $300 could turn into $1,161.
Check out this compound interest calculator to see how your money could grow over time. Tip: Set your rate of return to 7%, the average return on the total stock market over the past 100 years.
How do you start investing? Schwab recommends opening a Roth IRA, which many major banks (Schwab, TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, Vanguard, Bank of America, and Chase, to name a few) allow you to easily do online. A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account that lets you contribute any income you've paid taxes on — you can buy stocks with your Roth IRA money, and then cash out on those stocks (and all the interest you've gained) completely tax-free at age 59.5. A regular savings account only grows if you keep contributing money, and a regular investment account requires you to pay taxes on anything you withdraw, but Roth-IRA money will grow on its own even without consistent contributions and you won't get taxed on withdrawals.
"It's such an underutilized tool. Saving for your retirement is so critical but it sounds so boring for young people — I get it. I was there," explains Schwab. "But if you could just set it to save and invest for the long term and put it on autopilot, it'll grow tax-free over time."
Note: You can't take out your money from a Roth-IRA before retirement without paying a 10% penalty, so make sure you're only investing money that you won't need immediate or short-term access to for bills, tuition payments, rent, etc.
“It’s not about how much money you make and invest, it’s about how much time. If you can make money, and start to put it aside for the future, you can have more time for your money to grow,” Schwab notes. Once you deposit the money and use it to purchase stocks, you can set it and forget it while it slowly grows on its own.
Any amount of money you can make and invest will be setting your future self up for success. Even skipping one late-night Uber Eats order and dropping in that $25 you saved will pay off in the future. If you want a low-commitment method of automated investing, try an app like Acorns. The micro-investing site rounds up your purchases and deposits the small amounts into an investment account. For example, if you buy a sandwich for $5.50, they'll round up the cost to $6 and deposit $0.50 into your investment account.
4) Work in a retail or service industry job
Call local restaurants or retail stores to see if they're hiring waiters, cashiers, or other part-time positions. And if you're wondering if that restaurant job will actually help you in your future career, know that essential skills like time management and customer service translate across many industries. "You learn how to be interactive. You learn patience. You learn how to work with financial systems. There are a lot of different types of skills that you learn in the less obvious places," Golden explained. Plus, you'll get paid.
Golden continued, "I actually worked in a restaurant at school to make sure that I was getting the income that I needed. Working throughout college challenged me from a time commitment perspective to make sure that I was maintaining my GPA while being almost full-time at a restaurant throughout the week. And I learned so much — you learn to be really good at figuring out where to leverage your time in college."
5) Walk dogs
Miss your family pup while living at college? An easy way to hang out with some adorable dogs while making extra cash on the side is to become a dog walker. Apps like Rover, Wag!, Steady, and Holidog allow you to sign up and take on paid dog walking gigs — most require a quick background check, and then you're able to begin accepting jobs.
Keep in mind that these apps may take a percentage of commission from all of your earnings – so be sure to read the fine print before you start dreaming about what you'll buy with a day's worth of earnings.
6) Babysit or nanny
If you love working with little kids, good news — parents who are in need of childcare often are hoping to hire college students who have a little more experience as opposed to a high schooler. Babysitting is a flexible part-time job that you can pencil into your calendar on nights when you're free, and depending on how old the kids are, you might even be able to squeeze in some homework time while they're napping.
Sites like Care.com or UrbanSitter.com are an easy place to start if you're new to your city and aren't sure how to find babysitting gigs. You can also ask some of your commuter classmates or check local Facebook groups to find out if anyone in your community is in need of a babysitter or nanny.
Taking on a freelance gig means that you're working on smaller projects (think coding, design, writing, styling — you name it!) rather than committing to being employed full- or part-time. Not only will freelancing in your field help you gain flexible work experience with people who are crowdsourcing freelancers (a.k.a. looking to hire a bunch of people for short-term work), but it also helps you figure out what you want to do long-term with lower stakes. Golden, who works in cyber tech, explains that there is plenty of demand for STEM-related gigs that can be found on LinkedIn, college job boards, or even your own network. "They can be short-term tasks, or mid- to long-term tasks where you can try out different types of activities like coding, web development, IT support, and design."
Golden's best advice when it comes to finding these opportunities? "Just ask! Everyone has a network — your school and school advisors, family, friends, or even former colleagues from past jobs or internships." A family friend, a previous boss, or a professor might know someone looking to hire a college student for a programming task that you'd be the perfect fit for — so don't be afraid to ask around and put yourself out there.
For more general and non-STEM field freelancing, sites like Fiverr.com allow you to advertise services for everything from graphic design and resume writing to translation and music. You get to set your own prices, and then clients can hire you directly through the site.
Set aside a percentage of your self-employment income to pay your yearly taxes (use this calculator for a rough estimate) in April. Since they aren't deducted from each paycheck the same way that a part-time job would automatically deduct taxes from your pay you'll have to pay it back at tax time.
8) Open up a high-yield savings account
If you're reading this article, there's a good chance you already know what a savings account is. But did you know that there are savings accounts that give you extra interest on your money? According to a survey conducted by Bankrate.com, the average savings account interest rate is 0.16%. If you have $500 in a savings account, the 0.16% interest will earn you 80 cents a year. However, a high-yield savings account (HYSA) offers anywhere from 1% to 3% interest depending on the bank, which would earn you anywhere from an extra $50 to $150 a year.
How can these banks afford to pay that much interest? Raya Reaves, finance coach and founder of City Girl Savings, explains that it's because the banks are typically online only. "You aren't going to be able to walk into a physical location. Because of that, these online banks don't have the same type of expenses like brick-and-mortar locations have, so they can pay out more in interest to their customers," says Reaves. "If you're keeping your money in a certain place, you may as well get the most bang for your buck, and you can do that with a high-yield savings account." TL;DR — let your savings work for you. Ask your current bank about transferring your existing savings into one of these instead.
9) Sell your textbooks and notes
Make back some of the money that you spent on textbooks at the beginning of the semester by selling them when the class ends. You can either sell them back to the publisher, on a website like AbeBooks.com, or directly to an underclassman or fellow student through a Facebook group.
And if you pride yourself on your color-coded notes and font-like handwriting, you might be able to sell your notes. Sights like Stuvia.com and Studypool.com allow you to sell your flashcards, study guides, and lecture notes — all things that you've worked long hours to put together. Just double-check your college handbook to make sure they don't have a policy that bans students from selling notes.
10) Become an RA
Becoming a Resident Advisor is a great way to make money as a college student. Like any other job, you'll have to apply and interview for the position. You might need to be involved in school groups, offer references, and maintain a certain GPA. Once you're offered the job, you'll be in charge of a group and have to conduct one-on-one meetings, floor initiatives, and events for your residents throughout the school year.
Depending on where you go to school, RAs typically receive access to meal plan credits and free housing in the dorms all year long — you might even receive an hourly salary or a weekly stipend. Even if your college doesn't pay RAs an hourly wage, you'll still save thousands on rent that you can tuck away or even invest.
11) Freelance as a social media manager
Utilize the skills you've accumulated during the hours that you've spent scrolling through Instagram and making TikToks with friends (secretly hoping that one of them might go viral one day) as a social media manager. Lots of local businesses, restaurants, and boutiques are in need of ~young and hip~ Gen Z college students to help them out with everything from planning an aesthetically-pleasing feed to learning how to use trending sounds and edit photos.
You can do a one-time consulting session with someone, where you sit down for an hour or two and help them come up with a social media strategy, or ask for an hourly rate and handle all of their social media postings. The best part? You can work from your phone. Check out sites like Guru, Upwork, or Fiverr to get started, or reach out to the business directly via email.
12) Become a tutor
Would you be comfortable helping other people understand your favorite subjects better? You could become a tutor, like Golden, who worked with a tutor and as a tutor during her time as an undergrad. "When I first started taking coding classes, some were really challenging so I learned from other tutors and therefore learned that I also really liked to be a tutor and to help people with challenging problems," she explained. "It's a good way to not only learn from others but to learn what you want to try doing in your career. I actually really enjoyed being a tutor, so I did that throughout my college career."
Reach out to your campus tutoring center to see what their hiring requirements are, or tutor younger students whose parents are looking to hire some extra help for them through sites like Wyzant or The Princeton Review. Not only is tutoring an excellent way to make money as an undergraduate student, but it's also a way to help you solidify your ability to explain topics as you re-teach the concepts. It's a win-win!
13) Donate plasma
For those who are squeamish about needles, this might not be for you!
Plasma donations are a little different than blood donations because the machine they use will remove the liquid-y plasma from your blood, and then return the blood to your veins. However, it's still a passive activity like donating blood, because you get to just sit there while the technician operates the plasma-sorting machine.
The age limit for donating plasma ranges from age 16 (typically with written consent from a parent or legal guardian) to 18 years old depending on the state you live in. Various sources report that you could earn anywhere from $20 to $60 per session, but the exact amount varies based on your plasma, your weight, and your location. Find your local plasma donor center and call to confirm the requirements in your state.
14) Join Postmates, Uber Eats, or TaskRabbit.
If you have a car or even a bike, you'll be able to use those resources to take advantage of money-making apps like Postmates and Uber Eats. Work as a pickup and delivery person when you have a free weekend or evening — just make sure that the cost of gas isn't cutting into your earnings too heavily.
If you'd prefer to pick up a wider range of tasks, sign up for TaskRabbit and run errands ranging from grocery pickups, garden watering, and organization to picking up dry cleaning, helping someone move furniture, and transporting documents across town.
15) Take on a paid internship
Your time is valuable, so if at all possible, see if you can score a paid internship rather than an unpaid one. "Paid internships are fabulous," Golden emphasizes. "Think of your paid internship as a tryout period for your career. Try as many different types of internships and interviews as possible throughout your collegiate career so that you really get a tryout period so you can say, "Oh I really like that," or "No, I didn't like that."'
And don't forget to apply for lots of them, rather than counting on one or two interviews to go successfully, because some of the paid internships have a very limited amount of slots. Some of them even open a year in advance. But going to your college resource center, writing those cover letters, and saying yes to every interview in order to practice your interviewing skills will pay off when you receive your first paycheck for your interning hours.
If you're specifically looking to go into a business, engineering, consulting, or computer science career, you might want to look into early identification camps that larger corporations like Deloitte host over the summer for students. "They're a way to get ingrained and get you noticed as a potential future intern or employee with that company," Golden shared. "It's kind of a hidden gem for people to get a leg up prior to the internship program. Usually, the ID programs are a year earlier than the internship program."
16) Surround yourself with mentors
Picking up a quick job that pays you by the hour is great, but don't forget about how important it is to set your foundation so that you continue to make money throughout your career. Finding older professionals who can mentor you through your internship wins and challenges helps you build a support system that is crucial for a high-achieving person who wants to make a lot of money. "A mentor is invaluable," Golden explains. "You can bounce ideas off of your mentor, whether it's about potentially changing your major or searching for work opportunities." A mentor could even help you figure out exactly what salary to ask for so that you don't get underpaid or accidentally sell yourself short.
Mentors can also assist you if you're hoping to break glass ceilings in a challenging field, like entering a male-dominated field as a girl. "Women, on average, get paid 80 cents to a man's dollar," noted Schwab. "So find women that inspire you. Speaking to your mom or your mom's friends or your friends' moms about their careers, I think you'll find that you'll be very inspired. They're all so powerful in their own right."
17) Create a start-up or a small business
One of the best parts about being in college is that you're surrounded by people brimming with ideas. You have the ability to get a team of friends or classmates together to create an app, service, product, or site — in fact, many of the famous companies that we know and love today (Facebook, FedEx, Google, Dropbox, Microsoft, etc) were founded by college students.
Or, take the small business route and utilize your skills in art, drawing, painting, cooking, organizing, or crocheting to make some extra cash. You can use Etsy to sell physical products and digital artwork, or take advantage of the fact that you're on a college campus surrounded by plenty of students who might want to buy something and spread the word to their friends.
18) Flip clothing
Make the most of the clothing that's currently spilling out of your under-the-bed drawers by flipping it. You can either pack it up in a reusable bag and take it to a place like Buffalo Exchange, Crossroads Trading Co., Plato's Closet, or another consignment shop, or you can sell it yourself online. Websites like Poshmark, Depop, Mercari, and ThredUP are all great for helping you clean out your drawers, get rid of your clothing sustainably, and make some quick cash.
Or, you could try your hand at sourcing specialty items like vintage clothing or sneakers and then reselling them at a small markup. Golden, a self-described "sneakerhead," confirms that her hobby could be a great way for a college student to make money. "It's the perfect example of spending money, making money, and saving money," she explains. "You buy the sneaker you love, and then at some point, it could be a week, a month, or a year later, you sell it, make money from it, and then you save the money. It's fun when you find something you enjoy, and I enjoy kicks quite a bit — but I get bored of them now and then, so I'll flip them and find something else to add to my collection.
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