How to Make Money in College Without Burning Out
Every student likes being able to cover expenses and having extra cash to spend. But learning how to make money in college—without getting burned out—can be a challenge. After all, succeeding in school takes time, energy, and focus. And so does earning money. So it's easy to understand why balancing these two goals is such a common desire.
The fact is that students with disposable incomes are often able to get much more out of their college experiences than those who don't have extra funds. They have found ways to make money in college that are flexible, reliable, and worth their efforts. And they've discovered that you don't have to choose between earning money and getting an education. It's possible to do both—and to do them well.
The key is figuring out what will work for your particular situation. There are countless ways for college students to make money, but not all of them will be appropriate for you. You'll need to think about your current commitments, existing talents, and what you hope to accomplish. Then you can devise a suitable plan of action.
How to Make Money While in College: 12 Smart Approaches
- Make your classes the top priority
- Beware of "easy money" promises
- Reduce your expenses
- Sell what you don't need
- Sell what you make
- Pursue summer jobs or paid internships
1. Make Your Classes the Top Priority
Most college students in America work at least part-time while going through school. In fact, between 70 and 80 percent of them are employed during any given school year. That's almost 14 million people.* So wanting to earn while you learn is perfectly normal.
However, making money in college becomes too large of a distraction for some students. As a result, they let their grades slip and eventually get burned out from trying to keep up with all of the competing demands on their time. And that can lead to not graduating.
The challenge is to avoid overextending yourself. Working too much can lead to putting your studies on the back burner, which can create a downward spiral in your classes that is hard to climb out of. It's much better to place smart limits on how much you work. Remember that you need plenty of study time as well as plenty of sleep.
It's all about choosing your out-of-class activities wisely. Will the monetary rewards truly be worth the time away from your studies? What you choose should help you attain your most important goals. And you don't have to keep those goals a secret.
Let people know that you only have a limited amount of time. And make sure that your employers or clients understand that you're a student first and foremost. Tell them up front so that they know what to expect. That way, you can prevent future misunderstandings.
2. Beware of "Easy Money" Promises
An important part of learning how to make money while in college is learning what to avoid.
The Internet is full of websites promoting so-called easy ways to make money in college. Unfortunately, the methods they tout often don't pay well or aren't worth the time that they take to carry out. In fact, a lot of the easiest ways to earn money online end up paying way below minimum wage. So unless you can carry out certain tasks at super-human speeds, they might not be the wisest options. Why offer your time for pennies?
Everyone knows the cliché: If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Stay skeptical and think everything through. The people who supply raving testimonials about their success are frequently the rare exceptions, not the rule.
For example, remain cautious about sites that require multi-level marketing or that promise an easy, passive income. Most likely, you'll need to commit a huge amount of time (and maybe even money) in order to get set up. And you probably won't be guaranteed to earn much, if any, income for your efforts.
Of course, if you're already spending a lot of your free time on Facebook or watching TV, then getting paid to do something like fill out online surveys might be a more productive use of that time. It's easy money for sure. But you can probably do a lot better.
3. Reduce Your Expenses
Students who know how to make extra money in college often start here first. After all, the less you have to pay, the less you have to earn. Plus, you'll only be in school for a limited amount of time. So do you really need a lot of luxuries? Being frugal today can lead to enjoying greater prosperity tomorrow.
Some of the most popular ways to save money in college include:
- Buying used textbooks or sharing them with other students
- Taking public transit instead of owning a car
- Buying clothes from thrift stores instead of brand new
- Sharing an inexpensive place with a few roommates
- Not signing up for big meal plans
- Making your own meals
- Buying non-perishable food in bulk
- Doing your own laundry
- Getting rid of cable TV
- Choosing a bare-bones phone plan and limiting your use of texts and data
- Opting for lower-end computers or tablets
- Not using credit cards
- Avoiding private loans
- Finding free entertainment
- Taking advantage of student discounts
4. Sell What You Don't Need
When looking into how to make money at school, many people tend to overlook this option. As a college student, you might have relatively few possessions. Even so, it can be surprising to discover how many things you have but don't really need. Why not take a hard look at everything you own? If you have things that you hardly ever use or that are merely luxuries and not necessities, then consider selling them.
For example, students often get decent money for their old textbooks and electronics. And it's possible to sell gently used clothes for good prices at consignment shops.
5. Sell What You Make
Are you a creator? Many college students have hobbies such as making crafts, taking photos, or baking treats. And markets exist for all of that stuff. For instance, you can sell your crafts on Etsy. If your photos are good, you can sell them as stock images. Or you can sell your baked goods to other students around campus, especially during busy times like finals week.
You can even sell items that don't require any talent to put together. Something as simple as selling shoelaces or other items in your school's colors can be an easy way to earn extra cash, especially during sporting events or campus rallies. Just be sure you won't be violating any of your school's policies by doing so. The point is to think creatively.
6. Pursue Summer Jobs or Paid Internships
It's true that summer opportunities aren't as abundant as they used to be. However, it's still possible to find good ones. For example, many tourism-related businesses and seasonal attractions provide summer jobs to enthusiastic college students. So if you get summer breaks from school, then a temporary job can help you earn and save a significant amount of money over those months, especially if it offers full-time hours.
Paid internships are another way to earn extra income and gain valuable experience. In fact, they are often some of the best options for students who are trying to figure out how to make money in college. (Did you know that about one million college students in America work as interns?1) Many interns work for a specified period of time—anything from a few months to over a year. And some internships are open-ended.
How do you find these opportunities? Start meeting professionals and asking around. Attend recruiting events and other professional gatherings both on and off campus. Collect names and contact information. And follow up with the people you've met from time to time to ask if they know of any opportunities that might suit your skills, interests, and personality. It also doesn't hurt to call any businesses that you'd like to work for directly. Just keep a polished resume on hand and ready to send.
7. Look into Work-Study Programs
Go to your school's financial aid or career services department and ask about this option. Many colleges and universities provide part-time job opportunities to low-income students. The jobs are usually on campus and offer very flexible hours. Examples include positions in dining facilities, computer labs, administrative offices, campus stores, and student-relations offices.
8. Become a Resident Assistant (RA)
Most of America's traditional colleges and universities have on-campus housing. So they need responsible and outgoing people to help manage their dormitory halls. And that often means having current college students fill that role. As a resident assistant, you'll receive your room and board for free or at a big discount. So it's a great way to save a lot of money while also gaining plenty of leadership experience. And some schools even provide small stipends to RAs.
9. Take Odd Jobs
Money for college students can come from a lot of miscellaneous sources. So it pays to stay observant. Keep your eyes and ears attuned to potential opportunities as you go about your day-to-day activities. You never know when you might stumble upon a chance to make some extra cash. For example, many students get to pad their wallets by doing odd jobs such as:
- House-sitting or pet watching
- Modeling (nude or otherwise) for art classes
- Participating in user testing for new apps or websites
- Being a referee for intramural sports
- Helping out with campus events
- Driving other students to off-campus errands
- Helping people move
- Being an extra for film or TV productions
- Working as a temporary brand ambassador
- Participating in research trials or psychology experiments
10. Offer Your Skills on a Freelance Basis
Time and flexibility are always two of the biggest issues related to learning how to make money while in college. After all, your schedule might vary a lot. And you may not always be able to predict how much homework or studying you'll need to do.
That's why it's good to have some skills that you can use as a freelancer. You'll be able to pick and choose the jobs and clients that you want to take on and match them to the free spaces in your schedule. It's all about finding ways to offer your existing talents and abilities to people or organizations that need help.
You can find all sorts of freelancing opportunities online. And once you've established a few happy clients, word of mouth will likely start spreading. Just remember to make your classes a priority, and do your best to avoid clients who will be very demanding of your time.
Many college students earn money in freelance jobs such as:
- Online copywriting
- Proofreading essays
- Tutoring other students
- Providing computer- or tech-related services
- Driving passengers as part of online services like Uber or Lyft
- Walking dogs
- Designing presentations
- Performing various handiwork
- Crafting resumes
- Running other people's social media accounts
- Doing laundry
- Painting interiors or exteriors
- Gardening or landscaping
11. Learn New Skills Through Online Training
You might already be in a college program, but that doesn't mean you can't get a little additional training in your spare time. Some students find it very beneficial to learn new skills during their breaks from school or during slower periods. It's what allows them to get better-paying freelance or part-time jobs later on.
Plus, a lot of fast and affordable online programs are available these days. They allow you to learn when it's most convenient for you. And they can help you qualify for opportunities that otherwise might not be open to you.
For example, maybe you enjoy working with computers or going to the gym. With a small amount of online training, you may be able to earn certificates that qualify you to take on paying clients or good jobs that are related to those interests. Computer technicians and fitness trainers often enjoy flexible hours and high pay.
12. Get a Part-Time Job
Part-time employment is the most common way that students make money in college—for good reason. It offers the most stable and reliable source of income while still allowing you time for your studies. And it provides valuable experience that you can easily feature on your resume.
College students who are employed work about 30 hours per week, on average.1 But many experts advise full-time students not to exceed 20 or 25 hours of work per week in order to avoid harming their studies or burning out altogether.
On-campus jobs tend to offer the best flexibility and the most convenient work locations. However, off-campus jobs often provide higher pay and better paths to post-graduation employment.
About two-thirds of working college students in the U.S. are between 16 and 29 years old. Almost 35 percent of them work in jobs related to sales or office support. And about 26 percent of them are employed in jobs related to food or personal services.1
When it comes to pay, most young college students who are employed make between $7,500 and $42,000 a year. However, 45 percent of them make less than $23,540 per year. And about 40 percent of them work full-time in order to earn higher incomes. In contrast, over 75 percent of older college students between the ages of 30 and 54 work full-time.1
So it's possible to work part-time as a college student and still make a good amount of money. You just have to be mindful of your limitations and remember that your main goal is to learn all you can and successfully finish school.
Some of the best-paying part-time positions for college students include:
- Administrative assistant
- Bank teller
- Personal assistant
- Exam proctor
- Teacher assistant
- Research assistant
- Commissioned salesperson
Other common part-time jobs that can pay well include:
- Food server
- Retail clerk
- Customer service representative
- Delivery driver
Act on Your Motivation
Now that you've explored how to make money in college, it's time to follow through. Figure out what might work for you and give it a try. If it doesn't work, then try something else. Stay confident that you'll find a way to earn the money you want.
And if you decide on getting some extra training, don't forget that many schools provide fast, student-friendly options. Check some of them out right now by entering your zip code in the search tool below!
1 Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce, Learning While Earning: The New Normal, website last visited on December 2, 2019.