December 28, 2021
How to make money in college
Students have a variety of earning opportunities, from on-campus work to freelancing. Find out everything you need to know about student jobs in this guide.
We don’t have to tell you that college is expensive.
If you want some numbers to back up this obvious fact, here they are: The average college tuition is now $9,580 for in-state; out-of-state tuition averages $27,437.
And the average all-in cost, including lodging, food, and books? A whopping $35,720 per year!
While financial aid can often help cover some costs, most students will also need to find a way to make money in college.
This comprehensive guide gives students a leg-up by exploring how to make money in college. We’ll cover everything from work-study to gig economy jobs—and much more!
An overview of how to make money in college
For a college student, earning money may look a bit different than it does for the average person.
Students usually spend the bulk of their time attending classes and studying (okay, and a bit of partying), so they often can’t get full-time jobs.
That said, there are plenty of ways for students to make money in college. Here are six broad categories that are most common:
Off-campus work (aka “normal jobs”)
Selling possessions or reselling/flipping items
Any of these options can help students pay for college and related expenses, while also providing some spending money.
We’ll break each option down in more detail in its own section.
1. On-campus jobs
On-campus jobs are quite convenient for students—particularly for students who live on-campus or don’t have their own vehicle.
Most on-campus jobs involve working for the school itself, although there may be private businesses operating on certain campuses as well (banks, coffee shops, etc.)
On-campus jobs can involve anything that keeps a modern college campus running—which is a lot!
Some examples of common on-campus work include:
Teaching Assistant (TA)
Resident Assistant (RA)
If you’re interested in finding an on-campus job, the first place to start is generally the college career center at your school. They can help explain any roles that are available, and provide resources.
Some smaller schools may not have a career center, but most should at least have an online job board.
2. Off-campus jobs
Off-campus jobs are simply “normal jobs”!
For students, this typically means part-time jobs, although some students manage to work full-time while in school.
Most students prefer to work evenings or nights, as well as weekends.
Early risers may prefer crack-of-dawn-type jobs like being a barista. For most students, the classic 9-to-5 schedule will interfere with classes, which is why students tend to prefer a part-time job.
There are hundreds of potential jobs for students, but some that may work well for a student’s schedule include:
Restaurant work (cooking, serving, cleaning)
Coffee shop work
Overnight positions (grocery store stocking, janitorial work, etc.)
Good student jobs usually have flexible hours, which is vital for managing a changing class schedule each quarter.
In college towns, many employers are familiar with hiring students, and are willing to work around schedules—just be sure to make it clear that you need schedule flexibility when applying for the job.
Internships are another category of off-campus jobs that are worth considering.
An internship is basically a temporary job that’s offered directly to students. They’re commonly offered by local businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Usually, internships will be related to your field of study, which is a nice perk.
A business major may gain experience by working as an assistant for a startup, while a medical student may get hands-on experience at a local hospital.
Internships can be paid or unpaid, so it’s important to read internship postings carefully.
Unpaid internships can still be worthwhile, both for the experience as well as for the opportunity to potentially be hired by the company after the internship ends.
But obviously, cash is important, and students only have so much time!
Finding a paid internship related to your field of study should be high on your priority list, especially in your junior or senior year.
If you’re interested in taking the internship route, Internships.com is a good place to find opportunities. You can also search for internships on normal job search websites.
Work-study is a form of federal financial aid that allows students to earn additional funds while enrolled in college.
It’s a federal program, and eligibility for it is determined by filing the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA).
Here are the basics of work-study:
You must qualify for work-study based on financial need (calculated by the FAFSA)
If you qualify, you can apply for part-time jobs through the program
Work can be on-campus or off-campus
On-campus work is done directly for the school, while off-campus work is typically for local nonprofit organizations
Work is focused on the student’s course of study and/or on community service
Income from work-study doesn’t affect the following year’s reported income for FAFSA calculations
Work-study is quite common, with around 18% of college students earning money through a work-study program! And the average undergraduate student in a work-study program earned $1,794 per year, as of 2021.
Learn more about work-study here.
4. Gig-economy work
Gig-economy apps and services provide very flexible work opportunities for college students.
The “gig economy” is a blanket term for the prevalence of flexible, part-time positions in which workers are paid as contractors, rather than employees.
The classic example is driving for Uber or Lyft, but there are now hundreds of opportunities in the gig economy.
Gig work can be a great way to earn some extra cash, and some students even opt to piece together multiple gigs to make a substantial amount of income.
Here are just a few of the opportunities to earn some money in the gig economy:
Driving for Uber or Lyft
Delivering for Doordash, Uber Eats, etc.
Shopping and delivering for Instacart or Shipt
Walking dogs or pet sitting on Rover or Wag!
Completing tasks on TaskRabbit or Thumbtack
Delivering packages for Amazon Flex
Teaching English online for VIPKid, or tutoring online
Babysitting on Care.com or UrbanSitter
While most gig workers choose to use apps like those listed above, there are also more informal opportunities available. For instance, many college students make money by babysitting children, by completing odd jobs, or by house sitting for family friends.
If you’re interested in getting started with gig economy roles, this website has dozens of informative guides.
Freelancing involves selling your skilled labor to clients, usually over the internet.
It’s not a job, though—you’ll operate as an independent contractor, and will basically be running a mini business of your own.
Freelancing can be a way to earn extra income, or it can even be a career. There are more than 44 million self-employed individuals in the US, and many of them are full-time freelancers.
Freelance writing is one of the most approachable opportunities for college students, but the options are endless. There’s demand for freelancers in the following areas:
Graphic design and UX design
Coding and programming
Teaching and tutoring
Social media marketing
Writing and copywriting
Sales and marketing
Virtual assistant work
You may need to spend some time doing unpaid work (or low-paying work) in order to build up your portfolio, before finding quality clients.
Most freelance opportunities offer flexible hours and a “work-anywhere” arrangement. If you’re wondering how to make money in college without even leaving your dorm room, freelancing may be the right fit for you!
If you’re interested in exploring the freelance world, this guide is a good introduction.
6. Selling (or flipping) used items
Selling unneeded items could generate some side income while you’re in school. And it doesn’t take long to throw something up on OfferUp or FB Marketplace.
Plus, most college campuses have a very active marketplace for buying and selling used goods, so you likely won’t need to wait too long to make a sale.
There are a few ways to go about selling used items:
Sell locally, through OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist etc. In most cases, this means meeting up with someone in your area to complete the transaction — although some of these platforms now support online sales where the items are shipped
Sell online, through general marketplaces like Amazon or eBay
Sell online, through specialty marketplaces (Poshmark for clothing, for example)
For most students, selling used items will be a way to make some extra cash to boost their budget, but it probably won’t replace the need for a job or side gig.
Keep in mind that students can also save money by buying pre-owned items for their own use. Even just opting for used books can help save students hundreds of dollars each year.
Flipping items for profit
Certain entrepreneurial types may enjoy flipping items for some extra spending money, rather than just selling their own possessions.
Flipping is simple—at least in theory—just buy low and sell high!
Of course, there are a million and one different items you could flip, so sometimes it helps to specialize.
For instance, if you have extra storage space, there’s plenty of money to be made flipping furniture.
During move-out times (between quarters/semesters), many students sell nice furniture for dirt cheap—or even give it away for free. If you can snag some nice items, you may be able to resell them for a healthy profit when the next term starts.
You could also take the buy-offline, sell-online approach.
For instance, you could purchase used video games and consoles from fellow students (once they realize they don’t have any time to play Call of Duty while taking 15 credits!) and then resell them for a profit on eBay.
If you’re interested in getting into flipping, this guide is a great starting point.
(Bonus!) Applying for scholarships
Important note: Most scholarship funds can only be used for tuition and related expenses.
They say that a penny saved is a penny earned! And as a college student, tuition and books are probably your biggest expenses.
Landing scholarships can help you pay for college, which in turn should help free up some of your cash for spending money.
You might not think of scholarships as a way to earn money in college, but this is a very important area for students to optimize.
And in many ways, you do need to work hard to earn scholarships.
College athletes will need to train and play hard to earn athletic scholarships, while dedicated students will need to study long hours to earn academic merit scholarships.
Making some extra money while you’re in school can help you avoid excessive student loan debt, and can also provide some spending money along the way.
After all, you want to enjoy your college years—inside and outside of the classroom!
Before you work your butt off to pay for tuition, make sure you’re getting all the financial aid and scholarships that are available to you.
Mos can help you get as much free money for college as possible by helping you apply for financial aid, grants, and scholarships—all in one place.