How to Make Money While You're in College

Updated on April 27, 2020
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Dani is a college student who grew up broke and decided to change. They write about business, personal finance, and money management.

Read on to learn how earn money while you earn a degree.
Read on to learn how earn money while you earn a degree. | Source

College is expensive, and with the rising costs of post-secondary education, many aspiring students are getting more broke by the minute. Yet, with classes to study for and sports scholarships to maintain, many university students feel washed up in a sea of debt and despair. A few simple choices can help you keep your head (and wallet) above water until final exams season.

Finding Time to Make Money

Finding time in a college student's busy schedule to make money might be the hardest part of your financial journey. Between classes, extracurriculars, and a busy social schedule, the daunting task of finding income may make your head spin. However, it (quite literally) pays off in the long run. To make it simple, here's a step-by-step guide to getting a handle on when you can and can't work.

To begin, get our out your handy-dandy organizer, whether it be digital or paper, and block out times when you know you can't work. This includes classes, study sessions, sports, and any social or religious obligations you may already have. Money should never take control of your life, and you should always make sure you make time for previous commitments. It's essential to make sure your college time is spent learning and not worrying about money.

After seeing what times you can't work, think about how many hours a week you are comfortable with working. Take into account social hours, relaxation time, and how long it takes you to get ready for the day. Don't forget simple things like sleeping, meal prep, exercise, and every prayer. Most people can't juggle a 40 hour work week with a full class schedule, so don't feel like you have to stretch yourself too thin.

Look at the hours you have left. Do you tend to have more time left during the day or during the night? Do you have small gaps of time between your previous commitments or large spans of open space on your calendar? Large gaps in the daytime will allow you to have more traditional jobs like retail or food service, while night blanks make the perfect opportunity for a happy couple to make you their go-to "date night" babysitter. Are small spaces your only option? No problem! While the more traditional route may not be the way to go for you, it's still possible to earn money online or by working smaller jobs.

Food service is a common and convenient option for college students.
Food service is a common and convenient option for college students. | Source

Getting a Job

The tried and true method of making money is, of course, getting a job. While this may seem an obvious choice, it's important to mention as many college students fear their work schedule interfering with their studies.

There are many job opportunities available to college students, even with limited or no work experience, as you'll see below.

Food Service

The restaurant business is profitable and easy to enter, especially for up-and-coming young adults looking to get their foot in the door. As a whole, food service is also an easy job to land, and according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, food service jobs are growing at a rate of 10%, faster than average for the nation. Along with that, many food service establishments, such as quick service or "fast food" restaurants have flexible working hours and can easily work with a college student's busy schedule, and are also much more reliable than other forms of employment. However, food service is not for everyone and can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Those who don't like restrictions on personal appearance (such as piercings, hair dye, or manicured nails) may not be suitable for most food service positions.

Retail Stores

Outlet malls, department stores, and even consignment shops are wonderful places to begin your career. They show a level of professionalism on resumes and often garner more respect than typical food service jobs. Working in retail also usually offers perks like employee discounts or first pick at new merchandise, which helps when trying to stay current with trends while staying on a budget. As with food service, working in retail stores can be tiring, especially when dealing with untidy customers and disruptive employees. If you aren't a people person, it isn't recommended to pursue employment in a job that works so closely with the general public.


For many teenagers, this is a wonderful first job. From an aunt's new baby to watching the neighbor kid and his siblings, babysitting jobs used to come from friends and family—but not anymore. With the advent of websites like and Sittercity, students can reach out to families in need all on their own outside of their own personal circles, without having to go by word of mouth. When using professional services such as this, babysitters also get the perks of being treated like professionals, like being paid "on the books" and better wages. Regardless, babysitting isn't for everyone. Men, for example, are much less likely to be hired than women as babysitters, regardless of skill or experience due to gender bias and outdated stereotypes. Some people, regardless of gender, aren't capable of working with children, especially special needs children or infants. For people who do like kids, however, babysitting offers a host of benefits.


Working for yourself is something most people aspire to. The production of quality goods and services is the foundation of any good economy and is an American tradition. Writing online, creating an Etsy shop, or opening a stall at a farmer's market are all wonderful ways to contribute to the bigger picture and earn money. The benefits of working for yourself are obvious: you are your own boss, you choose your own hours, and you get to do something you enjoy. However, without the guarantee of a paycheck, it can be an incredibly unstable source of income. If your goal is pizza money and new video games, this might be the best option for you.

There are plenty of ways to make money if you're a college student.
There are plenty of ways to make money if you're a college student. | Source

Making Money From Scholarships

College is expensive, no doubt about it. Tuition, books, housing, and even "freshman experience" fees can quickly seem overwhelming. Making money from scholarships isn't always plausible, especially for those who plan to live on-campus, but many college students can actually get paid to go to college. After your expenses are covered, in most situations are your college refunds the money they don't spend to your account, usually on a prepaid card or via direct deposit. The following are a few simple steps to squeeze every penny you can out of scholarship funds.

  • Complete the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a wonderful source of financial aid, especially for those from low-income or underprivileged backgrounds. The FAFSA is a national scholarship and is available to all legal citizens of the United States who have a high school diploma or GED. You can apply here.
  • Apply for merit-based scholarships like Georgia HOPE or the Zell Miller Grant. For college students, grades really do pay off. The money you receive will be based on your high school GPA and standardized test scores. While not for everyone, the tedious student can make a pretty penny off of their hard-earned Honor Roll status.
  • Look into athletic scholarships. Most universities offer scholarships to those who join athletic teams. Every guy wants a football scholarship, so the competition is high, and your chances of getting—and keeping—one is pretty low. However, the number of male cheerleaders is tiny, but the demand is high, so your odds of landing that are much higher. Of course, actual skill is essential for athletic scholarships, but there's nothing wrong with putting your efforts into a safer bet, either.
  • Find money from your neighborhood. Volunteer organizations, consignment shops, and places of worship often look to give back to their community by helping "one of their own" go somewhere in life. While these funds may not be very much on their own, $100 from a church and $50 from a thrift store quickly add up to money right in your pocket. Better yet, small, local scholarships often only require proof of residency and self-provided academic information, often only taking minutes to fill out.
  • Browse popular websites for essays and contests. Small companies looking to lend a voice to their mission often due do so by handing out scholarships to potential customers. Whether you write an essay over the benefits of alternative medicine or enter an art contest to share a different perspective on a cultural trend, obscure scholarships can be fun and fulfilling—especially when there's free money involved!
  • Use what's unique about you to support your future. There are plenty of scholarships available to those of African American, Latino, and Native American heritage, but the buck doesn't stop there. While ethnic heritage plays a big part in the minority scholarship search, there are other factors as well. LGBT+ scholarships are a great opportunity for those who qualify, but they often require you to prove your contributions made to the community.

Do you have or did you have a job while you're in college?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Dani Merrier


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