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College Finance 101: How to Make Money as a College Student

Updated on April 8, 2017
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Katleigh is a college student who grew up broke and decided to change. They have a no-nonsense approach to finance so be prepared!

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.

There are plenty of ways to pad your college fund and make some extra cash. Hopefully, after you read this article, you'll have to invest in a bigger jar!
There are plenty of ways to pad your college fund and make some extra cash. Hopefully, after you read this article, you'll have to invest in a bigger jar! | Source

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 get a handle on when you can and can't work.

  1. To begin, get our 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. Especially if you're a traditional college student, it's essential to make sure your college time is spent learning and not worrying about money.
  2. 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.
  3. 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, 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.

What's the hardest part about making money for you?

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Getting a Traditional College 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 discount 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.

Creating Something

Working for yourself is something most people aspire for. 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.

Just remember to manage the business side of your creations!
Just remember to manage the business side of your creations!

Traditional College Jobs

(click column header to sort results)
Food service
Flexible hours, steady and guaranteed pay
Not the most glamorous, physically demanding
Retail stores
Looks better on a resume, steady hours, employee discounts
Have to deal with customers
Kids are fun to work with, flexible hours that you can pick and choose
Hard to get enough hours, kids can be tiring
Creating Something
Be your own boss, work your own hours, decide your own pay, work in your pajamas
Sometimes unreliable, isn't always steady
A quick look at the pros and cons of some of the most common traditional college jobs.
Library assistant or receptionist are popular options for on campus jobs.
Library assistant or receptionist are popular options for on campus jobs.

Work On Campus

Working on campus provides a wonderful opportunity for many college students. You get a chance to get employable skills at a convenient location, grow closer to your campus community, and work to pay off your student loan in a way that doesn't interrupt your studies. Your university's main goal (or should be) is to ensure you get an education, so they are more able to work with your class schedule than a traditional employer. Be aware, however, that the income you earn from a campus job usually doesn't go to your pocket but towards your tuition. If you need cash, one of the other options is probably better suited to your needs.

Campus jobs usually don't interfere with your FAFSA status, which are a huge benefit if you're paying for college largely with government assistance. It's essentially like paying the college straight out of your pocket. These employment options often include jobs like library assistant, receptionist, or other office work that help the university run smoothly at a low-cost. These positions are great for those who can't afford a hit to their financial aid package and who enjoy a break from their studies.

If you're looking for more than helping pay off your student loans, many colleges offer financial aid packages that help pay for a meal plan as well as room and board. A popular college campus job is resident assistant, in which your main duty is to ensure your classmates are having the best college experience possible. This job in particular in wonderful for students who live on campus, as it usually pays for room and sometimes a meal plan. If your main concern is finding a place to sleep and having a meal on the table, and you have some extra time and skills to spare, these more comprehensive positions can be a great way to make money in college.

Remember to always discuss campus employment options with your financial adviser to ensure your financial aid package won't be affected.

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 scholarships funds.

  1. Complete the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a wonderful source financial aid, especially for those from low-income or underprivileged backgrounds. Even if you think you or your family might make too much money, who qualifies might surprise you. If at all possible, have a school counselor or other expert help you fill out the paperwork to get the biggest financial aid package possible. 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.
  2. Apply to 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 adds up to money right in your pocket. Better yet, small, local scholarships often only require a proof of residency and self-provided academic information, often only taking minutes to fill out. Completing a few simple forms for local scholarships can add up quickly. As an added bonus, you may be able to get the money directly deposited into your account instead of to the college.
  5. Browse popular websites for essays and contests. Small companies looking to lend a voice to their mission often due 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!
  6. 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. Religious affiliations are often a good source of financial support as well, especially if you are a member of a large, recognized organization.

Make Money Doing Things You Do Anyway

There's no get-rich quick scheme I can offer that will make you loads of money in a matter of minutes. However, I can introduce a few activities you can add to your daily agenda to rack up some pocket change, and - as we say here at - every nickel counts!

Unlocking Your Phone

One of the easiest ways to make a little quick cash if you own a smartphone is through an application known as Slidejoy. When installed, the app displays adds on your lockscreen, and you earn carats daily for it. There isn't a way to cheat the system, and there is no evidence that clicking on these advertisements gives you bonus carats. However, I've easily earned a few dollars every month without changing anything in my daily routine.

Making Internet Searches

While Google is the most popular search engine, there are plenty of other options that will render the same result. A good example of this is InboxDollars, which lets you earn money on every search.

What's the best way for you to make money?

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    • Stun profile image

      Jacob Horning 3 weeks ago from New York

      Good article! For some reason I can't vote on the poll at the bottom though, is it just my computer (perhaps I have scripts turned off?) Or is it closed?

      Sadly I'm a straight white male so no scholarships for me! Lol. Sadly I also can't get any govt funds for starting a LLC either, I just recently been researching how to turn my small web design business into a LLC instead of a sole proprietorship and they only give money to women or POC.

      Owell :) lol

      Keep up the good work writing and good luck with your English major whichever route you decide to go for a career!


    • katleigh profile image

      Katleigh Merrier 3 weeks ago from Georgia, United States

      The poll shouldn't be closed, it pulls up even if I view it as a reader on a different computer. Maybe it's on your end?

      Have you tried any essay contests? If you're writing for HubPages than that shows your enthusiasm and willingness to write. I know for a fact technology wizzes such as yourself are in short supply compared to the demand, and a lot of people are willing to support your education if you can show evidence (like an essay) that you have plans. In your case, since you don't seem to carry any minority status, I'd look to local scholarships or ones funded by private businesses. It's definitely worth a shot! I know my local thrift store hands out scholarships for $500 if you even fill out a form.

      Do you have any "weird" interests or dietary choices? Things like animal activism and veganism can get you a good spot. Even if you're an omnivore, sometimes just the awareness of the issue is enough to have a little cash handed your way.

      Thank you for reading, hope I could help!

      - Katleigh

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