Apr 08

She Works Hard For the Money: 7 Ways I Made Money During College

Ok, now I’m having a hard time focusing on writing this post, instead of humming the 1983 chart-topping single by Donna Summer. Did you know the woman Donna was singing about in the song was a bathroom attendant who was later featured on the back cover of the album? I didn’t. Thanks SongFacts.

Back to the post…Thanks to the many income streams, err part-time jobs I worked during college and grad school I was able to make it through the higher education jungle with only $30,000 in student debt. No that wasn’t a typo, I did write, “only”. Yes $30,000 is an enormous amount of debt (so much so, I was in student debt denial after I graduated). But if I hadn’t worked so much and so hard while I was a student, I would have owed much, much more when I graduated.

Here are a few of the jobs I did while I was in school.

  1. Tutoring-There are many companies out there who hire college students to tutor, but my clients came via word of mouth. I didn’t want to share my fees with a company, so I made up a few posters and left them at local elementary schools. I also volunteered one day per week at a local after-school program. While volunteering, several parents approached me about babysitting and tutoring. Most of my private tutoring jobs from that point on came via referral from those parents (I of course ran this by the principal first, and she said it was fine).
  2. Selling “Stuff”- One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure, right? Furniture items that students left behind were some of my better, “finds”. I snagged bookshelves and lamps that didn’t fit in their U-Haul and sold them on craigslist and E-bay. Because everything I got was free, every penny I made was pure profit (minus E-bay and paypal fees). Looking back, I wish I’d had a truck so I could have taken sofas and beds. Obviously this is not a good strategy if you live somewhere where bed bugs are a concern. NYC readers, ignore this one.
  3. Work Study-Based on my family’s financial situation I was eligible for federal work study. I know a lot of people think work study is a waste of time because the jobs offered often don’t pay much. But the key to work study is finding a job where you can study. My junior year of college, I worked in the photo lab for the art department. The only requirements for this job were keeping the photo chemicals fresh (they showed me how, it wasn’t hard) and making sure that nobody was doing the hanky panky or stealing anything. I essentially was paid $30.00 per day (4 hour shift) to do my homework and readings.
  4. Babysitting-At my university (and I suspect most colleges) parties lasted well into the early morning hours. To make the best use of all the hours in the day, I babysat on most Friday and Saturday evenings. While the parents went out to dinner, their kids and I were eating pizza (free dinner, added bonus!), playing board games and having a good time. When they returned for the evening, I’d go home, get ready and head to the party. By the time I got there everybody was just, “warming up”, so I hadn’t really missed anything and my wallet was two or three Jackson’s heavier.
  5. Waitressing/Bartending-It’s not easy work by any means, but if you can find a restaurant or cafe with a lot of traffic, or a fine dining establishment with moderate traffic, you can make really good money. $5-$10 per table (or much more depending on the average entree price) adds up really quick. On good nights I’d make $100 or more.
  6. Mystery Shopping-Yes mystery shopping is real (and it’s actually pretty fun if you like to shop and are very organized). I did quite a few mystery shops when I was in college. Most don’t pay a lot, $5-$25, but some of the more detailed shops do pay more. My favorites were chain restaurant shops (you pay for the meal and get reimbursed, plus make a small free) and bus shops. One bus shop in particular, paid you buy a bus ticket. You didn’t actually have to use the ticket, (but you could if you wanted and I got several free trips to Boston that way. Score!) just evaluate the service of the person selling the ticket. I’ve personally worked with both Reality Based Group and Gfk. **It’s free to register at all legitimate mystery shopping sites-Never pay a fee!**
  7. Lifeguarding-In high school and college I was a Red Cross certified lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor. Summers, I made $20 per hour lifeguarding at a local yacht club. In addition, I offered private swimming lessons for $25 per hour. Thanks to these lucrative jobs, I was able to pay for a large chunk of my living expenses each year I was in school. Not to mention, I had a lot of fun, met a lot of cool people, and learned lot of responsibility (all priceless).

These are just a few of the ways I’ve made money to pay my way through school. There are undoubtedly many more ways if you’re creative and motivated, and don’t want to graduate with a mountain of debt.

Two Ways I’d Making Money if I was in College now:

Blogging-Admittedly, I’m too old to have blogged during college (some people were probably blogging back then, but I wasn’t one of them). In fact, I’m not even sure I knew what a blog was when I was in college. I suspect that there are many industrious college students out there these days making pretty good money blogging. There are a lot of great posts out there explaining exactly how to get started if you’re interested. I registered my domain name with GoDaddy and use BlueHost for hosting. If you’re going to try to make money with your website or blog, self-hosting is really the way to go.

Freelance Writing-If you love to write, freelance writing is a great way to earn extra income. If you can blog, you can use your blog as a portfolio of sorts. If not, putting together a basic portfolio and writing a few sample articles or blog posts is an easy way to get started. Problogger has a job board if you’re looking for blogging gigs.

Walking Dogs-I do some dog walking and cat sitting and I love it. Students who love animals make great dog walkers because they’re home during the middle of the day when the 9-5’ers are working. No special training or equipment is required and you can get started without a website. Word of mouth and craigslist have been effective for me.

How did you make money when you were in school? Are you doing any of these now? I’m still rocking 2, 4 & 6!


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  1. DC @ Young Adult Money

    I did make a small amount of money working for a blog in college, but if I did it all again I would also try to make freelance writing and blogging a bigger part of my income. I can’t imagine how far ahead of the game I would be if my site was 5+ years old!

    1. KK

      Right? If only we’d known. We’d be way ahead of the curve.

  2. Holly@ClubThrifty

    I cleaned houses. Sucky job, but it paid well per hour.

    1. KK

      I cleaned houses summers during high school. It was really hard work. But like you said, the money was really good.

  3. Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank

    I made money working a part time job as a fruit and veggie guy at the local shops. It didn’t pay very well, but it allowed me to go out and have some fun.

    1. KK

      That sounds like a lot of fun. I hope you got to eat as much fruit as you wanted.

  4. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies

    I was an RA, paid little cash wise, but came with free room and board, so I didn’t have to pay rent or buy food ever!

    1. KK

      Looking back on college, I totally wish I’d been an RA. Such a smart financial move. Good leadership experience as well.

  5. Michelle

    I worked full time as a store manager while in undergrad. It was nice to not feel poor like most other college students who don’t work!

    1. KK

      I worked a lot, but not quite full-time. I admire the folks like you who did work full-time and do school at the same time.

  6. Mackenzie

    I’m going to have this song stuck in my head all day! :)

    I worked at a home improvement store during college. Not the most glamorous job by any stretch of the imagination…

    1. KK

      I can never say things like, “She works hard” without thinking of the song and singing along. It’s just so damn catchy.

      Doesn’t have to be glamorous to pay the bills, right? I did house cleaning during high school, it was really dirty and gross, but good money, so I was happy.

  7. John S @ Frugal Rules

    I did #1 and also worked at the front desk in my dorm. I also sold plasma for a few months, though I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. Now I know what song will be in my head all day. 😉

    1. KK

      I didn’t even know you could sell plasma until recently (and to think I was giving away mine for free to the red cross ;-)) I think that’s only legal in certain states.

  8. Jana @ Daily Money Shot

    First of all, I love a post that gives props to Donna Summer because she rocks!

    Like you, I’m too old to have blogged during college but that’s probably what I’d do now. However, back then (late 90s/early 00s for grad school), I worked at a daycare, after school program, as a camp counselor, and at a video store (remember those?). In grad school, I was a research assistant but that was a job given to me as part of my scholarship package. My husband worked watering plants, as an agricultural lab assistant, and at a computer testing lab. He also worked in a hotel and at a golf course. We had quite a range of experience and it’s totally paid off!

    1. KK

      I’m a big Donna fan! Video stores lol, that’s a throw back. My best friend in grammar school’s mother owned a video store, so we got to “rent” whatever we wanted.

      I think it’s a good thing to have a lot of work experiences. Gives you good perspective into what you want to do (or don’t want to do) when you get that first “real” adult job.

  9. writing2reality

    Similar to a work-study job, I worked for a small survey research laboratory on campus. One of the biggest projects we worked on were the professor evaluations. Didn’t pay too well, but had the much needed flexibilty for a student! Needless to say it was also an added bonus to check out the reviews of the various professors that crossed your path throughout school.

    1. KK

      That actually sounds pretty interesting. I’d be curious to see what people were writing about my professors.

  10. Brian

    I did a lot of studies and played some finance games for the graduate finance students. The typical study paid about $10-20 for an hour of your life doing some sort of easy task. The finance games usually took a couple hours and depending on the game and how well you played it you could walk out with a minimum of $50 and the most I walked out with was $600. Sadly I cannot play those finance games anymore since I am not a student.

    1. KK

      $600 is a ton of money for graduate student (well for me it would have been). That sounds pretty sweet. I’d be bummed to no longer be a student if I was making good money like that!

  11. Debt and the Girl

    Very cool. One thing I would do and still do is sign up for research groups that paid you to review a product and for your opinion on something. You can make $100 for just 2 hours of your time. You can’t really do it too often though because now they don’t want you to do it if you have done another research group recently. Still good though every once in a while.

    1. KK

      I did a couple of research studies when I was in grad school. Unfortunately, I didn’t get paid, but I did help out some friends, so I guess it’s good karma coming my way.

  12. Lily @ Hard Money Rater

    Very interesting post. I do hope I was also able to provide on my own when I was still studying but my parents are so very supportive that I wasn’t able to do it. They’ve paid all my needs throughout the years! I planned to apply for a service crew position at a nearby fast food but wasn’t able to do because I’m alone and would need a company but my friends didn’t want to so I declined also. It’s so amazing that you’ve detailed all of these just in one post. Hope everyone are able to get some idea from this post. Actually these jobs are not just for college students but for those who really want to earn extra as well even if they already have regular jobs nowadays.

    1. KK

      Thanks Lily, glad you enjoyed the post. I agree that many of these ideas are good for people of any age (I still do a bunch of them).

  13. Budget and the Beach

    I was very lucky in that I didn’t have to work during the main part of college, only during summers, but mostly it involved waitressing. But if all this technology existed like it does today, I’d totally go the blogging route.

    1. KK

      Kids now-a-days have it so easy (said in my, “old person” voice) 😉 I only we had blogging, “back in the day”.

  14. Brian @ Luke1428

    Cool! I did the lifeguard gig for two years as well. Loved that job! Also worked construction during the summer months and worked in the cafeteria during the school year. Thankfully, I graduated with a debt level that was manageable and is now gone.

    1. KK

      That’s the most important part. Doesn’t really matter what you did, as long as you made money and paid off that debt :-). Although a lot of my friends were pretty jealous by the amount of money I made doing something I loved (swimming and watching others swim).

  15. Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin

    When I was in college I was a referee for the rec sports. It didn’t pay much but then again my main consumptions were pizza and beer =)

    1. KK

      That sounds like fun. It’s always great when you can do something you’re passionate about and get paid (even if it’s not much) to do it.

  16. anna

    I was an RA which helped a lot with room and meals, plus I had HBO (which set off my Sex in the City addiction). I also worked retail during the summer.

    1. KK

      I think the only time I’ve had HBO was in college. Damn universities teaching us expensive, “habits” and fueling an unhealthy obsession with Sex and the City 😉

  17. eemusings

    Tutoring, freelance writing, mystery shopping, and part time work (admin)! And the odd hospitality serving shift at events.

    1. KK

      I didn’t really do any writing (outside of school work) until I finished college. Wish I’d known it was something I’d love doing, so I could start earlier.

  18. Do or Debt

    I tutored, did work study, petsat, worked at a pizza shop, taught kids, worked as a telemarketer, sold old clothes/items on craigslist….I still do many of those things!

    1. KK

      telemarketing, that’s a tough job! I still do some e-bay and craigslist selling.

  19. Jenny @ Frugal Guru Guide

    Lessee what I did….

    1. Fast food.
    2. Computer lab assistant. (Really I made sure nothing was stolen.)
    3. Undergraduate teaching assistant.
    4. Copy editor.
    5. Freelance ballroom dance instructor.

    Only 5!!!!

    1. KK

      Freelance ballroom dance instructor, how awesome is that! I’ve always wanted to learn how, it looks like it would be so much fun. We’d see if my two left feet would cooperate.

  20. Jenny @ Frugal Guru Guide

    (And I had 2 summer internships–a pulp prep intern at a paper mill in Mobile, AL, and as a plastics buyer at GE Medical Systems. Hey, that does make 7!)

    1. KK


  21. Jon @ MoneySmartGuides

    I sold stuff on eBay to make ends meet in college. I would go to yard and estate sales, buy stuff for cheap and sell for a profit. My roommate and I would also sign up for BMG and Columbia house to get 12 CD’s for $0.01. You have to remember that I went to college just before Napster so people still bought CD’s. We would get the most popular ones (N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, etc.) and sell for $10-$15. It was great!

    1. KK

      So industrious, I love it! I sold a bunch of stuff on e-bay. My mom thought I was doing something illegal (didn’t really understand the whole Internet thing at the time). She always told me that she was worried I’d, “go to jail”. So far, so good 😉

  22. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Good stuff, KK! Thanks for the great tips, and for getting all of those great Donna Summer songs stuck in my head. :-)

    1. KK

      You’re so welcome.

  23. MMD @ IRA vs 401k Central

    If I were back in high school or college, I would totally be rocking my blogs and making some cash! It sure would beat working at the YMCA.

    1. KK

      I worked at the Y in high school. They didn’t pay nearly as much as my other lifeguarding job. I wasn’t very tech savvy in college (well I’m still not really), but I do wish I’d known about blogging and had started then.

  24. Chris Peek

    I wish I had known about mystery shopping when I was in school. I actually discovered it when my wife developed health issues and couldn’t work full time anymore. I have shopped for the last three years and done pretty well at it by creating routes of shops – going out and completing 5-8 shops in a day. I adds up, and you get lots of free food in the process!

    1. KK

      Sorry to hear about your wife, hope everything is OK. I really enjoyed mystery shopping and have recently started to get back into it a little bit. There’s something neat about knowing that you’re shopping in secret to make sure the employees are doing a good job.

  25. KC @ genxfinance

    These are awesome ideas. I actually did some of these. Hey, it’s college. Oh the things you’ll do just to make money.

    1. KK

      Beggars can’t be choosers right? I’m still doing a few of these and I enjoy them (and the extra cash).

  26. Amanda

    During college, I worked full-time as a caregiver (odd hours available, and as an independent contractor, I made quite a bit per hour) for children with disabilities and PRN as a CNA for seniors. I babysat PRN for date nights. I also cleaned houses and mowed for the people we were renting from, which got me a discount on rent. I also picked up seasonal jobs, too.

    With all that being said, I still graduated with around $20,000 in debt with my bachelor’s degree from the Ohio State University. I had so many issues with cars, though. I always bought used cars; they just seemed to develop insanely expensive issues within a year of purchasing them. I was so busy, though, that I couldn’t imagine trying to use public transportation. Our rent, with my discount, was at least $400 per month cheaper than what all my friends were paying to live near or on campus, so I felt like it was still probably better to have jobs, a car, and a place farther away from campus.

    I attended a semester of graduate school, during which I also incurred medical bills. I decided to discontinue graduate school and instead am taking four semesters to earn a more useful degree in Accounting (I knew my bachelor’s degree would be worthless if I didn’t attend graduate school… sigh… should have planned better and accounted for the unforeseeable). Meanwhile, I am taking as many classes as I can online and through community colleges. I pay for all of my bills, including my student loans, by pet boarding in my home and pet sitting in other people’s homes. I also mystery shop, work PRN on night shift as a CNA, sell stuff on Etsy, use Swagbucks religiously, rent our spare room on AirBnB, and about a million other small things. I’ve just been approved to be an egg donor, and I am hoping to use the proceeds from that to pay for my second bachelor’s degree. I will take classes as I can afford to pay for them out of pocket!

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