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College students are synonymous with being broke.
Set aside the cost of tuition for a moment – just the fact that they have everyday living expenses to account for and not a ton of extra time to work a job usually equates to a bank account that's pretty darn close to empty.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for college students to make extra money.
Today we're going to focus almost exclusively on online jobs for college students – meaning things you can do from the comfort of your dorm room or apartment.
While our list certainly isn't exhaustive, we do hope to give you some of the most viable options that strike the right balance of flexibility and earning potential.
What Do You Need To Work Online?
Let's start by covering some of the basics.
What kinds of things do you really need access to in order to earn an income primarily online? Here's a good starter list:
- Consistent Internet & Computer Access – No brainer, right? You can't be dependent on going to the library computer lab or mooching wifi from your neighbor's unsecured network. You need to have decently fast internet access where you live as you'll probably be logging some odd hours, including late nights.
- A Distraction-free Zone – This may be harder to come by if you have roommates, but you need to have somewhere you can close the door and have some quiet space so you can think and work productively.
- Noise Canceling Headphones – Ok, these aren't an essential but if escaping noise is impossible, try to scrounge up the money and buy some headphones that block out noise so you can focus. I bought some for myself last year and my life has been changed forever. I've told so many people about them that I'm on the borderline of being a non-commission salesperson for Bose.
4. A Somewhat Professional Email Address – Maybe when you were in high school you could get by with your “[email protected]” email address, but not any more. I wouldn't suggest using your .edu address either – just create a normal-sounding gmail account that primarily consists of your initials, or your first & last name. This is a simple step, but will make you look more responsible and mature when you get into an email conversation with a potential employer or freelance client.
5. Paypal – Paypal is the default payment option of the internet. So if you're doing gigs online, Paypal is probably going to be the most ubiquitous option for receiving payment. If you don't have an account already, get one. You'll also need a bank account to sync up with it so you can transfer those funds to your regular checking account.
6. Skype – Again, if you already have a Skype account for personal use and you have some crazy screenname, just start over. Like Paypal is the default way to exchange money online, Skype is the go-to communication tool. It's not unusual to apply to freelance jobs on sites like Upwork and have the person want to do an interview via Skype.
Now that you're equipped with the basics, let's talk about the kinds of jobs you should be looking for when you're a full-time student.
What Is The Best Job For College Students?
Opinions will vary here, but as a former college student myself I'd say the best job for a college student is something you can do on your own schedule, that offers maximum flexibility.
In fact, at this amazing time in your life, flexibility is more important than pay.
You've got school work to be done, projects, traveling for holidays, extra curricular activities, and so much more that rarely coordinate well with a set work schedule.
From my perspective, you've got your entire life to earn money. You're only in college for a short period of time. So with that in mind, making $15 per hour instead of $10 and missing out on fun with friends, clubs/activities on campus, and potentially letting your education suffer isn't a good trade-off.
This is especially true when you've got plenty of “jobs” and ways to make money that won't require you to make those sacrifices.
While some of the jobs we're going to talk about may require that you work certain hours, most of them are things you can do whenever you'd like – on your own schedule.
The Rise of Freelancing
Freelancing has been around forever, but it's becoming a more and more viable and lucrative alternative to working a traditional job. It's also not uncommon for freelancers to make a lot of money doing what they do.
According to Entrepreneur.com about 16% of full-time freelancers made 6 figures in 2015 and about 35% of the US workforce consists of freelancers. Those numbers are even bigger among young people. Check out this graphic from Cognology.
That doesn't mean you'll get rich doing freelance work while you're a full-time student, but it does mean that a growing number of jobs are available on a freelance basis, and many of them pay very well.
That's great news for you as it means you don't have to settle for a “normal” fixed schedule job, since more and more opportunities are available for you to freelance and pay the bills.
In this article, we'll highlight some of our favorite freelancing platforms that make finding jobs relatively painless.
Experience vs. Pay
One of the debates you may be having is whether to focus on maximizing your earnings while in college or instead focus on getting quality experience in your field of study.
Obviously, the perfect situation is one where you can do both – get paid well to do something that is going to bolster your resume after graduation.
If you can't have the best of both worlds, then you should still be focused on finding opportunities that provide income, but also teach you real skills – things you'll be able to apply after graduation.
Let's face it, plenty of upperclassmen have no idea what they want to do after graduation.
The work you do while in college might reveal a particular skill you didn't know you excelled in, or even a passion you didn't know you had.
This is yet another reason why freelance work is so appealing for students – you can truly dabble in a bunch of different things and gain quality experience, while making a decent income.
For me, I really discovered the power of selling things online while I was in college.
It was a bit of a side hustle at the time, but the experience and confidence I gained has ultimately led to me creating products and brands of my own that I now sell on Amazon.
1. Selling Used Stuff Online
Since this was my primary college side hustle of choice, I'll start with why there is so much to love about selling used stuff online as a side job.
For college students I think this is a natural fit because it's open to creativity, allows maximum flexibility, and plays well with their natural mastery of technology.
My personal discovery came when I was shopping around at a local used shoe store in Cleveland, TN.
I saw a pair of men's golf shoes that still had the tags on them and they were Tommy Bahama brand. The size was rather small, but the price was around $15 from what I recall and my first thought was that Tommy Bahama was an expensive brand.
Since smartphones didn't exist at the time (feeling old) I drove back to my dorm and hopped on the computer to look up those shoes. Sure enough, they retailed for well over $100.
So I went back to the shoe store and bought them, snapped a few pictures and put them up on eBay as an auction. After 7 days I'd sold them for just over $70 and had a nice little profit for my efforts.
With that, an addiction was born.
I knew in order to make this a part-time job, I had to figure out a more sustainable approach to sourcing my inventory. Since there weren't anymore Tommy Bahama shoes in the store, I looked around and discovered that they carried tons of Rocky boots.
At the time, I'd never heard of Rocky boots.
Little did I know that they would become the primary source of my spending money at college.
Again, I made notes for myself on the different styles they had and the prices, then went back to campus to figure out how much these sold for on eBay. I found that some types of Rocky boots sold for well over $100 and in some cases $200 brand new. So fetching $75 or so at auction on eBay seemed like a safe bet.
Long story short, I was buying boots for about $20 – $25 and then consistently auctioning them off for $70+ and making a nice little side income.
While I've not sold on eBay in a long time, selling used stuff on places like eBay, Craigslist, LetGo, and probably many more places is still a great opportunity for students to make money.
How To Make This Work
I'm sure you're thrilled to hear how finding a treasure trove of hunting boots turned into a nice college job for me, but you're probably wondering how you can figure out a strategy that works for you.
Great question – let's see if I can help.
First, finding a repeatable, consistent source of used goods is ideal. However, that's not always possible. So the nature of doing work like this will probably lead to some ebbs and flows where you're making a good bit of money and then maybe things dry up for a few months and you make next to nothing.
Here's an excellent list of of potential places you can find items to sell on eBay, and I'll talk more about a few of my favorites here.
You know the saying – “one man's trash is another man's treasure” and this is oh so true. There are tons of places where you can find used and even new items to sell just laying in the trash. The key is knowing where to look.
One of the easiest places that doesn't involve literally diving inside of a dumpster is your nearest affluent neighborhood.
That's right, if you can figure out the places near campus where Spencer and his ilk call home, you'll probably find some pretty useful appliances, electronics, home goods, and more waiting near the curb every week on garbage night.
Another fantastic place to search is behind a strip mall that has places like Best Buy, Office Depot, Bed Bath & Beyond (if you have time) and other retail shops. There are never any guarantees with dumpster diving, but there are times that these stores throw away returned items that are perfectly usable because they can't resell them as opened items.
It may sound crazy, but if you really wanted to hone your skills this could become a full-time venture in the right metropolitan areas.
If you think this sounds ridiculous and disgusting – then move on down the list. If you think this idea sounds exciting and intriguing, then take 10 minutes and read the dumpster success of Matt Malone and start diving.
“Junk” Removal Service
While you don't have to necessarily start a full-fledged junk removal service, you could throw up a couple of Craigslist posts and maybe some flyers in your area and even on your campus that you do free item haul away.
When someone calls, find out what they've got and ask questions about the condition it's in.
If they say they have piles of trash, you can always turn down the job. But, if they call and say they've got something of value that you could resell locally or online, drop by and pick it up. People give away stuff all the time that has real value.
Making money is much easier when your cost of goods is $0.
Thrift Stores/Yard Sales
For me, going through a good thrift store is like a modern day treasure hunt. For others, yard sales feel the same way – you simply never know what you're going to find.
These are great places to look because they are always getting new, random stuff. While I've not done it consistently, I've gone through little phases where I was finding legit vintage t-shirts, gym shoes, games, etc. at second-hand stores and then selling them on eBay.
If you're more of the crafty type, then thrift stores are a fantastic place to find old furniture and art pieces that you can repurpose or overhaul in some way and then flip on Craigslist for a profit.
The opportunities are nearly endless if there is a good thrift store nearby.
2. Start a Website
Of course I'm going to give you my pitch about why college is the perfect time to start a money-making blog or website.
First, it's really not that hard since you've grown up with technology and aren't intimidated by it. You could pick up the basics of how to start a blog in no time.
Since we're talking primarily to college students here, let me give you the Cliff's Notes version of how this works, and then I'll tell you where you can learn more if it sounds interesting.
1. Find a Good Niche
If you think you're going to go out and start Facebook's next competitor or go do reviews on iPhones and earn millions of dollars, the deck is heavily stacked against you.
However, the good news is that there are plenty of opportunities to create successful, profitable websites in various niches.
One example might be a website about living in an RV or motorhome full-time.
Are there other websites dedicated to this topic?
But there aren't thousands of well-funded, professionally run websites about the RV lifestyle.
So you could dig down and carve out a nice following with less effort than trying to tackle something more broad like “sports cars.”
2. Take The Path of Least Resistance
The path of least resistance if you're creating a new website is to focus on long tail keywords.
This basically means that you're going to get traffic from Google much faster by creating content about very specific questions/topics that not many other people have addressed.
So you'll be looking for things like “how to drive a motorhome with air brakes” you can teach people about.
Since there aren't tons of articles out there that address this specific topic, your odds of moving up to page 1 of the Google results are much better than if you do an article on something more general like “RV Driving Tips” which is anchored with results from big time websites like the DMV.
3. Make Money
Remember, I'm giving you the short summary of the process here – but making money when you have a website that gets traffic really isn't that hard.
The question of how much you can make will certainly vary based on a few factors.
However, a couple of trusty low effort ways to make money from your traffic is by throwing up some Google Adsense ads or sending people to Amazon to buy the products you talk about, and then they'll pay you a commission for being their affiliate.
Click here to read the ultimate guide to creating a niche website from scratch. In most cases, creating a website as a newbie isn't something that's going to turn a profit in days or weeks – it usually takes a few months at least. However, once you've started earning you can enjoy a fairly passive source of income that you can benefit from throughout your years of college and beyond.
3. Freelancing Via Upwork
Upwork is one of the leading freelance job sites around, and you can find a job doing just about anything.
In many cases the jobs are temporary assignments, but there are opportunities for long term, ongoing work as well.
So as a student, it's quite possible you can find steady work to carry you all the way through graduation on this single platform.
What Kind of Work Can I Get?
If you're thinking that only software developers get hired on sites like Upwork, you couldn't be more wrong. Take a quick look at a sampling of the categories just under the Admin Support section:
Click here to browse all categories.
Clearly, if you are technically skilled at programming, design, or some other in demand field, then you've got a leg up on the type of jobs you can apply to. But if you're studying something in school that's a little less specialized (I'm looking at you future history teachers) there are still plenty of things you can do.
Here's some of my favorite “general” categories that most college educated people would qualify for:
I think every college major comes with it's share of writing assignments, right? There are a bunch of writing subcategories on Upwork like academic writing, sales copy, blog writing, etc. if one of them fits you best.
However, if you're able to write engaging content then you'll find no shortage of job opportunities on Upwork.
Speaking as someone who has hired a lot of writers on the platform, it's not uncommon to see people hiring writers for their website who have a particular knowledge or interest on that topic.
For example, if I had a blog about hunting I might put out a job looking for people who can write that also know a little bit about hunting. Here's one I found looking for somebody who plays golf and can write about it:
So when you're searching for writing jobs, try some keywords related to topics you know really well and you just might find the perfect fit.
A bit of a catch-all category, people look for assistants to help them do all kinds of things.
Some people need help answering customer emails, doing data entry, researching things online, planning a fundraiser, and just about anything else you can think of.
The personal/virtual assistant category is a bit of a potpourri – so dive in there if you're a jack of all trades and see what you can find.
Social Media Manager
While you may not think of yourself as an advanced level social media expert, you're probably active one multiple social media accounts and are familiar with how they work.
Believe it or not, that gives you expert status in the eyes of many small business owners.
What you'd consider a simple task like posting engaging content on Facebook or setting up an Instagram account would cause other people to break out in a cold sweat…
Many small businesses know they should use social media, but they don't have the time to mess with it – so they'd rather find some capable young person to run it for them. At any given time you'll find all kinds of rather general “I need help with social media!” job posts like this:
If you find a few nice social media management opportunities, you could make life easier on yourself by paying for a tool like MeetEdgar which allows you to setup automated post schedules for up to 25 different social media accounts.
I personally know a friend who has a 4 figure per month client to run their social media and he pays $50 per month to automate the entire process with MeetEdgar.
Similar to the logic behind the writing category mentioned earlier, many college students have a knack for proofreading documents because you're getting a ton of practice and training on writing.
I know I would have been a better proofreader while I was still in school than I would be 12 years after graduation.
Heck, I'm dreading helping my kids on their elementary English homework…
If you're an English major this is a no brainer and you could probably fill many jobs that require more stringent editing, but many jobs on Upwork only require some basic proofreading. Like this:
How Can I Get Hired?
Jobs on Upwork are either fixed price or hourly. Fixed price just means that they'll pay you a set amount for the job – whether it takes you 5 hours or 50. Hourly simply means that you'll use Upwork's time tracking tool and get paid an hourly rate for the time you put in.
It's up for debate which is better – just remember that everything is negotiable. So if someone has posted a job as a fixed rate and you'd rather be hourly, that's something you can request when they make you an offer.
When you first sign up for Upwork, you'll have zero job history and reviews, although you can (and should) fill out your profile with your education and work experience. So getting those first few jobs can be tough when you're stacked up next to other applicants who may have dozens of positive reviews.
That said, let's take a look at a few tips for making sure you get hired:
In this excellent article that calls out some commonly shared bad Upwork tips, Danny says that one of the biggest mistakes new freelancers make is using filters and even keywords to look for jobs.
I mentioned earlier that searching for keywords to find jobs related to your interests (like the golf blogger) is a good idea.
However, if you're just looking to see what's out there then you can just sift through all the jobs in a category without taking this step. The reason it can be problematic is because people don't always put the right filters on their jobs and they might use a different keyword than you're searching.
If you're looking for blogging jobs, the postings on Upwork might say “blogger” “blog writer” “blogging help” or all kinds of variations.
To see the maximum number of jobs (including ones that other people might be missing) just skip the keywords and filters altogether.
Give Awesome Responses
This might sound obvious, but if you're in a position where you're really only applying to jobs that sound interesting to you – then you should take the time to write a response that feels very personalized and real.
From my experience posting jobs and fielding applications, the vast majority of responses feel like nothing more than a copy/paste template.
They usually start with something like:
Dear Hiring Manager,
If it's engaging SEO content you want, then look no further. I've got a vast amount of experience with blog writing, copywriting, article writing,…
I pretty much NEVER read the full application when it starts like that, because it feels as if this person is just applying to every writing job on Upwork.
The applications that really stand out will grab your attention within the first sentence or 2 by showing that they actually read your job post.
This is huge!
If I was applying to the golf blogger job I showed earlier, I might start out with something like:
I'm an avid golfer, so I was super excited to see this post on Upwork. I'm currently enrolled at NYU and love to write – especially on topics I'm passionate about…
I can't promise that will get you hired, but it will greatly increase your chances of having your application read to the end!
Give Free Previews
No, I'm not tell you to work for free.
This is really more of an extension of my last tip about giving awesome responses. If the job is related to something strategic, don't be afraid to share a little sneak peek into what your plan would be to try to start a conversation.
For example, if you are applying to a job for a business that wants someone to manage their Facebook account – share a couple clever ideas about how you'd specifically promote their business.
Again, having sat on the hiring side of Upwork this really goes a long way toward convincing the employer that you “get it.”
Rather than just making some general claim like “I'm great at getting things to go viral on Facebook” – give a personalized idea like “I'd love to do a Facebook campaign where we salute local heros there in Knoxville to really show how much you guys care about the community.”
Now you're not just claiming to have good ideas for social media, you're offering proof (which is something most other applicants won't make the effort do.)
4. Gigging on Fiverr
If you're not familiar, Fiverr.com is a marketplace where people sell services and do all kinds of random things for $5.
Nowadays, the $5 price tag is just the starting point.
We learned about how much potential there is to have a real, six figure business by selling higher priced services on Fiverr.
Spencer interviewed Kendall Rizzo who carved out a niche of helping people with KickStarter and other crowdfunding campaigns for a fee.
Why Is This Different From Upwork?
The fundamental way this is different is that on Upwork you are seeking out job postings and applying. On Fiverr you are creating a listing of a service you'll do for a fee, and people are going to Fiverr and finding you.
If you think that Fiverr is some small player in the freelancing space, think again. At the time of this writing Alexa has it ranked as the 423rd most popular site on the web:
So the advantage of creating a gig on Fiverr is kind of like selling a product on Amazon, you've got a stream of traffic built in.
What Can I Sell on Fiverr?
If you can dream it, you can gig it.
(I may see if I can sell them the rights to that tagline).
I once paid someone $5 to record a message as Elmo for my cousin.
All of the usual suspects are there – business services like video editing, SEO, writing, etc. but there are plenty of subcategories of fun stuff like this guy who will prank call anybody for $5:
With 493 reviews, he's probably done thousands of these gigs and made a nice chunk of money in the process.
So let's talk about a few other oddball ideas that might just be a great side job for a student:
- Impersonate famous people
- Displaying a message somewhere unique
- Rewrite someone's dating profile
- Mail people random knick-knacks
- Research family trees
- Fantasy football draft advice
- Take online classes for people
- Video voiceovers
And the list goes on and on…
How Can I Succeed on Fiverr?
Here's a handy little worksheet from the Kendall Rizzo interview to help you think about what niche you might fill on Fiverr.
As for general strategies, I'd recommend checking out this helpful post about how this guy made over $5,000 doing whiteboard explainer videos on Fiverr.
Here's some key points:
- Don't re-invent the wheel. Sure, you could take a shot doing some really strange gig that nobody is doing, but a safer bet is to look for something that other people are offering and succeeding with (based on the number of reviews). For example, if you see that there are only a few people doing family tree research and some of them have 100+ reviews, that could be a really good market to get into with fairly low competition, but decent-sized opportunity.
- Create an excellent description. Don't be in such a hurry to get your gig live that you fly through the description. Shoot a video of yourself talking about your service and make sure to outline all the details, including the specific problems you'll solve or benefits people will get from your service. In addition – look at the other top gigs in that category and “borrow” some of the tags they are using as well as some of the keywords they use in their titles. This will help you get found easier when people are searching.
- Get your friends to place an order. Promote your gig amongst friends and family and talk a few of them into placing an order. This is important because you'll be able to have some order history, reviews, and a portfolio of work that future customers can see. This helps grease the skids a little bit so people don't feel like they are going to be your first customer ever.
Here are some other helpful Fiverr resources if you're thinking about giving this a shot:
5. Other Random Ventures
Given the personal opinion I stated near the beginning, that finding flexible sources of income while you're a student are preferable to a fixed-schedule job, here are some other random but legitimate ways to make money while you're in school without having to ask “do you want fries with that?”
(Note: Some are fully online jobs while others use online technology but require local work)
There are a bunch of places online where you can take surveys for cash or some other kind of redeemable points or reward. Here's a nice round-up of the best choices. A few trustworthy survey sites to check out are:
App-based Delivery Services
If you don't want to get a scheduled delivery job at Papa John's, you can still reap the benefits of delivering food and other items by using more on demand apps. Note that driving for Uber and Lyft require you to be 21, but most of these jobs are available when you're 18 or 19:
Your best bet as an undergrad is going to be looking for job postings on Craigslist and other local sources, or perhaps putting out your own listings to look for local students to tutor. Most online tutoring jobs are looking for college degrees, but there are a least a couple you can check out and potentially qualify for as an undergrad:
Generally data entry jobs don't really have a high barrier to entry, and there are plenty of flexible and reliable opportunities available to you. The same goes for transcription, which usually involves listening to audio and typing it out as a document. Here's a couple to checkout:
I went pretty deep earlier about selling used stuff, but one of my favorite side ventures turned career is Ryan at ReCraigslist who was able to get used appliances from Craigslist, fix them up and sell them on Craigslist for a profit.
This definitely isn't something you can just do from your dorm room, but it's a great opportunity to leverage the internet to make money on your own terms.
If you're better with a set of tools than typing on a keyboard, there are plenty of opportunities to make money this way. Click here to see Ryan's list of the 10 best things to buy and sell.
Search Engine Evaluator
Yes, this is really a thing. Usually, the job involves providing human feedback to search engine results to make sure those robots are doing a good job. Usually you are looking at making between $12 – $15 per hour for a job like this. Here are the most reputable players in the industry:
College is an amazing time in your life for so many reasons.
What I gave you today is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as ways you can make money to give yourself maximum flexibility while still enjoying college.
If you're feeling overwhelmed and aren't sure where to start – maybe check out Upwork and just browse the different categories and see where your skills may be a fit for some freelance work.
If you're feeling a little more entrepreneurial and have an interest in growing a more passive online income, check out our in-depth guide to creating your first profitable website.
Either way – best of luck!