Even with financial aid, many college students are strapped for cash. Learn how to make money in college and why working now can help you earn more later on.

How to Make Money in College


  • College leads to a higher income down the road, but many students are strapped for cash.
  • The online gig economy makes it easier to earn a side income while in school.
  • While earning money in college can pay dividends, work can also interfere with studies.

Students who take out loans to pay for college may use those funds for living and personal expenses — but after paying for tuition and housing, that doesn't leave much. To help close this gap, 43% of full-time college students work. For part-time students, that figure swells to 81%.

In addition to the usual roster of part-time jobs available to college students are millions of ways to make money on the internet. For example, you can create and sell artwork, digital content, or refurbished VCRs, or help local businesses build a website or manage social media.

The best ways to make money in college tie back into your major and provide you with relevant work experience. Spare time in college can rack up spare change, but the potential payoff is much greater. Working in college can help you find a job faster after graduation and even make more throughout your career.

4 Ways for College Students to Make Money

Get an On-Campus Job

Many colleges provide employment opportunities to students. You can ask to be considered for a work-study program when filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or simply apply for a part-time job on campus.

On-campus jobs can work better with student schedules than their off-campus equivalents. Both are likely to pay minimum wage, but on-campus managers will see you more as a student than an employee and will therefore be more motivated to work around your schedule. If your grades take a downturn, they will have to reduce your hours.

Tutor Other Students

With tutoring, you can put your major to work. No matter your specialization, there are students at both the K-12 and college levels who need extra help in it. Check with your university's library to see what tutoring opportunities are available through your school.

Check with your university’s library to see what tutoring opportunities are available.

Offering private tutoring, however, could be more lucrative. With many educational institutions still closed due to the pandemic, the demand for tutors is growing. Many parents are looking to stanch the learning loss that experts predict by bringing in a tutor for their kids or for a pod of families.

Private tutors get to negotiate their own rates and set their own schedules. If you can't make a weekly commitment, you may want to advertise yourself as a test-prep tutor.

Freelance in Your Field

Perhaps the most flexible side hustle, freelancing lets you charge for what you're good at. Graphic design, writing, photography/videography, computer programming, and social media management are all rich freelancing grounds. Even basic abilities in these areas can be enough to get started.

Freelancing in college can help you gain real-world experience in your field.

Freelancing in college can help you gain real-world experience in your field, which stands out on resumes. Many employers complain that college doesn't prepare graduates for their first job, but with freelancing, you'll earn money and relevant work experience.

Some fields offer more freelance opportunities than others. If your major doesn't lend itself to freelancing, consider how your hobbies and skills might. Any abilities you take for granted, such as digital skills, can likely be monetized.

Post Class Notes Online

Sites like StudySoup and OneClass pay you to take notes in class. If you're a strong note-taker, consider uploading and selling your study guides. If you're not a good note-taker, the potential for a cash reward could be the motivation you need to start working harder in school. Successful students can make several hundreds of dollars off a single course.

Be aware that peer-to-peer note sharing is frowned upon by some colleges, so check your school's policies before uploading any notes you've taken. Additionally, know that sharing your notes means you'll be giving up your rights to them.

Earning Too Much Money Can Reduce Financial Aid

When allocating financial aid to students, the FAFSA formula takes into account how much a student and their family can contribute; this is called the "expected family contribution," or EFC.

Students with higher EFCs are eligible for less need-based money, such as subsidized federal loans and Pell Grants. Income from work-study, scholarships, grants, loans, and your 529 plan don't count.

If your side hustles earn above a certain amount, those excess earnings will subtract from your total award amount. How much a college student can earn without losing financial aid depends on their tax status:

  • Dependent students may earn up to $6,840 per year.
  • Independent students may earn up to $10,640 per year if single, or if married and their spouse is enrolled at least half time. If you are married and your spouse is not enrolled at least half time, you may earn up to $17,060.

If you exceed the maximum, half of your excess earnings will be deducted from financial aid. A dependent student who made $8,000 — $1,160 above the maximum — would see their award amount dip by $580. You can make estimations based on your award and personal earnings using the U.S. Department of Education's FAFSA4caster tool.

Keep in mind that the FAFSA uses income information from two years ago. If you're an upperclassman, you don't have to worry about keeping income down for financial aid reasons, since you'll likely graduate before that income would be considered for the FAFSA.

Working in College Is Tricky, but May Pay Off in Long Run

There's competing evidence as to whether working while enrolled in college helps or hinders students' academic performance. Several studies suggest that students who work while enrolled earn lower grades and are more likely to drop out.

Trying to make money during college is risky. Students who spread themselves thin with side work may have to take classes part time or repeat a course. Graduating even one year late can have a negative ripple effect on lifetime income.

Trying to make money during college is risky. Students who spread themselves thin with side work may have to take classes part time or repeat a course.

Without graduating, college's return on investment plummets. Don't get so caught up in making money now that you forfeit making more money in the future.

Nevertheless, students who make money in college tend to make more money after college. A recent study from Rutgers University found that students who work during college earn higher salaries later on. On average, students who worked in college start out earning more than their peers and receive bigger annual raises.

Making money in college can help cushion your student years and set you off on a more lucrative trajectory. The key is keeping side work on the side. Not giving coursework your full attention comes at a cost that most students simply can't afford.


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