When Liam Carnahan was studying at Emerson College, he started an online editing business called Invisible Ink Editing. Although he didn’t make much income at first, his business kept growing and eventually brought in enough to cover his living expenses and student loan payments. Eventually, Carnahan’s enterprise was profitable enough for him to quit his full-time job to focus on his “side business.”
While your schedule as a college student is probably already jam-packed, making time to start a side hustle could earn you money and help you learn how to run a business. If you’re lucky, you, like Carnahan, might even be able to turn your side hustle into a full-time job. On the other hand, there are difficulties to keep in mind.
Here are some benefits and challenges to starting a side hustle while you’re in school.
4 benefits of working a side hustle during college
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of working a side hustle during college. A side hustle, by the way, could be anything from starting your own business to freelancing online or driving for Uber. Whatever it is, a side gig lets you set your own hours, while making money to pay for college.
1. Earning money
With tuition costs rising every year, you might be eager to make some money as a college student. While you could pursue a job on or off campus, you might find it more attractive to work for yourself on your own side business.
If you pursue a side gig with a company like Uber or TaskRabbit, you can essentially set your own hours and determine how much money you make. And if you start your own business, your earning potential could be unlimited.
For Ben Nolan, his epoxy floor coating business became his main source of income.
“I started [this] side hustle business between my sophomore and junior year of college,” Nolan said. “[It] has done unbelievable business and sales to where it has unexpectedly became my main hustle.”
At just 22 years old, Nolan is running his own business and earning a full-time income as he goes into his senior year.
2. Finding clients all around you
Finding clients for a new business can be challenging, but as a student, you have a potential audience all around you: other college students. For Richard Williamson, now a vice-president of marketing at a health care technology company, providing a service for his fellow students was the secret to his side hustle success.
“I needed to make some extra money to cover school costs, so I looked around at my peer group and realized that there was a built-in market all around me,” said Williamson. “I started doing paper formatting and editing.”
Williamson’s side hustle took off, as lots of students came to him for editing help, as well as tutoring on how to write, study and do research.
“My advice to students wanting to make a side hustle is to figure out what you are good at and maximize those talents,” said Williamson. “Look at your fellow students — they are your biggest and most accessible market — and figure out what they need.”
By marketing your services online or on bulletin boards, you can connect with potential clients right away.
3. Supplementing your learning
You don’t have to wait until you graduate to start earning money in your field. Depending on your major, you might be able to use it as a jumping off point for your side hustle. Not only can you make money, but you can also supplement your classroom learning with real-world experience.
“Use your side hustle as a way to help your future career and make additional money,” suggested branding strategist Dai Baker. “For example, if you are in school for graphic design, then create a side hustle working as a freelance graphic designer.”
When she was in college, Baker started a side gig as a freelance public relations and marketing specialist working for small businesses. She earned money, boosted her resume and gained valuable career experience. Today, Baker runs her own full-service creative agency with a small staff, but she says college freelancing was “the introduction to my first small business.”
4. Growing as an entrepreneur
Growing your own side business can give you a valuable education in entrepreneurship. You’ll learn business lessons along the way, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and learn to put yourself out there.
For Sean Pour, his college side business flipping cars grew into a nationwide business, SellMax.
“[My side hustle] set me up for the rest of my life,” said Pour. “The real-world experience of running a business was priceless.”
If you aspire to become an entrepreneur, it’s never too early to start.
4 challenges of side hustling during college
While these graduates found success with their side hustles during college, this route isn’t smooth sailing for everyone. Here are some drawbacks to keep in mind before starting your own side gig.
1. Relying on an unstable income
Unlike a traditional job, a side hustle probably won’t provide you with a stable income. If you’re working for a service such as TaskRabbit or UberEats, the number of gigs you get each week could be hard to predict, depending on the circumstances.
And if you start your own business, you might not make any revenue for a while.
“Remain grounded with realistic expectations,” suggested author and career coach Ron Auerbach. All too often, he suggested, “[you’ll] think the business will be an instant hit and bring in lots of money.”
But, as Auerbach said, you might not make as much as you think, at least not for a while.
“It’s very important to have that reality check and not get caught up in the fantasy dreams of being hugely successful,” he said.
Starting a business is risky, and it might not be worth the time and energy if you have bills to pay now. If you need money right away, a part-time job for college students might be a better bet.
2. Missing out on social events
Finding time to start a side hustle as a busy college student is another major challenge. At the very least, you might have to give up social events to invest time into your side hustle.
When Jeremy Harrison, now CEO of Hustle Life, a blog about making money online, started a painting business in school, he gave up almost all his free time to grow his company.
“On the weekends, I would drum up business by going door to door and get leads for the summer time,” said Harrison. “I did not have any free time at all and sacrificed everything to make the business work.”
For Harrison, the sacrifice was worth it, as he was able to hire six full-time employees and make $90,000 in annual revenue.
But if giving up social events might not be worth it to you, then a part-time job with fixed hours might be the preferable option.
3. Neglecting your education
Not only could you miss out on social events, but a side hustle could even take time away from your education. You have to be careful not to forget about your studies, as that’s your main priority while in college.
“Do not let it get in the way of your education,” Auerbach said. “You’re there to learn and better yourself. So never lose sight of this, because you can very easily regret it later in life if you chose to quit school. Never forget that businesses come and go, yet an education lasts forever.”
You’re in school to earn a valuable degree, so don’t neglect your classes and homework for the sake of growing a side business.
4. Spending more than you earn
Not only is an income not guaranteed when you start a side business, but you risk losing money in the process. If you’re investing in your company, you might spend more money than you earn.
To avoid this scenario, try making the most of free resources to learn what you need to know. From free videos on YouTube, to business books from your local library to volunteer mentors, you can find a wealth of information and guidance without breaking the bank.
And if you choose a business venture with low start-up costs, you won’t lose too much money along the way, even if your initial idea doesn’t work out.
Is working a side hustle as a college student right for you?
If you’re drawn to entrepreneurship, starting a side hustle in college could be an invaluable learning experience, not to mention a great way to make money. Since you’ll be self-employed, you can enjoy a flexible schedule that works around your studies.
But if you’re not careful, your side hustle could take over, making it difficult to balance schoolwork and social events. Plus, you’ll have the extra job of taking care of any legal or tax implications that go with business ownership.
So before starting a side hustle, think over the pros and cons. If you have realistic expectations for what self-employment looks like, you can decide if it’s the right way for you to earn money as a college student.