When you think of part-time jobs for college students, you probably picture waiting tables or stacking books in the library.
But these traditional gigs aren’t the only way to pay for college. For a fresh take, I spoke with five current and former students about their unconventional college jobs.
Although their part-time income didn’t necessarily cover tuition — which currently averages $32,410 per year at private colleges, according to The College Board — it did help them pay for books and other expenses.
Here are the offbeat ways these students paid for college — and had fun along the way.
1. I sold smoothies all over campus
When Nathan Fink left Wisconsin for Belmont University in Tennessee, he didn’t go alone. Nathan brought a mobile cart for Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffees and Smoothies with him to campus. After seeing his dad make money as a franchisee for the brand, Nathan thought he’d try his luck with college students.
As it turned out, his fellow Belmont students loved smoothies. “I was thankful that my Dad taught me the ropes when I worked with him at home and showed me how to make connections with the community,” says Nathan. “One weekend, I had three events in one day and had to drive to Wisconsin to borrow extra carts.”
Not only does Nathan work around campus, but he cashes in big at sporting events. “The weekends are when I make my money,” he says. “I struck up a partnership with the university to have my cart at all basketball games.”
Plus, he partnered with a nearby sports complex to sell smoothies at their volleyball and basketball tournaments. While his income varies, he often makes up to $1,000 in gross sales in a day.
“Being a student and running a business like this is perfect because I can work when I want and how often I want,” Nathan adds. “If I need to make extra money, I just book more events.” Thanks to his smoothie-making skills and entrepreneurial spirit, Nathan will be graduating debt-free.
2. I worked as a rickshaw runner
Ian Wright wasn’t afraid to work hard while he attended the University of Toronto. In fact, he single-handedly pulled tourists around Toronto as a rickshaw runner. Rickshaw runners, if you’re not familiar, pedal people around in a passenger cart.
“While the work was quite hard, it was a lot of fun and paid very well,” says Ian. “It was not uncommon for me to make $1,000-plus a week in summer and $300 on Saturdays in winter.”
Not only did he make good money, but Ian was able to balance the job with his studies in history and political science. “It was the absolute perfect job for a student since I … had no fixed hours,” says Ian. “All I had to do was pay rent [about $125 per week] to the owner of the rickshaw, and I could work as much or as little as I wanted.”
Thanks to his work as a Toronto rickshaw runner, Ian was able to graduate from college debt-free. Plus, he appreciated the workout he got through this physically intensive job.
“I graduated with no student debt whatsoever and was in a whole lot better shape than I should have been given my junk food diet and quantity of beer I used to drink,” he adds.
Today, Ian continues to work in the transportation industry as the founder of MoverDB.com, an international moving resource.
3. I got into online poker
Before he was in the NFL, Chris Gronkowski was a college athlete at the University of Arizona. Due to NCAA rules, he wasn’t allowed to take on a part-time job. But he found a way to make some extra money without violating NCAA policy.
“I loved watching the world series of poker on TV,” says Chris. “The game Texas hold’em was very popular at the time and after watching poker on TV and seeing my older brother play online, I started to play myself.”
When he wasn’t playing football, Chris was making money online, up to $500 in his best games. “My winnings covered all my expenses for food and entertainment in college,” he adds. “I was even able to buy a Jacuzzi for our house with the winnings and still had plenty in the bank when I graduated.”
Today, the legality of online poker is blurry across the country. Although it’s allowed in some states, others have regulations against some or all online poker games. Of course, gambling isn’t the safest way to make extra money for college. If you’re going to try it, do so with the knowledge that you could lose more money than you make.
These days, Chris places his bets on the two companies he founded, EverythingDecorated.com and IceShaker.com. “I have since made more money in my first four years outside of the NFL than I did playing in the NFL for four years,” he says.
4. I founded a startup in high school
Will Manidis is living proof that it’s never too early to succeed in business. When he was just a senior in high school, Will co-founded PathwaysAI, a mobile app that uses artificial intelligence to track the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms.
“Over the last few years, I watched my friend Roger’s grandmother slowly suffer and decline from Parkinson’s,” says Will. “Roger and I were deeply involved in AI research at the time … the app was a natural progression.”
Now, Will and Roger’s app helps Parkinson’s patients understand the impact their symptoms have on their quality of life. Plus, it allows doctors, caretakers, and patients to work together and provide the best care possible.
Not only does Will provide a tremendous service for people, but he’s learning the ins and outs of managing a startup. Pathways AI has made Will’s education at Olin College a possibility, where it was not previously.
“I am going into my freshman year at Olin College and will hopefully be paying a large part of my tuition with [this] startup,” says Will. “I was really struggling to figure out a way to make college more affordable, and thankfully this is working out such that it is no longer such a burden.”
5. I’m trying to get my bachelor’s in one year
Most of the students on this list came up with unique ways to make extra money. But Nathan Young is taking a different approach to cut down the cost of college. Nathan is trying to earn his bachelor’s degree in business management in one year instead of the usual four.
“I’ve made the attempt to get my four-year bachelor’s degree … in one year and under $15,000,” says Nathan. “So far, I’m at 80 credits in 10 months and I’ve spent about $11,000.” Some of this money came from a federal Pell Grant, while the rest was out of pocket or from student loans.
Nathan takes classes online at Thomas Edison State University, a public university designed for self-directed adults. Not only does it allow for a flexible class schedule, but the university gives class credit for exams. Gaining credit for taking tests is one way Nathan is accelerating his progress toward his bachelor’s degree.
To stick to his goals, Nathan keeps a video diary of his progress on YouTube. “I’ve released roughly 20 videos on the topic, following my journey and teaching other people about it and how to do what I’m doing,” he says.
As it turns out, people are interested in following in Nathan’s footsteps. Since he’s started vlogging, his videos have collected over 14,000 views. “[It’s] something I’m personally a bit shocked by,” says Nathan. “I never intended it; I was just keeping a diary.”
Nathan continues to work hard toward his degree while supporting others who wish to follow in his footsteps.
To pay for college, think outside the box
With the cost of college the highest it’s ever been, it’s more important than ever to find creative ways to pay tuition. Your part-time job might not cover the full cost of attendance, but it could help you pay for books, fees, and personal expenses.
Plus, having a part-time income could reduce the amount you take out in student loans. With less student debt upon graduation, you’ll be that much closer to financial freedom. You’ll be able to start your career without the shackles of student loans weighing you down.
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