5 Students Reveal The Quirky Ways They Paid for College

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the financial institution.

repaying student loans

We’ve got your back! Student Loan Hero is a completely free website 100% focused on helping student loan borrowers get the answers they need. Read more

How do we make money? It’s actually pretty simple. If you choose to check out and become a customer of any of the loan providers featured on our site, we get compensated for sending you their way. This helps pay for our amazing staff of writers (many of which are paying back student loans of their own!).

Bottom line: We’re here for you. So please learn all you can, email us with any questions, and feel free to visit or not visit any of the loan providers on our site. Read less

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.

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2020!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.

1 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

2 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

(1)All rates shown include the auto-pay discount.  The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

(2)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

(3)As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.

Information advertised valid as of 11/4/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

3 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
  2. View Auto Reward Debit Reward Terms and Conditions at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/AutoDebitReward.
  3. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  4. Lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest interest rate offered on the Discover Undergraduate Loan and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Undergraduate, Graduate, Health Professions, Law and MBA Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable Margin percentage. The margin is based on your credit evaluation at the time of application and does not change. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 2.00% as of January 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans will adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Please visit discover.com/student-loans/interest-rates for more information about interest rates.
Discover's lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

4 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).

  1.  Rates are as of July 1, 2019 and include auto-pay discount. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

5 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.

  1. Variable rate loans are based on a margin between 1.90% and 13.50% plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 1.629%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes, resulting in an Annual Percentage (APR) range between 3.14% and 11.88%. Fixed rate loans have an APR range between 4.09% and 13.03% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval. Rates are effective as of 03/01/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate. Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. (See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
  2. Payments may be deferred. Subject to lender discretion, forbearance and/or deferment options may be available for borrowers who are encountering financial distress.
  3. Making interest only or partial interest payments while in school will not reduce the principal balance of the loan. There are three (3) flexible in-school repayment options that include fully deferred, interest only and $25 minimum repayment.
  4. Flexible repayment plans may be offered up to a fifteen (15) year repayment term for a variable rate loan and ten (10) year repayment term for a fixed rate loan. Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. Minimum loan amount is $2,000.
  5. Interest rate reduction of 0.25% for enrollment in automatic debit applies only when the borrower and/or cosigner signs up for automatic payments and the regularly scheduled, current amount due (including full, flat, or interest only payments, as applicable) is successfully deducted from the designated bank account each month. Interest rate reduction(s) will not apply during periods when no payment is due, including periods of In-School, Deferment, Grace or Forbearance. If you have two (2) returned payments for Nonsufficient Funds, we may cancel your automatic debit enrollment and you will lose the 0.25% interest rate reduction. You will then need to re-qualify and re-enroll in automatic debit payments to receive the 0.25% interest rate reduction.
  6. All applicants (individual and cosigner) are required to complete a brief online financial literacy course as part of the application process to be eligible for funding.
  7. Eligibility, loan amount and other loan terms are dependent on several factors, which may include: loan product, other financial aid, creditworthiness, school, program, graduation date, major, cost of attendance and other factors. Aggregate loan limits may apply. The cost of attendance is determined and certified by the educational institution.
  8. The legal age for entering into contracts is eighteen (18) years of age in every state except Alabama where it is nineteen (19) years old, Nebraska where it is nineteen (19) years old (only for wards of the state), and Mississippi and Puerto Rico where it is twenty-one (21) years old.
  9. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details. In order to be eligible for the 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward, borrower must meet the following criteria after graduation:
    • The student borrower has graduated from the degree program that the loan was used to fund.
    • The student borrower may change majors and/or transfer to a different school, but must obtain the same level of degree (e.g. – undergraduate or graduate)
    • The graduation date is more than 90 days and less than five (5) years after the date of the loan’s first disbursement.
    • Any loan that the student has borrowed under the Ascent loan is not more than 30-days delinquent or in a default status as of the graduation date and until any Graduation Reward is paid.
  10. Students can apply to release their cosigner and continue with the loan in only their name after making the first 24 consecutive regularly scheduled full principal and interest payments on-time and meeting the other eligibility criteria to qualify for the loan without a cosigner.

* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

Citizens Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As March 1, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.62%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72% – 10.98% (2.72% – 10.83% APR)  and will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 4.72% – 12.19% (4.72% – 12.04% APR)  based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown requires application with a co-signer, are for eligible applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, borrower making scheduled payments while in school and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens One is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of the loan.

Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensone.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review. 

Citizens One Student Loan Eligibility: Borrowers must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible institution. Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or an international borrower/eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For borrowers who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens One reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Citizens One Student Loans private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens One Student Loans-participating school. 

Please Note: International Students are not eligible for the multi-year approval feature.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan. 

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.

2.75% – 10.65%*,1Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SallieMae

Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

3.52% – 9.50%4Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

3.14% – 11.88%5Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Ascent

2.72% – 10.98%6Undergraduate and Graduate


Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.