Going to college is exciting but expensive. Tuition, room and board, books, and other fees really add up. Rather than racking up debt, why not make some extra money with an online business you can run in your spare time? Thanks to the internet, there are now more opportunities than ever for ambitious students to generate income.
With just a laptop and WiFi connection, you can get a business up and running while still pursuing your degree. And you don’t need major startup funds or previous experience to get started today. Whether it’s starting a dropshipping store, affiliate marketing blog, freelance services, or selling digital products, the possibilities are endless.
This comprehensive guide will walk through the many proven ways college students can start a business and make money online. Follow along to start building your own college kid riches.
Table of Contents
- Evaluate Your Skills, Interests and Goals
- Choose the Right Online Business Model for You
- Affiliate Marketing
- Freelancing/Selling Services
- Building a Blog or Website
- Selling Digital Products
- Flipping and Reselling Items
- Renting or Sharing Assets
- Investing and Trading
- Get Started Quickly and Test Ideas
- Manage Your Online Business While in School
- Set a Schedule
- Use Productivity Hacks
- Outsource Tasks
- Automate Processes
- Scale and Grow Your Business
- Promote Your Business
- Expand Your Products and Services
- FAQs About Making Money Online in College
Evaluate Your Skills, Interests and Goals
The first step is to think about your strengths, passions, and reasons for wanting to start a business. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What skills and experiences could I leverage (writing, social media, coding, etc.)?
- What topics or industries am I interested in?
- How much money do I hope to make each month?
- How much time can I realistically devote each week?
- Is this mainly for extra cash or a long-term career?
Once you identify your expertise, interests, and financial goals, it becomes easier to pick the right business model. Don’t worry if you’re still unsure about the specifics. We’ll cover plenty of options coming up.
Think about skills you’re learning in school as well. Majoring in marketing or business provides great foundations for ecommerce. IT and engineering students already have coveted technical abilities. Communications and journalism majors make talented freelance writers and bloggers. Leverage your academic background when deciding how to make money online.
Choose the Right Online Business Model for You
With some self-evaluation done, it’s time to explore potential business models. From online stores to professional services, thousands of options exist when it comes to making money on the internet. The most popular and proven business models for college students are:
Dropshipping allows you to sell products online without actually stocking inventory. When a customer places an order, you forward their purchase to a third-party supplier who ships it out for you. The supplier stocks, packages, and fulfills the order on your behalf.
This hands-off fulfillment model means students can focus on marketing and customer acquisition vs. logistics. With some research, dropshipping businesses can be launched quite affordably before growing into 6 and 7-figure ventures. Most expenses come from paid ads and marketing tools.
- Low startup costs
- No need to handle shipping/inventory
- Wide selection of products to sell
- Make money immediately on sales
- Lower profit margins
- Reliant on suppliers for fulfillment
- Can be competitive to advertise
Recommended for: Business, marketing, and entrepreneurship students. Those interested in ecommerce and product research/marketing.
Affiliate marketing is another popular passive income stream for students. With this model, you earn commissions promoting and referring sales for other companies’ products. Well-known affiliate programs are run by Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and more.
To get started, you can create a website or blog in a niche you’re knowledgeable in. Monetize it by featuring affiliate links to relevant products. For example, a blog about running could promote sports shoes and gear. You receive a cut of any sales made through your links at no extra cost to the buyer.
Affiliate marketing pros:
- Very low startup costs
- Hands-off sales process
- Can promote a wide array of affiliate products
- Earn while you build an audience
Affiliate marketing cons:
- Delayed earnings until site gains traction
- Reliant on consistent blog traffic and conversions
- Commission rates around 5-20%
Recommended for: Students interested in blogging and content creation. Doesn’t require large audience to see success.
Every skill can be turned into a freelance service that people will pay for online. College students can leverage their talents to make money freelancing in many ways:
- Writing/Editing – English and journalism students are naturals at offering writing and editing services. Websites like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer let you list your services. Or you can pitch to blogs, companies, and independent clients.
- Graphic Design – Design logos, social media posts, and marketing materials for brands on a freelance basis. List your services on freelance job boards or message local businesses directly.
- Video/Photo Editing – Editing skills are in high demand by vloggers, social media influencers, and advertisers. Offer intro/outro, transitions, thumbnail design, and more.
- Data Entry – Every business needs administrative help organizing their data and records. Virtual assistant services like transcription, customer research, data entry can earn over $15/hr.
- Music Lessons – Teach music lessons over Zoom or Skype in your spare time. Many parents have sought online instruction over the past few years.
- Tutoring – Help younger students with homework and test prep online for $20-50/hr. Sites like Wyzant and Chegg Tutors connect you with students.
- Flexible schedule
- Use existing skills and experience
- Higher hourly pay rates
- Build portfolio and client base
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- Inconsistent work and income
- Must actively acquire clients
- Can be time consuming
Recommended for: Students with specialized technical skills like programming, writing, design, and music abilities.
Building a Blog or Website
One of the most common online businesses for students is starting a blog or website. You can create sites on all types of topics you know and love – cooking, cars, videogames, fashion, fitness, photography, and endless more.
Monetize the site through ads, affiliate links, sponsored posts, digital products, and premium memberships. For example, a fitness site could sell customized workout plans. A gaming site could review equipment and link to online stores.
With free website builders like Wix and WordPress available today, you don’t need complex coding skills. Choose a domain name, find a template, and start publishing content.
- Low startup costs
- Work on your own schedule
- Combine your interests and studies
- Gain real skills and experience
- Significant time investment
- Delayed earnings until site gains traffic
- Maintaining consistent content calendar
Recommended for: All types of students. Specifically those interested in writing, digital marketing, or their blog’s niche.
Selling Digital Products
Creating digital products is a scalable business model that has relatively low startup costs. These are products delivered in digital format, often sold through your own website. Potential digital products include:
- Online courses and ebooks
- Video tutorials and workshops
- Templates, graphics, and resources
- Mobile apps and software plugins
- Digital stock images, graphics, and music
For example, an education major could sell an online course helping teachers develop lesson plans. A finance student could make a spreadsheet template for tracking investments. The opportunities are endless.
Digital products pros:
- High profit margins
- Deliver products digitally
- Serve customers 24/7
- Can provide passive income
- Make money while you sleep
Digital products cons:
- Need knowledge and expertise
- Requires consistent promotion
- Must create all materials
- Limited product selection
Recommended for: Tech-savvy students and subject matter experts. Focused self-starters who can create their own materials.
Flipping and Reselling Items
Flipping refers to buying items at low prices and reselling for higher values. While it takes product research and hunting for deals, many students resell clothes, shoes, electronics, textbooks, furniture, and more locally and online.
For example, find textbooks and college gear cheap over summer. Resell them when demand rises again before school. Or thrift vintage tees and flip them on sites like Depop. There’s always room to profit from price discrepancies.
- Low startup costs
- Can resell all types of products
- Profit from supply and demand gaps
- Learn negotiating and sourcing skills
- Requires ample storage space
- Must invest time into research
- Shipping and selling costs add up
- Finding profitable products is key
Recommended for: Savvy students good at finding deals and negotiating prices. Requires organization and operations skills.
Renting or Sharing Assets
Do you have assets and resources other students would find useful? Renting them out is an easy way to earn extra cash. Potential rentals include parking spaces, spare rooms, tools, books, kitchen appliances, clothes, event equipment, bicycles, and more.
List them on peer-to-peer rental platforms like Neighbor, Fat Lama, or local community boards. Take quality photos, outline rental terms, and start earning.
- Make money from existing assets
- Flexible based on your schedule
- Virtual platforms available
- Cash in on underutilized items
- Coordinating pickups/drop-offs
- Ensuring items are returned undamaged
- Slow accumulation of assets
- Limited scalability
Recommended for: All types of students. Easy way to monetize the items taking up space around you.
Investing and Trading
While riskier than other models, many students generate income through investing, trading stocks, cryptocurrencies, real estate, and other assets. Platforms like TD Ameritrade, E*Trade, and Robinhood offer free apps to get started.
Set aside a small amount of capital you can afford to lose. Spend ample time learning technical and fundamental analysis to find promising assets. With proper research, investing can provide great returns over time.
- Huge upside potential
- Can start with little capital
- Trade markets from anywhere
- Lots of free resources to learn
- Highly risky and volatile
- Requires immense research
- Luck and timing involved
- Stress of watching markets daily
Recommended for: Business and finance students willing to master investing. Requires tolerance for risk and financial education.
Get Started Quickly and Test Ideas
Hopefully the above business models have sparked some ideas for making money online as a student. With countless options, you may feel overwhelmed deciding on just one. The key is to start testing potential businesses today in a simple way to see what gains traction.
Rather than meticulously planning and mapping everything out for months, take action now to validate your ideas. Pursue the options that show the most promise and generate interest, sales, or traction with minimal time and money invested upfront.
Starting simple allows you to see what your target audience responds favorably to first. There’s no need to spend big building a complex business before testing demand. Some ways to get started today include:
- Build a simple website – Create a basic website for your business idea using a free platform like Wix or WordPress. Start creating content and see how visitors respond.
- Run social media accounts – Set up accounts on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and relevant platforms. Post consistently and promote your business idea. See if you gain followers.
- Launch an online store – Use a free store builder like Shopify to make a basic ecommerce storefront. Add some test products without ordering inventory to see if you generate interest and sales.
- Offer your services online – List your services for free on platforms like Fiverr and Craigslist to land your first clients. Focus on getting results for others vs. earnings initially.
- Start an affiliate site – Build a simple website around an affiliate product niche you enjoy. Promote affiliate products and monitor conversions.
The goal of this testing phase is to determine if people show interest before spending significant time and money launching the full business. Find an area ripe for monetization and start SERVING your audience, even in a small way, right off the bat.
Manage Your Online Business While in School
The greatest hurdle students face is balancing education with running a profitable business. It takes diligent time management and discipline to grow an online venture while still focusing on school. Here are some tips to succeed:
Set a Schedule
To ensure your business doesn’t suffer, dedicate specific blocks of time to work on it consistently. Commit to investing at least 5-10 hours a week. Schedule work sessions in your calendar app so they become a habit.
The best times are often in the mornings, between classes, afternoons on lighter school days, and Sundays. Get creative with pockets of time so progress happens daily.
Use Productivity Hacks
Implement productivity hacks that help you make the most of your time. The Pomodoro technique of 25-minute intense sessions with 5-minute breaks boosts focus. Browser add-ons like Momentum block distracting sites during work periods.
Apps like Forest grow virtual trees as you stay concentrated on tasks. Accountability partners and groups help motivate you to stick to schedules too. Find hacks that produce results and maintain diligence.
Running every aspect of your business yourself is draining. When possible, outsource tasks that don’t require your specific expertise. Virtual assistants can help with market research, data entry, customer service, and more for around $5-$20 per hour.
Web developers can be hired affordably on platforms like UpWork to build websites and products. Saving time outsourcing gives you more energy to focus on big picture growth.
Automating repetitive administrative tasks is crucial. Email marketing services like MailChimp allow you to draft emails once that get sent out on schedules later.
Social media scheduling apps will post content to platforms automatically. Payment systems like PayPal and Stripe can collect payments and send receipts without manual work.
Set up systems to run your business as hands-off as possible so it earns money on autopilot. This leaves you with abundant time and energy for schoolwork.
Scale and Grow Your Business
Once you’ve validated your business model and ironed out operations, the fun part comes – exponentially growing your reach, revenues, and profits over time. No longer confined to just making a few extra bucks for pizza, real potential exists to scale your side business into a career.
Here are proven tips to expand your audience and income:
Promote Your Business
Ramp up promotion through social media, search engine optimization, and paid ads. Content marketing attracts organic visitors from Google and social sites. Create YouTube demo videos and how-to tutorials that rank high in search results.
Pay a few dollars per day to run Facebook, Instagram and Google ads targeted to your perfect audience. Reinvesting profits into marketing quickly compounds growth.
Expand Your Products and Services
Diversify your offering by creating multiple products and services. An online course creator could add one-on-one consulting or done-for-you services. Ecommerce stores can add new products and brands.
Upsell customers additional products at checkout. Offer tiered premium membership plans for your brand’s biggest fans. New revenue streams add up fast.
Build a Team
Consider bringing on talented partners and employees as your company grows. Delegate tasks to virtual assistants so you’re focused purely on strategy and innovation.
Hire experts like developers, designers, and marketers to augment strengths you lack. While boosting costs, a strong team lets you scale faster than solo entrepreneurship can.
By relentlessly providing value and reinvesting into promotion, your business can expand well beyond small student side income. But don’t let it distract too much from killing it in school and having an amazing college experience.
FAQs About Making Money Online in College
How can I get started with just $100 or less?
With just $100 you have ample options. Try buying a domain name and basic hosting to build a simple website. Invest $25 in Facebook ads for a social media business page and see how followers respond. Buy a sample of used textbooks or local apparel to resell online. Split the rest between tools like freelance job board subscriptions, online course software, and digital assets.
How quickly can I make my first $1,000?
How fast you earn your first $1,000 depends heavily on the business model. Promoting affiliate links to a large existing social media audience could lead to sales on day one. Building a dropshipping store marketing from scratch may take months. With consistent effort expect most models to generate income within 3-6 months.
Can I work on my business in the dorms?
Absolutely! Many online businesses can be run right from your dorm. A few good rules are to use headphones, respect quiet hours, and try reserving library rooms for calls and meetings. Some students even collaborate and share ideas in dorm common areas.
How do I balance my course schedule with my business?
Track your assignments, tests and busiest class days in a planner. Schedule business work during lighter periods each week. Set reminders to switch between school and entrepreneur mode. when it’s time to focus on classes, put away your devices
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