Earn Fast Cash in College with a Side Hustle

With tuition costs on the rise, it’s no surprise that many college students call themselves broke. Sure, there are ways to hold down jobs in college—work-study is an option, and an off-campus job is another—but sometimes you’re looking to earn fast cash on the side. That’s when it’s time to pick up a side hustle.

Side hustles are ways to earn fast cash without losing focus on the responsibilities associated with your full-time studies or day job. There’s a common misconception that side hustles are illegal ways to make money, but how wrong that is! As long as you don’t do it full-time, any gig counts as a side hustle, even one as innocent as babysitting your cousin, so you have plenty of honest choices. And once you’ve picked the side hustle that works for you, all you have to do to stay within legal bounds is file annual taxes on that income with the IRS.*

So, if all that sounds good, if you’re on board to earn some fast cash in college, look no further than these 10 side hustles you can start today:

Walking dogs, like Owen Wilson does in Marley and Me, can bring in a lot of cash as a side hustle.

Marley and Me / Giphy

  • Walk dogs. Just imagine the number of nine-to-five workers who worry about leaving Fido at home all day with no bathroom break. That’s where you come in. To get started, check out Rover. You can create a profile, provide references, and list your rates. Charge by the length of the walk and the number of dogs per household. Taking one dog out on a 20-minute walk could earn you $5–15. Some clients may only want you to let their dog out into the backyard for a few minutes. Adjust your rates on a case-by-case basis. And don’t forget to network with the neighbors you meet when you’re out on your lunch-time hustle. Maybe Fido’s friend Spot from across the street wants to join the walk, and just like that your earnings will double.
  • Housesit. I’ve housesat a time or two in my day. Neighbors go out of town, and suddenly, their fur babies need full-time, cage-free care and their mailboxes and gardens need attention. DogVacay is a good place to find housesitting clients, but you might need a recommendation or two before you score gigs. Think of it this way: most people want to trust the person they invite to stay in their homes, and they aren’t so keen on strangers. So, how do you get those first recommendations to prove you’re trustworthy? Look for gigs with neighbors, family members, professors who leave for conferences, and yes, dog walking clients. If Fido loves his daily walks with you, his owners are more likely to trust you to keep him happy while they’re in Europe. Depending on the number of pets, the size of the garden, and the length of the gig, you can make an easy $25–40 a day.
  • Babysit. If you babysat in high school, why stop now? Depending on location and the age of the child who needs care, babysitters earn upwards of $10–15 an hour (and more for each additional child). Consider making a profile on a website like Care.com, which will match you with nearby families in need of sitters and nannies. You’ll be especially in-demand if you’ve completed CPR or babysitter training courses. Find a training online or near you through the Red Cross.
  • Thelma and Louise take a selfie with a Polaroid camera.

    Thelma and Louise / Giphy

    Sell your photographs. Companies always need stock images to use in their marketing strategies, and Foap is one place they find them. Anyone can upload images. If a company buys one of yours, you’ll earn an instant $5. You might also have success with photo contests. Photographer’s Forum offers a photo contest for college students, and there are plenty of other paid contests to be investigated on Google.
  • Tutor. Use your campus connections to reach out to other students who may be struggling academically. If you don’t want to apply for a job or work-study with the writing center at your school, advertise your services on campus bulletin boards or let your professors know that you’d be interested in helping underclassmen in the 101 class. You can even look to tutor middle and high schoolers since you recently studied the material that they’re learning now (and you definitely have useful tips for the SAT and ACT). Promote yourself by contacting teachers at the nearby school or by creating a profile on a website like University Tutor. These jobs can earn $10–50 an hour depending on the subject and your qualifications.
  • Take a shift at a music festival. Music festivals are popular with college students who love to see new bands, camp, and hang out with friends. Big ones like Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Lollapalooza need volunteers and event staff to set up, sell food, and direct parking. They usually offer free admission to the festival. Some positions, especially those in food service, will pay an hourly wage on top of the concert admission. Take a short shift (usually four hours), then relax and enjoy the music.
  • Complete surveys. Make money easily, from anywhere, whenever you want, by filling out online market research surveys. Surveys may only require a couple of minutes and pay less than a dollar each, but that money will add up. Some companies, like iPoll, will pay you in gift cards and airline miles, while others, like Surveys on the Go, will pay you in cash. Give them both a try and see which works best for you.
  • Self-publishing a book can help you earn fast cash in college, if you have as many ideas as Leslie Knope saying: "I have so many ideas."

    Parks and Rec / Giphy

    Self-publish a book. E-books are predicted to outsell books in print by 2018. Websites like Amazon, PubIt!, Smashwords, and iBookstore offer instant, accessible bookstores for readers and instant, accessible publishing platforms for writers. Writer’s Digest offers tips about pricing points for e-books on various platforms. If you think you’ve written the next great American novel, publish it online and watch the royalties come your way.

  • Sell your plasma. It sounds like a joke, but there are college students who make between $20–50 per plasma donation (the money you earn is based on how much plasma is harvested). At some centers, you can donate up to twice every seven days. Only you (and maybe your doctor) can decide if plasma donation is right for your situation, but the general guidelines are that you must be between 18–69 years of age and weigh more than 110 pounds. A quick Google search will tell you which plasma donation centers serve your area and which ones pay.
  • Freelance. Many people work side hustles just to make extra money in their free time, but some people are expressly interested in turning their side hustles into careers. For the time being, they keep day jobs until their true passions turn profitable. Those passions range from art to graphic design, fashion to screen printing, copywriting to building apps. If you’d like to work for yourself some day, there’s no harm in starting small now. Perhaps you could design posters for on-campus plays, sell articles to your local newspaper, or design websites for small businesses during your free time. Freelancer.com is one of many websites that can connect you with paid projects.

And there you have it! Get on your grind with the side hustle of your choice. As long as it remains something you do on the side, you can earn fast cash in college without losing focus on your schoolwork.

*A note on paying taxes: There is no such thing as legal under-the-table work. If you make more than $400 a year from one or more side hustles, you are required to pay taxes on your income to the IRS. You will be taxed between 20–30% of your total earnings depending on your income, so be sure to put that percentage away during the year. If your side hustle is going to last for more than a year, you also need to sign up to pay quarterly taxes. Find out more here.

About Gwen Elise

Gwen is an avid traveler who feels most at home in Kentucky and Argentina. Her closet is full of dark dresses, and her walls are papered in colorful maps. She likes to make puns, read, write, and translate to and from Spanish, and she misses Vassar College, her alma mater, which helped her get better at all of those things.

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