Extra Money in College: Think Strategically

You have limited time, little or no work experience, your weekend starts on Thursday night, and you spend more than one month’s salary on books. Chances are you’re a college student, and chances are, you’re looking to make extra money to get you through the semester. In this article, I’m foregoing the usual list of “tips for college students to make extra money”. There is already plenty of information out there. I’ll give some resources at the end, but my intention here is to give you a framework that will help you think strategically about how to make extra money in college.

Formulate a comprehensive plan. Be flexible and always keep the primary goal in mind: graduating and starting your career. Before we go into a plan, let’s look at the hourly breakdown of an average college week:

Make Extra Money in College - Time Available

With these general hours in mind, let’s create an example of a strategic plan for college and extra income:

Goal: Graduate from college, enabling a career. Make extra money along the way.

Freshman Year

Objective: 4.0 GPA. $1,600 earned each semester.

Plan: Find tactical jobs. Look for college-friendly retail jobs, internet jobs, delivery jobs, fix/repair/lawn care, etc. These will give you documentable experience and references, while allowing you to focus primarily on a new, rigorous collegiate schedule. Hopefully you’ll be able to overshoot your objective this year; however, it’s best to shoot for an income based on only a 15 hour work week at minimum wage.

Sophomore Year

Objective: 4.0 GPA. $2,000 earned each semester.

Plan: Now that you know the college routine, it’s time to think about adding hours to your tactical job(s). Also, start looking for strategic jobs, or those jobs that complement your studies. These jobs include work study programs, internships, and clerical positions. Chances are there will be a long line for these, so focus on getting your name and intentions out there.

Junior Year

Objective: 4.0 GPA. $2,000 earned each semester.

Plan: This year, it’s time to shed the tactical job(s). You need a strategic job. This job doesn’t have to fit exactly into your career, but should provide you with relevant skills and references for your future career job hunt. If the strategic job is lower in pay, pick up tactical jobs to make up the difference.

Senior Year

Objective: 4.0 GPA. $0-1,500 earned each semester.

Plan: Why is zero the starting point this year? Because this year is about doing whatever you can to build up your career skills. Consequently, an unpaid or lower-paying internship might be the compromise. Keep the goal in mind this year: graduate and move into a career. Opting for less extra income with a good strategic job is more important than tactical income this year.


If you choose to work for pay (if there is an excellent unpaid internship opportunity, don’t hesitate, take it) during your breaks, take a look at my article Seasonal Jobs: The Outlook is Good in 2010. You’ll find seasonal job ideas, as well as brainstorming ideas for entrepreneurs.

Of course, the entire strategic plan above is a simple one. In reality, your plan should be more intricate. Expand on objectives. Have back-up objectives. If you have the resources and ideas, think about an entrepreneurial endeavor during your college years. Learn to start thinking strategically now. It will help you plan your way through college; but more importantly, you’ll be way ahead of the pack when you start your career.

Notes and Resources:

Tactical Jobs – These jobs are either: a) traditional “retail” jobs, b) service industry jobs, or c) project-oriented jobs (once a task is complete, you get paid). The purpose of these jobs is to earn extra income while keeping college-friendly hours.

Note: do your research when looking for online tactical jobs and be smart. If you’re looking into an internet promotion-type job (surveys, writing, marketing, etc.), don’t invest too much time the first time around. It’s possible you might not get paid. And as always, if it’s too good to be true…

Tactical Job Resources

Summer Job Ideas For Teenagers and College Students, Buzzle.com, Snag a Job.comCraigslist.comStudentAffairs.com

Strategic Jobs

College Recruiter.comMonster.com (College)Federal Work Study Program