A little extra income is always helpful

Earning Money While in College

by Becky Falto


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Paying for college can be challenging for many students and families. Scholarships, grants and loans help, but sometimes they're not enough. If your son or daughter is going to college this fall and will need a job to help cover expenses, here are some tips for identifying the best job prospects for students.

More On-Campus Opportunities Than You Might Realize

Many jobs that are ideal for students are available right on-campus. One effective option is working for the college's housing department as a Resident Assistant. (Note: Some colleges refer to this job by different titles such as "Community Advisor" or "House Fellow," but here we'll refer to it by its most widely-used acronym of "RA.")

At most institutions, RAs are not billed for housing and meal plan costs. Some institutions even pay RAs a stipend as well.

"The RA position is a good way to earn funds," confirms Trina Ballantyne, Dean of Residence Life at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Working as an RA is also a good way for students to develop leadership skills. An RA's job overseeing a group of residents is multi-faced and includes planning campus events, mediating roommate conflicts, enforcing housing rules, and checking facilities for needed repairs. Because an RA handles such a wide range of responsibilities and receives specialized training, it's also a job that looks good on students' resumes, regardless of the profession they plan to pursue.

There are also opportunities available on-campus that can directly relate to a student's intended career path, making them a great combination of income and hands-on learning. "Consider on-campus employment relevant to your field," says Heather Krasna, Director of Career Services at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York. "IT students should work in the computer center and accounting students work in the accounting department, etc.," she recommends.

Students should speak to the departments that are a match for their goals and interests to see what positions might be available. They should also speak to their professors and advisors for leads on relevant campus openings. Consulting the career services office is also a good idea, as is talking to a financial aid representative, since many of these opportunities are work-study positions administered through a college's financial aid office.

If your child finds a work-study job but is still having a tough time meeting expenses, it's worth contacting the financial aid office again. "Students sometimes don't realize they can always ask for more work-study funds," advises Dean Ballantyne at Stevens.  

Making Connections Off-Campus

There are numerous off-campus opportunities as well.

"Students can also earn funds by offering child care, tutoring and support services to the local community," says Dean Ballantyne. The compensation for these opportunities can be very good, too.

"In certain cities, childcare can pay pretty well," says Heather Krasna at Columbia. A good resource for finding babysitting jobs is Care.com.

Other good local options include dog-walking or running errands for others through short-term personal assistant arrangements, both of which can be convenient for a student's busy schedule. These opportunities can be found on sites such as Craigslist.org or TaskRabbit.com.

It also pays for students to think outside the box, says Rena Varghese, an attorney and Associate Director of Career Development at St. John's University School of Law in Queens, New York. "Students today have access to technology that wasn't an option for previous generations," she says, adding that she's known students who have designed and sold smartphone apps and conducted tutoring sessions online to bring in extra money.

Dean Ballantyne of Stevens has seen students on her campus utilize technology for part-time work as well. "I know students who completed surveys, did graphic design for businesses, did web design and more," she says.

Heather Krasna at Columbia agrees. "I find that students who have a specific technical skill are sometimes able to freelance as web designers," she says.

Reducing Expenses

Students can earn money while also reducing or even eliminating high-cost expenses like housing by seeking creative work arrangements. Dean Ballantyne says she has known students who lived with local families to provide senior care or to serve as a nanny.

Ultimately, students interested in working while in college should identify their interests and skills and look for opportunities in those areas, but if they're not readily available, proactively creating them can also have long-term benefits by demonstrating their abilities to be innovative, take initiative, and handle various tasks ranging from marketing to budgeting. As Rena Varghese at St. John's School of Law confirms, "Students who are entrepreneurial not only earn income they need now, but are much more competitive candidates for full-time jobs once they graduate!"

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