College kids wanting to make extra money can always drive for Uber or deliver food for DoorDash, Grubhub or similar apps. They can also bus tables, wait tables, work in commercial kitchens or provide childcare, of course.
But traditional jobs have become scarcer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are five less obvious ways college entrepreneurs are earning money, gaining experience and setting themselves up for impressive resumes.
5 Ways College Entrepreneurs are Paying the Bills
1. Sourdough Bread Business
Sarah Chappell and Julia Finfrock have sold 308 loaves of homemade sourdough bread since they started Early Risers Sourdough in October 2020. What started as a distraction borne out of the pandemic surge in sourdough popularity has become a thriving business for the two seniors and roommates at Vanderbilt University.
Chappell and her dad made a few loaves over the summer while she was home in Atlanta, then she and Finfrock worked on perfecting it.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” Finfrock said.
“We kept reading about it and changing things and eventually we perfected it,” said Chappell. “We kept trying different amounts of salt. And we had to get the temperature of the oven right. We had to get it brown enough without burning the outside but cook it through.”
Friends doubled as taste testers and declared the bread good enough to sell. So they came up with the name EarlyRisers, started an Instagram account and priced the bread at $7 a loaf.
“We really had to think about what people were willing to pay and consider how much time it took to make and the cost of our ingredients,” Finfrock said.
They used their savings to buy ingredients and a few pans, then landed a big order. A friend’s father ordered 50 loaves to give to his employees at a technology consulting business.
“We knew we had a guaranteed source of revenue coming in the next few days, so it forced us to use the money we had made so far and buy more supplies,” Finfrock said. They bought proofing baskets to help shape the dough and two more Dutch ovens. The baskets made the bread look and taste better, and boosted sales on campus.
As demand increased, Chappell and Finfrock compared their class schedules and came up with a set work schedule. They take orders throughout the week, but bake only on Monday and Wednesday, and weekends if needed. Customers pick up their own orders from a box outside their house.
The entrepreneurs recently added new flavors, such as chocolate chip, sundried tomato and basil, rosemary and garlic, that sell for $9 and $11.
2. Spray Tans
Vanderbilt University senior Hunter Skidmore’s spray tanning side business would probably never have happened without the pandemic.
She’d been working as a lifeguard at the university pool when it was shut down in August because of COVID-19. Then she remembered having met someone with a spray tanning business, who shared the secrets of the trade.
Skidmore ordered the $300 Aura Allure Spray Tan Machine that came with three trial sizes of different toned solutions. Each full-sized bottle of solution is $50. “Normally I can get about 35 to 40 tans out of one of those bottles,” she said.
So, with an average of 10 to 20 tans a week at $15 each, she’s making $150 to $300 weekly minus the cost of the solution. Skidmore created an Instagram for her business, JannyTans, and taught herself about spray tanning.
There is a learning curve. (Remember the mistakes Ross Geller made on “Friends” when they asked if he got his spray tan on the sun?)
“It definitely took a little bit of practice. I watched a lot of YouTube tutorials,” Skidmore said. “My roommates were kind enough to be the first guinea pigs. But they looked a lot better than I thought they were going to look.”
Her on-the-job learning has taught her a few things about running her tanning business. Skidmore uses baby wipes to clean up drips and wipe off the solution that sticks to polished nails. A towel is also a must, for clients to stand on while they are in the tent, which comes with the machine. A tan usually lasts about 10 days if clients don’t exfoliate too much.
3. App-Based Tutoring
Knack is an app that matches students and tutors within the same college. The tutors have taken the courses students need help in and proven they were successful. Tutors make an average of $15 an hour, and in most cases, that’s paid by the university.
“We hear tutors saying ‘I was able to pay my rent because of Knack’ and ‘this gave me the flexibility to earn extra money because I have a kid at home or I have another full-time job,’ said Samyr Qureshi, Knack CEO and co-founder. “We’ve also heard students say they wouldn’t have walked across the stage to graduate without their tutor.”
Along with making money while in college, a key part of Knack is the connections it offers for tutors and employers. Businesses that sponsor and supplement the cost of tutoring review tutors for job opportunities. On campuses where there are sponsorships or the university pays for the tutoring (so that it’s free to students), tutors’ rates are set and average $15 an hour. Because Knack has been paid by the university or a sponsor, tutors collect their payment in full. In cases when tutors set their own rate, Knack collects a fee of 2.9 percent plus .30 per transaction.
Though Knack is based on one-on-one help, tutors may lead small group sessions. In these cases, their rate goes up 50% for two students, 80% for three and 100% for four. For example, if a tutor makes $20 an hour for one student, they make $30 an hour for two, $36 an hour for three and $40 an hour for four.
4. Upcycling and Re-Selling Clothes
Ella Trout, a student at the University of Vermont, makes $700 to $1,500 a month selling pants and sleeveless tops she sews out of fabric from thrift store clothing. The 20-year-old college entrepreneur started her business, PuppyCatCo, selling T-shirts she screen-printed with her original designs of dogs and cats a couple years earlier.
Then the quarantine and a realization about textile waste changed her business model.
“I started sewing just for fun during the quarantine because I had so much more time on my hands,” Trout said. “Around that time, it dawned on me that I was not being very environmentally conscious with the T-shirts I was importing for screen printing.” She bought T-shirts made overseas in bulk for $2.99 each and sold them for $20 and up after screen-printing them by hand.
“I got into all of these YouTube videos of people upcycling their clothing during quarantine. It made me think I should start making my products out of thrift store clothes instead of adding more new clothing. It would actually save me money (on supplies) and be better for the environment,” she said.
An estimated 11 million tons of textiles ending up in landfills each year, plenty of it from unsold thrift store clothing.
At first, Trout bought dresses, shirts and pants then upcycled them by adding patches she designed or drawing original art on the clothes. They sold well on her Instagram, puppycatco, but it was hard to predict costs and the time it would take to create since each product was a new endeavor.
So she started buying clothes made of fabric with interesting designs that she could cut and use as “raw” fabric. She used a pattern for a sleeveless shirt with four different pieces that could be cut from various clothing articles she bought. Now she could buy something that was priced really low because maybe it had a stain, or wasn’t stylish, yet it still supplied fabric for individual pieces of the shirts.
“It’s definitely more reliable to be able to produce more of the same design,” Trout explained. “Every product will be unique because it’s made from different material, but the pattern remains the same.”
The uniform design allows for more mass production because she has focused work sessions for cutting and others for sewing.
“I sit down and cut all the pieces and put them in a stack. Then if I get two shirts sewn per day it doesn’t end up being a ton of work at once,” she said.
At first, she charged $30 each for the shirts, but they sold out in minutes. She raised the price to $45 and they sell well.
Trout has sewn since she was a child.
“My grandmother taught me how to sew on my Barbie sewing machine probably when I was 7,” Trout recalled. “Then in eighth grade I nannied for a family in return for sewing lessons from the mom.”
5. Moving, 3 Ways
College Truckers is a six-year-old venture that offers income to college students three different ways. The company is more than a moving company.
It gives students boxes, then they pack up the contents of their dorm rooms or apartments when they are moving. College Truckers employees take the boxes to a storage unit near campus for up to three months. When the next term starts, the boxes are delivered to wherever the student is living. Pricing is based on the number and size of boxes and starts at a minimum of $225 for about 60 cubic feet of packing and storage space.
College Truckers pays students as movers as well as marketers and franchise operators. Its website says student entrepreneurs launching a College Truckers business at their campus can make $5,000 to $20,000 a year. Movers are paid a “competitive” hourly fee plus tips, according to the website.
The company’s “Lift and Tell” program encourages “outgoing students interested in marketing” to spread the word about the moving services available year-round by handing out flyers or posting on social media. These marketers make $25 per referral, capped at $2,000.
College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving also hires college students as well as other people who can lift 50 pounds. According to Indeed.com, the pay ranges from $10.63 per hour for a manager on duty to $17.73 per hour for a higher-level consultant.
Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance reporter and editor in St. Petersburg, Fla., and author of Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps and Lessons Learned.