5 Unique Jobs That Paid My Rent In College

The summer before my freshman year of college, my financial aid package was audited and cut in half. Yes, this happens. Institutions actually audit an average of 25% of their students at random each year. Since my parents had already chosen to downsize to their own tiny apartments, I was forced to get creative with how I found work so I could afford an apartment.

This process involved deciding how much my time was actually worth. Spoiler alert: my time turned out to be worth much more than minimum wage. Here are five of the unique jobs I took on during college, how I got them, how much they paid, and why you should give them a try, too!

1. Reffing/Officiating

If you were formerly an athlete in high school and don’t have the time or skill level to compete in college, why not consider becoming a referee? While at times I hated officiating (like when I would get screamed at by parents on the sidelines who didn’t even know the rules), it was honestly my saving grace in college. Not only is it a great workout, but it also usually allows for a flexible schedule in which you can block out dates and times taken up by classes or other commitments with no backlash from a supervisor. Sure, if you have to turn back a game, your game assignor might be a little upset with you, but typically leagues are so strapped for young, athletic officials that they will continue to give you assignments even after a minor scheduling transgression.

The real selling point for officiating, though is the money, which on average is $1/minute for various sports at various levels. Of course, each state and each sport differs in their pay scales, but the sports I officiated (lacrosse and field hockey) currently pay from about $55 to $95 for anything from youth leagues to high school Varsity games. If you get enough experience you can even transition to collegiate officiating, which can pay hundreds of dollars for just one game.

2. Clubs/Activities Boards

I had always had an interest in joining student government in high school, but never got the chance, so when I saw there were spots reserved for freshmen on my campus, I ran for a position and (luckily) won. Upon completing my first semester as a student senator, I received a check in the mail for a few hundred dollars. I had to go to three different campus offices to find out that it was for my participation in student government, since I was never told I would be paid for my time. I genuinely joined to help make a difference with no expectation of compensation, but then suddenly had way to pay a month or two of rent every year.

Not all student government associations will pay their senators, but if you can find an organization on campus that you believe in that will pay a small stipend, it is worth getting involved. Many campus activities boards also pay their members, but most students don’t even know they exist (I guess they just assume administrators plan all school events without student input?). I even have a friend that ended up landing a job as a tour manager for Counting Crows after working for our student activities board. He was responsible for all aspects of the school’s spring concert, from surveying students to setting up stage equipment to fulfilling artist riders on-site. The experience you can gain for your resume and the connections you can make are just some of the added benefits to getting involved in school activities. Which actually leads me to my next college job:

3. Information Desk Attendant/Student Union Manager

Honestly, this could literally be any job on campus not associated with work-study. I only say this because work study assignments typically have hourly limits per week and limited budgets, which leave you without raises. On-campus jobs which are not associated with work-study can typically pay more, allow you to work about 20 hours per week (depending on state law), and if you are going to a state school and are planning to try to get a state job in the future, they can set you up with a few years of tenure as a state employee. I got my job as an information desk attendant through someone I met at a student government meeting who also worked there. She sold the job to me as a great way to continue being involved on campus, but the perks were honestly endless.

Aside from making decent money (above minimum wage) and meeting a few future roommates at this job, it provided me the unique opportunity to learn more about my school. Financially speaking, the information I gained while working there was invaluable, because I was forced to communicate on a regular basis with offices that helped me when applying for my financial aid or registering for the right courses to graduate ahead of schedule. It also gave me a chance to bolster my resume with advancement to a managerial position. The best part, though, was that on slow days we were allowed to work on school assignments, which was a huge time saver for those of us with over packed schedules.

4. Bookstore Associate

Full Disclosure: I quit this job after two days. It is the only job I have ever quit, besides working at Dunkin Donuts (seriously, all my other jobs have had contracted time limits…maybe I have commitment issues). But my reasons for quitting were both juvenile and rational at the time. On the juvenile side of things, I had just started a new relationship and wanted to utilize my winter break to explore that rather than stack books. Sue me. On the more rational side, I had simply stretched myself too thin with other work, and in a caffeinated haze thought it would be prudent of me to take on yet another money-making endeavor to help fund a class trip to New Zealand (which I had already paid for). With that being said, I genuinely think working at a bookstore is a stellar way for any college student to make a little extra cash, and sometimes I wish I had stuck with it.

Most bookstores hire through a simple application process, but it may be easier to get in during the holiday season (as I did) and then work hard to show that you are a worthwhile employee to keep on, post-holiday craziness. You can probably expect to make about minimum wage at any bookstore (unless you are some sort of literary savant), but they can come with other non-monetary benefits. Bookstores are a typically relaxed work environment that remain relatively quiet throughout the day, so they are a great place to decompress after a busy school day. Bookstores are also dying out, so if you are a person who loves the feel or smell of a physical book or the atmosphere a bookstore provides that a library cannot, these may be some of your last few years to enjoy them. There is actually also one good monetary reason — if there is any possibility you can get a discount on your course textbooks, TAKE IT.

5. Internship

Yes, contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to get paid internships while still in college. In the final semester of my senior year, I was fortunate enough to secure a full-time internship position which paid me a full salary, but also allowed me to continue taking a final course I needed to graduate and still get full-time student status for financial aid. I was able to use a grant I received through financial aid that year, as well as my first month’s paycheck, to immediately put $5,000 straight into my school loans before graduating and accruing interest. I would highly recommend to everyone in college reading this to go out there and secure as many internships as you can before leaving college. This was the only one I did, and I regret not looking for more sooner.

If you do your homework and hunt for positions, it is possible to find an internship that also pays well. This is coming from someone who went to a no-name state school, didn’t have any previous internship experience, and didn’t have an inside connection at the company. Most schools have some sort of recruiting for internships set up through career services, so I recommend starting your search there. But most importantly, know your worth. If you think the work or time commitment deserves a wage, try asking for one even if it wasn’t offered. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and many companies do have it in their budget to pay interns. I made the equivalent of a $40,000/year salary at my internship, and probably could have gotten more if I had just asked.

Honorable mentions:

  • Teaching a skill you already have: I frequently teach swing dance lessons in my spare time for extra cash. If you play an instrument, or maybe are gifted in martial arts, these are great ways to make a little dough. You can also charge whatever rate you see fit that is also within market price range.
  • Online English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor: Tutors with credentials can typically make more than minimum wage and make their own hours. This one can even be done from bed!
  • Test preparation content writer: A great way to gain experience in your field of study while still in school is to write content for test prep companies in your subject area. Many companies will hire people with some specialty in certain areas to write remotely and assist you through the editing process. These projects can pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on your time commitment and skill level.

Shelby loves talking about money so much she got an economics degree just to do it more. She is an avid adventure-seeker who has traveled to South Korea, New Zealand, and beyond, and in her free time likes to swing dance and climb walls.

Image via Unsplash

  • Kira90

    Only #1 qualifies as “unique”