Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How did you earn money while in school?

Adaptu asks, "How did you earn money while in school?"

Rather than answer in their thread, I decided to post it here - because it turned into something way longer than a comment!

My parents made me a deal for college: if I went to their church-sponsored school, they would pay for all tuition, room & board, and I would be on my own for personal expenses and books. If I went anywhere else, I was 100% on my own (at age 18! And I didn't qualify for any financial aid!). This was before there were any online college courses available out there, and I didn't like the school, but it was a good deal to know that I'd graduate debt-free, so I took it.

The first year I was there, I earned money by working as a janitor in my dorm. It was not actually a bad job - I wasn't cleaning bathrooms - but the hours were terrible. I could only get about five hours per week at minimum wage (then about $5), which didn't give me much in the way of pocket money. The second semester, I worked at a cafe on campus which gave me around 15 hours a week, and I was actually able to start saving some money. That summer, while living at home, I worked at Taco Bell.

My second year, a friend got me and another girl a job at McDonalds off campus - and provided transportation there and back, since we didn't have our own cars. We pitched in for gas money for her trouble, and the three of us closed McDonalds five nights a week for most of the year. Sometime in the middle of the year I had to quit because we got in a fight about something, and she wouldn't drive me to work anymore. (I don't remember any of the specifics, but it must not have been a huge deal because two years later we wound up being roommates. I remember being PISSED about having to quit though!) During the summer, I moved back home and worked at Taco Bell again. I also got a job at a local radio station as an on-air DJ, a job that two of my siblings followed me into.

My third year, I had a car, so I got my own job off campus, working at a clothing store in the mall. Despite making the most I'd ever made in my life, I was now spending the majority of it on clothes with my employee discount. I started writing a column for the weekly school newspaper, which paid a little bit. I also worked a few afternoons a week as a grader in the communications department. That summer, I stayed in my college town and worked as a personal assistant for one of the professors in the business department. This was my first experience with a 9-5 "real" office job and I was partly bored out of my mind and partly thrilled.

My fourth year, I was the editor-in-chief of the university newspaper, which paid enough that I didn't have to get another job - not that I had the time. I was in the newspaper office from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. whenever I wasn't in class, I ate all my meals there, and I probably earned less than a dollar an hour. Because I'd changed majors, I knew that I had one more semester to go so I was able to take a very light class load. That summer I moved home and worked at McDonalds and the radio station again, while also taking summer classes at a local community college.

When school started in the fall (my fourth-and-a-half year), I took only the required classes I had left and worked nearly full-time at a fancy womens' clothing store where I used my employee discount to buy business suits for my upcoming job. (I ended up losing nearly all of those suits, first when my belongings were stolen on the move up to New York, and second when I realized that a) no one wears suits outside of lawyers and investment bankers and b) the store's image was WAY too old for me - I should've been shopping at Express.)

It was during my college years that I also got into some of my more interesting job opportunities: mystery shopping, guerrilla marketing, and security. A friend of my boyfriend got us jobs as security guards at some arenas in a nearby city, so we would do that on weekends - mainly concerts, football games, things like that. I'm not big or intimidating, so my job was mainly directing people to the bathrooms or the lost-and-found, but I got to meet some interesting people and see some interesting shows that way, and the pay was better than anything else I was qualified to do.

I didn't make all that much money in college, and I spent a lot of it really frivolously (one of my only life regrets is the way I spent the money I made in college). But I had some neat opportunities and I always, always had at least one job, supported myself per the agreement with my parents, and graduated from college with no debt. And that's what I'd recommend to today's college kids: get a job, any job. Earning your own money is SO freeing, so empowering. If at all possible, do something to earn some money to provide for your basic needs and use loans only for educational expenses, not living expenses.

How did you earn money while in school?


  1. I worked part-time at a company that did work in my field. It paid well compared to most college jobs and gave my resume a big boost in work experience that was useful when I graduated. I also spent more than I wish I had of my college earnings, but I graduated with a nest egg so I can't say I was irresponsible.

    I would have never thought to be a security guard! It sounds interesting.

  2. I worked on campus 3 of the 4 years, the first year as an office assistant for the student activities office, the second year as a research assistant at a place that did research I was interested in, then the 3rd year I basically nannied a baby- his parents were law students at my school. That was a GREAT gig. Then my fourth year I had another research job.
    For the summers after my first and second year of college, I lived at home and worked as a concierge at a hotel, and then the summer after my third year I started the research job which I held until the end of the next summer, when I moved to grad school.

    In grad school, I really didn't have time for a "real" part time job, but I did a bit of tutoring for some extra spending money. I was super lucky to have had a fellowship for grad school which was not only 100% of tuition but also a really reasonable stipend each month (and healthcare).

  3. I was a recruiter for the Peace Corps! (Despite never having served in the Peace Corps) It was a great college job ... I had my own private office, my own work computer, I went to career fairs, made presentations in front of classes, and networked with various job-seeking services. All before I was old enough to drink! To this day, it's still one of the most "professional" jobs I've had (I've been self-employed for most of my post-college adult life)

  4. I had a variety of jobs. Applebees abercrombie, Olive Garden, work study in the study abroad office... As I got older, they got closer to my area of study, and after amy junior/senior years I didn't really work unless it was related. I was a teaching assistant for a lab class, got paid to do research for a professor, and then eventually got an internship/co-op in my field. I think it paid about $12/hr, which was a lot compared to anything else. I worked there two summers and one semester (and took an extra year to graduate because of that semester and a semester abroad).

    I didn't save much, and I didn't spend much either.

  5. Haha, I've done event security too, and what an unintimidating figure I cut! I also did mystery shopping, tutoring, adminm cafe and event hospitality, before getting an editorial/admin job in my field which carried me all through my degree.


Thanks for commenting!