As a college student, the last thing I wanted was another responsibility on my plate. Getting a part-time job just felt like too much. I wanted to focus on my schoolwork, but of course, I needed to bring in some money.
That’s when I started looking for passive income ideas for students. I knew there had to be ways — I saw people making money working from home all of the time. Some of it had to be passive, right?
It turns out I was right. There are many easy ways for college students to earn money. Now, I won’t lie; you must do some upfront work for most of these ideas. You won’t just click a button and make money. But with a bit of perseverance and time, you can turn any of these income ideas into a passive income.
How to make passive income in college
I’ll say it again, it takes time (and sometimes money) to earn passive income, but don’t let that turn you off.
It’s the initial investment that helps you earn residual income that eventually turns into a decent passive income. One source of passive income is enough for some people; for others, they need multiple sources.
The sky is the limit. It just comes down to how much time and money you want to invest and how much risk you can take. As a college student, though, you have your life ahead of you, so there’s plenty of room for risk and higher potential rewards.
If you’re ready to realize your potential to earn passive income, check out the top passive income ideas for students below.
Passive income ideas with no upfront money investment
Let’s start with the ‘free’ passive income ideas for students. In other words, it doesn’t take money to make money in these situations. But, in exchange for an upfront monetary investment, you’ll need to invest your time. How much time varies by job opportunity.
1. Start a Blog
Starting a blog requires plenty of upfront work, and some may even say it’s not passive, but it depends on how you look at it.
Initially, yes, you will put in a lot of time. You have to build an audience that requires strategic posting and marketing your blog to get more readers. Social media and word-of-mouth are great ways to get more people to learn about your blog.
Once you have a decent-sized audience, you can monetize your blog or make money when your readers click on links you provide and buy the products or services. You don’t have to advertise for these companies directly. Instead, use the links naturally throughout your content, only advertising products that resonate with your niche, and you’ll earn a commission every time someone uses your links.
2. Start a Vlog
If writing isn’t your thing, that’s okay. Some people are better at talking, which makes vlogging a great passive income opportunity. Anyone can start a YouTube channel, but you’ll need a sizable audience to monetize your channel.
Like blogging, it takes a lot of effort to market your channel to get the viewership you need. Once you put in the hard work, though, you’ll keep your audience as long as you keep them entertained with new videos.
There are a couple of ways to earn money on videos. YouTube will place direct ads on your videos once you reach a sizable audience and have a decent average watch time. In the meantime, you can add affiliate links throughout your videos that go along with your niche/theme to earn small commissions from other companies too.
3. Start a Print on Demand Store
Print on Demand stores are like drop shippers. You don’t carry inventory — you only have a website. When your viewers see a product they like, they order it from you. The order automatically goes to your POD supplier that handles the entire order, from creating it to shipping it.
Your only job is to create the designs to put on mugs, t-shirts, hats, or other accessories. Once you have a marketing plan (this goes great with a blog), you can build up your audience and start earning passive income for college students.
I don’t know too many college students who don’t spend at least a little time on social media, but most spend A LOT of time on it. Use this to your advantage to make passive income as a college student.
A social media influencer is just someone with a lot of followers. Find a niche you love and can be ‘influential’ in and get a following. At first, it will require a lot of work. You’ll need to prove you know what you’re talking about.
Once you earn that audience, though, you’ll have companies paying you to advertise their products. Some companies may pay you for free products, and others will pay you quite well to advertise their products to your large audience.
5. Sell Courses
Just because you’re in college doesn’t mean you can’t make your own courses too. If you’re an expert at something, help others! When you sell a course, you only have to create it once and can sell it as many times as you want on sites like Udemy or Teachable.
People sell courses on all sorts of topics, from personal finances to photography or how to ace their finals. Think about what you love and do your research. Is there an audience that would want to learn from your expertise?
Don’t just do what others did — find a void and fill it. Even if it's something like collecting sports cards or how to play the piano — if you do a quick search on course platforms, you’ll see how many people pay to learn just about anything today.
6. Write an E-book
If you find yourself with the itch to write or you have some free time on your hands, consider writing an ebook. Just like a course, you can write on just about anything you think there is an audience who will read it.
Anyone can write an ebook and publish it using Amazon’s Self-Publish tools. Once you write the book, your work is done, and you collect royalties from the sales. Of course, you’ll increase your earnings if you market the book to sell more copies.
7. House Sit
This may not seem like a source of passive income for college students, but honestly, when you house sit, how active is it? First, you get a free place to live that isn’t your small college dorm. Second, you have the luxury of being in a home away from campus where you can relax and unwind.
Think of it like a vacation, one that you’re getting paid to take. You may have to water the plants, bring out the garbage, or collect the mail, but that’s about the extent of your ‘active’ work in this way to earn a passive income.
8. Rent Out Your Bike or Car
If your car or bike sits idle, why not make money on it? Cars are tough to come by on campus since most students come without their cars. You can rent your car out for a few hours or a day and make a truly passive income. Just make sure you and the renters have proper insurance coverage should something happen.
If you don’t have a car but have a bike, it could be in just as high of demand as a car. You won’t make as much money renting out your bike as you would a car, but even $10 a day adds up. If you rent your bike out several times a week, you could make $30 — $50 a week doing nothing but helping someone else get around town without using Uber.
9. Rent Your Books to Underclassmen
If you have school books, you’re done with, but you know others can use, consider renting them out rather than selling them back. When you sell your books back to the bookstore, you typically make pennies on the dollar. If you rent them out for the semester, though, you can make more money, plus you can do this repeatedly while you’re still in college. Most textbooks remain the same for at least a few years, allowing you to earn a passive income stream throughout your time at college.
10. Sell Photographs
If you’re a photography major or just love photography, you can take pictures and sell them on sites like iStockPhoto or Shutterstock. If you already have the equipment (a camera), all you need is to take the pictures.
Once you upload your pictures to a stock photo website or even Etsy, you can sell the photo as many times as people will buy it. You don’t need any inventory or special equipment since you’ll sell only digital copies, leaving the printing up to the buyers.
If you have special skills in a subject, chances are people will pay you to help them learn those skills. Whether you’re a math expert, you love writing, or you have a passion for a specific topic, you can offer tutoring services on campus.
If you live near a town with elementary, middle school, or high school kids, you can also offer tutoring services to local kids or offer your services online (on Zoom).
While tutoring isn’t 100% passive, once you get enough clients, you don’t have to advertise much, and tutoring sessions are typically only an hour-long (max), so you can make decent money in a short amount of time.
12. Sell Your Class Notes
If you’re like me, you love taking notes. Unfortunately, not everyone has that skill or loves it. Then there are the students who miss class and can’t make up the notes.
If you take notes that others will learn from and use, you can sell them. While it may feel a little like cheating, it’s a service that helps those who cannot take notes (not everyone is good at it) or those who missed class and need to catch up.
13. Answer Surveys for Money
One of the easiest passive income ideas for students is to answer surveys. You can do this anywhere, even sitting and waiting for your professor to start class. I used this method to let my extra income add up, and it was great!
Find the survey companies you want to use — I like Swagbucks and Inbox Dollars, but you can use any site you like. You answer questions about products and services, and you earn points that you can turn into dollars. The money won’t pay my mortgage, but it can add up to some ‘fun money.’
14. Create an App
If you’re a ‘techy’ student or you just love to play around with technology, consider creating an app. College students are great at this because they often know what ‘voids’ exist. You may find something that college students really need or come across as a way to help younger kids or older adults.
The sky is the limit, and if you have the knowledge to create the app, you can sit back and watch the money come in once you’re done and have published the app for the world to use.
15. Advertise With Your Car
If you don’t want to rent out your car, you can rent out space on your car to advertisers. If you have a clean and decent car, a good driving record, and you drive a decent number of miles a day (great for commuters), advertising companies will pay you to wrap your car with their advertisement.
Some companies pay per mile, and others pay a flat fee. Either way, you’re earning passive income because all you’re doing is renting out the exterior or your car, providing companies with advertising services as you drive around.
16. Sell Your Items Secondhand
The items you no longer want may be a treasure to someone else. Rather than tossing the items you don’t want or letting them collect dust in the corner, sell them secondhand. If there are second-hand stores in your area, consider selling to them. Some stores work on consignment, and others pay a flat fee upfront.
You can also sell your items on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Craigslist. This is a great way not only to bring in alternate sources of income, but it’s also good for the environment.
17. Play Video Games
What better way to pass your time in college than playing video games, right? Mistplay offers the opportunity to earn points for playing games. While they don’t pay you in cash — you can turn your points into gift cards to your favorite stores and platforms.
18. Walk Dogs
If you have a dog, why not turn your time walking your dog into a money-making opportunity? Sign up for a platform like Rover, and people in your area will hire you to walk their dogs. If you time it just right, you’ll get paid for doing what you usually do — walk your own dog.
Passive Income Ideas That Cost Money
Some passive income ideas for students cost money. You know the old saying ‘it takes money to make money, and in this case, it’s true. Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of money to start earning passive income, but a little will help.
19. Invest in a High-Yield Savings Accounts
We all know the savings accounts at your local bank pay peanuts in interest, but if you invest in online savings accounts, your money could grow a lot faster. Online savings accounts pay higher interest rates because they don’t have the overhead brick-and-mortar banks have.
If you meet the minimum deposit requirements for money market accounts, you’ll make even more interest on your savings. To make your money grow even more, make regular contributions to your savings account. Even if it’s $10 a week or even a month, the regular contributions will increase your balance and allow for more interest accrual.
20. Invest in Dividend Stocks
If you have a somewhat high-risk tolerance, consider investing in dividend stocks. Before you invest in just any stocks, make sure you do your research. Learn which stocks have the best earnings history and highest dividend payouts.
It’s best if you diversify your investments in several stocks within different industries, even if you only have a little money. If you regularly contribute to your brokerage account, increasing the amount of stock you own, you’ll increase your passive income.
Most companies pay out dividends quarterly, but you may find some that pay out monthly too.
21. Use a Cashback Credit Card
If you use a credit card regularly, consider using a cashback credit card to get rewarded for your spending. As long as you can use the credit card responsibly (not as an extension of your income), you can earn rewards and won’t lose those rewards in the high-interest rates credit cards charge.
If you choose a cashback credit card, do your research. Look for the card that offers the highest rewards in the categories you spend, such as grocery, restaurants, or airline tickets.
22. Use Shopping Reward Apps
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To earn cashback, you must shop through the app. You can still shop at your favorite stores but through the cashback to get credit for your purchases. Ibotta also works in-store, especially at grocery stores. You must activate the offers before you shop. After you shop, you must upload your receipt to get credit for your purchase, so a bit of work is involved, but shopping is something you would likely do anyway.
23. Invest in Peer-to-Peer Lending
If you have a little money to invest, consider investing it in peers with peer-to-peer lending. Rather than investing in a company, you invest in a person. It could be borrowers looking for a personal loan, mortgage funding, or to buy a car.
You can invest as little or as much as you want. Most platforms allow you to invest as little as $25 in a loan, and if you have more money, you can break up your investment into $25 increments, spreading out your risk. As an investor, you earn a prorated amount of the interest charged to the borrower when they make the payments, as well as a portion of your principal back each month. PeerStreet is a popular peer-to-peer lending platform.
24. Invest With a Robo-Advisor
If you want to automate your investments, sign up with a robo-advisor. Acorns is a popular option with college students because it automatically rounds your purchases up to the nearest dollar, investing the spare change.
You can also use a traditional robo-advisor like Betterment or Wealthfront. Most robo-advisors don’t have high minimum balance requirements. Once buying you answer some questions, you don't have to do anything. The robo-advisor manages your portfolio for you.
25. Create an E-Commerce Site
If you have room for inventory, set up an e-commerce site. Rather than drop shipping someone else’s items, you market and sell your own products, whether it’s something you create or something you buy from a wholesaler.
You’ll be in charge of marketing the site and handling the sales, so there’s more hands-on work required, but as you build a loyal base, you’ll have to do less marketing and less work and yet make a decent passive income.
26. Invest in Cryptocurrency
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Cryptocurrency is a speculative investment, but it’s wildly popular with college-age students. Virtual currency is an investment that can result in larger capital gains than traditional stock investments.
You’ll need a virtual wallet to buy your choice of cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin, Etherium, or Chainlink.
27. Invest in Real Estate
Even college students can invest in real estate. It’s not super passive since you’re the landlord and will be responsible for handling repairs or maintenance, but if you earn enough in rent, you can pay a management company to handle these tasks.
The easiest way to invest in real estate is through house hacking. You buy a multi-unit property and live in one unit. You rent out the other units but get primary residence pricing and requirements on your mortgage financing. You can use the rent to cover your mortgage payment and essentially live for free.
28. Flip Items
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If you have a knack for finding deals or ‘treasures,’ consider buying the items and flipping them, selling them for a higher price. People pay for services like this because they don’t have the time or skill to find the items they want. When you increase the price higher than what you paid for it, you’re doing it to cover your services.
29. Open Bank Accounts That Give Cash Bonuses
If you are in the market for a bank account, look for bank accounts that offer cash bonuses for signing up. Typically, you have to keep the account for six to 12 months to keep the bonus, making sure you read the fine print. You can do this every time your ‘required time’ is up, bringing in passive income just for putting your money in the bank.
30. Start a Business and Sell Franchises
If you have a great business idea, start it. Once you’re up and running and consider your business successful, sell the right to franchise your business. You’ll have more of ‘your businesses’ running out there without the requirement for you to run the companies. If you get big enough, you can let someone else run your original business while you sit back and enjoy the passive income.
These passive income ideas for students are a great launching point for earning money even while you’re in college. I know how hard it can be to balance it all, but adding these passive income sources to your life will bring in money without causing you more stress.
In the meantime, you can focus on your studies and realizing your dreams. The key is to balance your work, school, and personal life to have the most well-rounded experience during some of the best years of your life!