Looking for passive income for college students?
Living on a student budget can get tough. Most college students don’t have the time to take on a full-time job to support themselves — but have you considered ways to earn a passive income?
When you’re earning income passively, you don’t have to worry so much about scrimping and saving. Plus, you’ll still have the time to focus on your studies and social life.
There are tons of ways to start earning passive income. Some of them are a little more difficult than others, and some require a big investment at the beginning — but for college students, there are plenty of simple, affordable options out there.
Sounds pretty cool, right?
The rest of this article will tell you all about passive income: what it means, where it comes from, and how it can help you. Then, check out 10 of the best, simple ways to earn passive income for college students.
Table of Contents
What is Passive Income?
You’ve probably heard the term ‘passive income’ before, especially if you follow a lot of finance blogs and publications.
On the surface, it’s a pretty simple concept: passive income is income that you are not actively working to make.
And no, that doesn’t mean free money. There is work involved in earning passive income — but the idea is that you don’t have to continuously work to keep earning. Once you get the ball rolling, you can continue to earn over time. Even in your sleep!
In other words, passive income is a little like gardening: you plant the seeds, water and maintain them, then sit back and watch your income grow.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
The main benefit of earning passive income is that it frees up your time. That’s why it’s such a great solution for students, digital nomads, parents, or anyone else who can’t commit to a full-time job.
The main drawback is that it’s not always predictable. Unlike having a full-time job, passive income doesn’t always pay out the same amount month after month.
That said, this totally isn’t an either/or situation. Plenty of people have full-time or part-time jobs, and take on passive income gigs as a side-hustle. In fact, the most financially successful people will plant those passive income seeds early on in their careers, so their income can keep growing while they work and save.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This article is all about how to earn passive income for college students, to help you support yourself while you’re going to school.
Common sources of passive income
So, what does passive income look like in practice?
A lot of the time, a source of passive income is a major investment. Real estate is the perfect example.
Someone who owns a rental property is continuously earning passive income from their tenants. They have to put a little work in to maintain their property, but it’s definitely not the same time commitment as a nine-to-five job.
Stocks are another good example. Say you invest $1,000 in the stock market. Over time, that money can appreciate in value. That means you’re earning income — without any real effort.
A savings account or 401k retirement account will appreciate in the same way (just not quite as fast).
Of course, both of those examples require pretty significant investments to get started. So how can someone on a smaller budget (like a college student) start earning passive income?
You just have to get creative. Everyone has a set of resources available to them — it might be something you own, a profitable skill, a creative niche, or an opportunity in your community. If you think you can profit off it, take advantage of it!
The list below will get into some more specific ideas for college students to earn passive income.
How college students can benefit from earning passive income
Before we get to the ways to earn passive income, let’s cover one last thing: why should you care?
It’s true that earning passive income on a budget won’t support you the same way a full-time job would. But it’s still worth it to try to earn some money and keep yourself afloat.
Having some extra spending money is never a bad thing. It means you can go out and enjoy yourself more often, plus you can set some aside for the future (believe it or not, it’s never too early to start saving for retirement).
But most importantly, it can help you to avoid taking on debt for the things you need.
Did you know that the average college student today owes about $29,000 in debt by the time they graduate? That debt hanging over your head can have a serious impact later on in life.
There’s no shame in having student loan debt when you graduate — most students do. As long as you start making payments early and stick with them, you’ll have no problem paying off those loans and saving for the future. Earning passive income while you’re still studying can help with that!
Your passive income can go toward student loan payments, and support your day-to-day spending so you don’t need to take on more debt through credit cards or other loans.
And on top of all that, remember: it’s passive. None of these ideas require the commitment of a job. You can earn money while continuing to focus on the things that really matter to you.
So why not give it a shot?
10 Best ways to earn passive income for college students
With all that in mind, here are 10 super easy ways to start earning passive income as a college student.
Some of these ideas require certain resources (like a car) and others involve small investments. But they’re all really simple, cheap (or free) and will start you on the path toward generating passive income without lifting a finger.
Ready to get started? Just read on.
1. Affiliate marketing
Let’s start with a free, easy option for anyone with a blog or social media account. If you’re not afraid of putting yourself and your talents out there, affiliate marketing is the ideal money-making opportunity for you.
Affiliate marketing is a way for companies to promote their products through other platforms. If you have a platform that reaches a lot of people (that could be a podcast, a blog, a Youtube channel, a successful Instagram account — whatever) you can apply to become an affiliate for relevant products.
How’s it work?
Generally, you choose a product from an affiliate network (Amazon is one of the most popular examples), and get a unique link to that product that you can put on your blog or account. Whenever someone buys the product through that link, you get a commission.
It’s that simple!
Once your link is created, you can start earning every time you put out new content — yes, that means even earning money in your sleep.
The trick is, you have to make sure that your affiliate link is going to be seen by a lot of people. Specifically, it should be seen by a lot of people who are interested in that product. The most successful affiliate marketers advertise products that are relevant to their account or platform.
That’s why it can really help to specialize. Before you get started with affiliate marketing, you should focus on creating influential content for a specific niche.
Here are a couple of platforms you can use to start gaining followers who will be interested in your affiliate products.
Blogging is one of the most common platforms affiliate marketers use.
Blogs are great for marketing because they are generally focused on a lifestyle niche, like fitness, travel, or parenting. That means the people who visit the blog are already on the lookout for advice or inspiration. If they see a product that can help them out, they’re probably going to be interested!
That said, the tricky part about affiliate marketing through a blog is that a lot of people are already doing it. It can be hard to get a lot of traffic on your blog, especially if there are thousands of other blogs out there on the same topic.
Travel blogs, for example, are everywhere. Just run a quick search of “travel tips” or “best European destinations” and you’ll find endless pages of blog posts, most of them with links to affiliate products.
So, how can you make sure your blog gets attention?
Start by making it unique.
Find a niche that you have the expertise to fill, and make it as specific as possible (not just travel, but travel in Southeast Asia, or travel with kids). Pick something you feel like you are qualified to talk about. Make it unique to you and your experiences.
Next, put in the work. The more you post, the more traffic your blog is going to get. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself on your social media account, or ask your friends to spread the word.
You might want to consider taking a free blogging course to learn how to really boost your blog and gain more followers.
Once you have a big enough audience, you can start profiting off your blog with affiliate marketing!
A Youtube channel
Did you know the highest-paid Youtube stars can make up to $20 million in a year?
That’s an insane amount of money for producing videos from home. Of course, the biggest stars earn money through a lot of different sources, including tours and paid advertisements — but most of them got their start with affiliate marketing.
Similar to starting a blog, if you’re interested in building up a profitable Youtube channel, you should start by picking a niche. The most popular Youtubers focus on beauty, gaming, product reviews, and humor.
If you think you have something people will want to watch, why not give it a shot? The more people see your videos and click your affiliate links, the more you earn.
An influencer account
Affiliate marketing can be done through your normal social media account, too. Influencers on Tiktok and Instagram who reach a lot of people can make a pretty significant profit through affiliate links.
The cool thing about affiliate marketing through social media is that it comes naturally for a lot of people. Some of you might have a popular account already, where you share your amazing travel photos, health tips, and day-to-day happenings. Or, you might use social media to showcase your artwork or music.
Whatever you portray on social media, if you reach a wide enough audience, you can make plenty of passive money through affiliate marketing.
One small piece of advice for getting started: be honest with your audience about your marketing links. People are more likely to embrace affiliate marketing from an influencer if you’re open about the fact that you are trying to sell a product and make a little money.
These days, podcasts get as much attention as blogs and Youtube videos. They might be even more popular.
Affiliate marketing through a podcast can be fun, because you don’t necessarily have to fit the product into your content. You can advertise it in breaks between your episodes.
This is also a great option if you’re interested in starting a project with some friends. Having a co-host or two will make it easier to research the content you’re talking about, and present it in an entertaining way.
To start a podcast, you should invest in the right recording equipment (it doesn’t have to be expensive, just a decent microphone for podcasting that will record at a higher quality than your phone or laptop), pick a niche topic, and collect some creditable information — as a college student, the research part should come easy!
You’ll definitely want to download a software program for recording and editing. Garageband is a great free option, or check out Adobe Audition for a little over $20 a month.
Finally, have fun with it! Your podcast can be a great hobby, as well as a great way to make passive income over time.
2. Rent out your car
A lot of students bring their cars to campus, then don’t end up using them much. Sound like you?
Instead of just letting your car collect dust in its parking space, why not rent it out? There are plenty of apps that you can use to rent your car to someone who needs it. So while you’re in class, out at night, or sleeping, you can make money.
And you don’t have to worry about your car staying safe. Renters are carefully screened through the rental apps, and they need to have personal insurance to apply.
Depending on how often your car is available, you can make well over $500 a month renting it out. Just make sure to keep it clean and drivable at all times.
The benefits of renting your car
The obvious downside to renting out your car to make passive income is that you won’t have it available to you all the time.
But is that really a downside?
Maybe not so much. Actually, ditching the car for biking or walking is one of the best habits to help you save money, especially while in college.
Not only will you save on gas money, but walking or biking can help you to stay fit — no worries if you can’t avoid that gym membership!
A daily walk is also one of the best ways to boost your creativity and improve your mood. It gives you time to reflect on your day, make plans, and relax during those stressful exam weeks. (It’s also a great time to ponder your next money-making opportunity).
All in all, letting someone else take your car off your hands can be good for your health, your wallet, and your happiness. It’s basically a win-win-win, right?
3. Sell your textbooks
As a college student, what’s your biggest regular cost?
Tuition and rent definitely take up a lot of your budget — but what about your textbooks? The average student can spend around $450 on text books for just one semester.
Once you’ve passed those classes, why are you still hanging on to those old books? Why not sell them online, and turn a profit?
By selling your used textbooks on Craigslist or another online platform, you can get back a sizeable chunk of what you paid for them, without having to put in any real effort.
Just make sure you’re taking good care of the books while you use them — don’t dent the covers or write on the pages. The better condition they’re in, the more you can charge for them.
Renting out your textbooks
Selling your textbooks for a one-time profit isn’t your only option. You can also consider renting them out, semester after semester.
You can advertise your rental textbooks on the same platforms as you would sell. Charge a slightly lower fee for the semester, then have your renters return the books. That way, you can continue to profit off them each semester.
To make sure that you get your books back in good condition, charge your renters a small percentage of the total fee as a deposit. That ensures that they’ll take care of the book and remember to return it to you when they’re done.
4. Sell stock photos
Are you a passionate photographer?
You don’t actually need to be a professional to make passive income off your photos. As long as you have a high-quality camera and an eye for great shots, you can make a profit by selling your work online as stock photos.
Here’s how it works: once you have a photography portfolio you’re proud of, go online and join a stock photo website. Some of the most popular include Alamy, Adobe Stock, and iStock Photo. Getty Images is also very popular, but much more selective; tough to join as a beginner.
Different sites will have different entry requirements. Generally, you’ll need to fill out a form and submit some photos to show the quality of your work. Once you join, you can submit photos one at a time. The site will either approve your photo for sale, or reject it.
Every time one of your photos sells on the stock website, you’ll receive a portion of the profit — that’s where the passive income part comes in! As the photos continue to sell, you’ll continue to earn.
As a beginner, the profit you can make off selling stock photos won’t be much, but it can help to provide you with a little spending money. Plus, it’s a great incentive to continue improving as a photographer and building your portfolio. The more you practice, the better your chances of selling those photos to higher-paying sites.
Pro tip: combine your talents
Your photography skills can benefit you in more ways than one.
If you’re interested in affiliate marketing, your photography can help you out. Consider marketing with a photography blog or social media account.
You can also use your own photos to make your blog or account more unique — whatever your niche is. Instead of downloading the same free photos that everyone else is using for their food or travel influencer accounts, give it a personal touch with your own photography.
Remember, earning passive income is all about getting creative. If you have multiple money-making opportunities available to you, why not pursue them all?
5. Rent out your parking spot
This might sound unusual, but if you have a designated parking spot on campus or at your apartment building, you can make easy passive income by renting it out.
In college towns and big cities, parking can get insane. Other students and professionals are always willing to pay for a designated spot near their work or university.
Search for a peer-to-peer parking platform in your area. That’s a website that connects people with parking spots to people who need them. JustPark is a good one that’s available in a lot of areas — it lets renters find spots to rent for a few hours, a full day, or up to a month.
If you have a parking space in an ideal location, this is one of the easiest ways to start making passive income.
Of course, it means you will have to find another place to park your car. But if you’re renting out your car and space at the same time… that solves your problem and doubles your earnings!
6. Sell your notes and class materials
This one’s a little tricky. Just to be clear, we’re not talking about helping other people cheat in their classes by selling your old tests. (That’s cheating, and totally not cool.)
We’re talking about selling your notes and study materials to help out other students.
There’s a pretty high demand for neat, organized notes. They can help students who miss a lecture or two, who have trouble paying attention in class, or who just need some extra guidance studying for their midterms and finals.
Are you a good note-taker? If you have neat handwriting and an excellent understanding of the subject material, consider selling your notes to other students once you’re done with the class.
There’s not much work involved, because you’re taking the notes for yourself, anyway — and you can make a decent profit.
And you don’t just have to sell to other students at your university. Check out Studysoup, a site that pays students to upload their notes every week. It’s about as easy as it gets! Not to mention, awesome motivation to get to class and pay attention.
7. Start investing small amounts of money
Most of the people who make serious amounts of money with passive income, do so by investing.
When you invest your money into a stock, bond, mutual fund, or other account, it will grow over time — with pretty much no effort on your part. Some investments are riskier than others, but it’s the best way to make some serious bucks, passively.
Believe it or not, you don’t need a ton of money to start investing. It’s totally possible to invest small amounts of money and get a good return.
The key is to start with small, safe investments. If you learn a little bit about how to invest now, you’ll be prepared to really start growing your wealth through investments later on in life. It’s an awesome way to have a head-start in the financial world after graduation.
Here are a couple of safe ways to invest small amounts of money as a college student, and earn passive income:
A mutual fund is a great way to invest your money with very little risk, and a low minimum investment.
When you put money into a mutual fund, you’re not actually buying stock. You’re buying a small portion of that fund, along with other investors. Knowledgable heads of the fund choose what to invest the total sum in.
In other words, you’re investing in multiple different securities at once, just by buying a portion of a mutual fund. That money is pretty much guaranteed to grow, as those securities appreciate in value.
But how can you pick a safe mutual fund to invest in?
One easy solution is to use a robo-advisor. Robo-advisors will invest your money for you, so you don’t need to constantly monitor your investment portfolio.
The more you invest in a mutual fund, the more you will earn in passive income over time. That said, it’s safest to start with the minimum investment. Later on, as you earn more income and feel more confident in investing, you can invest more money!
Invest in real estate
Did you know you can start investing in real estate now, even on a college budget?
Sounds too good to be true, but it’s not. Fundrise is an awesome app that lets you invest small amounts of money into a portfolio of real estate projects.
So you’re not buying an entire home or development, but investing in a project that will eventually grow and succeed.
Of course, there is a little risk involved in investing with a program like Fundrise. Just like any real estate investment, there’s no guarantee that the project will be successful and provide a good return.
But the cool thing is, you can spread your investment out into multiple projects for more security — you don’t have to put “all your eggs in one basket”, so to speak.
Lastly, peer-to-peer lending is a slightly risky, but potentially really profitable way to invest small amounts of money.
Here’s how it works: a peer-to-peer lending site like Prosper provides loans directly from investors to lenders, without having to go through a bank. Your investment will become a portion of a loan, which gets paid back over time with interest.
Peer-to-peer lending can be a great way to make passive income with a small investment, but there are risks. If a lender can’t pay back their loan, there’s nothing you can do to get your money back.
That’s why it’s important to invest carefully with peer-to-peer lending. You should weight until you have a little extra cash to invest (never risk your budget for rent and other necessities), and do your research before you dive right in.
8. Fill out online surveys — and get paid
Okay, so this one isn’t completely passive income — you do have to put a little work in to make a profit. But it’s so easy, you could practically do it in your sleep!
Big brands need consumer feedback to improve their products and customer experience. And people aren’t always willing to give that feedback without any incentive. That’s why paid survey sites exist!
Just go online and search for the best websites that pay you to take surveys. Generally, all you have to do is make an account, and start answering questions to make money!
Those survey sites don’t pay enough to make a living, but you can easily make between $10-$25 in a single sitting by filling out a few surveys. It’s super easy — and you’re already sitting in front of your laptop all day anyway, right?
Here’s the important thing: beware of scams! If a survey site sounds way too good to be true ($4000 just for taking surveys???) it probably is. Always read honest reviews of a site before you join, and never join a sign that asks for your credit card or bank account information to sign up.
Take it to the next level: mystery shopping
While we’re talking about getting paid to provide feedback for companies, here’s another great option: consider becoming a mystery shopper.
Mystery shoppers get paid to shop at a store or business, then provide feedback on their experience. All you have to do is sign up with a mystery shopping company online to get started.
Some companies will even reimburse you for what you buy while you’re mystery shopping.
If you’re someone who spends a lot of time shopping anyway, this is one of the easiest ways to make passive income. Again, just beware of scams, and make sure you read the reviews of a mystery shopping site before you join.
9. Advertise with your car
Here’s another awesome way to earn passive income with your car: rent it out to advertisers!
Cars are essentially driving billboards. And as the owner of that billboard, you can make money off a company that wants to advertise with it.
Online platforms like Carvertise connect drivers with companies. To join, you just need to fill out some information about where and how often you drive. Then you will have a wrap or sticker put on your car, and get paid for your mileage every month.
This is a great option for anyone who uses their car regularly. If you have a long commute to campus or work, you might as well be making money off it. Plus, the more you drive, they more you’ll get paid.
Pro tip: boost your income as a delivery driver
Ever considered for a delivery company like Uber Eats? Or driving for a ridesharing app?
While part-time jobs like that can’t really be considered passive income, they are still awesome opportunities to make money as a student. Ridesharing and delivery lets you make your own schedule and work whenever you have the time, so you don’t need to skip classes or sacrifice studying time.
On top of that, while you’re actively making income as a driver, you can passively earn income by combining it with advertising.
Make even more money off that time spent delivering or driving passengers by getting an advertising wrap put on your car. That way, you’re making passive income on your actual source of income — it’s the ultimate money-making hustle for a college student.
10. Open a savings account
Last but not least, let’s not forget about the original, safest way to make passive income — by putting your money in a savings account.
Do savings count as passive income?
Well, it may not seem like much, but money in your savings account will collect interest over time. So, yes — you are passively earning money without having to work for it.
But more importantly, you’re not spending the money that you put into savings.
Budgeting is tough, especially while you’re in college. Part of the reason so many students struggle financially after graduation is that they don’t have any money set aside in savings. The sooner you start saving, the more secure you’ll be once you start your career.
You don’t need to put much money into your savings account at the start. Just consider your monthly budget, and put any part of your excess income (like the money you’re earning from survey sites, for example) into savings before you can be tempted to spend it.
Remember, with money saved up, you’ll be able to start investing and earning some serious passive income within the next few years!
How to keep up with your savings
Having trouble putting money into savings?
The best thing to do is to get into a habit as soon as possible. Putting just a little money into your savings account every month — even the cost of a bagel or your favorite fancy coffee drink — will add up over time.
One great tip to stay on track: try the envelope method.
Use envelopes to create cash budgets for yourself every month. You can set aside a small budget for everything, from necessities like groceries to luxuries like nights out and entertainment. By using cash budgets, you’ll be able to keep track of exactly how much you’re spending in every category.
That way, you won’t dig into the money you’re planning on putting into savings that month!
Bonus tip: start thinking about retirement now
Just like it’s never too early to start saving for your future, it’s never too early to start saving for retirement.
Want to retire by 30? Start planning now.
One of the best places to start saving for retirement (and a great way to grow your wealth passively) is with an employer-sponsored 401k. You don’t necessarily need to have a full-time career to open a 401k account — plenty of companies offer them as a benefit for their part-time workers, too.
With many 401k plans, your employer will invest a dollar to match every dollar you save. That’s right: that means doubling your savings, for as long as you work for that company. Pretty cool, right?
Have a part-time job? Ask your employer about the benefits offered for part-time employees. If you have access to a 401k plan, you should absolutely start investing in it.
Earning passive income in college: how to get started
If any of these ways of earning passive income sounded like a good fit for you, there’s no time like the present to get started.
But where to begin?
The first, and most important step, is to consider your budget. Some methods for earning passive income require a small investment to get started — if you don’t have any money to spare in your budget right now, you should hold off on those choices. Consider opportunities that are free and easy.
One of the coolest things about passive income is the more time you put in, the more your income will grow. So, by starting small, you’ll have the budget to start investing bigger sums, and making more money, later on.
Selling items you don’t need, taking online surveys, and renting out or advertising with your car are all great places to start. And once you start earning passive income, don’t spend it right away! Save it up, invest it, and give it time to grow.
Consider a budgeting app
Budgeting and earning go hand in hand. If you’re having trouble budgeting on your own, you’ll probably have trouble gaining passive income.
That’s where a budgeting app can help! Apps like Brigit Brigit can help you manage your finances, and even help you get cash back when you really need it. (With Brigit, you can get up to $250 cash back).
Applying for a credit card? That’s a super-easy way to start building up a good credit score for later investments. A budgeting app can help you to keep track of your credit card payments, stop you from overdrawing, and make sure you don’t take on any excess debt (why add credit card debt on top of those student loan payments??)
Pretty much everything else we do is through an app these days, from banking to ordering a pizza. So why not use an app to manage your finances, too? It will take some of the stress of budgeting and planning off your hands, so you can focus on passing your classes.
Interested in saving and earning with a budgeting app? Check out these top budgeting apps for college students.
Did one of the options on this list of ways to make passive income sound perfect for you? What about more than one?
Remember, the key to successfully earning passive income is getting creative, and using all the resources available to you. For example, if you’re interested in starting a blog, you should consider affiliate marketing as a way to make money — but you should also consider selling private ads and other forms of content marketing.
If you make an income driving for Uber, why not also get paid to have an advertisement on your car? While you’re taking a break from studying, why not get paid to fill out a few mindless surveys?
The point is, you should never put all your eggs in one basket. Consider all of your opportunities for earning passive income, get creative with your options and resources, and never hesitate to put in the hustle.
Start earning today
Remember that old stereotype of the “poor, hungry college student”?
Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. Just because you’re busy studying doesn’t mean you don’t have the time to make a little money. By earning passive income now, you’ll be better prepared for a stable, financially successful future once you graduate.
So what are you waiting for?
Now that you know some of your options, get out there and start earning your way toward a better future today.
If you have any other ways for passive income for college students, let us know in the comments below!