With another academic year just around the corner, thousands will be eagerly anticipating their first taste of independent life, even if it does look a lot different in 2020.

But university is as much a life experience as it is an educational one. For many, it’s the first opportunity to stand on your own two feet financially, even if it is by virtue of a maintenance loan.

While making some extra money isn’t a necessity for everyone attending university, it can definitely be a valuable use of your free time.

What is a side hustle?

A side hustle is usually defined as a secondary role undertaken as a means of supplementing existing income. This usually involves dedicating some of your free time in order to make some extra money.

You might be surprised to learn that the phrase was initially coined back in the 1950s, but its usage rapidly increased in the wake of mass unemployment brought about by the 2008 global financial crisis.

Nowadays, many of the most popular ‘side hustles’ are taken up by university students, keen to make an extra bit of cash while studying.

A part-time job is the most common, but the modern technological world means there are plenty of other ways to earn money online.

General rules for a side hustle

Following these guidelines will ensure your side hustle provides as much value as possible.

  • Be unique - you might think that every possible subject area has been covered, but there are plenty of recent success stories that suggest authenticity is the way to go.
  • Be true to yourself - this gives your project the best possible chance of success. People are looking for authenticity and new perspective, not recycled content that can easily be found elsewhere.
  • Be patient - building a product or service takes time and effort. Be prepared to wait months or even years before you see the full fruits of your labour.
  • Make studying your priority - you’re paying £9000 a year (in the UK) after all. Don’t dedicate so much time to your side hustle that academic performance dips. If you feel you can’t handle both, take a break from making money to focus on your studies.
  • Accept there will be setbacks - like anything in life, side hustles come with plenty of ups and downs. Don’t set out to make it your full time income, but at the same time be prepared to put in some effort to get things up and running.

Ways to make money 

If you’re not looking for paid employment in the traditional sense, many of the common side hustle methods can be split into the following categories:

  • Platform/audience revenue - This is income directly from the platform or service you’re using. People who upload to YouTube, stream on Twitch or have subscribers on Patreon all earn money directly or indirectly from a consistent, loyal audience.
  • Affiliate revenue - This is money made through the promotion of products or services that your audience click on or engage with. It comes at no extra cost to the audience, but can be a useful way to earn a small amount of extra income, particularly if you believe in the things you’re promoting
  • Sponsors - You’ve probably seen countless videos online which mention they’re ‘sponsored by…’. This typically happens when the brand in question believes the exposure is worth paying a fee for. Smaller companies tend to be more risk-averse, so you’ll need to build a core audience before you can rely on sponsors.
  • Retail - The UK’s ecommerce industry is thought to be worth around £184bn (US$233bn), and that figure is growing all the time. Many people have dabbled in online sales in the past, but this can be extended to provide a steady stream of supplementary income.

Examples of side hustles

As you can see, there are plenty of different ways to make money online. Here are some examples that we think represent a productive use of your time away from the lecture centres and library.

Produce original written content

One of the fastest ways to build an audience (and therefore revenue stream) is consistently producing high quality content.

Starting a blog is one of the most popular ways of quickly getting a portfolio of published content, although it’s often used to showcase work to prospective employers.

Services like Wordpress and Blogger offer a great starting point for bloggers at university, while a site like Medium provides an excellent opportunity for exposure and the chance to quickly build an audience.

Take some time to get your site looking just how you’d like it, and have a consistent brand image across all your platforms. Social media is an excellent medium for that, and regular engagement with your audience across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is a great way to build a core following.

Once you do build an audience don’t disappoint them by letting the standard or frequency of your content drop, as people will quickly look elsewhere. Eventually, you can look at getting your own domain name (one that doesn’t end with .wordpress.com or .blogspot). The aforementioned Wordpress has some fairly affordable options, although there are also competitively priced alternatives from the likes of Wix and Squarespace.

A greater challenge comes when you try to monetise your content, which is where Patreon comes in.

Patreon offers a way for people to directly support their favourite creatives financially. It usually involves a subscription, starting from as little as US$1 per month.

In return you usually get access to exclusive content that’s not available for free, such as Q&As, regular blog posts or special video content. Think of it as like a special membership club which provides a direct link between the creator and their audience.

The good thing about Patreon is that you don’t have to pay any fees yourself to get started. Once you do start making money, the company offers various benefits in exchange for a small slice of the money you make. See the full range of plans on the Patreon website.

Patreon is also popular among video content creators, who don’t want to rely on advertising as a primary source of income. Which brings us to the next side hustle option...

Produce your own video content

Talking of video content, producing your own multimedia content is another extremely popular side hustle.

YouTube is the obvious example, but with a staggering 300 hours of content uploaded to the platform every minute, it might be hard to get enough eyeballs on your content.

Of course, there’s a lot of value in starting a YouTube channel for your own personal development, but it might be more difficult to carve out a regular source of income.

To be eligible for YouTube’s Partner Programme, you have to have at least 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time. At this level of engagement, earnings are minimal, but can rise quickly if your videos consistently get plenty of views.

There are still a number of recent YouTube success stories, but you’ll have to be more strategic and creative than ever in order to be a hit.

Live streaming is one alternative, although Twitch is a more popular platform in this regard.

It’s the go-to place if you’re interested in live streaming your favourite games though, with an estimated 15 million daily active users. There are also signs that the Amazon-owned website is expanding into other fields, reflected in its broadcast of a recent Premier League match.

Twitch’s Partner program is usually reserved for the most influential streamers, so your best bet is to rely on subscriptions. These start at US$4.99, with the option for a one-off or recurring contributions.

Twitch also supports donations from within a live stream itself, with no upper limit. If people really like your content there’s likely to be a handful of smaller donations, but it will vary hugely.

Sell your expertise

Being highly skilled in a particular area is a fast ticket to supplementary income. A little bit of knowledge will go a long way, particularly if your fellow students are living away from home for the first time.

Focus on something you’re interested in, and see you can provide some value. Here are some examples:

  • Music - whether you’re producing your own music or offering tuition online, learning to play an instrument is something people are always interested in and often willing to pay for
  • Languages - many universities are home to large numbers of international students. Some will not have English as their first language, so one-to-one sessions can provide huge value in boosting confidence and helping connect with their peers
  • Crafts - the likes of knitting and sewing are increasingly valuable skills in a modern throwaway society. As well as selling items you’ve created yourself, you can also help teach people the skills you’ve gained
  • Arrange local area tours - the town or city where your university is based will likely be home for the next 3 years or more. Take some time to learn about its top sights and experience, and tailor tours to your fellow students for maximum impact

Once you have a product, be sure to share it on social media. Most universities will have official or unofficial Facebook groups, while there could be opportunities to get it featured in the university newspaper or official YouTube channel.

However, you’ll quickly realise that word of mouth still remains an extremely effective way of drumming up support.

Sell unwanted items online

It’s highly unlikely you’ll fit everything you own into a small room in halls, making it the perfect opportunity to sort through your stuff.

Instead of burdening your parents with everything you can’t take with you, consider making money by selling some of it online.

Be ruthless - if you can’t see yourself using it in the next year, it’s probably not worth keeping.

Once you’ve decided on items you’d like to sell, there are plenty of options. Here are some of the most popular and the charges you can expect.

  • eBay - one of the most popular ecommerce sites on the planet, eBay regularly slashes or even waives the fees for listing on its site. This means you’ll only pay if an item sells, with fees usually amounting to around 10% of the final sale value.
  • Depop - focus on fashion makes it a great option if you’re clearing out your wardrobe. Depop also charges 10% of the sale, as well as a 2.9% PayPal transaction fee + £0.30 ($0.30 in the US)
  • Etsy - with an emphasis on quality handmade and vintage items, Etsy listings cover jewellery, toys, clothes, furniture and much more. It charges a flat 5% transaction fee, as well as an additional 4% + £0.20 charge if you use the company’s own payment system.
  • Facebook Marketplace - very informal, so there are no additional charges for selling. Lacks the security of payment protection, but can be a very effective way of shifting items quickly, if you’re prepared to not always sell at the highest price

On all these sites, it’s important to take some time to curate listings in order to maximise potential interest. Put yourself in a prospective buyer’s shoes - what would you search for and what would convince you to make a purchase?

The above sites can also be useful if you’re interested in buying affordable items and selling them on for a profit. A little expertise can go a long way, so it’s probably worth focusing on something specific to begin with.

Car boot sales and charity shops are a good place to start, while eBay’s large number of independent sellers also offers scope for bargains.

If this strategy proves to be successful, it might be worth setting up an ecommerce site of your own. Marketing agency Fresh Egg has an excellent nine-step plan.

Take surveys

You might have heard about people who’ve made hundred of pounds from simply filling in online surveys, but is all too good to be true?

It turns out, if you’ve got some spare time, plenty of opinions and are willing to take part in occasional focus groups, you could turn filling out surveys into a productive side hustle. You might have to be content with vouchers in some instances, but it’s definitely still worthwhile.

i-Say, Swagbucks and PopulusLive are all popular and trustworthy options, although there are plenty of potential pitfalls if you’re not careful.

Before seriously considering making money from surveys, we’d recommend reading the guide to paid surveys on the MoneySavingExpert website.