How to Start Making Money as a Writer While in College
For many of us who love writing, the idea of someday actually making money through our words is a kind of hazy dream for the future. We imagine being novelists, essayists, journalists. We imagine a future where our ideas, translated onto the printed page, can make a difference in the world.
And, we think, we might actually get to find a way to make money in the process.
We also know that this is a long, hard road we’re planning for ourselves—all you need to do is to pick up a writer’s memoir to know that this is not a path to easy money (I recommend Stephen King’s On Writing if you’d like to catch a glimpse of just how un-glamorous the path to fortune and fame can be).
But even if making a living as a writer won’t be an easy path, it is possible and can start right away. We’re surrounded by writing every single day, and it’s possible to start a career as a paid writer right now, as a college student.
Note: Many outlets for starting writers—either in campus journalism or elsewhere—won’t pay very much. If these paid jobs aren’t exactly your dream writing gigs (perhaps copywriting instead of poetry, or in the advertising section rather than in hard-hitting journalism), then it might still be worth considering taking on some responsibilities in both areas—getting paid for some written work and also pursuing more exciting projects that will provide experience and skills. I highly recommend creating a portfolio of published writing while you’re still a student—both paid and unpaid—that you can leverage for more jobs and opportunities as time goes on.
Here are some thoughts on how you can get started:
Write for Your College
Your college puts out thousands of written words every day. All of these are opportunities for a motivated writer. Do some research on campus writing jobs that employ students, but also think about some venues for your writing that you can approach “cold” with a proposal to do some writing.
Some likely venues for paid writing gigs:
- Alumni relations (magazines, blogs, websites)
- Student recruitment (student life blogs, websites, etc.)
- Fund raising publications
- Campus life publications
- Departmental websites
As an undergrad I was paid to write for a student blog that was sent to alumni to encourage them to donate to the university. I wrote two blogs a week, getting paid minimum wage but most importantly getting paid to write. It was such an exciting experience, and something that has been a resume item and a skillset ever since.
Write in the Community
Who are you connected with outside of campus? What products, ideas, or industries do you know about?
Copywriting (writing factual, plain English text for businesses or organizations) can be a well-paid and flexible job option for busy students, and a future job for English majors. The best way to break into this is to network with other writers and business owners and offer your services. The skills many students hone in class (reading and then writing about what you just read) are valuable to those trying to sell products or disseminate a message.
Pursue Journalism Opportunities
These opportunities can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. If there is something interesting happening in your neighborhood, pitch an article idea to someone in the local media. If you are involved or learning about something with broader importance, pursue ideas with bigger publications. Look for an angle or an insight you might have, and see where it might take you.
This can be a particularly effective strategy if you pair it with other experiences you have as a student. Study abroad, internships, or student-related stories that are relevant in politics or current broader social trends make for great topics in this area. I wrote a paid article for a print magazine based on my experiences doing research for my thesis in Honduras (I also published an unpaid creative essay in an anthology while I was at it—your student experiences can lead to all kinds of interesting writing opportunities when you start thinking creatively).
Create (and Monetize) a Personal Blog or Website
With the way the world and internet function these days, you have the opportunity to write and pay yourself. If you want to go this route, pick a topic you truly care about and will still have material to write about a year (at least!) from now. Start blogging. Write about being an out-of-state student at your school.
Write about local craftsmen, the music scene, sports, or outdoor activities. Team up with a friend or friends. Write about the books you read or the classes you take. Write as a student or a young person or as an active observer of the world.
Starting something of your own is really hard work, and making money from it is a long, hard slog. But if you’re a good writer and good at self-promotion, you can build an audience, a body of work, and (through advertising, affiliate marketing, products, or sponsors) a source of income that you personally control.
Write for a College Advice Blog
Most places won’t pay you. But some (including HackCollege) do pay staff writers. As a student, you are part of an interesting and dynamic niche. Use that perspective to get paid writing gigs and create a body of work for yourself.
Do the Work
As a final note, let me just wish you luck! There are opportunities for students to write, publish, and (sometimes) get paid. Build an identity for yourself as a writer, with a portfolio available as a foundation for future projects. Demand quality writing of yourself.
Push to learn and improve with each piece of writing you undertake. Try multiple formats and venues. Don’t get discouraged by rejections or critique of others, but do use these as a way to educate yourself as you move forward.
So get out there! Make things happen and be proud of your efforts. I wish you the very best. Happy writing!