Making Money in Grad School

If you ask grad students what their primary concerns are, I’d bet a lot of money that most would list “money” as one of them. Grad school stipends are meager, at best, and most of us have to do some serious scrimping to get by. There are also those pesky work prohibitions that come along with fellowships, so usually getting a side job isn’t an option. 

Hence, the side hustle. Not a job, technically, but any number of activities that can bring in some extra money. Finding a good side hustle can really make a difference when bills are piling up.

I, like many others, looked for side hustles at one point or another. Some worked better than others. Below are things I’ve actually done or am currently doing to make or save money. Don’t worry, I’m not getting paid by any of these outlets to advertise for them. Nor am I going to claim that you can quit your day job and be a full-time millionaire with 3 simple steps like all those finance gurus that keep popping up in my YouTube ads. It’s just a quick list of ways I made some extra money while in grad school (and still do, in some cases). 

I also haven’t done a ton of things, so I’m happy to hear if anyone else has tips and suggestions for others! 

Selling Extra Stuff on eBay

This is currently my new favorite side hustle. I started about 2 months ago because I was moving and wanted to downsize a little. Dumping stuff on eBay seemed like a good way to clear out the closet and make some extra cash while I was at it. After going through all the crap I’d accumulated at my parents’ house, I made about $300. That only took about a month. And there’s still stuff I haven’t sold yet. That’s not millionaire money, but an extra $300 in a month with only a few hours of work is nothing to scoff at. 

And it’s also enough to make me consider doing this as a permanent side hustle. I figured if I can make $300 without really trying, maybe I can make more if I really give it some effort. This is just in the early planning stage of course, but definitely something I’m considering. 

If you have stuff in your apartment or house that you never use anymore, think about unloading it on eBay. Luckily, making an account is about as easy as it gets. Just plug in your info to open an account and link it to your PayPal. Then you can start listing items by just snapping pictures with your phone. 

If you have bills to pay, then of course take care of yourself if you make some quick cash on eBay. But, if this is just extra money for you, I’d really recommend you use that money to buy some cheap inventory to resell. The $300 you made selling your old stuff could become a lot more if you score some cheap items that will resell for a good price. Check out flea markets and thrift stores for good deals. Alternatively, see if your friends or family have things they want to sell and split the money with them. With some effort, this side hustle could really turn into something. 

UserTesting 

This is another new one. I started about a month ago. UserTesting.com is a market research website that businesses use for feedback on apps or websites they’re developing. You make an account, plug in some demographic details, and then tests start coming into your inbox. You fill out some survey data for each test and if you match, you do the test. When the test is done, you get 10 bucks. 

The positive thing about this one is that you can just leave a tab open in the background while you’re doing something else. Mine is currently open right now. You get a little *ding* when a test enters your inbox and if you want to, you can try to match with it. This is helpful if you spend a lot of time surfing the internet. Your spare time could turn into some extra money.

As a downside, this one can be hit or miss. It’s tedious to try and get tests and you get rejected from probably 90% of the ones you try for. It takes some persistence, which can be frustrating. 

But if you do push through that, there’s definitely extra money to be made. In total I’ve made about $100 in a little over a month. Again, not millionaire money, but nice to have. It’s a legit way to make some extra cash. It’s also a fun little surprise sometimes because the money is paid 7 days after you do a test. So sometimes I’ll forget a did a test and then I get a notification that $10 entered my PayPal account. Not a bad notification to get! 

Grading Essays

This one isn’t quite a side hustle, but more of a job. Fortunately, on-campus jobs usually circumvent the work prohibitions on your fellowship (double check on this though, I can’t speak for everyone). 

My university offered teaching associate positions for humanities grad students to work in the business school. The job consisted of grading weekly essays that the freshman business students wrote. Every Tuesday evening, my inbox would fill with their essays. Then I’d spend a few hours after dinner grading them. And that was it. It was the easiest job ever.

It was also a well-paying job, relatively speaking. Broken down by the hour, this is probably the highest-paying job I’ve ever had. I worked about 3 hours a week, plus answering a few emails here and there throughout the week. As I recall, the rate for this job was $5,200 for the semester. Perhaps a little more even, but it was definitely over $5,000. 

That’s a good deal more than I made as an adjunct, which was usually $3,400 per semester for 3 teaching hours per week, not counting commuting, grading, class prep, working with students, etc. (that’s its own issue. We’ll talk about it another time).

So I’d recommend looking on your campus for similar side jobs. I know that takes time away from your degree requirements, but you still have to pay your bills. You might get lucky and come across a well-paying one like this. 

Moving Savings to High-Yield Accounts 

This isn’t so much money-making as money-saving. 

I always thought I was financially-literate, but really all I knew was to save money. I didn’t know about growing it or making it work for me. I was embarrassingly old (mid-20s) when I really started understanding personal finance better. My awakening was when I realized just how low the interest rate on my savings account was. I think it was 0.1% when I checked. I’d assumed rates were that lousy everywhere, but I was dead wrong. After doing some research, I found out that some banks have savings or money market accounts with 2% interest rates and even higher. I felt like an idiot for all the money I missed out on over the years.

So I moved all my savings to high-yield accounts and started making about 20x more interest than I was before, for no extra effort on my part. Every month, some extra dollars appear in my account because I’m storing them in this account. 

I’d highly recommend you take a look at the interest your savings account earns and, if it’s lousy, find a better rate at another bank. I know this sounds like something only rich people do, but it works for any level of savings. Even if you only have a few hundred dollars, it’s better for it to grow at 2% than 0.1%.

And higher interest compounds over time. $1,000 at 0.1% is $1,001 after a year; $1,000 at 2% is $1,020. In 5 years, the difference is huge — $1,005.01 vs. $1,104.08. Again, not millionaire money, but wouldn’t you rather have $100 than $5? 

And there you have it! Those are 4 money-making tricks I tried in grad school that worked well for me. I’m sure there are other side hustles out there I haven’t tried. How did you earn extra cash in grad school?

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