Summer internships are a great way for college and graduate students to explore career fields and gain practical experience. Unfortunately, interns earn notoriously low wages -- assuming they earn any wages at all. Traditional summer jobs -- retail, baby-sitting and waiting tables -- aren't always very lucrative, either.
Finding flexible side jobs can help students working unpaid internships or pulling in minimum wage to supplement their income and even put away some cash for a rainy day. Students who take on these creative jobs can keep them up when classes resume in the fall, and a recent influx of online services makes it easier to get started.
1. Pet care: If you love animals and live in a pet-friendly pad, taking care of dogs is a great way to earn a little -- or a lot -- of money over the summer months. It also lets college students reconnect with animals if they are missing their family pets.
Lauren Wolf, 25, started her own dog care business with both of those goals in mind.
"I grew up with two dogs, Woofie and Rosie, and missed them so much when I went across the country to attend college," says Wolf, who attended Boston University. "I would have been happy to spend time with anyone's dogs and figured dog sitting would be a great way to hit two birds while I was a strapped college freshman."
Wolf built up her client list the old-fashioned way -- through Craigslist and word of mouth, earning up to $20 per hour for each dog. She graduated from BU in 2010 and now works for the office of the Army surgeon general, but she still uses dog walking and dog sitting to get her puppy fix.
Websites such as Rover and DogVacay allow students to build profiles that advertise services such as in-home day care, dog walking and overnight boarding in their own home or the pet owner's home. Students set their own schedules and have the flexibility to work around classes, internships and other part-time work. Top sitters can earn thousands of dollars each month, according to Brandie Gonzales, director of corporate communications for Rover.
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Both services operate in more than 60 cities across the U.S. While Uber requires drivers to be 23 or older, the minimum age for Lyft drivers is 21. Students must have a good driving record, auto insurance and a car that they wouldn't be embarrassed to drive strangers in. Drivers must also pass a background check before hitting the road for either service.
Once students are approved as drivers, getting clients is as easy as setting the mobile app to driver mode. College students can make up to $35 an hour as a driver, depending on when they work, and could net $800 or more over a weekend, according to Lyft's website.
3. Freelancing: Blogging and tweeting are like reflexes to many college students, but Web and social media savvy are hot commodities in the business world.
"Students often take their knowledge for granted and underestimate the degree to which their skills will be valued by others who are less social media savvy," says Mindy Popp, who runs a college counseling firm in Boston.
In addition to dog sitting, Wolf used the expertise she was gaining as a communications and public relations major to freelance as a writer and social media trainer. She took on small writing and research projects, helped clients build their online brands and grow their social media presence, and eventually trained clients on how to manage their own digital presence.
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Depending on the service, Wolf netted between $35 and $50 per hour for her freelance work. She also gained some valuable real-world experience.
"It was a fantastic opportunity over several years to hone my skills, network and gain job experience both during and after college," Wolf says.
Managing freelance work looks great on resumes, says Andrea Berkman, founder and CEO of The Constant Professional, a consulting service that helps job seekers polish their resumes.
"It shows initiative, enthusiasm and business acumen," says Berkman. "Employers are seeking candidates who are proven self-starters."
Building a freelance base isn't easy, though. Wolf benefited from a family connection to get her start. Those who aren't so lucky can turn to websites such as Gigbucks and Elance to advertise their freelance skills and find professionals looking for help with everything from design to translation.
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