While summers typically bring sunshine and a chance to relax or travel, for college students the season presents a different opportunity. Starting a small business while you’re still in college can help you reduce tuition debt and earn real-world experience in the summer months. It may even become a flexible side gig once classes resume.
Even better news: There are ways to design your summer around something you enjoy, where you make money while setting your own hours. There is no shortage of clever small business ideas for college students. But which one is right for you?
Explore low-barrier ideas you can start with little to no upfront investment or experience. The future is bright for those who seize it.
⭐ BONUS: Take the quiz to discover your entrepreneur personality type and get business ideas tailored to your unique profile. Skip to the quiz.
The benefits of starting a business as a college student
School can give you the academic backing to pursue your dream career, but starting a business teaches you valuable lessons you won’t find in a classroom. There are several benefits to pursuing a business idea in college—and it’s not too late to cash in on them.
📊 Gain real world experience in business. Sure, business school can teach you theory and formulas, but there’s nothing like doing business to learn the ropes.
🛠 Learn skills that may not be taught within the curriculum. Strengthen your skills in empathy, delegation, stress management, customer service, and more. Student entrepreneurs have a leg up on fellow graduates once they hit the job market. The skills you learn outside the classroom become just as valuable as those learned in class.
🤝 Build your professional network. By the time you graduate, you already have a contact list full of people to approach for references, mentorships, and even jobs.
👩🏻🎓 Try out an industry before you graduate. Studying fashion management? Run your own business selling clothes online to get a taste for the industry.
📝 Flesh out your résumé. As a new graduate, your CV may be pretty sparse. But if you run your own business in college, you can add “CEO“ to your list of accomplishments.
💰 Earn extra cash. Saving to pay expenses and minimize debt is a good idea if you want to lessen the burden after you graduate. A part-time retail job can also be a source of income, but when you’re the boss, the earning potential is up to you.
📆 Enjoy an income source that works around your studies. The common struggle of scheduling a part-time job around studying and classes can add stress. Work on your business on a flexible schedule and then go all in on your summer break.
13 business ideas for college students
Whether you’re fresh out of high school or you’re on break before your senior year of college, this is your moment. When else in your life will you have this much time—and youthful energy—to make a leap?
There are plenty of profitable business ideas for college students that require little upfront investment, and can even be run from your home (or dorm room).
Launch a business with Shopify before you graduate
1. Start a tutoring business
Help high school students with summer studies or younger college students prep for the classes you aced last semester.
2. Sell handmade goods
If you’re creative, take a break from the books to work with your hands and sell handmade goods. You can sell your goods through an online store, marketplace, or in-person events like a local market.
3. Start a neighborhood service-based business
What services can you offer in your community? Launch a basic website to advertise your availability for child care, pet-sitting, delivery, personal shopping, maintenance, landscaping, or cleaning services—there are endless possibilities for things to sell other than products.
4. Try dropshipping
Dropshipping lets you sell goods to customers without ever having to buy products upfront or manage inventory. This is a great idea for those with skills in design and marketing. The products are less important than how you curate, market, and position them.
5. Start a community-focused business or non-profit
If your goal isn’t to make money but to gain skills and experience, you could start a cause-based business that gives back to a charity or community organization that you care about.
6. Monetize content or a personal brand
If you’re already a minor superstar on a social media platform like TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram, consider leveraging your growing audience to make money. Do sponsored content or set up an ecommerce store to sell merch to your fans.
7. Sell print-on-demand goods
Selling print-on-demand goods is another great option for starting a business on a low budget, and it’s one of the easiest online business ideas for creatives. If you have artistic skills, you can print your designs onto anything from t-shirts to camp mugs. This business model is a great startup idea you can launch in your free time and run without much oversight.
8. Become a freelancer
Make yourself available to take on freelance work like editing, copywriting, illustration, or whatever it is that you do best. You can set up a portfolio site or create a listing on a site like Upwork. This profitable business idea has low startup costs—and can earn you some serious money.
9. Create experiences
After years of hesitation around travel, people are craving in-person connections. Can you create and sell experiences to tourists, for example? Think biking or culinary tours of your city’s favorite spots. University students can offer a unique perspective of the place where they study.
10. Become a reseller
If you have an eye for potential, scour local buy-and-sell sites or thrift stores for interesting and vintage finds. You can curate a unique experience by fixing up old home décor or vintage clothing and selling them on a dedicated website or online marketplace.
11. Sell at pop-up shops and markets
Grow your own veggies and make preserves, bake cookies, make handmade goods, or curate vintage. Whatever your skill or interest, consider how you can make extra cash selling at weekend markets or a temporary pop-up shop.
12. Run a summer camp program
Alleviate parent burnout after years of balancing child care and schooling with at-home work. Choose one your interests—say math, drama, or wilderness exploration—and create an engaging camp program for young kids.
13. Offer technical services
There are several services you can offer to fellow students or the local community, including translation services, editing help with essay writing, transcription services, and tech support. Local businesses may also be looking for help with digital marketing. Advertise your skills on your college campus or reach a wider audience on social media platforms.
How do I start a business as a college student?
Getting started is as easy as making the decision to do it. For most of the ideas above, you can set up an online store in minutes and get a feel for the tools before committing to a plan. Learn as you go with free entrepreneur resources like the Shopify blog.
Which business idea for college students is best for you? In short, your startup should reflect your interests and leverage your strengths. Ask and answer questions like:
- What am I good at?
- What skills do I have that could benefit others?
- Can any of my hobbies or interests become a small business?
- What’s important to me and what are my values?
- How much time do I have to commit to a small business?
- How much will it cost to start a business?
- How can I leverage resources at my college to help me start a business?
The answers to these questions will also become a foundation for your business plan and brand guidelines.
QUIZ: Handpicked business ideas to start in college
What makes you tick? Ahead, we’ll hone in on your unique personality type and offer college business suggestions curated just for you.
1. The Outsider
For Outsiders, starting a business in college could provide some financial peace of mind—allowing you to focus less on money and more on graduation.
Pick a business that doesn’t interfere with your dedication to your studies. Make your own hours and set boundaries so you don’t get overwhelmed. And remember to carve time out for social pursuits—the lessons you learn by joining teams or clubs or attending campus events could be just as valuable to your future.
3 college business ideas for Outsiders
- Offer a service to other students based on your craft or field of study
- Sell handcrafted goods at local or on-campus markets
- Sell digital products online. If you’re a business major, sell business plan templates. Photography major? Sell presets for editing software. If you’re studying music, sell licenses to stock sounds or songs.
2. The Mountaineer
As a Mountaineer, you’re the most likely of all signs to start a business while you’re still in college. The benefits are obvious—and that boss title is great for bragging rights.
You’re a natural performer. And even though you’re satisfied to call all the shots, you definitely thrive surrounded by people. Why not leverage your natural charm and leadership abilities to run your own student business?
3 college business ideas for Mountaineers
- Start a YouTube channel. Find a niche or underserved audience and produce content that creates value. Once you build a loyal fan base, sell ads or promoted content, or set up a merch store to monetize your personal brand.
- Design a summer drama or sports camp for kids.
- Offer your services as a consultant, based on your specific skills or field of study.
3. The Firestarter
If you’re not already running several businesses from your dorm room, Firestarter, we’d be surprised. But if you haven’t used your talents to start a business in college, there’s no time like the present!
You get bored quickly if things aren’t challenging, fast-paced, and a little risky. With that in mind, look for businesses you can spin up—or fold—quickly. Choose anything that allows you to be relatively hands off so that you’re nimble enough to pursue new ideas.
3 college business ideas for Firestarters
- Start a dropshipping or print-on-demand business to sell trending products.
- Run a service business offering coaching or mentorship in the field that you study.
- Invest in other small businesses. If you have some extra money to play with, back some projects that excite you.
4. The Cartographer
Among all the signs, you’re the best at managing your time and budget. Starting a small business during your summer break is therefore ideal for you, Cartographer. You get to be the boss and the extra cash will help minimize debt—your natural enemy—before you graduate.
You’re best suited to starting a small business that you can reasonably manage alone on top of your studies. Look for low-risk and low-cost business ideas for college students like you that can be run from home.
3 college business ideas for Cartographers
- Make handmade goods and sell them through an online store or marketplace.
- Create educational content—say craft, design, or home organization tutorials—and sell it online.
- Offer freelance digital services like design, branding, writing, templates, or website development.
5. The Trailblazer
The constraints of a typical student job can feel restrictive to Trailblazers like you. And since you’re a natural at balancing a million things, why not add a little side hustle into the mix?
A small business will allow you to act out your ideas, pour your creativity into a passion, and pivot whenever something shiny catches your eye. Design a working environment that you’ve always dreamed of—no dress code, no set hours, and lots of collaboration. You’re the boss, after all.
3 college business ideas for Trailblazers
- Create designs around a trend or interest and use a print-on-demand service to sell them on products like tote bags or travel mugs.
- Invent and sell a product or service that solves a problem—especially if it benefits college students like you.
- Start a marketplace (online or a pop-up on campus) to help foster entrepreneurship among your peers. Sell the creations of others and take a cut for your hard work.
Graduate ahead of the class
There are infinite small business ideas for college students. Take advantage of this exciting time in your life to explore all possibilities for your future—and graduate with a leg up on your classmates. Whether you sell products or services online or find unique opportunities in your field of study, you could be making money now doing what you love.
Feature image by Alice Mollon
Photography by Pexels
College student business ideas FAQ
What is the best business idea for college students?
The best business idea to pursue while you’re still in college is the one that fits best with your schedule, skills, and interests. There are a number of services you can offer that would benefit your built-in audience of fellow students. Profitable business ideas with low upfront costs include on-campus tech services, print-on demand sales, and maker businesses.
What can I sell as a university student?
University students can sell anything, provided you check age restrictions for selling products like alcohol and understand local laws that govern the product or service you’re selling. Creatives can sell prints through a photography business or dabble in jewelry making. Sell your skill through consulting or paid online courses. The possibilities are endless!
What are low cost college business ideas?
Low cost business ideas for college students are those that do not require upfront inventory, specialized equipment, or other costs to get started. For a small fee, anyone can start a business by setting up a simple website to sell goods or services. Try the Shopify Starter Plan to get up and running right from your social accounts.