The best business ideas for college students

Editorial Team

11 min read
Young female fashion designer pinning fabric

College is a great time for working while going to school, because you can earn money for your expenses and learn more about potential career paths you might enjoy. For college students who are studying a business field, or who have an interest in becoming an entrepreneur, it’s possible to start a side hustle that grows into a sustainable business.

In this article, learn about some of the viable business paths a college student can pursue as a business owner. From how to be an entrepreneur in college to potential enterprises to start, the following guide can help college students with business owner aspirations.

Advantages of starting a small business in college

For college students, this can be a great time in their lives to try new things. They also have many qualities that can give them an advantage as an entrepreneur, including:

  • Flexibility and control over schedule: Compared to working a 40-hour-a-week, 9-to-5 job, college students may have better control over their schedules. They can determine their class times and course load, which gives them more flexibility in pursuing a new business.
  • Hands-on learning experience: Starting a business gives college students hands-on experience in creating a vision and mission, strategizing business marketing, and organizing and executing business operations. Even if a business shuts down, that hands-on experience is invaluable and can speed up the learning curve and help build a foundation for launching future endeavors.
  • Potential for financial independence: Starting a successful business in college could eliminate the need to look for a full-time job post-graduation. For some students, business success could even lead to students leaving college to pursue their business full-time. For students who want to work for themselves, rather than someone else, a successful business could lead to financial independence and professional satisfaction.

The earlier a college student can gain practical experience, the more time they have to put those skills into action and gain a competitive advantage. Since college is an ideal time to try new things and learn about likes and dislikes, starting a business while in college could reveal a greater understanding about what someone wants out of a career.

Identifying the right business for college students

For college students who are wondering what business route to take, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has a lot of resources on how to start a business. Some tips for starting a business include:

  • Consider personal skills and interests. Great business ideas provide a solution to people’s pain points while enabling the entrepreneur to pursue their passions. Think about what interests you. Do you enjoy helping people? Are you creative? Do you want to build things? Think about your skill set and how that could lead to a product or service that helps solve people’s problems.
  • Conduct market research to assess demand and competition. According to the SBA, market research helps you confirm there are potential customers for your business, while an analysis of potential competitors can help you differentiate your business to stand out. Once you have a business idea, research similar businesses in the area you want to open. Think about what can set your business apart, such as better pricing, top-notch customer service, and/or a unique product or service that customers in a particular area need.
  • Balance feasibility and profitability. Most businesses require some type of capital to get off the ground, whether it’s to fund product development, pay for marketing and advertising to spread the word about the business, or purchase equipment or space. Think about how you can fund your business, and what you intend to do with profits. You might consider using your own funds, asking friends or family to loan you money, pursuing a small business loan, or crowdfunding to start your business. As you generate revenue, make sure you have a plan for how you’ll pay off debts or reinvest money to grow your business.
  • Plan scalability for future growth. If your business takes off, you’ll want to be able to support its growth. As you monitor and manage finances and projections, consider how you can expand your business sustainably with the right equipment, staffing, etc.

For college students starting a business, it may be helpful to find a mentor who can advise you on the logistics. Connect with your college’s business school to see if mentorship opportunities are available. College students may also have a professor who’s willing to help advise on business startups and resources for college students.

Small business ideas for college students

There are endless possibilities for small businesses college students can pursue. Because students may have to balance a school and work schedule, the following are some ideas that may be conducive to running a business as a college student.

Freelance services

Freelancing is providing a service based on an agreed timeframe and price. Freelancers are in control of how they finish the job and may bill hourly, by the project, or by another pricing structure.

What services do freelancers offer? Some popular freelancing businesses include:

  • Writing and copy editing
  • Graphic design
  • Social media management
  • Video editing
  • Photography

Freelancing can be a good fit for college students because it allows you to do work on the schedule that fits your needs. You can take on whatever, and as many, freelancing jobs as you’d like. Freelancing is scalable because you can become more successful as you become more efficient, and it’s easy to grow a business by hiring other freelancers as part of your own freelance business.

Freelance services are becoming more and more common, as a 2023 survey by Upwork found freelancing hit a new all-time high, with 38% of the U.S. workforce freelancing in 2023. That’s an increase of 4 million professionals from 2022, to reach 64 million American freelancers in 2023.

If you’re just starting out in freelancing, you may be wondering how to advertise freelance services. One place to start is by announcing your services on LinkedIn, where your professional network can refer you to those in need of your services. There are also social media and pay-per-click advertising models available to promote what you offer.

Online tutoring

Online tutoring can be another good fit for college students, because you’re able to offer your expertise in a subject or subjects and help others learn. You can tutor from the comfort of wherever you want, as long as you have a reliable web connection to the person you’re tutoring.

If you’re considering starting a tutoring business, think about the subject matter you want to tutor in, the age group you’d like to tutor, and how much time you can devote as a tutor. If you want to tutor as a freelancer, you can again use LinkedIn to market your services online.

There are also many platforms and tools for how to become a tutor online. Check out sites such as, TutorMe, and for how to apply and get clients from the sites.

eCommerce ventures

Another growing business sector is eCommerce. What is eCommerce? It’s the selling of goods and products online. According to Statista, eCommerce currently accounts for more than 20% of global retail sales and is expected to keep growing in coming years.

There are a lot of different eCommerce models for college students to consider. They include:

  • Selling handmade crafts or products: If you’re an artist or someone who loves to create crafts, you can sell handmade wares, such as jewelry and artwork, on a site like Etsy.
  • Dropshipping: What is dropshipping? It’s selling goods that are sold by a third party. As the seller, you don’t have to manage inventory. You act as the middle person between the manufacturer, who’s also the dropshipper that ships the product, and the customer.
  • On-demand printed merchandise: When you print on-demand merchandise, you accept an order from a customer for an item , such as a coffee mug or T-shirt, and print a customized name or message on it. You can do this yourself with a printer, such as an apparel printer, or work with a third party in a dropshipping arrangement. According to Grand View Research, the print on demand market size is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25.8% from 2023 to 2030.

There are also eCommerce business models such as purchasing and reselling vintage or rare merchandise on sites like eBay, as well as selling custom artworks or goods online via a personal website. Ecommerce is another potential business model that works with busy college schedules.

Event planning

Event planners transform a customer’s vision for an event, such as a birthday party or bridal shower, and handle all the logistics to make the event a successful reality. For college students who are interested in how to start an event planning business, consider:

  1. What types of events you want to plan, for which type of audience
  2. If you want to specialize in events of a certain size
  3. How you can build relationships with vendors to make events easier to plan

Successful event planners have a strong network of venue operators that includes vendors, such as florists and decorators, and entertainers, such as musicians. Event planners need to be skilled in tasks, including creating event themes, booking venues and vendors, coordinating entertainment, and balancing budgets. If you’re just starting out, it may help to begin with small events with 25 guests or fewer before moving on to more large-scale events.

Technology services

Tech-savvy college students could also find success in offering technology services. These may include:

  • Website development: building websites for other businesses and for people who want to expand their personal brand online
  • App creation and management: creating Android and iOS mobile applications, for businesses and standalone products, such as games
  • Tech support: helping others with technology-related assistance

Like freelance work, technology services can often be completed on one’s preferred schedule, from a remote workspace. This makes offering technology services a convenient business for college entrepreneurs.

Essential steps to starting a business in college

Once you’ve identified a business idea you want to pursue, follow these steps to get organized and grow your business.

  1. Create a business plan. Creating a business plan helps you focus on a purpose and mission for your profitable business idea. A business plan helps you understand where gaps and opportunities lie, set goals and objectives, and strategize business growth through channels such as marketing and branding. If you need funding, a business plan can also help potential investors understand your vision, which can increase your chances of securing an investment.
  2. Leverage college resources. Your college may have resources to provide support for starting your business. Check with your business college to see if resources, such as incubator programs, mentorship opportunities, summer entrepreneurship programs for college students, and networking events are available.
  3. Balance academics and entrepreneurship. Manage your time by using a calendar and blocking out your work into chunks so you can check things off your to-do list. If you need extra support, seek out advisors, such as counselors or professors, who can offer guidance and mentorship. Remember to prioritize your physical and mental health, as well, so you can be your best in whatever task you’re working on.

Since many college students are full-time students, it can be challenging to add opening a business to an already-busy schedule. It may help to start small with what you offer through your business, then scale and grow as your school schedule opens up or you prepare to graduate from college.

Starting a business in college is easier with the right tools

A helpful way to start a new business is to use technology and tools that can automate business tasks for you. With Clover point-of-sale solutions, you can:

Clover helps you provide exceptional customer service and build client loyalty. It can help save you valuable time as a college student who’s opening their own business.

Why wait? Get started with a Clover POS system today to elevate your business.

This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, financial, or tax advice. Readers should contact their attorneys, financial advisors, or tax professionals to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.

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