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 online while setting your own hours. There is no shortage of clever small business ideas for college students. But which one is right for you?
Ahead, explore low-barrier business ideas you can implement with little to no upfront investment or experience. The future is bright for those who seize it!
20 business ideas for college students
- Sell handmade goods
- Start a tutoring business
- Sell digital products
- Start a neighborhood service-based business
- Try dropshipping
- Become a content creator
- Become a reseller
- Sell print-on-demand goods
- Become a freelancer
- Create experiences
- Sell at pop-up shops and markets
- Run a summer camp program
- Offer technical services
- Start and monetize a podcast
- Create and sell student resources
- Start a community-focused business or non-profit
- Innovate and develop a new product
- Organize on-campus events
- Try affiliate marketing
- Offer branding and marketing services
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 no startup costs, and can even be run from your home (or dorm room).
1. 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 products through an ecommerce store, online marketplace, or in-person events like a local market. There may be opportunities to sell or market your goods on campus, too. Check with your student administration for rules around commercial activity on school property.
🧼 Success Story: How Katie Carson Build a Soap Empire on YouTube
Royalty Soaps was born after its founder—then a high school student—gained a loyal YouTube following for her soap-making content. 👉 Read Katie's story
2. Start a tutoring business
Help high school students with summer studies or younger students prep for the college classes you aced last semester. You can advertise your services on campus and across other marketing channels. Use a simple ecommerce website to sell time slots and showcase your skills and offerings.
3. Sell digital products
This is one of the best business ideas for students living in cramped apartments or dorm rooms. All you need is a computer and your creativity. If you’re studying design, try creating templates or printable digital art to sell online. In a music program? Create beats or short music clips to license for commercial use.
4. 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. This college business idea is a great way to connect with the local community and build your network.
5. 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. This is one of many startup ideas in this list that’s ideal for those living in small spaces like dorms. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection.
6. Become a content creator
Angelina Li started making her own slime at age 14, documenting her experiments on TikTok. After she went viral, she built Fireflyslime, running the business while attending college.
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. If you’re starting from scratch, the key to building a following on social media is finding a niche market and creating consistent, engaging content that speaks to your target audience.
7. 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. Ready to level up? Fashion students can upcycle old materials like vintage blankets into new goods to resell.
8. 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 mugs. This business model is a great startup idea you can launch in your free time and run without much oversight.
9. Become a freelancer
Make yourself available to take on freelance work like editing, copywriting, illustration, graphic design, consulting, or whatever it is that you do best. You can set up a portfolio site or create a listing on a site like Upwork or Fiverr. This profitable business idea has low startup costs—and can earn you some serious money.
10. Create experiences
As a hospitality student, you may consider testing your skills by creating experiences. Can you build and sell local 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. In person or virtual classes can also fall under this category. Have a skill and a knack for teaching? Advertise DIY workshops or online marketing courses.
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 craft markets, art fairs, or a temporary pop-up shop.
🥪 Success Story: How a Vegan "Meat" Brand Launched at a Farmer's Market
Brother and sister team Kale and Aubry Walch tested their recipes at a local market before building their own plant-based deli. 👉 Read their story
12. Run a summer camp program
Alleviate parent burnout by offering programming for children in the summer months. Choose one your interests—say math, drama, or wilderness exploration—and create an engaging camp program for young kids. This is a great college business idea for those studying early childhood education or aspiring teachers.
13. Offer technical services
There are several services you can offer to fellow students or the local community, including translation services, data entry, coding, transcription services, audio engineering, and tech support. Local businesses may also be looking for help with technical tasks. Advertise your skills on your college campus or reach a wider audience on social media platforms.
14. Start and monetize a podcast
Starting your own podcast is one of the best startup business ideas for college students studying broadcasting or sound engineering. Choose a topic you love where you can bring a unique perspective and find an untapped audience. Once you’ve built a solid listener base for your podcast, you can monetize it by selling ads or even your own merch.
15. Create and sell student resources
If you’re in your second or third year of college, you’ve likely learned a thing or two about how to make the best of your time at school. Other students may benefit from your experiences—and be willing to pay for it. Transfer your knowledge to survival guides, essay writing support, study resources, or care packages that you can sell to new or younger students.
16. 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. Otherwise, your for-profit business can still aim to donate proceeds to a cause of your choice. Consider worthy causes that are close to home, like providing support for students on financial assistance.
17. Innovate and develop a new product
If you’re in an industrial design program, you have access to the tools and software to help you develop a product. If you stumble upon a great invention that could solve a pain point, don’t wait until you graduate to bring it to market. Tap into campus resources to launch your business while you’re still in college.
👩🏾🦱 Success Story: An Art Major Developed a Product to Fill a Market Gap
Yelitsa Jean-Charles was dissatisfied by the options for dolls with Black hair. So she designed her own. She built her successful business, Healthy Roots Dolls, to teach a generation to love their curls. 👉 Read Yelitsa’s story
18. Organize on-campus events
Enrolled in a marketing or hospitality program? Put your learnings to work by offering event planning services. You can connect with local businesses to run a job fair or organize a group of other student-run small businesses to host a handmade goods market on campus. Generate income to help you pay for college by charging booth fees or selling tickets at the door.
19. Try affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is a great way to make money online with minimal effort, once you set it up. This is one of the best business ideas for students with already busy schedules. To get started, you’ll need an audience, whether that’s a loyal group of subscribers on YouTube or an engaged Substack email list. You’ll then embed affiliate links in your content, promoting another brand’s products and making a commission when it leads to a sale.
20. Offer branding and marketing services
A great college business idea for design and marketing students is setting up a mini branding agency to help other brands create logos, develop a branding package, or plan marketing campaigns. Look no further than local businesses when seeking clients for your marketing services. This is a great place to start when building skills like pitching and client communications.
The benefits of starting a business in college
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
Sure, business school can teach you theory and formulas, but there’s nothing like doing business to learn the ropes. Experience helps make your résumé stand out from the competition.
Learn hands-on skills
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. This network can include faculty, other students, and members of the local business community.
Try out an industry before you graduate
Studying fashion management? Run your own business selling clothes online to get a taste for the business. Have an interest in working with animals? Try your hand at starting a pet business, offering services to pet owners like dog walking or cat sitting.
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.
Gain job opportunities
Your experience running a business will expose you to other people and businesses in your industry. If you make a great impression, these connections could lead directly to job offers after you graduate.
Prepare for your future
One of the biggest takeaways from the FIRE movement is that the earlier you start planning for retirement, the earlier it can happen. Earning income through a small business in college means that you may be able to start saving and investing now.
💡For parents and teachers: Know a younger student looking for a summer opportunity? Browse age-appropriate business ideas for students in Shopify’s guides to business ideas for teens and business ideas for kids and help them start a business that sets them up for success.
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?
- What are my goals?
Graduate ahead of the class
There are infinite small business ideas for students of all ages. College students should especially take advantage of this exciting phase of life to explore all possibilities for the 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
Business ideas for college students 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.
What’s the easiest business to start in college?
The easiest businesses to start in college is one with a business model that allows you to have a flexible schedule, a low barrier to entry, and low initial investment. These include affiliate marketing, selling digital products, virtual assistant services, and dropshipping.