Odd Jobs That Kept Me Afloat During College

While I was a student at UC Berkeley, I kept myself busy. Not just with classes, clubs, my sorority, and theater, but with work as well. By the time I’d graduated college, I had saved up enough to semi-confidently step into my first tech startup, knowing full well that the pay was essentially beans. In four years, I’d taken on well over 20 odd jobs. Here are the ones I stuck with:

1.  Lindamood Bell, $15/hour

This was my main source of income. Lindamood Bell is a great company that specializes in teaching kids and adults with learning or cognitive disabilities. I spent 3+ years of my college career working with them any time I didn’t have class (or shows) scheduled, and full time during the summers. Much to their credit, they were always very flexible with my schedule. This was easily the most fun I’d had with a consistent job, since I basically was playing word and math games with adorable kids for hours.

2.  Scenic Design + Construction, $0-12/hour

This was partially for school credit, partially for cash money. Either way, the hours were intense on this one – I’d get in at 9am, head out to class by noon, come back by 3 or 4pm, head out for dinner at 6pm. Sometimes, if we were close to an opening night, I’d be back from 6pm to 2am. Then back in at 9am the next day. Hoo-rah.

This was back when I thought I wanted to spend my life building and designing sets, so it was worth it at the time. That said, it’s not something I’m likely to do again.

3.  Weekend Birthday Fairy, Princess, or Clown, $30-60/hour

That’s right. I’m a certified face painter. I can eat cake with the best of them. This was also a fun gig, and surprisingly lucrative. Parents will pay a lot for a vetted, non-serial killer to pretend they’re a fairy, princess, or clown for their kids’ birthdays. This wasn’t a regular thing – maybe one Saturday or Sunday afternoon every other month – but it gave me some serious spending cash for food, textbooks, and of course, more face paint.

My one regret: I never got to be a Power Ranger. Kids these days.

4.  Singing Telegram, $30/song

Oh yes, it gets weirder, folks. Since I had a surplus of silly costumes (I don’t know whether to blame my theater major or sorority for that one), I figured I might as well use them. I started scrolling through Craigslist Gigs for opportunities, and saw someone asking for a singing telegram. This woman wanted to celebrate her friend’s birthday from afar, and paid me $30 to dress as a fairy, bus to a high-end sushi restaurant (where her friend was having a birthday dinner), and sing Happy Birthday to her. It took all of a half hour, and boom. $30 in my Paypal account. Oh, the days before Venmo…

I liked it so much, and had so many odd costumes, that I started advertising on Craigslist. Mostly Happy Birthday, but I got a few stranger requests – one of the most memorable of which asked if I could dress as a pirate and sing “A Pirates Life for Me” for a physics student who was trying to build the most perfect hydrodynamic canoe.

5.  Psychological Guinea Pig, Free Food – $50/study

It’s a college campus, and students are trying to make their mark with their own “studies.” This ended up being a tiny gold mine. Most would offer pizza as their way of saying thanks, but some offered up to $50 for a half hour of your time. Some required I bring in my at-the-time Significant Other, who was happy to join for the free food and pocket cash. All-in-all, you go, answer questions, and leave. I took every opportunity they offered.

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So there you have it! While I’ve never been especially spendy, these padded my savings enough before graduation, so I could drain it all and start from scratch with my first startupAh, the circle of life.

2 thoughts on “Odd Jobs That Kept Me Afloat During College

  1. Haha I love doing odd jobs. Does give you interesting skills that could come in handy later in life. Never know right? From high school till I graduated college, I worked for a party rental company in the summer time when I was home. Setting up and taking down moonwalks, party tents, tables, chairs, concessions, etc for parties. Not a bag gig. Worked outside and got a nice tan, forced workout since it was manual labor, decent money, and most of my friends worked there too. So basically got paid to hang out with my friends.

    • Definitely – learning basic carpentry, sewing, how to interact with kids well… all of that has vastly improved my quality of life and independence. I was happy for the spending cash at the time, but now that I’m starting to fix up my home (!), I’m looking back at those one-off jobs more thankful than ever.

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