Attention grad students! If you’re anything like me when I was in graduate school, you’re feeling underpaid overworked, stressed and overwhelmed. Graduate school is tough, and one of the things that makes it tougher is that you’re usually financially strapped while you’re trying to complete your degree. I want to share with you how to earn money as a graduate student. For me, private tutoring was an invaluable way to make sure I not only had money to survive but also money to thrive. And best of all, it never affected my ability to meet my academic obligations in my program.
Note: I’m not talking here about tutoring for the writing center on campus or any other similar program. I’m talking here about finding your own students, charging your own rates, and maximizing the amount of money you are able to make in a short amount of time. There’s a big difference between the two!
I did my master’s and then was a PhD student at the University of Hawaii. Living in Hawaii is paradise, of course, but as you might expect, living in Hawaii is not cheap, and unfortunately, graduate assistants stipends were abysmally low. (Partly because the Hawaii state legislature repeatedly refused to recognize our right to unionize…) Rent was high, food costs were high, and attending nearly any conference meant spending tons of money on airfare from one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world.
I got a big wake up call when I realized one day that even with my graduate assistantship which covered tuition and provided a stipend, even with the cheapest housing I could find, and even having come into the program with a decent amount of savings from tutoring I had done before starting the program, I was nearly broke.
So what did I do?
First, I refused to take out loans to finance my education or to finance my everyday life. I don’t want to pay the interest on student loans.
How I earned money as a graduate student
Instead, I started tutoring again on the side. (I had tutored before grad school, but dropped it during my MA program since I mistakenly assumed I couldn’t do both.) Once I restarted with tutoring, I tutored online when I could, and locally near or on campus otherwise. I usually worked only about 5 hours per week, and my goal was to earn about $1,000 per month. Just enough to make my life easier.
It made all the difference in the world.
I was able to upgrade to a shared apartment off-campus, and I could even afford to buy “luxury” groceries like strawberries and fancy olives. It doesn’t seem so much like a luxury anymore, but it definitely was that at the time.
My mental health improved as well. I hadn’t realized how much finances were stressing me out. But having just a little bit of extra money so that I wasn’t so strapped for cash gave me the freedom to be able to order takeout when I needed to, to order my own physical copy of the book I was reading for my research instead of relying on bad scans, and simply not to worry about every single penny.
So what about you?
If you aren’t sure yet whether tutoring might help you as a graduate student, here are three reasons to consider it.
Reason 1: Earn money while optimizing your pay per hour
As a graduate student, it’s so easy to undervalue what your time is worth. If you look for jobs around campus, so many of them pay too little to justify spending your time at that job instead of working towards your degree. Graduate students are busy and we don’t have a lot of time that we can take away from our studies and our research.
Tutoring allowed me to maximize the amount of money that I earned per hour. I set my rate at $45 per hour during the first semester. Within my first year of tutoring as a graduate student, I raised my rates to $60 per hour and was still regularly turning down students in order to make sure I wasn’t spending too much time tutoring.
It was amazing to compare my income from tutoring with my graduate stipend.
The stipend averaged out to about $50 in income per day, and I was expected to work 20 hours per week as a graduate assistant in order to earn that stipend. But with tutoring, I was able to double my income by adding only an extra five hours of work to my week. Not too shabby!
Reason 2: Use your expertise
If you are pursuing a degree in a high-demand field like math, chemistry, computer science, or any other STEM field, you should be able to find students easily. Whether that be students undergraduate students at your university, high school students in the area, or online students around the world, tutoring in these fields is always in demand.
And even for liberal arts majors, there’s plenty of need for tutoring in reading, writing, foreign languages, and ESL.
Or you could try tutoring test prep (SAT, ACT, or even GRE your own scores are high enough). These subjects are also always in demand and can pay well since the stakes for these exams are so high.
Reason 3: Increase your quality of life and therefore your mental health
Even if you only tutor one or two hours per week, the added income can be so useful if you set it aside for tiny luxuries that will make all the difference in your mental health.
Maybe that’s just buying healthier food, or food that is quick to prep. Or it’s indulging in your coffee habit without anxiety about how expensive Starbucks is compared to Folgers at home. Or maybe, like me, you would find it useful to put your tutoring income towards rent in a better apartment where you can feel more relaxed.
Stress and anxiety in graduate school come at us from all directions, but having a little bit of extra income can go a long way toward lowering some of the financial stress.
You may have worries though about devoting time to tutoring. So let me address some of those here.
Worry 1: Will I have time for my research?
In my own experience, yes, you will have time for your research. Of course, you have to make sure that you are limiting your tutoring time so that it’s not impeding your academic progress.
But it’s possible to add a significant amount to your weekly or monthly income even by tutoring only 5 hours a week or so.
That works out to only one hour every weekday, or a couple of hours each day on the weekend.
Even if you don’t have a rigorous research schedule, it’s typically possible to find a few hours here and there during the week, especially if you cut back on some of the honestly mindless and unproductive things that we usually end up doing to distract ourselves from our stressful lives (Feeling super guilty about Netflix binges, anyone?)
Worry 2: What if I already have graduate assistant responsibilities?
First of all, congrats on having some financial support from your department!
I’ll bet it’s not enough though.
Your graduate assistant (or teaching assistant or research assistant) duties likely include up to 20 hours of work per week, so you might already be feeling stretched for time. However, in my experience as a graduate assistant, my work usually didn’t take up all 20 hours so there was still time in my day to carve out a little bit of space for tutoring.
Another option would be to tutor during the summer when your graduate assistant duties may not exist, or when you at least don’t have coursework obligations.
Worry 3: Will my advisor be mad?
Hopefully your advisor values your own mental health and financial stability just as much as they value your progress towards your degree….
But of course not all advisers are like that.
If your advisor is more controlling, you might consider simply not telling them, the same way that you don’t inform your advisor about the hours you spent on Netflix last weekend. I’m not saying to lie or be deceptive, but simply that you can make tutoring your own business rather than somebody else’s business. Just make sure you limit your tutoring hours. The good news is that if you’re getting more tutoring requests than you can handle, you can definitely raise your tutoring rate!
If you think tutoring might be an option for you as a graduate student, I invite you to download my tutoring business starter kit PDF below.
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Be sure to also join the Private Tutoring Society group on Facebook for more tips and recommendations for finding students and getting started in your tutoring side job.
Hope to see you there!