Most Likely To Succeed

The 9 best businesses to start from your dorm.
Magazine Contributor
10 min read

This story appears in the March 1998 issue of . Subscribe »

The days when college students split their time between studying and flipping burgers at the local fast-food joint are over. Instead of serving up fries for minimum wage, college students are making some serious cash running businesses right out of their own dorm rooms. And who can blame them? There's no overhead, Mom and Dad often foot the bills and there's direct access to thousands of customers. College used to be considered the training ground for tomorrow's managers and corporate execs, but now it's becoming the place to get hands-on experience in business ownership. Here's a look at the top nine businesses you can start from your dorm room.

Frances Huffman is a freelance writer and publisher/editor of U: The National College Magazine, based in Los Angeles.

Web-Site Developing

Companies are stumbling over each other in the race to get on the Web, but many corporate execs are still in the Dark Ages when it comes to high-tech. College students have a tremendous advantage in the computer arena: They get free access to their schools' computer labs--which usually have some of the most up-to-date equipment.

Charles Strader and his two roommates, Richard Skelton and Pablo Mondal, all 21-year-old seniors at Boston University, got wired into entrepreneurship when they were sophomores in 1996. That's when the partners, who worked in the school's computer center, fielded a call from a local hair salon that wanted help launching a Web site. Using their own computers and the computer center's scanners, the trio launched the site--and their own business, Net One--from their off-campus apartment.

"It was great," says Strader. "We were able to use our own computers and shareware graphics programs so our costs were near zero." The site really made the grade, and since then, the Net One crew has worked on about 50 sites for fees ranging from $300 to $35,000. With the addition of a second Web-site design business, Digital Commerce Laboratories, launched in partnership with another local company, the students expect to cash in to the tune of about $83,000 in 1998.

Club Promotions

If anybody has the energy to go clubbing 'til dawn--then hit campus for an early-morning class--it's college students. That's why so many college students are starting businesses as club promoters. Working with local club owners, students promote the clubs by handing out fliers and coupons of the "get in free before 10 p.m." variety.

To make it as a club promoter, you've got to know the club scene, and serious schmoozing is a requirement. The more people you know, the better chance you'll have of getting a big draw at the door. Most promoters get a percentage of the take at the door, so in a single evening, students can rake in several hundred dollars.

Promoting also means a lot of late nights--once you've gotten people in the door, you've got to work the room and entice them to go to your next club event. Start-up costs are minimal, but you need lots of charisma to convince club owners you can host an event and bring people in.


To start a tutoring business, you've really got to know your stuff. But if you're a whiz at math or tops in your French class, why not impart that knowledge to your fellow students . . . for a fee, of course. Tutors charge anywhere from $5 to $15 per hour, depending on the region and the subject matter. Highly technical subjects command higher rates than liberal arts subjects, and students in major metropolitan areas generally charge more than their rural counterparts. Students who tutor in required subjects such as English or math often enjoy the greatest success, because every student has to pass those courses to earn a degree.

To advertise your service, place a classified ad in the school paper, put up fliers around campus or create your own Web site. Your Web site or fliers might offer something like "10 Tips to Pass English 101" for free, and include your phone number for private tutoring.

Resume Writing

Graduation day used to be the day students started thinking about getting jobs. No more. These days, students have to start thinking about landing "real jobs" from the minute they enter college. What all that job-hunting means for entrepreneurs is sure-fire success with a resume-writing business.

Helping students create professional, eye-catching resumes can turn into a resume-builder of your own. What you need is a good graphics software program such as QuarkXpress or PageMaker, which cost about $1,000, and a way with words. Your ability to tailor resumes to the types of jobs students are seeking will determine your success. For instance, a student seeking a position in accounting should have a no-nonsense resume that looks conservative and professional, while a fine arts student might require a more creatively designed resume. What you charge (most resume writers charge between $10 and $15 per hour) will depend on your location and can be an hourly or a flat fee.


Take a stroll across any college campus and you'll see hundreds of students wearing the same thing--jeans and a T-shirt. Levi's may have cornered the jeans market, but students are making their own mark in the T-shirt arena. All you need are some killer designs, a place to store your inventory, some sales ability and enough cash to buy an initial inventory of T-shirts and pay for the silk-screening. With some slick negotiating, you may not even need all that cash upfront.

University of Southern California (USC) student Scott Yamano convinced a T-shirt manufacturer to give him a "net 90" on his first order of 150 T-shirts, which means he had 90 days before he had to fork over the cash, when he started his company in 1995. That initial $750 investment has grown into a T-shirt, hat and beanie business called Limit Co. in Laguna Niguel, California. The company projects $10,000 in sales in 1998.

Yamano, 22, now sells his apparel line in a skateboard shop and on campus through word-of-mouth, and he's capitalizing on what he learns in USC's entrepreneurial studies program.


Can you spot a typo from a mile away? Do errant apostrophes give you hives? If so, read between the lines: Starting a proofreading business could be your ideal money-maker. In the business world, an ad, brochure or business letter that contains errors can make a company look unprofessional. Small companies, especially, need a second pair of eyes to review sales and marketing materials before they hit the streets. That's where you come in.

Proofreaders generally charge $5 to $10 per hour and sometimes charge a flat fee for certain projects. You need an excellent grasp of the English language, punctuation, grammar and spelling to make it in this field. If you do a good job, the companies you work for will tell other companies about your services.

In the meantime, some local advertising can help you get your start. Target businesses with fliers about your proofreading prowess. With this business, your overhead is virtually zero--just enough money to buy a few red pens for editing.

Computer Repair

According to a 1995 Roper College Track study, 29 percent of all college students have a personal computer at college. Considering the Census Bureau says there are more than 15 million college students in the United States, that means more than 5 million students have computers at school. And that number keeps growing. Although students are becoming extremely techno-savvy when it comes to using their computers, they aren't always so adept at keeping them humming. Students who know how to repair computers when they go on the blink can make some serious cash in college. Being able to diagnose and fix even minor computer problems can make you the most popular person in the dorm.

What you need is a strong knowledge of the inner workings of computer hardware. You may want to specialize in either Mac or PC systems--along with the quirks and most common snafus associated with the most popular software programs. As your school's computer 911 tech, you can charge an hourly rate (usually between $10 and $20) or a per-project rate. For late-night or early-morning emergency calls, you can slap on a premium.

In this business, it's imperative that you stay up to date on the latest advances in technology, and it's important to have adequate equipment yourself--software programs that diagnose problems, such as Norton Utilities, are especially useful.

Take advantage of computer-based advertising avenues such as e-mail and your own Web site. On a Web site, which you may be able to upload for free on your university server (be sure to get permission if you are soliciting clients through the university server), you might offer possible solutions to some of the most common computer problems or give answers to frequently asked computer questions. This helps establish your credibility as a computer expert and promotes good will that you are offering some advice for free.

Word Processing

Some business professionals never learned how to type; others don't have the luxury of a full-time secretary and would rather spend their time on more important tasks than typing. If you have adequate typing skills, a personal computer and a printer, you can be a word processor.

To let local companies know about your word-processing business, pass out or mail fliers in the community. As a word processor for local businesses, you'll be able to work on some projects from home; for others, you may need to go to a client's office and use their computers. Being flexible and available when clients need you is key to success in this business. Note that if you charge by the hour (typically in the $5-to-$10 range), the quicker you type, the more money you'll make. You may want to opt for a flat fee or a set price per page.

Laundry Pickup and Delivery

Sure, it's great to be away from the parents, but hordes of students really miss Mom when it comes to doing laundry. Laundry woes are a rite of passage for many college students, and it may take only one load of ruined clothes to make them sign up for a laundry service.

When it comes to a laundry business, you have a number of options. You can contract out with a local laundry service, meaning you provide the pickup and delivery service, and the customers pay the same amount they would pay if they brought the laundry in themselves. The clincher is the cleaner gives you a bulk discount, so you keep the difference.

Other entrepreneurs tack a small service charge ($2 to $3) on top of the regular price for pickup and delivery. If you have just 10 customers a day, five days a week, that could be $150 extra per week for you.

Young Guns

Thinking about starting a business while in college? Check out the Young Entrepreneurs Network in Boston. The Network offers peer support, business resources, consulting and contact with a network of entrepreneurs from around the world. For more information, call (617) 867-4690 or visit

Young Entrepreneurs Network, 376 Boylston St., #304, Boston, MA 02116

Contact Sources

Limit Co., 7 Hastings, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677, (714) 496-1895

Net One, 729 Boylston St., #206, Boston, MA 02116,

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