14 Great Jobs for College Students That Give You "Real World" Skills
There’s a lot going on during your undergraduate years—and not all of it is directly tied to your future career. But at least part of going to college is about getting the skills you need to land your first job out of school. Relevant courses and internships are obviously great for this, but as a college career counselor I’ve also seen that there are a huge number of part-time jobs you can get as a student that will help you land your first full-time, post-grad job.
It all comes down to transferable skills—the abilities you develop in one role, industry, or situation that you can take with you to another. Think public speaking, prioritizing tasks, and other skills that are useful in many different contexts. So even if a job you have during school doesn’t feel relevant to your career path, it can absolutely still help you build strong transferable skills for entry-level work. In fact, almost any part-time job during college will help you hone your time management and organizational skills, which are useful in all post-grad jobs.
Here are 14 part-time jobs that college students can hold during the semester that will help you build valuable skills and experiences. These jobs tend to offer flexible schedules—so you can still go to class and get your school work done—and generally don’t require you to have much, if any, previous experience.
Many universities provide funding to professors and other on-campus researchers to hire undergraduate research assistants as a way to encourage them to mentor students. Research assistants gain valuable experience, become acquainted with the research process, and even develop discipline-specific lab skills, such as those related to designing surveys for sociology or psychology fields or working in a wet lab or cleanroom for medical, biology, or chemistry fields. Research skills are highly transferable to most industries since in many ways they are a form of problem-solving—a skill needed in all jobs—but they may be especially valued in fields like biotech, management consulting, or scientific research.
Sales associates assist customers at retail stores by finding items, explaining products and services, and processing payments. As a college student, you can find these jobs on campus (for instance, at the campus bookstore) or off campus at any retail store nearby. Through consistent interaction with clients, sales associates develop customer service skills, interpersonal skills, and, in some cases, sales skills. These three skill sets, while broadly useful, can be especially helpful if you’re trying to land roles in customer support, business development, sales, or PR.
A college tour guide is typically tasked with welcoming visitors to the school, representing the university, and taking prospective students and their families on tours around campus. Tour guides undergo training to learn university facts and history as well as presentation and persuasion skills. Tour guides get extensive public speaking experience—both memorized and off-the-cuff—while also developing marketing skills as they practice delivering the right message to “sell” the school to prospective students. Not all post-grad roles will necessarily require you to speak persuasively in as public a forum as a campus tour, but this skill will nonetheless be super valuable during business presentations or meetings. And marketing skills will of course be useful in a variety of marketing roles, but also in any job where you need to craft or deliver a message to others, whether they’re your colleagues, clients, customers, or prospects.
Alumni fundraising callers cold call former students to ask for donations to the university. Aside from fundraising skills, you’ll quickly overcome any resistance you may have to picking up a phone and calling someone. Any post-grad role where you need to make a quick connection, be comfortable on calls or in meetings, and communicate a persuasive message—whether it’s on a political campaign, in a sales role, or at a nonprofit foundation—will make use of these skills.
A babysitter or nanny cares for children—usually in the children’s home while the parents are away. They may play with the children, organize activities for them, prepare their meals, or assist them with bedtime routines. These types of roles can help you hone your scheduling, planning, and interpersonal skills for any type of job, but they’re especially useful for child development majors or aspiring teachers looking to gain experience working with children.
A social media assistant brainstorms social media campaigns, writes posts, sources or creates images, and keeps track of analytics. Working on social media means collaborating frequently with marketing and communications professionals, which allows you to learn about both fields. As a college student you might be able to find a social media assistant role for an on-campus department or for companies looking to hire part-time social media help, such as a nonprofit organization or a small retail business. These jobs are a great stepping stone to marketing and communications roles. But social media assistants can also develop excellent time management skills and are generally required to keep learning about industry innovations and mastering new software in a fast-moving field—skills that are broadly applicable across jobs and industries.
Baristas serve customers at coffeehouses and specialize in making espresso- and coffee-based drinks. Beyond the customer service aspect of the role, being a barista involves learning a hard skill (making often complex drinks) and applying that skill very quickly and consistently, often in high-pressure situations—such as when there are large crowds during the morning coffee rush. Most managers hiring entry-level employees in any field or industry will appreciate someone who picks up new skills quickly and applies them methodically.
Campus IT support specialists troubleshoot and fix technical issues related to software, hardware, or account access for faculty, staff, and students at a university. These skills are all obviously directly transferable to careers in IT, but also to any role where customer service and/or problem-solving make up a large part of the responsibilities.
A restaurant server waits on customers and serves their food. The role is fast paced and requires strong interpersonal and multitasking skill sets—which you can take with you to an array of fields including law, sales, and finance.
A tutor works one-on-one with a student to help them learn a particular subject. In other words, they’re basically a private teacher. You can tutor your college peers or younger students still in grade or high school. Practicing how to break down a complex topic into digestible parts can be a useful skill in many industries and roles—teaching is an obvious one, but this skill is also used in any role related to training or professional development (jobs in HR, for example) as well as writing (such as jobs in journalism and technical or medical writing), marketing, product, and more.
A residential assistant is an undergraduate (sometimes graduate) student who lives in the college dorms and is tasked with organizing activities and events for dorm residents as well as handling issues that arise in their building or hallway. RAs are frequently trained in administering basic first aid, managing conflict, and maintaining confidentiality. Aside from covering your room and board, RA jobs also help you develop skills that can be taken with you to roles in event planning, higher education, or counseling, to name just a few.
Administrative assistants kind of do it all when it comes to office work. Depending on the company, an administrative assistant might answer phones, maintain files, distribute office mail, greet clients, book rooms, order food for meetings, schedule appointments, or record expenditures. Since these jobs are found in all industries, working an administrative assistant role at the type of company you’re interested in post-graduation can be a good way to get your foot in the door. For example, if you’d like to work for a tech startup, you can apply for part-time admin assistant roles at these kinds of companies. Plus, you’ll gain a lot of administrative and clerical skills that companies are often looking for in entry-level hires across fields and functions.
A lifeguard is an expert swimmer who supervises a swimming pool, water park, or any body of water intended for swimming and rescues anyone who is drowning or in distress. During the certification process, they’re trained to calmly manage crisis situations and administer CPR if necessary. Hiring managers for roles that require focus, a level head, and a snappy response time—pretty much any role where you’re in a high-stress environment—will appreciate seeing this experience on your resume.
EMTs are, as the title suggests, emergency care providers who assist people in need of medical attention (think of the people who show up with an ambulance when you call 911). Many universities train undergraduate students interested in the health sciences to be EMTs and serve on campus—though working off campus is typically also an option. An EMT job offers valuable real-world experience working with patients and is highly relevant for anyone interested in entering the health professions. More broadly, you’ll also develop crisis management skills and certainly be able to speak about your ability to exercise discretion and handle high-pressure situations, which can make you a more attractive candidate for a huge range of roles.