When I was in college, I had no idea about earning opportunities like being a content writer or playing textbook arbitrage. Instead, I spent three years in the dining hall cleaning meal trays and scrubbing mystery meat out of institution-sized pans.
That’s when I learned that some of my peers had discovered an opportunity to study and get paid at the same time. Twice a week, they trekked to the nearest big city to sell their blood plasma, earning money while catching up on their required reading. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it.)
It’s been nearly a decade since I graduated, but students are still earning extra cash by exchanging some red for a bit of green. Courtney McClellan, a student at BYU Idaho, has been selling plasma during the school year for three semesters and describes it as a great opportunity for her to earn extra spending money while using her tablet to keep up with assignments, or even catch up on television shows when she needs a break from academics. Sisters Jessica and Melissa Gierach, from Wisconsin, also give plasma to earn extra cash.
Want to give it a try? Here are their tips for making the most of your plasma.
How Much Can You Earn?
It’s common for plasma donation centers to pay between $20 and $30 per visit, up to twice a week. Courtney said that she was paid $25 for her first session of the week and $45 for her second, for a total of $70 a week or $1,120 for a 16-week semester. Not too shabby!
Want to earn even more? Before you make an appointment, do a quick search online or in your local papers to look for opportunities to make more money. Many plasma centers offer sign-up bonuses that significantly increase the amount you earn for your donation.
If you can’t find one, see if someone in your social network can refer you. Courtney said her local plasma center offered a $50 referral bonus when she referred a new donor who gave blood at least four times. To encourage more of her friends to take advantage of the money-making opportunity, she’d share some of her bonus with them. Chances are, you’ll find a way to score a little extra for your first few visits.
Your First Visit to the Plasma Center: What to Expect
When you arrive at the plasma center, you’ll sign in at the desk, fill out some paperwork and wait to be called in for the physical.
McLellan says she’s experienced a few issues during the physical which nearly prevented her from donating. She’s had times when her heart rate or temperature have been slightly too high, and once was even told not to wear nail polish. In situations like these, the staff may let you do the physical a second time or simply reschedule your appointment.
Once you get the green light to give, the nurse inserts a needle in your arm. A sterile machine draws your blood out and separates the plasma from the blood cells, which are then returned to your body. As soon as this process starts, you’re free to study or read while you sit for the duration of the draw. Jessica Gierach explained that it takes time to get used to the sensation, and she favors using small electronic devices over reading physical books.
At the end, the nurse puts a bandage on your arm and you’re all set to go. From start to finish, the whole process takes less than two hours. Melissa Gierach said that each time can be different, since it depends on how busy the center is and how quickly your plasma is flowing.
A Few Helpful Tips
To keep your body in optimal condition, take extra care with your nutrition. Jessica Gierach donated plasma twice a week for most of a summer, but had to stop after a few months because of her body’s low iron levels. The American Red Cross offers tips for blood donation that help plasma donors as well: make sure to eat plenty of protein and other iron-rich foods, and drink extra water before and after your donation.
Don’t go in for a session if you’re feeling under the weather; chances are, you’ll fail the physical and have wasted your time and energy in the process. If you smoke, you should refrain from smoking for an hour before and after each session. Also, you can’t donate if you’ve gotten any new tattoos or piercings within the last twelve months.
The FDA considers it safe to donate twice a week, with a minimum of 48 hours between donation times, though the American Red Cross recommends donating only every 28 days. The FDA also lays out guidelines for the amount of plasma you can give, depending on your weight. You’ll need to weigh at least 110 pounds and be 18 years old.
While you won’t get rich selling your plasma, it’s a great opportunity to get paid while you study. I’m still jealous — the closest I was able to get to studying while on the clock was to tape a page of notes to the dish-pit wall so I could glance at it between dinner rushes.
Your Turn: Have you earned money by giving plasma? What other ways have you been paid to study?
Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, We the Savers, and My Kids’ Adventures. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy, and mom of two kiddos who are learning about saving and wise spending by earning commission for housework.