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Posting about my low-paid job on TikTok helped me earn big. Now I can do what I love without worrying about money.

Charissa Cheong   

Posting about my low-paid job on TikTok helped me earn big. Now I can do what I love without worrying about money.
  • Allison Chen studied to be a pastry chef and worked in a kitchen while attending Duke University.
  • She was passionate about baking but worried about pursuing a low-paid career after college.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Allison Chen, 21, from New York, about using TikTok as a source of income. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

During my sophomore year at Duke University, I decided to move to France for a sixth-month pastry school. I was a biology major then but had lost interest in my degree. I've always loved cooking, particularly baking, and I decided to take some time off from college to pursue that passion.

Since studying at pastry school, I've worked as a pastry chef and have been building a baking TikTok account alongside my degree. My creator side hustle has been much more lucrative than any of my work in an actual kitchen, but I still don't think I'll be a content creator full-time immediately after university.

I went to a pastry school in France

France has the best pastries, and during my semester-long break from Duke in 2022, I attended École Ducasse to get my pastry diploma. This one was the most modern of the pastry programs I looked at. My parents were paying for my college education, so I used the money they would have spent on the semester and put it toward pastry school instead.

I learned about fundamental pastry techniques and French desserts. We made things like chocolate, croissants, and ice cream. I went to school six hours a day, four days a week. The school was based in rural France, so it was also a nice change of pace. I feel so lucky that I could have this experience; it was life-changing.

I finished the program in June 2022 and did a stage — which is an unpaid internship — in a patisserie in Paris.

I knew that I wanted to finish my bachelor's degree, and returned to Duke in August. I started a part-time job the following January, working back-of-house as a pastry prep cook in a restaurant near my university campus. I wanted to continue to practice my baking skills in a commercial setting.

While at pastry school, I started making baking content on TikTok

I downloaded the TikTok app a month before going to pastry school. I had made a few TikToks before, but while there, I'd film the chef's demonstrations, showing what my pastry looked like and filming myself eating it at the end. I wanted to document my experience so people back home could see what I was up to.

My videos started to go semi-viral, and over a month into posting, I had a video that hit a million views. I shared videos daily, and people seemed interested in what I'd learn next. I didn't intend to monetize my videos, but when I got back to the US, brands started reaching out to me with deal offers.

Most brands I work with are in the lifestyle space; they want me to help promote their products to a college-aged audience. I've done ads for a TV show and language app in the past.

Most of the time, the brands let me plan the video. I typically cook or make a dessert in line with the company's theme or the product they were promoting. I'd promote the product in the video, disclosing it was an ad.

Content creation made me an income, but I wanted to work in a restaurant for the experience. It's always good to work in different kitchens to learn how they operate and to learn new skills.

I was able to make more from content creation than pastry work

My part-time job as a pastry cook paid around $17 an hour. I worked between 10 and 12 hours a week on average. When I left in May 2023, at the end of the school term, I'd made around $3,000 over the five months.

It solidified that being a pastry chef alone was not a lucrative career. While I would love to continue to bake all day, I'm not sure I'm cut out for the long hours and low pay of restaurant work.

When I was working at my part-time restaurant job, I posted five ads for three different companies on TikTok and made $23,600 — over $20,000 more than the $3,000 I made from the actual job.

I now have almost 350,000 followers on TikTok, around 260,000 followers on Instagram, and 200,000 subscribers on YouTube. In addition to the money I can make from brand deals, I make as much as $500 a month through these platforms, including YouTube ad revenue and the Creator Rewards Program.

Content creation has given me an extra source of income; I don't need to worry so much about my future salary

It's hard to be a really good pastry chef. It requires a lot of work and doesn't always come with appropriate compensation. I think it's cool I've been able to supplement my pastry work with money from content creation. But content creation is essentially freelance work, and the income isn't consistent, which can be stressful. I'm still making money from content and hope someday to turn it into my full time job.

I graduated from Duke in mid-May after switching my major from biology to visual media studies. For now, I think I will get a job in addition to being a content creator. I'm thinking of applying for an internship in marketing to try something different and then returning to a pastry shop when I start to miss baking.

Content creation has helped me to pay for more of my expenses. In 2024, I started paying for my college tuition, which has allowed me to alleviate that burden from my parents, who were paying for it previously.

It's also given me more professional freedom. When I get a full-time job, whether it's in marketing or pastry or something else, I can be more flexible about the salary I'm earning because I have this other source of income — I can do pastry work without having to worry about the low income from working in a kitchen.

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