College Students and Freelancing: Making Side Gig Money While in College
You’re told that the years you’re in college are the best of your life. Generally, that’s true, and it conveniently skims over one small detail: money. The cost of tuition, bills, study materials, clothes, toiletries and socializing all add up, and when you’re studying full-time, it doesn’t leave you with many options. Jobs for students are usually low-paying, during unsociable hours and lacking in future career prospects. It’s for this reason that there’s a growing trend toward college students and freelancing. In fact, last year a study commissioned by the Freelancers Union reported that 57.3 million Americans, and 47% of all Millennial workers, freelance. As Gen Z students ready themselves for work, that number is set to skyrocket. The study predicts that by 2027, 51% of ALL working adults in the USA will be freelancing. The vast majority of our transcription services in the US is done by freelancers, so we definitely have experience with this burgeoning field of workers.
Why freelancing? Well, that one is easy. The money is great, you can work your own schedule, and you almost always have the flexibility to work from any location while investing in your future. Besides, what have you got to lose? If you try it out and don’t like it, the worst-case scenario is you’ve got some money in your back pocket and a lesson learned. Best-case scenario, you’ve found a way to support yourself through college, built the foundation for a great career, and freed up time in your day to be able to enjoy these supposedly golden years!
Our Top 5 Reasons Why College Students and Freelancing is a great idea
Obviously, this comes at the top of the list for a reason. Despite there being many jobs for students available, the bulk of these are in retail or hospitality. The roles are notoriously low-paid and rely heavily on tips to make up the shortfall. Freelancing, meanwhile, allows you to name your own rate. You can decrease or increase your fee depending on how much business you’re getting; the earning power is completely within your hands.
Juggling classes, studying, and working doesn’t leave much time for any kind of a social life, especially when you factor in that most positions for college students involve an element of shift work. Freelancing while in college couldn’t be easier. As an example we have medical transcription work available to our freelancers 24/7. You choose which projects you take on and when you’re able to do them. It’s best to offer some flexibility to your client, and ultimately you will work with people who agree to your terms.
When you’re freelancing, the only things you need access to are a laptop and Wi-Fi. You aren’t constrained by time zone or area code, so whether you’re in your dorm room, on holiday over summer break, or back at your parents’ for Christmas, you’ve got the ability to be earning money. It is this flexible element of freelancing that is romanticized in the media. We’ve all seen the tanned couples traveling the world and being paid to do it. While that’s certainly the reality for a lucky few, for the majority it means that day to day, you can fit in work where and when you need to. On any given day, your ‘office’ can be your desk, car, the café down the road, even your bed. If that isn’t flexibility, I don’t know what is.
4. Grow Your Network
The opportunity to grow a business network is something well out of the reach of most college students. However, when you’re working as a freelancer, your potential network grows with each new client you interact with. Do a great job for a client, and they’ll use you again. If you continue to build that relationship, there’s no end to the possibilities that could open up for you. And let’s face it, sometimes it really is a case of who you know.
5. Test Drive A Career
Short of unpaid work experience, students are often not exposed to the industry they’re going to be joining until well into their degree, if at all. What if you have a natural affinity for a subject, but don’t want to pursue it to degree level? What if you think you’ve chosen the right degree, but when you enter the workforce realize it isn’t for you? Freelancing gives you the opportunity to test-drive a career. Let’s say you want to be a lawyer, you could give legal transcription a try. Naturally good with words but don’t want to study English? Give editing a go. Halfway through your graphic design course? Do graphics for a client and see how you find working to a real brief. It’s all part of finding the right fit so that when you leave college, not only do you have an education in an area you’re passionate about, but you have hands-on experience in the field. There’s a new company out of Chicago, Parker Dewey, that is specializing in this concept where college students or recent graduates can “test drive” a career they are interested in.
I’m sold. Now what?
First you need to consider what skills you have that are sellable. Start by looking at your transferable skills. The easiest way to begin as a college student freelancer is finding something you’re good at or something you enjoy and building on that. Even if it’s completely unrelated to your studies, you’ll be developing your chosen skill set by default.
If you’ve always had a flair for the artistic, this can put you in good stead for finding freelancing work. Investigate local night classes near you that offer courses in Adobe Illustrator (or similar) so that you can translate your art from paper to digital. Not only do the majority of new businesses want to pay someone to design their logo, but even general marketing/advertising material can be vastly improved by someone with a good eye for composition.
Customer Service/Good Phone Manner
Even if the extent of your transferrable skills is that you’re polite and well-spoken, there’s a place for you in freelancing. An understanding of what makes good customer service will go a long way. Any customer-facing or call center work is a bonus, neither are obligatory. A growing number of small businesses now outsource their customer care to freelancers.
If you’ve been blessed with great organizational skills, there is someone willing to pay you for your help. Particularly with start-up businesses, and also for temporary staff shortages in larger companies. Having someone who can take care of administrative tasks in a timely and professional manner is a valuable asset. As more companies look to outsource their workforce in order to save cost, demand for positions such as virtual assistants rise.
This is a twofold skill, as there is demand for both photographers and editors. If you’d rather be behind the lens, hone your photography/videography skills and begin to create a portfolio for yourself. If you’re happier with a mouse in your hand, brush up on your editing skills. The majority of work in this field is for product photography, but there is also an increasing amount of video editing for start-ups as well as ad-hoc event work.
Although this is a little more specialist, having knowledge on web design, in whatever capacity, can serve you extremely well in the world of freelancing. Whether you have experience in using the likes of Wix and WordPress or can design a site from scratch with HTML and CSS, there are clients in need of your skills.
When you’ve ascertained what you have to offer the job market, you can begin to look for a role that suits your abilities.
Choosing a role
Keep in mind that you can refine this as you go. You might start by providing customer care, then decide to focus on more of a virtual assistant role, before discovering that you enjoy content writing. With every project you undertake, you’ll learn more about your likes and dislikes. That is the beauty of freelancing.
One of our favorite options – because it fits perfectly with many college students – is the online tutor. If you have knowledge in any academic field, you can apply that to tutoring. If you have time to spare and a firm grasp of math, match up with someone looking for help with their GED. There is also a growing demand in non-English-speaking countries for private tutoring using video conferencing software. With ever-expanding globalization, online tutoring is expected to grow at an annual rate of 12.75% (CAGR) as published by Technavio.
If you have an eye for imagery and can navigate the relevant software programs, graphic design may be for you. Work ranges from creating a modest logo to full branding campaigns across multiple platforms. Graphic design is an industry where your portfolio matters, but on freelancing platforms you can often pick up work without one. If you set your fee correctly, you’ll quickly build up examples.
You don’t need an English degree to become a content writer, just a solid foundation of grammar, punctuation, and prose. Make sure you understand the functions of keywords and SEO before you get started and then you’re on your way.
A step up from content writer and generally higher-paying, editors charge an average of $25 an hour. Expectations about the extent of your editing contribution will vary depending on the client, so start off with a project you know you can handle and build up from there.
Do you know your HTML from your HTTP? If creating a website in your free time sounds like a walk in the park, consider picking up some work as a website designer. The money to be made in this field is uncapped, with businesses willing to pay top dollar for an engaging, user-friendly website. If you’ve got the skills, it’s a great industry to be working in right now.
Now to make it happen. Your main options at this point are trying to find a big client to work for. Going it alone and setting yourself up a website, or joining an online platform. Speaking from experience, I recommend all new freelancers join a platform – at least at the beginning. PeoplePerHour, Fiverr, and Upwork are the biggest names in the industry at the moment, and there are many others out there. Although they’ll take a cut of your earnings (usually around 20%), you don’t have to do any of the legwork involved in chasing potential clients.
No matter how you decide to approach it, start by researching your niche, determining your value, and putting yourself out there. The rest will follow, and if you are still having trouble check out this link for finding your first freelance client.
Thanks for reading our article about college students and freelancing. We’d love to hear what you think. Are you freelancing while in college? If not, will you be giving it a go? Let us know in the comments.