How to Get Freelance Work While Still in School

Categories Articles, Web Design

Freelancing is becoming more and more popular as a way for students to earn money on the side. If you are actually hoping to go into a career in design, freelancing can also provide a leg up to help you get either better paying gigs after graduation or a full-time gig.

But freelancing when you’re also going to school full time can be tough (note that by ‘school’ we assume the student is studying design at university or college – but we note that some readers might be in high school). If you’re at school, the reality is you will have to handle things a little differently than the average freelancer who’s finished his/her studies.

Starting From Scratch

It’s rare for a designer still in school to have a large portfolio. Whether you’re starting your freelance career in community college or university you may not even have the student pieces that designers who have already graduated can often fall back on. That means that building up a portfolio has to be your first priority, even before actually making money.

Assuming that you already know the mechanics of the type of work that you’d like to take on as a freelancer, you do have a benefit as a student: on the average campus, there are tons of organizations that don’t have any budget for a website, fliers and other design work – but they still have the need. Taking on just a handful of these projects can get you well on the way to having a solid portfolio.

If, however, you aren’t particularly familiar with how to actually do design projects, it’s usually better to start with your own projects, rather than taking the time to learn on something that someone else expects done by a certain date. You can always use projects that you’ve done for yourself in your portfolio, although it’s best to replace them with work done for clients when you’ve got a little more experience under your belt, if only to show people that you’d like to work with in the future that you’re comfortable taking direction.

Managing Both Studying and Working

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A key issue for many student designers is finding a way to handle commitments to classes and clients. Considering the cost of attending college – and the potential issue with parents or others involved in helping you stay in school – making sure that you’re getting good grades and completing all of your school work is usually far more important than earning some money on the side by freelancing. So prioritize your school work.

Only take on the freelance work that you know that you have time for. There are plenty of ways to pick up smaller projects that you can fit in around essays and labs, such as bidding on smaller projects through sites that bring a whole bunch of clients together.

Make the effort to learn about time management and use tools that can help you keep everything on track. It’s not necessary to try out every different project management system out there or build one from scratch – the important thing is not which system you use, but the fact that you use a system in the first place. The same will hold true with keeping books for your business and sending out invoices. After all, just because you’re a student doesn’t mean that you won’t be expected to pay taxes on the money you earn while freelancing.

The Question of Age and Experience

For some students, more so for those in high school than nearing graduation from college, age can be an issue. Even clients who are choosing the cheapest freelancer they can find want as much experience as they can afford. If they know you’re a student, or worse, not even legal to drive yet, they may be a little more wary of working with you.

Unless you’re directly asked if you’re a student, it’s often best to just keep mum on the subject. Employers can’t ask job applicants their age, and freelancers don’t need to confess just how old they are. You don’t need to list the fact that you’re a student on your website and you don’t need to give out your age. Unless there is something very specific on your website or in the way you communicate with a client (like using your school email address), most people won’t even ever ask you about whether you’re a student or not.

Resources to Get Started

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Mae Krukin is a writer who covers design and art. Mae freelance’s at – a website for freelance designers.

  • I find if you don’t tell them your age it seems to go pretty well.

  • Rui

    Are you seriously recommending students delve into spec work (contest based, crowd sourcing – not really work but giving your ideas away for free) in order to obtain and start a freelance business? You’re kidding right? Hey boys and girls, DON’T DO THIS.

    As a rule of thumb, do work for free, or charge full price. Never for cheap, and never for spec – your undermining your future, your brand, and future reputation. I learned much of what I know now the hard way, and the truth of the matter is, that “jobboard” aka crowdsourced submission based system advertised in this article is bullshit. You’re spending valuable time sharing your ideas for the CHANCE to get paid. Remember the reason why you’re in this industry is because of your creativity, your ability to develop fantastic solutions for complex problems the average joe could never dream of. You make it “communicate” visually and literally.

    This article bummed me out — if I wasn’t so busy with actual freelance work I’d delve deeper into this touchy subject.

    So your a student and you want to build a good portfolio? Work on Self-promo pieces, redesign a company, brochure, etc. For the sake of improvement and developing a portfolio. This is all work you are doing for FREE for the purpose of self-promotion. join fantastic communities like,, hell even deviantart and learn from other designers and artists. Research, research, research. And when your ready (your really not) go after non-profits and ask if they have any design work they want to throw your way that you can do for free so you can use it in your portfolio. Animal shelters, government, foodbanks, second-hand stores, religious groups, etc. When your ready to expand from there is the best way for you to volunteer your design services to build an extensive portfolio, while dealing with real world clients from around the world – its a community that thrives on microvolunteering, and talented individuals donating their time.

    No there is no pay, there is no “contest”, there is no damn prize – but you make valuable connections with real people – especially if you start cold calling – which is the best way to achieve clients.

  • BudDesign

    I dont agree with Rui at all, since I got my chances because of these sites. As background, Ive finished uni now and Im working as a front-end designer. I worked on these sites for months while securing work. In fact, I secured the work using a portfolio based on designs I DID ON THESE SITES! For better or worse these sites are here to stay – I think they are a great tool to test my design skills without having to do the leg work to convince big name clients to give me a go.

  • Ham

    Or just be as hot as that chick in the photo and you’re in with a grin

  • G369

    Thank you!