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.