I am a chemistry student in my final year of university.
Last year, at the end of August, I started freelancing on Fiverr. I was also putting in around 16–24 hours per week at my local shop. I eventually quit my job but continued to freelance on Fiverr and off the platform too, and now I am exclusively doing my own thing.
I had no real intention of freelancing, and when I first started writing for people on Fiverr, I didn’t even realise that is what I was doing. I was just writing for a bit of extra money.
I know there will be many others out there like me, but also many that know exactly what freelancing is and that want to try and do it alongside their studies.
I understand that it can be daunting, especially if you have never tried to manage anything else alongside your studies before. If you have experience working part time, then you will understand that time management becomes essential. But even if you don’t, you probably already know that just due to the way that university/college works.
Being a student is easy for some, and difficult for others. I find it to be somewhere in the middle. I didn’t socialise as much as the other first and second years, and by third year the work was getting very difficult. But I thought there might be a gap in there to try something different.
I needed the money from my part time job to pay for things like my mobile phone bill and new books and the like, but I was — and still am — lucky enough to be living at home with my parents. So I don’t have too many outgoings, but I still need money of course.
Other students might need the money to pay for rent, nights out or food, or whatever else they need to buy. Everyone has expenses, and so everyone needs money. Many students get part time jobs like I did, and some have parents to fund them.
Others look for different ways to make some extra cash, and many look to freelancing as a possible stream of income. This is definitely viable, but there are a few things to consider first.
I will assume you have a decent understanding of freelancing and how it works. I will also assume you have at least a vague idea of which skill or set of skills you would like to use to make money through freelancing. This will allow me to focus on the important points that surround freelancing as a student.
Why do you want to start freelancing?
Are you looking to make some extra money to buy a few more drinks on Friday nights? Are you saving up to buy a new pair of shoes? Or do you need the money to pay rent?
If you are just looking for some extra cash, freelancing could be the right choice. It allows you to try and do something you are good at in return for some money, but it definitely won’t be stable from the start.
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work”
If you are desperate for extra money just to be able to survive, be that by paying rent or buying food, it might be best to consider getting a part time job instead.
Freelancing is tough to get going with on its own, and it can be made even more difficult if you are stressed thinking about money and keeping up with coursework. That is not to say that you will find a job instantly, but it might be more likely than finding a few solid freelance clients right away.
You of course need a motivation for freelancing, and that motivation is usually money or the idea of working for yourself. But if you are really struggling financially, trying to start your own thing while also learning a university course could do far more harm than good.
Your financial situation could suffer — as you pay the opportunity cost by not trying to earn money in other ways (think part-time job) — and your mental health could take a big knock too — as you struggle to focus on finding clients and learning course material, all while balancing the other things in your life.
So, before you try to earn money freelancing, consider whether it will even be possible for you to handle it. Consider other ways to make money faster if you really are needing it — even just asking your family and friends might save you a lot of hassle.
What do you intend to do with your freelancing?
This is important, as it is worth thinking about both the short and long-term future. Are you looking to make some extra money now? Of course you are. But are you looking to continue freelancing past your degree? Maybe not.
I am going to continue freelance writing for as long as I feel I need to. I am looking to build websites and try various other ventures to make more money than just through writing alone, but I am definitely not planning to just give it up after I get my degree. That’s because I’m not sure if I will start hunting for jobs as soon as I get it.
I want to try and make something for myself first, and I know there will be a lot of others out there that feel the same. I know this will take a lot of time and effort, and I may need to consider other, less desirable options while pursuing my goals. But it means thinking ahead and understanding that I may need to continue freelancing for the foreseeable future.
Are you happy to continue freelancing after university or college? Or are you planning to stop as soon as you get your degree?
There is no right or wrong choice here, but it is worth thinking about right now. This is because you might adjust how much time and effort you put into finding clients and building relationships and actually doing the work.
If you don’t plan to take it any further than a few months, you will probably struggle to get things off the ground fast enough for it to be worth the time and effort.
If you are happy to stick with it for a year or more, you might find it to be very rewarding and well worth your time.
What are you studying?
There are no specific subjects that suit or don’t suit freelancing, as this is just one piece of the puzzle. However, there are definitely some that need a bit more thought. The first ones that come to mind are any concerning law or medicine.
These courses are notoriously difficult, and notoriously work-intensive. They have plenty of class and practical time associated with them, and lots of strict assessments too. These courses are designed to release the very best talent into some very lucrative fields of work, and so they are obviously going to be difficult.
If you are studying one of these courses, your motivation for freelancing is most likely to pay the current bills, and probably not any future ones. Your career path is fairly straightforward, provided you are good enough.
You will ideally pass your exams, and then get a good job in your respective field. From there, you will probably make a decent living, and will no longer need to think about freelancing.
You might of course keep it on the side, but like their associated university degrees, these jobs are very demanding, so you probably won’t have too much time left over after work.
It’s not just law and medicine that fall into this category of course. No matter what you are studying, if it is putting a lot of strain on your time, it might be best to focus on it and try to get by without freelancing.
Your degree is what should be the most important thing here, as it is definitely working in favour of your future self. If you take up a side hustle and sacrifice your education because of it, you might not come out of university with the degree you wanted, and then the side hustle can lose the aspect of being on the side.
If instead you are doing a course with a lighter workload, you might find yourself with a bit more time on your hands. You will still have plenty of contact time at university and lots of assignments and tests, but you might get by with a little less time studying at home.
This is time you could potentially devote to a side hustle, and so if you find your degree to be a little lighter on your shoulders, you could pick up freelancing as a way to make the most of your free time.
As I said in the beginning, I am studying chemistry. This has been tough, and continues to be so, but I find that I can balance my workload with my course material fairly well.
It really will depend on your individual situation. If you can afford to try it and see, go for it. The worst that can happen is you give up and focus on your education until you leave or are able to try again.
Importantly, you need to spend a fair bit of time thinking about whether or not freelancing is the right choice for you.
Freelancing takes time and effort, and sometimes even a little investment in software or equipment. This means you need to be sure it is a viable way for you to earn money.
You won’t know until you try, but you need to decide whether trying at all is going to jeopardise your formal education. Is your future dependent on your degree? Or is there a bit more room for trial and error?