Freelancing as a College Student: 5 Strategies for Balancing School and Work

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After I couldn’t find traditional employment that balanced well with my commitments as a college student, I started freelance writing to use my skills, obtain real-world experience and make money.

Instead of having to juggle a job around full-time classes, freelancing can help you lighten your workload, get a much better paycheck and jump-start your career. It’s easy to set up, and you can complete assignments at times that work for you.

However, freelancing as a college student isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. I know first-hand that demanding classes plus demanding clients equals no fun for anyone. If you fall into that trap, it can be hard to get out, and both your academic and professional work will suffer. Before you know it, you could fail at work and school.

Worried about balancing a freelance career with classes? Here are five secrets that have helped me achieve a Zen-like harmony in my collegiate work life.

1. Prioritize Your Classes

This might seem like a no-brainer, but it can be easy to put classes on the back burner. No matter what, your classes always come first. That five-page paper due in a few days is much more important than that blog post your client wants.

I’ve had a few assignments that took over my studies, and I felt both drained and discouraged. Once I politely said no to those clients, I could focus again and keep my grades up. If I had chosen to stay with those clients, my schoolwork would have hit rock bottom. Choosing to cut ties and prioritize school was the best decision for me.

As a rule, you should never work on a freelance assignment until all of your school assignments are done for that day. After you’ve done your homework, take a breather, and then work on freelancing material.

Of course, you should do your best to deliver to clients in a timely manner. But in the end, your classes are of the utmost importance.

2. Let Your Clients Know You’re a Student

The best way to prevent your work from taking over is to explicitly tell your clients where you stand. By declaring your intentions, you’re preventing potential future conflicts.

Mention that you’re a college student in your bios and on your website. You can also send a quick, friendly note to prospective clients. Try something like this:

Keep in mind that I’m a full-time college student, so while I value you and your time, my classes will take priority. If I’m ever late on delivering, I’ll be sure to make it right.

Most clients will understand, and if they don’t, you don’t need them. More often than not, clients will be more than happy to accommodate. In my experience, people understand I’m busy, respect that I’ve let them know up front, and are willing to work with me.

3. Choose Your Activities Wisely

If you’re a social butterfly, you might be a member of many clubs and organizations at your college. Joining the right groups can be a huge benefit for your academic and professional careers, but as a student freelancer, you’ve got to choose which ones will be best.

For instance, joining an entrepreneurship club can help you make connections you’ll use later on in life. However, joining an air hockey team might not be the best use of your time. When you’re already balancing school and work, you don’t want to add anything more than you have to.

I personally choose to not belong to any clubs or organizations because they require too much time. However, if you find a group that will help you achieve your goals, join it.

To make it easier, ask yourself this one question: Will joining this organization advance my career? If not, reconsider it. This will help you filter out which clubs and groups will help you and which ones will hinder you.

4. Don’t Overexert Yourself

Know your limits and respect them. If you’re overwhelmed, stop and take a break. Don’t make the mistake of trying to finish building a website for a client during finals week. Plan ahead to get the rest you need.

If you have an avalanche of schoolwork (like upcoming tests or large assignments) that causes you to put off your freelance work, tell your clients you’ll be unavailable until you’ve turned in everything to your professors. When the academic stakes are high, you can’t risk an overload.

Go back to point number two and let your clients know. If you’ve got too much on your plate, send your clients a polite message saying so. After all, you told them you’re a full-time college student. I’ve told several of my clients this, and they’ve all been gracious and patient. Be straightforward and honest with them, and it will work out.

5. Make Your Own Rules

As a freelancer, you are your own boss. One of the best parts about the job is getting to choose who you want to work with. You are the one who says yes or no, and you work on your own time.

From the get-go, make sure your clients know that they’re agreeing to your terms. By choosing to work with you, they’re accepting your conditions for work. They can’t complain if they agreed to work with your schedule.

Of course, you do run the risk of your client choosing another freelancer who can deliver more quickly. I’ve found that the best way to combat this is to set up a portfolio showcasing your best work. I’ve had many clients come to me because someone else they hired did a poor job. Once they saw the quality of my work, they were willing to work with me, even though I wasn’t the fastest. Quality trumps speed, so keep that in mind as you journey down the freelancing road.

Your Turn: Have you freelanced as a college student? Share your tips in the comments!

Ian Chandler is a freelance writer based in Ohio, currently studying English at Kent State University.

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