Financially Speaking Students Have It Rough
While student loans may appear to ride to the rescue, providing much-needed cash to pay inflated tuition fees, they can come back to bite you. In the US, you can never write off a student loan, even with bankruptcy it is very difficult to do so.
You must pay it, no matter what. Once you take on a loan, you're in a state of indebted servitude until you pay it off. It's a travesty, but a situation that millions of students face once they leave education.
University degrees aren't, unfortunately, what they used to be. Fifty years ago, being a graduate put you top of the line for a lucrative job in a sector of your choice. Those with degrees in English went into journalism, those with biology into life sciences and medical research, and so on down the list.
Today, though, things are much less clear cut. Students don't always get the careers that they want on leaving university. Many must make do with that they get.
The case today for students to freelance is stronger than ever. Not only is there the ever-present student debt issue, but students need to build their skills.
Many young people go to university, believing that they are developing valuable, marketable skills, only to find later that they are woefully inadequate. It's a tragedy, but also utterly avoidable with the right approach.
If you're a student, here's why you should be freelancing.
Have you ever heard people using the terms "book smart" and "street smart" to describe others? It's a distinction that experienced workers often draw between the two types of people that they encounter.
Usually, you'll find that the types of people who do best in the world of work aren't those with first-class honours from Harvard University: they're people who started at the bottom and worked their way up to the top through guile and cunning. It wasn't books that propelled them: it was their ability to negotiate successfully with the world around them.
As a student, you spend a lot of time developing "book smarts." Being book smart is a great thing. It gives you confidence that you're using the correct principles.
However, if you really want to get a leg up on the competition when you graduate, it pays to develop your street smarts too. And no arena is better for doing this than the freelance world.
As a freelancer, you soon learn that what matters is delivering value to clients. It changes your perspective. You're no longer so concerned with the academic minutiae of a task.
What's more important is how it's perceived by the person you're serving. You're putting yourself into the shoes of others and working out what it is that they want. It's a fundamentally different skill and not something that university comes even remotely close to teaching.
Waking up at 7 o'clock and studying from 8 until 6 at night is a hardcore day as a student. You need an outlet that isn't poring over books in the library or going to lectures. You need something that whisks you away from your studies and offers a different type of challenge.
Again, freelancing can help. Freelancing provides you with opportunities to stretch your legs and apply your skills to something new. Learning is important, but it's not the only thing that matters. Doing is important too.
Things can get a little stale at university or college if you're doing the same thing every day. It's healthy to have activities outside of studying for your mid-terms.
While you could choose to play sports or socialize, why not do something productive instead? By working freelance, you can get a little extra cash on the side as well as build a portfolio of skills you can sell full-time once you graduate.
As any seasoned student knows, the demands of the academic year vary enormously from week to week. The start of the year is often the most relaxed. You have plenty of time to ease into your courses, get to grips with the material, and see friends.
Then, as the semester progresses, things become more intense. Suddenly you must begin preparing for exams and spend long evening revising. Before you know it, the university has consumed your entire life. The week before finals is manic.
The great thing about freelancing is that it can fit into even the most varied of university schedules. You could do fifteen hours of work outside your regular studies in the first week of the semester and nothing during exam periods: it's entirely up to you.
This flexibility gives you options. If you find yourself ahead on your studies, you can take on more work to fill up the time. If you're behind, you can take on less.
What's more, you can work during "dead hours" of the day and week, like the weekends or early mornings. You can tailor your working week around your natural sleep-wake cycle and work at the times when you're at your most productive.
College and university are expensive. Student loans have made it easy for universities to ratchet up their fees and begin charging obscene amounts of money.
If you're one of the many people who would like to avoid going into debt but still wants a post-grad qualification, then freelancing can help.
Just sit back for a moment and think about how much money you could earn over a four-year course as a student freelancer. Let's say, conservatively, that you make $20 per hour and that you work for ten hours per week, one hour in the evening and then five hours on a Saturday morning. Over a year, you could earn $10,000, and over four years, $40,000.
Often, a sum like that alone is enough money to support you through the first couple of years of a Masters or Ph.D. Obviously, if you do more than that, you can earn an even larger pot of money to put towards future education. Freelancing, therefore, helps you flexibly invest in your future studies without compromising the present.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote that the man whose work is also his hobby is happy indeed. He wasn't wrong. Ask most people what they'd like to do for a living, and it usually has something to do with their primary interests. Musicians want to play their pianos in front of large audiences. Photographers want to shoot exciting documentaries. People who love sports want to play in front of crowds of adoring fans.
Freelancing, in many ways, provides similar opportunities. Finally, you can indulge in something that genuinely interests you, instead of having to go with what seems to offer the best financial rewards.
In many ways, university is the ideal time to go freelance. You don't have any financial responsibilities or obligations. It's unlikely you have a family or run an expensive car. How you spend your time is entirely up to you. You have the luxury of choosing freelance activities that make you happy without compromising on income.
Not all freelancers are stressed programmers writing HTML code until the early hours of the morning. Many are just regular people like you, indulging in their passion and then selling the results. You could join them.
The reason most major companies have "graduate programs" is because they know that people fresh from university don't have all the skills that they need to be productive team members. It takes time to build up the tacit knowledge you for a corporate role. It doesn't happen overnight.
Despite this, employers still want graduates. They know that eventually, they'll come good and pay for themselves. But make no mistake: they'd prefer it if graduates had both the skills and experience to add value to their enterprise.
Again, this is where freelancing can help you stand out from the pack. If you freelance throughout your university career, you can build up transferable skills for the workplace.
More importantly, you can gain a genuine understanding of what it's like to work for real clients. You soon realize that what matters is your ability to deliver a product, not meet some academic criterion.
Many people never get to experience what it's like to be their own boss. Students go through university, taking direction from professors, only to find themselves in jobs where they must take orders from bosses.
Being a freelancer shows you that there's a whole other world out there - one that doesn't look anything like the dominant paradigm. It teaches you that you don't need to have a boss.
Nobody must stand there and bark orders at you for you to be productive. You're free to go out into the world on your terms and find clients who derive value from your services. Making it on your own is a real possibility.
You might think that freelancing is only for people with highly developed skills. If you're not an ace writer or sophisticated SEO expert, you're stuck. But the market has a funny way of finding ways of including everyone, no matter their level of skill.
What you'll often find in the freelance world is an enormous spread in the price that people are willing to pay. Some people, for instance, want to spend thousands of dollars on a new website with all the bells and whistles and the best content and features.
Others, however, want to pay less than a $100 for something basic. As a student freelancer, you might not be able to create custom websites with stunning content and images, but you can probably put together a passable one.
Freelancing, therefore, is a way of honing your skills. At first, you go in low and do what you can. Then, over time, you gain new skills, become more confident, and feel able to take on more challenging and lucrative projects.
While some students imagine that they can live on beer and intellectual stimulation alone, for many, it's not enough.
If you're not a natural minimalist, student life can be hard. You must stick to a pretty meagre budget and can never splash out on the things that you want - all that must wait for the future.
Or does it?
With a freelance income, you can start enjoying full-blown adulthood early. Not only do you have the responsibilities of a job, but the rewards too. While everyone else is scrounging around looking for ways to save money, you've got the freedom you need to live life on your terms. You don't have to make so many compromises because you can afford not to.
Many students lose their way at university and college. Once they're out of the straight jacket of the school system, the lack of structure is punishing. They find that they are up drinking all night and sleeping all day. The days and weeks blend into one, and there's no routine in their lives.
Eventually, this lack of routine leads to disaster. Nearly half of all people who enroll in university courses wind up dropping out - a tragic loss of potential.
Freelancing, however, helps you avoid this catastrophe. Far from being something that competes with your academic work, it complements it. Freelance work forces you to develop a schedule and have discipline, and it rewards you immediately if you do.
Many freelancers get paid there and then for the jobs that they do. You have a reason to get up in the morning, and you can set yourself financial goals. Working isn't about passing an exam that might have some dubious economic value in the distant future: freelancing pays you in the here and now.