The 1 Thing I Wish I Did Before Graduating

Okay, maybe not THE ONE thing, there are plenty of things I wish I had done: gone out on more weeknights, spent more time with my suitemates, worried a little less about senior capstone, and so much more. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t really have any real regrets about college. I enjoyed my time, had plenty of fun and met some of the best (and worst) humans on the planet. However, looking back I often think, “what could I have done to better prepare myself for the real world?” Well after being in the real world for almost two years, the one thing I can definitely say I wish I had done is freelance.

I’ve only been freelancing myself for a little while, but I’ve been involved with hiring/managing freelancers for about 7–8 months. It’s something that most people don’t think of as a truly viable option to make a living, but there are people like Daniel DiPiazza and Kimra Luna who have been in the freelance world and have built wildly successful business ventures. Those who live in countries with a low cost of living can even make a great paycheck freelancing full-time! Even though there are numerous advantages and disadvantages of freelancing post-grad, I’ve found that freelancing does four HUGE things for college students that don’t always get taught in school.

1) FREELANCING SHOWS THERE ARE ALTERNATIVE METHODS TO EARNING MONEY.

PC: Andrew Pons

Wouldn’t it be such a great feeling to actually get paid for the work you do? College is all about producing the highest quality work you can, in exchange for a piece of paper saying you met the requirements to graduate, but producing that high-quality work doesn’t net you any money! Freelancing allows you to explore the things you’re interested in, on a small scale, while simultaneously getting paid for the work you do.

Sure, you might only be making $5/hour, but that $5/hour means a hell of a lot more to a college student because well, it’s money you didn’t have before. I’m no financial planner, but I’m pretty sure having more money in your pocket, even if it’s only a few dollars, is almost always better than having no money. For you student’s who are lucky enough to have parents who send you money while you’re at school, could you imagine the look on your parents’ faces if you said, “I only need $50 this time, not $75, I earned $25 by myself this week.” Maybe your parent’s wouldn’t be surprised, but my parents would have definitely been surprised if I were to tell them I didn’t want their money or didn’t need it because I was doing this thing in my spare time that netted me some cash. Obviously since college I have grown up and pay for my own things, but you get the idea; the money struggle can be real in college.

The great thing about freelancing as a college student is you are getting paid a relatively small sum of money periodically, yet it doesn’t make you feel like you NEED that paycheck. It’s a nice little bump so maybe you can go to that extra happy hour, or save for that new video editing software you’ve been eyeing, or maybe you’re really thinking ahead and want some extra cash to put away towards an apartment or retirement or a car or other adult things. No matter how you slice it, freelancing will help you learn about earning and making money like those of us (read: some of us) in the real world. And if you’re like 80% of college students who work full or part-time to pay for school, freelancing is a great way to earn some dollars without commuting back and forth, further wasting your time.

2) YOU LEARN ABOUT THE VALUE OF TIME.

When you’re a freelancer, it’s true you set your rates, but the market will quickly tell you whether or not your services are worth that much money. Because of this, you quickly learn that time is your most valuable and precious asset. Balancing school, jobs, sports and other “extracurriculars” (I know what you degenerates do on the weekends) can be very time consuming. Now throw in a hunt for freelancing clients, and it may seem impossible to easily manage your time. This is important because it will teach you that your time is in fact worth something.

Time is something that really has been the basis of so many technological and social innovations throughout the past few decades. Don’t believe me? Could you imagine taking time out of your day, to catch up with all of your friends and acquaintances via phone or snail mail? That’s what we did before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Gary Vaynerchuk has repeatedly said “Uber doesn’t sell transportation, Uber sells time.” And for all my NYC/Boston/Atlanta/LA/”big cities with uber” readers, isn’t that the reason you love services like Uber?! Why would I STAND OUTSIDE and hail a cab (with little success) when I can just make a few taps on my phone, spend more quality TIME with whomever I am with, and just wait for a guy in a Toyota Prius to text me and let me know he’s arrived?

The point of that tirade about Uber and such was that by freelancing even a little bit as a college student, you start to become even more aware of how valuable your time is. Especially when you are searching for your first job/client. This is such a good precursor to how to job hunt for a “normal” 9–5, because the process is very comparable. First you search, then you write a cover letter and send your resume/portfolio, then if you’re lucky you get offered an interview where you can really sell yourself, and then if you’re REALLY lucky they’ll offer you the job! You begin to realize the value of not only the time you spend working for a client, but you develop a full appreciation for the job-search process that I think takes some recent college graduates time to figure out.

3) FREELANCING GIVES YOU GREAT PRACTICE FOR WRITING COVER LETTERS/INTERVIEWING FOR A POSITION.

I touched on this in the last paragraph, but I do believe it deserves its own section. When you freelance you are going to spend a LOT of time looking for clients, writing cover letters and pitching your services. If you do good work and can really stand out in this initial stage you may get contacted to interview for the job. Now keep in mind most of these interviews won’t be in the same style as the jobs you would apply to at, for example, a bank or a school, but you will still need to convey that you can solve this client’s problem, whether it’s writing a series of creative blog posts or designing a website or translating a document.

I’ve written more cover letters than I care to admit even though sometimes it seems like hiring managers don’t even read them! The nice thing about writing freelance cover letters is that you can get right to the point without having to worry about if that company HQ’s zip code is correct. What this does is it prepares you to talk about your skills more frequently and really hone in on WHY you would be a good candidate to do the work.

4) IF YOU WORK IN ANY TYPE OF CREATIVE FIELD, THIS CAN BE A GREAT WAY TO BOOST YOUR PORTFOLIO.

Freelancing can be a great way to add work to a portfolio, and this is especially helpful for those in creative fields like graphic design, web design, writing, journalism, advertising, or any other artistic or creative work. Many times when you applly for these types of jobs they will ask for a portfolio or other examples of work. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one or two projects in there that you can say you actually got paid for?

This is a great way to show a potential employer that not only do you do great work, but people are willing to pay for your work. Please note: this is all predicated on you actually being talented at what you do, because if you’re not talented, no one will pay for your work. The two things go hand in hand really.

There are so many different ways to earn money while you’re in college. I personally think freelancing would have been a great option for me in college because I love to write and tell stories, but I never had a true creative outlet to pursue that. All in all freelancing can help you do some amazing things whether you’re in college or 10 years removed from campus. If you’re thinking about freelancing or are looking for some good tips/articles about it, I’d recommend checking out Upwork and Freelance America. Upwork is undoubtedly the largest platform for freelancers of all skill levels, and Freelance America is focused on helping American freelancers find the network, jobs, and support they are looking for.


This post originally appeared on my blog, Warming To A Boyle. I post about life, and make a rant or two… I’m planning on writing more about lifestyle, food, cool products and interesting food I cook.