Pros and Cons Of Freelancing As a College Student

On January 13, 2022, I got my first client at Upwork. Nine months later, I am having 5 regular clients, consistent part-time work every week, and total earnings of almost $20,000.

I'm not rich, but it pays the bills, and, most importantly, I am much happier than at the end of 2021 when I was miserable serving at a very popular brunch restaurant. In this blog post, I would like to share some pros and cons of freelancing that I noticed, being a freelance video editor and college student at the same time.

Pros Of Freelancing

#1 Work from anywhere at any convenient time for you

It's the most obvious and one of the most appealing pros of being a freelancer. You can work from home, in your favorite cafe, in your comfortable bed (though it's bad for your posture), college campus, in another state, or foreign country. You can work in the mornings, middle of the day, or late at night. You can work 6 hours straight or take breaks in between to relax and enjoy a sunny day, a favorite book, or a nice lunch at a favorite cafe.

Being an immigrant, it's especially beneficial for me to have this perk of freelance. If I would like to visit my home country, Kyrgyzstan, for a summer, I am not going to lose my income as I could easily continue working there.

It's also beneficial for college students who are tied to their school schedule. You can easily adapt to your new schedule each semester without harming your income. You can work from your college campus in between your breaks before or after classes.

By making your own schedule, you can attend any school events, any student clubs, or any social events that you are interested in without making a two-week notice to your employer.

#2 New skills and experiences

One of the biggest reasons I was miserable serving at the restaurant is that I was simply bored. Every shift was very repetitive: waking up at 6 in the morning, opening a restaurant, greeting customers, taking orders, asking food allergy questions to the kitchen staff (customers with food allergies always made me nervous), bringing food, and trying not to bump into my coworker around the corner, going to the restroom to take a break, cleaning the tables, doing the same side work (I would always be signed to clean restrooms) and leaving work after 3 pm if I was lucky enough.

That's why I decided to try freelancing: it's challenging and has a big learning curve. You learn how to apply for job posts, how to stand out from dozens of other applicants, how to go through interviews, how to negotiate your rate, how to set your boundaries, how to communicate clearly, how to manage your time, and deliver your work before the deadline.

I am specializing in editing educational content for YouTube because each client's video teaches me about something new: real estate, SEO, college writing, business, wood carving and etc. Besides that, I genuinely enjoy video editing and always pay attention to the editing styles of different YouTube videos. Thus my current job isn't only educational but also fun for me.

It's also going to be more beneficial to have freelancing experience over serving in the long term. Even though I am currently editing videos for a living, I want to become a front-end developer after I graduate from the university. Showcasing my experience in freelancing and the skills it taught me is going to be way more valuable than my experience in serving at the restaurant (even though there is definitely value in this experience as well).

#3 You choose your rate and when to increase your salary

Clearly, at the beginning of your freelancing career, it's highly unlikely that you can start with a rate of $50 per hour. In all probability, you are going to start with a low rate to gain experience, reviews, and portfolio projects. However, eventually, you can start raising your hourly rate or fixed price according to your skills and experience. Here is my personal experience of how I increased my salary over time.

In the summer of 2020, I charged my very first client at Upwork at the rate of $21 per hour - with Upwork fees of 20% for the first $500 from one client, I was actually paid only $16.8 per hour. I ended up working on this client's mini-projects all summer and was able to earn around $500 in three months. Important to notice that at that time I did it just for fun and wasn't applying for more job positions.

In January 2022, I decided to commit to freelancing and got my first client at the rate of $27 per hour ($21.6/hr for the first $500 from this client and then $24.3/hr ever since after). A month later I was hired by my second client who pays me $35/hr (which is $31.5 in reality). Over the summer, I increased my rate to $40 per hour ($36/hr after Upwork fees) and recently I increased it to $45/hr ($40.5/hr after Upwork fees). Honestly, if somebody told me that I will go from charging $27/hr to $45/hr, I would've never believed it was possible. But as long as you update your portfolio with new work, provide quality work, have great communication skills, and improve your skills in the field, raising your rate doesn't seem so scary and unachievable.

#4 You choose who you work with

Again, in the beginning, you should be more flexible and get as many projects done as you can, but eventually, you are starting to have freedom of whom to work with. I love all 5 of my clients because of their organizational skills and clear communication. And all five of them are like that because I am choosing to apply only for jobs where the client clearly communicates their needs and where we can do a trial video to see if we work well together.

#5 You get the unique experience of running a little business

Being a freelancer is like running a little online business - you need to constantly find clients, sell your service, manage finance, market yourself, and learn the legal side of things. Most probably you will consider opening an LLC (Limited Liability Company) or even an S corporation - that comes with additional responsibilities and a huge learning curve.

A couple of months ago I finally opened LLC for the protection of my personal assets and easier accounting. Right after getting all of the documents under my company name, I opened a business account so that my business transactions stopped being mixed with my personal ones. It was and still is cool to see my company name on the debit card and casually mention to people that I have my own little business :)

As of right now, I consider all of these experiences as a big benefit - it's fun and it broadens your knowledge of the behind-the-scenes of running your own business.

In conclusion, by being a freelancer you are being your own boss. This brings a lot of pros, however, this also brings quite some cons.

Cons of Freelancing

#1 Taxes, taxes, taxes

Ahhh yes, taxes. An unknown world that I've been thrown into two years ago when I immigrated to the US with my family and I am still figuring it out.

By being self-employed, your taxes aren't getting any easier, they are getting only more complicated. On top of paying federal taxes and your state or local taxes, you are required to pay self-employment taxes. According to IRS:

"The self-employment tax rate is 15.3%. The rate consists of two parts: 12.4% for social security (old-age, survivors, and disability insurance) and 2.9% for Medicare (hospital insurance)" ~IRS

The reason it's so high is that W-2 employees “split” this rate with their employers but by being self-employed you are both employee and employer so you have to pay all of it.

Apparently, you may have to file Estimated Taxes quarterly, meaning you need to pay your estimated taxes every 3 months (April 15, June 15, September 15, and January 15 of the following year).

This was something I never even thought of when I started freelancing back in January. But it's very important to educate yourself about taxes before you start freelancing either through a financial advisor or through very careful research. To be honest, it's something that I am still educating myself about and I am planning to see a financial advisor in the nearest future to not get myself into trouble down the road.

#2 Self-discipline and time-management

As mentioned earlier, freelancing teaches you many valuable skills such as self-discipline and time management. However, it takes a lot of trial and error to become truly good at it.

When you lack these two skills, working as a freelancer could get very frustrating. From my personal experience, I've had times when I would work all weekends or wouldn't be able to go out with my friends because of tight deadlines and my poor time management during those weeks. I also noticed the difficulty in stopping working and enjoying my evenings for myself.

You don't have a boss who tells you when to start working and when to stop. This is a blessing and a curse at the same time. You can get distracted much easier and end up working late at night in order to meet the deadline on time.

#3 Screen time

It's been a big change from being a server, who is running around for hours, to a freelancer, who is staring at the screen for hours. Besides working online, much of my school work involves a lot of screen time as well as my personal projects that I am doing on the side (such as this blog).

I noticed that my vision got worse within the last 4 months and my eyes are still getting very tired after hours of work. While blue-light-blocking glasses, eye exercises, and a quick stroll around your neighborhood help out a lot, this change of lifestyle noticeably impacts your health. So be aware of that, and try to take all of the needed precautions that your future self will be thankful for.

Conclusion

As with anything, freelancing has a lot of advantages and disadvantages. It's important to note that there are many things that I didn't talk about or am not even aware of yet.

Moreover, your experience with freelancing depends a lot on the industry you are going to work in. Being a freelance YouTube video editor, I have a more consistent workflow since all of my clients are trying to post videos every week than, for example, a freelance graphic designer.

In any case, I would highly encourage anyone who is slightly interested in freelancing to give it a try. It will be a huge learning experience that will benefit you in the long run. And who knows where it could lead you to?