Being broke while in college might be a cliche, but it’s also the norm.
Finding the right way to earn a decent income in school can be a huge challenge. Most of the jobs that are easy to get pay close to minimum wage and do little to build your resume. Jobs that pay well and contribute meaningfully to your experience often have inflexible schedules.
So what’s a student to do?
Freelance writing can be a great way to earn income while using your expertise during college — and it can ease your transition after graduation. If you’re like me, you might even find it’s actually your dream job!
College is the perfect time to start building your freelance experience; at no other time will you be exposed to so many great ideas and have such easy access to expert sources and a variety of opinions.
But having great ideas and expert sources is only the beginning of a successful freelance career.
Here are a few tips to get you started on the right track and keep your balance while you’re at it:
1. Get some experience
Unfortunately, most editors don’t want to take a chance on writers with zero experience. Lucky for you, college campuses are rife with opportunities to develop exactly that, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.
Based on my experience, editors usually look for three published writing samples that show you have what it takes to write the story you want to tell. Find out if there are any positions at the college paper, or if you can write a few op-eds.
You can also ask student organizations if they need help with their blog or newsletter. And don’t forget to check with local newspapers or alt-weeklies to see if they take freelance submissions — sometimes they’re more willing to work with inexperienced writers.
You shouldn’t write for free or rock-bottom cheap for more than a few months, but it can be a great way to get the portfolio you need to start aiming higher.
2. Schedule your semester early
You would be amazed how reading assignments and homework can pile up. Having an organized schedule can help you decide if you have time to pitch new story ideas now, or if you should wait a few weeks for projects to finish up.
Remember that it can take editors up to two weeks (and sometimes even more) to green-light a pitch, so examine your schedule in advance so that you know exactly how much time you can give a story.
3. Network like your life depends on it
You’re probably already networking a lot, but are you doing it strategically? Following editors from your favorite publications on Twitter and interacting with them regularly will help them recognize you when you send a pitch their way.
You don’t have time to blindly send pitches hoping they land, so priming editors to like your ideas is an absolute must.
You should also connect with the journalism program on campus — they may have a group that can help you work through ideas, or a professor who would love to be your mentor.
4. Focus on publications that actually pay
Don’t waste your time with writing contests that require a fee or publications that pay in “exposure.”
In fact, contests can be a really tough way to get a foot in the door — they tend to draw thousands of submissions and only a few will win.
You’re better off writing short emails and getting confirmation from an editor before you invest in a full article. You can also check sites that share information about how much different publications pay and how long it takes the average writer to get paid.
My favorite is Who Pays Writers? Try a few different options to find out what kind of resource is most helpful to you.
5. Double-dip your papers
You are in a unique time-saving place. A lot of your college essays have really great research and discussion points that can double as freelance articles with a few extra hours of work.
Doubling up on school assignments can make a huge difference in the amount of time you’re spending writing for pay and writing for class, plus it can help establish you in your field well before graduation.
You can also ask your professors for help figuring out how to convert your term papers into something a little more appealing for the general public, and it can help you win points with people who might write you recommendation letters later on.
6. Write about all your passions
Don’t be afraid to branch out. College is a great chance to try new things, and your writing career should be no different. You might be a business major, but you’re also the president of the Amnesty International club.
Allow your expertise to shine no matter what your passion is. Anything you care about is fair game.
One of the best things about being a freelance writer is that I get to write whatever I’m interested in, and I don’t have to put too much time into projects I can’t stand — although, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things I do mostly for the money.
Take full advantage of the freedom!
Did you start freelance writing as a student? What tips would you add to this list?