5 things school taught me about freelancing

5 things school taught me about freelancing

Anna Hensel's Layout avatar

School might be out for summer soon, but as a freelancer, the projects never end. 

Being both a freelancer and a student has taught me a few things about career balance. Juggling homework, freelance work, extracurriculars, and social outings hasn’t been easy, but it’s really forced me to prioritize.  Here’s a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far (textbook not included).

1. A failing grade isn’t the end of the world

The classes that I’ve learned the most from in college weren’t the ones that I was able to breeze through—they were the ones that I had to struggle to earn a good grade. I’ll never forget the feeling of dread I had when I had a graphic design, photography, and videography class all in the same semester (which, as a natural writer, was a challenge for me).

Even though I didn’t have my best GPA that semester, those classes taught me to embrace challenges. After receiving poor grades on my first few assignments, I met with my professors to ask what I could have done differently. I began asking my classmates with more graphic design experience than myself for feedback and any keyboard shortcuts they knew.

Photo credit to Nic McPhee. Photo credit to Nic McPhee.

Not only did using InDesign, Illustrator, and FinalCut Pro get easier, but I began to enjoy using them more. Remember that even if you aren’t happy with how your latest project turned out, it’s one less mistake you’ll make in the future.

2. You can only cut back on sleep for so long

I’ve been lucky enough to have never pulled an all-nighter in college, but I’ve come close. Sure, getting four hours of sleep gave me enough time to finish a paper or cram a few extra hours for a philosophy exam, but looking back, I probably would’ve been better off just sleeping.

Even if I finished the paper or survived the exam, getting less sleep just made everything else I had to do throughout the week harder. As I’ve gotten a few years older and wiser, I’ve learned to turn down some freelance projects because I know that I have too much on my plate that week.

That’s not to say that there aren’t times when I have late nights because I took on an extra project. I just now recognize that this isn’t sustainable. If I’m going to sacrifice sleep for one week, I make sure to take it easy the next.

3. Afraid of rejection? So is everyone else

Remember that first night of freshman year when, if you were like me, you were afraid that you wouldn’t be able to make friends at a new school? When you kept the door to your room open, in hopes that someone would say hello?


Then you quickly learned that most everyone else was in the same boat as you—that the girls down the hall were just looking for friends too, but were afraid of being rejected by their classmates. Suddenly, asking people if you could join them in the dining hall for dinner became less scary.

Everyone is afraid of rejection. I try to remember this whenever I have to interview a source about an uncomfortable topic, talk to someone new at a networking event, or send a pitch to a new editor. Chances are the interviewee (who I assumed would never want to be involved with my article) is itching to tell his or her story.

And even getting a “no” doesn’t mean a door is closed. The potential client who thinks that your pitches need work right now could become your biggest advocate later down the road. Don’t be afraid to reach for opportunities out of fear that you’ll be rejected.

4. Focus on your passions

Another classic freshman year move? To join as many clubs as possible, or to take on a leadership position simply because it will look good on your resume. That same semester when I was taking those challenging courses, I was also freelancing for a magazine and had leadership positions in four campus organizations.


After that semester, I vowed to cut back. I dropped one leadership position, and ended my participation in another organization altogether. I realized that I had only been participating because I felt bad about saying “no.” But at the end of the day, I accepted the fact that I couldn’t even help these organizations because I wasn’t giving them 100 percent.

I see other freelancers who write for every blog or website possible. And while it’s possible that they really love every single organization they’re writing for, there’s a part of me that wonders if they say yes to everything because they feel they just need that extra experience on their resume.

Always keep your career goals in mind before saying yes to a new freelance project. Ask yourself:

  • Does this project line up with my interests?
  • Will it give me experience in the specialization that I want to focus on?
  • Does it stray too far from my dream job?

If you can’t see how a freelancing job will benefit you in the long-term, say no.

5. Learning is fun—both inside and outside of the classroom

There are times when I want to put my school work on the back burner—after all, who needs to go to class when I can get a head start on my career as a freelancer?


But then I have to remind myself—when is the next time I’m going to be able to take a class on African history? I got into journalism to be able to learn about the world—but I can’t ignore the opportunities I have right now to learn about the world.

It’s easy to just be focused on deadlines, but both school and freelancing provide some amazing learning opportunities. You get to meet so many interesting people by working with different clients week after week. One week you might be designing a logo for a nonprofit, the next GIFs for a marketing company. Don’t forget how fun freelancing can be, and relish the projects you have at the time.

Take it from someone who is about to graduate college—I wish I could relive my four years all over again. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the moment.

Comments ( 1 )

  1. Derek Cullen

    November 16, 2018

    Great article, I found this page while doing research about "flywheel businesses" but I am also a freelance writer and have my own content writing service. Anyway, I could relate to everything you said here, thanks for the inspo!

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