You finally walk across that stage, wrap your greedy hand around that degree, and strut off your college campus into the “real world.”
What are you heading toward? A traditional full-time job where you’ll clock in and clock out for eight hours a day, five days a week?
Just a few years ago, nearly every new grad’s answer to that question would be something like, “Yes, duh! That’s what you do after college.”
But, there’s no denying that the workforce is changing. Freelancers now make up a whopping 35 percent of the U.S. labor force. And, even further, it’s predicted that this number will skyrocket to 50 percent by the year 2020.
What was once considered an unstable or flighty way to earn a living has now transformed into a real, bonafide career path. In fact, in most countries, freelancers earn more than average workers.
Needless to say, the freelance lifestyle appeals to the younger generation for numerous reasons (aside from just the ability to work in their pajamas).
However, is pursuing full-time freelance a wise idea for recent college graduates? Or, is it better for them to get some more traditional experience under their belts before diving headfirst into the freelance life?
Consider these pros and cons of full-time freelancing as a recent college grad. Click To Tweet
There’s nothing like a good old fashioned pros and cons list to bring some much-needed clarity. So, let’s take a look at the upsides and drawbacks college grads should consider when deciding between freelancing or a full-time job after graduation.
1. Small professional network
“Recent grads typically have not had enough professional experiences to have built the needed network,” explains Sharri Harmel, Career Coach at SH Career Coaching and Consulting.
Finding clients is one of the toughest parts of getting a freelance career off the ground. And, that becomes even more challenging if you’ve spent the majority of your life in a classroom—rather than out in the business world shaking hands and making connections.”
“Think about it: If you haven’t built up your skills and don’t have any contacts, that’s a hard place to start as a freelancer,” explains Lily Herman, a freelance writer for Teen Vogue, Allure, Glamour, Refinery29, and more, who worked a full-time job for nine months out of college, before moving to full-time freelancing—which she had done a lot of while pursuing her education.
“On the flip side, getting your start somewhere stable full-time allows you to build up both those skills and contacts while also trying something on the side,” she adds.
2. Income instability
Finances are one of those real-world things that—while not necessarily fun to think about—are important for recent grads to consider. When the average class of 2016 graduate collects their degree right along with $37,172 in student loan debt, thinking about money is a must.
“The lack of a consistent income can be very hard, especially when a young professional has not been able to create a savings cushion,” shares Harmel.
Aside from paychecks, Harmel lists numerous other reasons recent graduates might want to be wary of freelancing right out of the gate. From individual healthcare costs to the lack of employer matching for a retirement savings account, a more traditional full-time role comes with some pretty big financial perks that are worth considering.
3. Lack of self-awareness
While new grads might feel like they’re on top of the world, they still have a great deal to learn about their own unique skills and strengths.
“Recent grads need time to get to know themselves better,” Harmel says, “What they like, what they value, what provides meaning to their lives, what unique strengths they have. All of that self-knowledge takes some time to develop and contributes to a person’s decision whether or not to freelance and what service or skill they are offering to potential clients.”
It was this very thing that inspired Herman to accept a full-time job after graduation, despite the fact that she already had a successful and profitable freelance side hustle while in college.
“I knew I could do okay living the freelancer life, but you don’t know what you’re best suited for until you try other options and take other opportunities,” she says, “Because I took that role, I now have zero ‘what ifs.’”
1. Schedule flexibility
“I think more college grads than ever are considering freelance as an option to augment their income while doing something they enjoy,” shares Career Coach, Kim Bilawchuk, “They have flexibility with their schedules.”
This is one of the biggest draws of freelancing. When a reported 74 percent of Millennials want flexible work schedules (and 43 percent would switch jobs for greater flexibility!), freelancing can seem like a dream come true for recent grads who are dreading the eight hours per day, five days per week grind. In AND CO’s Slash Workers report, flexibility was the No. 2 reason why people chose to go freelance (27 percent of respondents), behind personal growth.
2. Control over professional development
Another thing most recent grads crave? Control over their own career trajectory: 87 percent of millennials state that professional development or career growth opportunities are very important to them.
“If the company isn’t giving them those opportunities to grow as professionals, they’ll start looking for another job,” explains Harmel, “Compared to Boomers and even some GenX-ers, that is why millennials can look more like gig workers than long-term company-loyal employees.”
But, as a freelancer, you have the autonomy and flexibility to find and accept projects that interest you and push you in the direction you most want to go.
Full-time job + part-time freelancing = best of both worlds?
Just looking at those lists, it seems like freelancing straight out of college isn’t necessarily the way to go. Even Herman herself, who is now only a year out of school with a booming full-time freelance career, warns recent grads to be somewhat wary.
“I would only really recommend new grads go after full-time freelancing if they’ve done it before, they’re pros at their craft, and/or if that’s standard for the industry,” she says.
Does that mean new graduates need to drop the freelance dream altogether? Absolutely not. Instead, it just might be better to start off with a side hustle, before putting all of their eggs into the freelance basket.
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“If you’re able to take on some part-time freelancing on top of a full-time job, I say go for it!” Herman adds. However, she also recommends that full-time employees check with their employers before accepting any freelance gigs, to ensure they don’t get themselves into any hot water legally.
“I think freelancing could be a great way to gain some relevant experience while looking for something more permanent, or could offer the flexibility to take a lower-paying role and still be able to live on their own,” confirms Bilawchuk, “I think the more experiences people have, the more marketable they are.”
Finding your path
With all of that said, Herman doesn’t believe that her recent grad status has impacted the success of her freelance career—a point that’s backed up by her numerous impressive bylines.
“Because I’d been freelancing for so long in college, most people weren’t even aware that I was a college student, and they aren’t aware that I’m a year out of school now,” she says, “It also doesn’t affect my confidence at all; I know I’ve been doing this for a while, and that makes all the difference.”
In regards to the great freelance debate for new grads, there really isn’t one black and white answer. It’s really all about analyzing your own situation and forging your own path.
“More than anything, freelancing comes down to practice and time spent working on your craft,” Herman concludes, “In my case, the more I wrote and took on clients, the more mistakes I made and lessons I got to learn early on. That just comes with practice, not age. At this point, my work (and my own hustle) speaks for itself.”