How to Get Out of Student Loan Debt with Freelancing

October 2, 2019
How to Get Out of Student Loan Debt with Freelancing

Are you about to embark on an exciting few years at college or university? Or are you a parent whose offspring are currently in the midst of their higher education experience? In either case, the issue of student debt is likely to be close to your heart. 

They say that you can’t put a price tag on a good education, but it certainly seems that colleges and universities are happy to try. Not only are students faced with tuition fees, but they must often also cover the cost of living away from home for the first time, as well as forking out for textbooks and other educational materials. 

This is why the vast majority of students end up with student loan debt. Taking on student loans can mean starting your working life already owing tens of thousands of dollars, before you’ve done even a single day’s work. That’s why so many students are keen to try and earn money while they study. 

In this article, we look at the potential of providing professional translation services as a means of funding your university education. Does the idea of leaving college in less debt, or perhaps even debt-free, sound good? Then read on to find out all you need to know to get started! 

What Is the Average Student Loan Debt? 

The cost of a university education differs hugely from country to country. According to a global study into education trends by HSBC, the average amount that students say they spend on a degree is US$99,417. 

The US is one of the most expensive (but also most popular) countries in which to study.  Top Universities reports that attending a top tier college and accounting for living costs means that students can need as much as $60,000 per year. 

According to College Board, average fees for US universities in 2018/19 range from $3,660 for community/technical/city college to $35,830 at private, non-profit colleges. State colleges sit in the middle of the fee structure, at an average of US$10,230 for state residents and $26,290 for those from out-of-state. 

69% of students in 2018 took on debt, owing on average of $29,800 when they graduated, according to Student Loan Hero. The pressure that this level of debt can place on young adults is immense. 

When looking at the big picture, total student loan debt in the US amounts to more than $1.5 trillion, spread across 45 million borrowers. 

Over in the UK, the student loan debt crisis is just as dire. The Student Loan Calculator website reports that attending university in England costs an average of £9,188 per year – and that’s just in tuition fees. 

This means that students in the UK are leaving university with an average debt of £50,800, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS). That includes interest charges of £5,800 that have accrued while studying. For students from the poorest backgrounds, debts are in excess of £57,000, according to the IFS figures. 

How Long Does It Take to Pay Back a Student Loan?

Are you feeling nervous about the cost of higher education after reading the above figures on student loans? If so, you’re far from alone! 

It takes a long time to pay back so much money. The Balance reports that the average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree spends a staggering 21 years paying off their student loan debt. 

Given the scale of the student loan debt crisis, some countries have introduced student loan forgiveness schemes. In the UK, for example, those who study in England or Wales can have their student loans written off 30 years after they start repaying them. So, they only need to worry about their student loan debt for three decades! 

Student loan debt forgiveness schemes exist in various formats around the world, so if you are looking at higher education options, this is something that’s worth investigating as part of your research into student loans. 

How Much More Do Graduates Earn than Non-graduates?

Are your eyes watering from the huge amounts of debt and the time it takes to repay it? Thankfully, the news isn’t all bad. Those who graduate university find themselves, on average, in a much strong position to earn money than those who don’t. 

In the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those with a bachelor’s degree have median weekly earnings of $1,173. Those who have a high school diploma, meanwhile, have median weekly earnings of $712. That works out to average salaries of $60,996 and $37,024 for graduates and non-graduates respectively – a significant difference. 

It’s the same in the UK. Universities Minister Jo Johnson revealed that female graduates earn £250,000 more than female non-graduates over the course of their lifetime. For male graduates, the figure is £170,000 – still a substantial sum. 

These figures are why so many young people are keen to get a university education, even if that means starting out on their careers saddled with vast amounts of student loan debt. 

How to Use Freelance Translation to Avoid Building Up Student Debt

Would you like to lower the amount of debt that you get into while at university? If so, there are two basic approaches: spend less and earn more. 

The idea of a frugal student lifestyle is far from new. However, even living on beans or using food waste reduction apps such as Olio to eat for free can’t reduce the need to spend tens of thousands on tuition fees. As such, working your way through college is the only viable option for many students. 

There are various ways to approach working while attending university. Many students opt for bar work or restaurant shifts, where they can fit working evenings and weekends around the hours they need to spend in lectures. However, such jobs don’t tend to pay hugely well, so many students find that they still have to take out student loans to pay for college, even while working. 

Thankfully, the rise of freelance working has furnished students with a host of options when it comes to covering the cost of their education. TaskRabbit is a great example. Students can register to become ‘taskers’ who offer support with everyday tasks to people in their local area. Tasks can include helping someone to move house, undertaking deliveries, cleaning, handyman work and much more. 

Then there are freelance roles that link to the student’s area of study, such as freelance translation. For language students, this is a natural fit. It’s also ideal for those who are studying other subjects and who are bilingual. Those who can translate Spanish to English, for example, while also providing specialist knowledge of topics such as medicine or law, can quickly find themselves in a strong position when it comes to earning money through freelance translation. 

Of course, there are both pros and cons to working freelance, just as there are to more traditional roles. Shall we stick with the freelance translation example in order to explore this?

When you translate on a freelance basis, you have to find your own clients. This can be time consuming and you won’t receive any pay until you’ve actually found those clients and completed work for them to a satisfactory standard. So, there’s a need to put unpaid time into this upfront (consider it the equivalent of the time you would spend on your CV and going to interviews for other roles). 

One way to reduce the time spent on this is to work for a translation agency. Registering with an agency doesn’t take long and you have the benefit that they will do all of the legwork when it comes to finding clients. As such, if you register with multiple agencies then you should be in a good position to enjoy a steady stream of work. Many agencies are happy to give newbie translators a try, so this is also a good way to build up your translation experience. (Offering to translate for non-profits for free, in exchange for glowing references, is another good way to build up your translation experience when you’re just starting out.)

The other thing you need to factor in when offering to provide freelance translation services is that sometimes deadlines can be short. It will be up to you to balance your study time with the time you have available to work and to manage any clashes. Just as you would (hopefully!) turn down extra shifts in a restaurant that would mean skipping classes, it’s important to remember that you can say ‘no’ to any translation requests that would negatively impact your studies. 

How to Build Up Your Freelance Translation Network to Minimise Your Student Debt

Do you have a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, both online and offline? Freelancing is all about networking – the more people who know about your services, the more chance you have of landing some decent work. 

As such, make building up your network a priority when you start freelancing. Create a profile on LinkedIn and other professional networking sites, as well as translation-related sites. Take an active interest in Facebook groups that relate to translation. And be sure to join any local sites where individuals can list their services. The more irons you have in the fire, the more likely it is that you’ll get work. 

What Can Freelance Translators Earn and How Does It Compare to Student Debt?

Glassdoor reports that the national average salary for a translator in the US is $51,629 per year, while in the UK it stands at £26,111. These are average amounts for those who translate fulltime, so part-time translation work undertaken while at college will pay less. Remember, too, that those just starting out may not be able to earn the same rates initially as translators who are already established and have a strong client base. 

Before you jump on the student loan repayment calculator to work out where this might leave you, it’s worth considering other ways to boost your translation income when freelancing. Using your specialist knowledge can certainly help with this; as mentioned above, legal and medical translation pay particularly well. In addition, you will likely find that offering desktop publishing services or content writing services stands you in good stead. Clients often need a range of skills, so the more that you can provide them with, the better. 

Is It Possible to Use Freelancing to Fully Pay Off Student Loan Debt?

This is a tricky question to answer, as there are so many variables. The cost of your tuition fees, whether you live at home or away from home, how many hours you have available to work each week… all of this and more will impact whether or not you can earn enough while studying to pay off or avoid student loan debt. 

In reality, it’s likely that you would be able to use freelancing to avoid some of the student loan debt that you would otherwise accrue. Freelance translation is a line of work that you can fit flexibly around your studies. Different degrees vary hugely in terms of their number of contact hours and self-study expectations, and these can also vary from semester to semester, so opting for freelance work that you can easily flex up and down in terms of volume is good common sense. 

Final Thoughts

Are you considering freelance work to help you pay your way through college or university? Are you even planning to use it to furnish you with the beginnings of a career, ready for when you graduate? If so, and if your language skills are up to scratch, then the exciting world of freelance translating could be the perfect way for you to minimise your student loan debt. 


By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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