Tutoring and Freelancing: Apply Your Skills Beyond the University


In the last part of the series Make Money in Grad School, I outlined the benefits of seeking work as a graduate research assistant or teaching assistant. In this post, I cover some alternative ways to put your skills to work in your local community and beyond.

Many grad students work on their university campuses as research and teaching assistants as a way to fund themselves through grad school. But these positions aren’t available—or attractive—to everyone. Some academic fields, particularly those where the research is not typically funded by large grants, might not have as many funding opportunities. For other grad students, the stipend from one of these positions might not be enough to cover all expenses. Finally, some grad students prefer to keep their work and studies separate, finding work that is unconnected to their advisor, program, and fellow students. Regardless of your reasons, alternative income streams can help mitigate the need for taking out interest-accruing loans. It’s hard work now, but your future self will thank you for the lighter loan payments later.

The good news is that there are numerous options. In this article, I focus on three possible income streams that overlap with your graduate skills, but get you beyond the university—tutoring, freelance writing and editing, and freelance coding and technical work. 


Many grad  students are able to find work as tutors, either in their local communities or by signing up for one an online service that connect students and tutors throughout the United States, or even internationally.

Tutoring In Your Community

If you want to make an impact in your local community, you might be able to find work at local schools and community colleges, with after-school programs at community centers, or even in your local library. Do some research to find out if there are any existing programs that you can connect to. Alternately, some people opt to go it alone and advertise their services independently. If you choose to provide services independently of a company or program, be prepared to invest some up-front time and money for preparing professional looking marketing materials and getting the word out about your services. You can post fliers on community boards in places like local grocery stores, parks, libraries, churches, and restaurants and coffee shops.

You’ll also want to advertise on social media, and may even consider an ad that targets local parent groups on Facebook or using a site like Nextdoor, which is a local social network. If you don’t mind paying out a small commission in exchange for letting someone else handle your marketing and advertising, sites like Wyzant can help. Finally, don’t underestimate the value of your existing social network and reputation as a smart and competent person. Spread the word to your book club, church group, sports team, or other networks of friends and contacts. You might find that you already know people who can help you find tutoring opportunities.

Online Tutoring

If you aren’t set on tutoring students in your local community, there are a variety of online services you can sign up with. Some of the sites require a teaching license or passing a certification test, while others will hire you based on your four-year degree and expertise in your subject area.

Pay can vary based on the site, your credentials and experience, and the subject area. Some sites require tutors to be available during certain hours, or for a certain number of hours per week, while others offer 24/7 drop-in tutoring where you can log in whenever you have time. You’ll need to do some research to find a service that’s a good fit for you, but I have provided some links to start with below.

Freelance Writing

Just like tutoring, you might have to invest some time to find opportunities and build a network , but freelance writing can be a great way to make some extra money in grad school. I started out this way. Prior to grad school, I worked as a full-time journalist and then freelancer. During my first few years of grad school, I continued to make a few hundred dollars a month doing some extra writing on the side. After a while I found it wasn’t sustainable combined with work as a teaching assistant, but it was a good gig to start with.

Freelance writing and editing can take many forms—writing articles or blog posts, copy-editing, translating, and even ghostwriting. One of my favorite articles about how people have funded themselves through grad school is a blog post by a woman who worked as a ghostwriter for the Sweet Valley High book series.

If you’ve already done some freelance writing and have an existing network, you’ll have an easier start. But even if you haven’t done any prior freelancing, there are online sites you can use to get started:

It’s also probably worth your time to seek out contacts, either in your university or broader community. You may have friends, colleagues, and professors who know of writing and editing opportunities.

Freelance Coding & Technical Jobs

If you have programming or web design skills, you can also seek small odd-jobs and even more sustained freelance projects via online market places. These can be nice because you have control over how much you commit to, and depending on your skill level, this work can pay better than tutoring and freelance writing. If you are interested in freelance programming and design, check out the following sites for leads:

In my experience, opportunities are most likely to come your way when you believe that the opportunities are out there and that they will come to you. It’s also a good idea to let your networks know that you are open to, and actively seeking, work beyond graduate school.

Stay tuned next week for the last post in the Make Money in Grad School series, where I discuss why you might want to say screw it to jobs that align with your academic expertise, and instead do something totally unconnected to your academic skills and identity.

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    September 25, 2016 @ 5:44 am