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5 in-demand freelance gigs new graduates can pick up ‘pretty quickly’—some pay more than $100/hour

Source: Envato Elements, graphic design by Gene Kim

Commencement season is underway and many graduates are considering their next steps after receiving their diplomas. Nearly three quarters, 74% of new and impending graduates are worried that the current state of the economy will impact their job prospects, according to Monster's 2023 State of the Graduate Report. More than half, 52%, assume they won't be able to find a job at their preferred company.

If you're a recent graduate and are nervous about your job prospects, as you look for a full-time role of your choice, you might consider picking up some freelance gigs. With all of the various platforms to either offer your services or apply for projects on, as a freelancer, you "can start working pretty quickly," says Margaret Lilani, vice president of talent solutions at work marketplace Upwork.

New grads "can start working independently, more on their own terms and more on their own schedule," she says. Freelance work can also provide a stream of income and help you develop some skills even before you start a nine-to-five.

Here are five freelance gigs for recent grads to consider, why they could be a good fit and how much experienced freelancers are charging for them.


Various jobs are popping up around the proliferation of AI, such as AI engineer. Many deal with building software that enables AI. "We've seen high demand for this category of work for many clients looking to implement AI into their products," says Lilani, adding that it "is a relatively new industry with loads of opportunity."

Because the field is so new, she says, graduates "have a more even playing field to work in." Everybody will be learning skills for this new tech together.

Ai specialists charge as much as $250 per hour on Upwork.

Graphic design

"Graphic design is the No. 1 skill on and can range from simple banner designs to logo designs to book cover designs," says Matt Barrie, chief executive at It was also Upwork's most in-demand creative skill for 2023, says Lilani.

"Those with a creative side that have familiarity with programs like Photoshop, InDesign, etc. can put together a portfolio of their work pretty quickly and then immediately compete for jobs," she says.

Graphic designers charge as much as $145 per hour on Upwork.


"Research jobs can range from creating business plans, to a [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats] analysis, to desk research about competitors for future businesses," says Barrie, adding that, "many college degrees require proficiency in reading and writing, so this is naturally suited to any graduate."

Researchers on Upwork charge as much as $200 per hour.

Social media marketing

"Businesses are always looking for help keeping up to date and promoting their brand via social media," says Lilani. Popular platforms businesses might need help with include Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn.

"This is a landscape that is often changing with new social apps rising in popularity," she says. "It's also where so much of the younger generation and college students spend their time."

Social media specialists charge as much as $90 per hour on Upwork.

Web development

"Programming is another option for graduates skilled in IT, coding or web development," says Barrie. "We see many business owners turn to freelancers skilled in these two categories on a daily basis, mainly as they often don't have in-depth understanding of programs like WordPress or programming languages."

Programming languages freelancers might be asked to use include Python, JavaScript, C++ and so on.

Web developers on Upwork charge as much as $125 per hour.

To start diving into some freelance work yourself, create profiles on sites like Fiverr, Upwork or Thumbtack. You can also look for freelance gigs on sites like, ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Monster and LinkedIn.

Keep in mind, many of the above rates are for people who've been in the field for some time. When it comes to creating your own profile, peruse other freelancer profiles to see what might be an appropriate range for your experience.

And don't forget to set money aside for your taxes. If you end up making $400 or more from your freelance gigs, make sure to check with the IRS and your state government's website to see how much you owe.

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