What College Doesn’t Teach You about the Real World

For all the time and expense involved and for all the talk about how a college degree will help you land a job and make a higher salary, there sure are a lot of important things that many college curriculum don’t teach you about how to excel in the working world. Here are a few unpleasant truths that many college students find themselves discovering once they’ve landed their first real jobs.

Many jobs do not require nearly as much intelligent thought as school does: This can be a huge letdown. Finding a job that challenges you intellectually will be something you have to fight to find, as it will not be handed to you. This often will mean expanding your own job description or looking for something new. Taking initiative is a key component of having a job that’s not boring.

Getting called on in class and being graded is nothing like being told what to do for eight hours every day: In school, you are largely free to make your own decisions about how to use your time. While you are generally expected to show up for class and complete assignments by their deadlines, the only person who is ultimately affected by whether you do these things or not is you, so no one (except maybe your parents) will breathe down your neck to get them done.

In the work world, your boss, whose boss is breathing down his neck, or your clients whose money is at stake, will put pressure on you to complete your work when they want it done (usually yesterday), not when you feel like doing it.

When you’re used to moving around all day, sitting at a desk for eight hours can be absolutely mind-numbing and even physically painful: In college, you at least have to get up to walk from one class to the other every hour or so. You may even have breaks between classes and fun activities built into your day, like sports or music lessons. The frequent change of scenery and stimulation probably do a lot more to prevent you from being bored stiff than you realize.

Sitting in the same desk and focusing on the same subject day after day for hours on end with only lunch, bathroom, and coffee breaks is probably a lot more monotonous than what you’re used to, even if your job has some variety built in. You may even find yourself sore from so much sitting in front of a computer.

Work doesn’t change as often as school does: In high school, you change classes once a year (sometimes once a semester), and in college, you change classes once a semester (at some schools, once a quarter). At work, you’ll often do the same work year after year, surrounded by the same people. While you’re likely to get very efficient at these repetitive tasks and very comfortable with these people, you may not get the stimulation you’re used to. Keeping life interesting by taking the occasional class, learning a new skill, meeting new people, or reading a good book becomes your own responsibility.

They usually don’t teach you basic job skills in college: Learn how to send a fax and make a long distance phone call from a land line before you get to your first job. Skills like these are incredibly basic to the work force. You’ll be expected to know how to do them; no one will teach you. You’ll waste a lot of time and look foolish if you don’t come to work already knowing how. If you want to try to bluff your way through it, try asking a co-worker, “How does this particular fax machine work? It’s a different brand from the one I’m used to using.”

Being good at studying doesn’t mean you will be good at working: The skills that you need to excel in school are not always the same skills you need to excel in the workforce. The ability to think critically and adhere to deadlines will certainly continue to serve you well, but many of the skills that you learn outside the classroom will be much more important than the knowledge that you gained inside it.

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6 Responses to What College Doesn’t Teach You about the Real World

  1. Steven says:

    Every word in this post, and the puncuation, is the truth.

    I have to say, the only thing I learned in college is I learned how to learn.

    Everything else, including how to take care of myself financially and spiritually, came from experience.

    Wonderful post.

  2. minny says:

    One of the things I remember (in addition to the above mentioned) was being used to a lot of holiday time and suddenly being expected to work for months with no holiday was very hard.

  3. Siobhan says:

    This post is what I’ve been learning since I left school, 10 years ago. Even university didn’t prepare me for the workforce. I find myself struggling to enjoy working and getting quite depressed, wondering how I could be so bad at it, when I was so good at school. It’s quite a shock and one which I hope to better prepare my own children for. I wish schools took more responsibility for educating people on what they’ll need to know for the rest of their lives. I would love to be a part of changing this problem, rather than just whingeing about it and doing nothing.

  4. Meaghan says:

    This is so true! Nothing really prepares you for the “real world”. You just have to go out and live it to figure it out. Posts like this help take away some of the shock!

  5. KP says:

    Here’s a real question. Why the hell do colleges insist on not thoroughly teaching their undergraduates software and programs that are a necessity for certain careers? For the money they get, they should be walking you from A-Z how to efficiently work with SAP or Microsoft Vizio and etc… Almost every graduate can’t say they can efficiently use something basic like Words/Powerpoint/Excel… This is just plain sad. I had to teach myself how to work with SAP and Vizio and I graduated with an HR Bachelors. These programs are basic and necessities to the HR world… Why was I not taught these things???!?! Instead of those pointless classes that are “requirements” and “prerequisites” that do absolutely nothing but frustrate the hell out of you when you’re sitting in class listening to a professor lecture on Greek Gods… they should be spoon-feeding you knowledge of information you’re going to need pursuing specific careers… technical type of information and skills that will serve you a world of benefits later on.

  6. Worker, College grad, Class of 2007 says:

    All very true.

    College does not teach you how hard life is. You leave college, with hopes and dreams of being rich…for a while there as a recent graduate I was actulally more poor…

    Working is very boring, and the demands of clients, and boss is so very hard sometimes…….I miss the days of sleeping in til 1pm to go to my 2pm class…writing papers, learning, going to different classes every semester, and just being on campus.

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