Your four-year college plan might include plenty of partying, spring break trips and much-needed time away from you folks. But these four years aren’t only about partying and independence. You’ll spend $10,000 or more each year to get a degree, and your student debt will basically be your golden-ticket to a future career and salary — that’s if you’re lucky and don’t have to compete with too many other graduates.
Some people enter a university thinking they’ll have the learning experience of a lifetime. But while college can teach independence and provide the skills and education you need to secure a job, it won’t necessarily prepare you for the real world.
Life outside the classroom is a big adjustment and a rude awakening for some grads. Here’s a look at several ways a university doesn’t prepare us for the real world.
1. Doesn't Prepare you for How to Dress
As long as your mom and dad continue to write checks — which pay your professors’ salaries — you can show up to class wearing just about anything you want. And in most cases, you won’t hear a peep from your professors — although you might get a few side-eye glances or a couple of dirty looks. You can roll out of bed at 7:45, pick up any pair of dirty shorts off the floor, grab your sweatshirt and flip-flops and be in class by 8:00. You don’t care how bad you look, and neither do your professors.
It’s a different story in the real world. Even if you’re fortunate enough to find a job that only requires casual dress, bringing your too casual (and downright sloppy) college attire to the office might leave your employer questioning your maturity level- and your coworkers questioning your sanity.
Nobody expects you to walk into a college class wearing a three-piece business suit, but it wouldn’t hurt to start adding business casual items to your wardrobe (polos, khakis, button-down shirts) and improving your classroom appearance. This not only gets you into a routine of dressing nicer, you’ll gradually add to your wardrobe in preparation for life outside the classroom.
2. Doesn't Prepare you for a Real Schedule
One of the best things about college is the freedom to choose your own class schedule. It’s not like high school where you have to be in class by 8:15 a.m., despite the fact that you’re not a morning person.
If you hate getting an early start, and would rather party hard with your friends late into the night and start your day at 1:00 p.m., college gives you the flexibility to live a second-shift life. Just know that once you leave college, your job will likely require starting your day much earlier, and you might have to be sitting at your desk, ready to work by 7, 8 or 9 a.m.
You can walk into an interview and ask for a schedule that’s better suited for your circadian rhythm. But unless you want to get laughed out of the interviewer’s office, and make your job search harder than it has to be, you might want to get into a routine of getting up earlier, or be in for a rude awakening once you find a real job.
3. Doesn't Teach Getting Through the Day Without a Nap
And since we’re on the topic of planning your own schedule while in college, you might plan your college days so that you can take two or three hours off in the middle of the day — just enough time to head back to your room and continue sleeping off last night’s hangover. Or depending on how boring a professor is, you might sneak in a nap during class.
A mid-day nap might be the best sleep ever, but your days of napping in the middle of the day will come to an abrupt end once you’re in the real world. You can try and squeeze in a nap at your desk. Just be prepared to deal with the repercussions of your boss finding you snoozing instead of working.
4. Doesn't Prepare you for Paying Bills
All college students bum off their parents and don’t have a single monthly expense. If you belong to the latter group, your tuition, room and food might be covered by a grant or loan, and your parents might give you a little cash to get through the month. So while college provides the education you need, you might graduate knowing absolutely nothing about money management. This includes budgeting your money, managing credit card debt, saving for retirement, etc. And if you don’t know anything about money, you’re probably going to make a few mistakes before you get it right, such as thinking you can afford a lavished lifestyle on a $30,000 entry-level salary.
5. Doesn't Prepare you for a Cutthroat Corporate World
Team projects are common in college. This is how you learn to work with people, which is great preparation for the real world where you’ll collaborate with colleagues on different projects. The only difference, however, is that in college, everyone in the group gets the same grade. And at the end of class, you walk away as friends. This is different from what you may experience in the real world.
The real world is cutthroat island. Even if you’re working closely with coworkers on a project and have the same end goals, some of your coworkers might be shady backstabbers who’ll take any opportunity to steal the credit and get ahead. Or your boss might show favoritism toward certain ones, and completely ignore your efforts while giving accolades and promotions to those who gave half your effort. This isn’t fair, but it’s how some offices operate.
6. Doesn't Prepare you for Little Time Off
Between going to class, studying and maybe a part-time job, your schedule can get extremely hectic while completing college. But at the same time, colleges give their students a lot of breaks throughout the year, so there’s plenty of time to recharge and rest your mind. You’ll enjoy three months off during the summer, a month off during the winter and a week off in spring. Unfortunately, time off becomes a luxury once you’re in the real world.
Depending on where you work, it may be a year before you accumulate any vacation time. Once you’re eligible to take some time off, your boss might only approve a week off each year and very little personal time in between. And if your boss is demanding, unreasonable or a little bit crazy, he might act a fool if you call in sick, and make you come in regardless of how bad you feel physically.
Four or five years of studying and burning the midnight oil can make you count the days until your college graduation. You might be ready to conquer the world, just know that the real world is a completely different ballgame than college — and sometimes, college doesn’t offer exactly what we need for a seamless transition. Either way, you can and will adjust eventually.