College is great for many reasons: it gives you more freedom than you've probably ever had before, it can introduce you to some of your best friends, it can sometimes feel like one big party, and it paves the way for your future career (hopefully). While high school exists to prepare you for college, college is supposed to prepare you for all of the scary ups and downs of the real world. And it does... in some ways. But in other, sometimes really important ways, it fails at that. There are some unexpected things that college never prepares you for in life, and you truly don't learn how to deal with them until they're happening to you.
As someone who graduated college a while ago, I can tell you that there have been numerous times where I've thought, "Why didn't anyone teach me this before?" I've looked back on the hours I spent frantically trying to pass a biology or algebra class, and felt frustrated because I have literally never had to apply those skills to my real life. Sure, some people need those kinds of classes for their future career — but not everyone does. The strict curriculum most colleges have can often leave recent graduates feeling like they didn't actually learn anything they're going to really use moving forward. That's valid — and annoying.
If colleges aren't going to help you out, then the next best thing is for you to be aware of what you can expect so that you can help yourself out. Reach out to professors for advice, teach yourself this stuff, and learn now so that you can be prepared for what's ahead. You'll thank yourself later, I promise!
1. How To Do Anything Without Technology
Today's world is incredibly tech-friendly, and so are college classes. Students use laptops to take notes, most are taught how to use basic programs like Excel and InDesign, and pretty much everything is done online. College does a great job of preparing students for all of the technological stuff that comes with being in the real world. But it doesn't do a great job of teaching students what to do without technology. Yes, things are only going to advance from here, but what about if your laptop dies and you lose everything? What if the internet goes down at work? What if you lose your cell phone? There are a million examples that could be used, so let's just say it's always safe to also know how to do anything the "old-fashioned" way.
2. How To Properly Manage Your Time
College is a weird time where you can sometimes have to wake up at noon and then have a super busy afternoon, and sometimes have to wake up at 7 a.m. with, like, one thing to do. Your schedule is all over the place. Most students nap whenever they can, sleep late, go to sleep even later, and procrastinate so their work gets done at the last minute. It seems like colleges think they're showing you how to manage time by letting you make your own schedule, but the culture of most schools is not helping that cause. When you're in the real world, you have to go back to a more structured schedule that is more similar to being in high school than anything else. It can be a bit jarring.
3. How To Be A Supervisor
When taking classes for your major, you typically learn all the technical stuff about your job. Maybe you have an advisor or extremely helpful professor who gives you tips and tricks for the field of your choice. You might even have to get an internship to graduate, which is always helpful. But one thing college doesn't really teach anyone about is how to be a good boss. Most people don't learn how to be a manager or a supervisor, how to have employees and how to talk to them. As a student, I always thought that I would have people showing me how to be a manager, when that time came. When it did come, no one showed me anything. I had to learn myself, while doing it — and the same is true for nearly everyone else. Being a supervisor can be super intimidating, and it would be great if colleges did a better job preparing students for that.
4. Complicated Legal Situations
Not to freak you out, but you will find yourself in some sort of complicated legal situation at some point in your life, probably sooner rather than later. It happens! And unless you went to law school, you will feel completely unprepared. Colleges don't teach you what to do when you need legal assistance or when you even actually need to seek legal assistance. They don't tell you about the basic terms you should know or the things you should do. It's scary when it happens to you. Sure, this is why we have lawyers, but wouldn't it feel better to know at least the basics?
5. How To Dress In Professional Situations
Being concerned about how you look can seem silly and insignificant. And maybe it is to some people, which is fine — but generally, it can be pretty important. Studies have shown that how you look and what you're wearing can have a big impact on the first impression people get from you, whether you're applying for a job or just meeting someone new. As you transition out of your phase of wearing to sweatpants to class, it can be confusing to figure out your wardrobe for the real world. In college, I was taught that at every job, you had to look professional in suits or dresses. That's not true! The media world that I went into was much more casual. I constantly hear people asking how they should dress for job interviews, new jobs, meetings, conferences, and non-work related functions like weddings, funerals, etc. A course on etiquette seems old-fashioned, but would really be helpful.
6. Anything That Has To Do With Insurance And Taxes
It's not exactly unexpected that college doesn't teach you about taxes, but it's still worth pointing out, because it's such a big thing. It baffles me that colleges still don't offer basic courses in taxes and insurance. Most people go into full-time jobs and have no idea what to do about health insurance, 401Ks, and taxes. During tax season, most recent graduates I know turn to their parents for help. If you love your job and lose your health insurance, what do you do? What about car insurance? Life insurance? The questions are endless, and we would all be better off if colleges prepared us for them.
7. Financial Debt
Another big thing colleges don't prepare anyone for is how to deal with debt. Because of the high price of universities, a lot of students will graduate college with so much debt... and no idea how to pay it off the right way. Student loans aren't even the only thing that can lead to debt. If colleges are going to charge as much as they do, they should at least be requiring students to take financial classes that help them learn how to get out of a bad spot.
8. Being Laid Off
Sure, a lot of professors warn about the worst case scenarios when it comes to having a full-time position, but most schools don't dedicate a significant amount of time to showing students what to do if they get laid off. As someone who was recently laid off, I can tell you that it's scary and really confusing — and I felt completely unprepared for it. A lot of people get laid off, and knowing how to handle that situation would be helpful for anyone.
9. Buying/Renting A Place To Live
Maybe you plan on living with your parents after college — and that's fine! But there will come a time when you want to either rent an apartment or house, or buy something of your own... and you won't know what you're doing. I went through the process of buying a house, and it was incredibly confusing and frustrating. I kept telling everyone that I wished I had been taught the basics of real estate, homeowners insurance, mortgage payments and bills... all of that! There is so much to pay attention to and think about, and it can feel really overwhelming and intimidating. Since most students are eventually going to be moving out on their own, shouldn't schools be teaching the basics about this kind of thing?
10. Handling Money
Colleges don't really teach students how to deal with money at all. I strongly believe that money management courses should be a standard part of any curriculum. It's really jarring to go into the real world and suddenly have to deal with big or small paychecks, savings accounts, tons of bills, and more. Most people have trouble handling money, and schools don't really do anything to show you how to get through it, leaving you to figure it out on your own.
11. Setting A Backup Plan
When you pick a major, college tells you how to best prepare for that major. But what if things don't work out? What if you lose that job? What if you never find a job in that field to begin with? I know so many people who went to school for one thing and then end up getting a job in a completely different industry. Being totally prepared for just one type of job isn't going to help you when something big happens that changes everything.