10 Things College Fails to Prepare You For in the Real World
You made it through four years of college lectures, research papers, and final exams with halfway decent grades. You donned your cap and gown and received your diploma. You made it! The worst was behind you! Or so you thought. Then adulthood happened, and it’s way harder than you ever imagined. As it turns out, college was a fantasyland. You thought you were a grownup, but, in fact, you weren’t living in the real world at all. It was all pretend. Now that you’re not be coddled by campus living, you’re constantly confronted by the ugly truth that being an adult is challenging AF! Here are 10 things college fails to prepare you for in the real world; if you haven’t experienced them yet, buckle up, because the highway of life only gets rougher as you go on.
Cover Photo: Dougal Waters (Getty Images)
Let’s go back: 10 Things Graduates Will Immediately Miss About College
In college, you had an all-inclusive invoice that included tuition, room and board, and your meal plan – and if you were lucky, your parents always paid that bill. If not, you had that handy-dandy financial aid to cover it. Now, not only do you have to pay your way for every expense under the sun, you have to pay back all those loans you took out during school! You have bills up the wazoo and they all come at different times of the month, making it impossible to plan. Your direct deposits from your crappy job seem few and far between and there's never anything left over at the end of the month. And we haven’t even touched on taxes yet! Where was the money management course in college? Non-existent, that's where. (If they'd had it, you would've realized what a rip-off college is.) You’re in the school of hard knocks now, and taking this course pass/fail is not an option.
You often complained about the college cafeteria’s options because you didn’t know how good you had it. Now that you have to feed yourself, you realize how expensive it is to eat. Forget fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat; you can barely cover the cost of cereal and ramen. And all that cheap food? It’s making you fat. You never thought you’d long for the days of your freshman 15 weight, but here we are.
Wasn’t it sweet when everywhere you wanted to be – class, work-study, coffee shops, convenience stores – were all within walking distance of your dorm? Now you have to haul ass every morning to a job that’s an hour away in rush-hour traffic. While a car can be a blessing, the cost of fueling it and maintaining it is a burden. Public transportation is cheap, but often unreliable (and, if you’re honest, a little scary). Oh, what you wouldn’t give to be back in that safe cocoon of college.
Working 9 to 5.
College work-study was a breeze compared to a 9-to-5 job. Who knew eight hours could feel so long and torturous? Every day, you’re counting down the hours, then the minutes, until quitting time. You live for the weekends, during which you find it impossible to sleep in (thanks, internal clock!). What happened to those exhilarating all-nighters? Now you’re in bed by 9 p.m. every night and it’s to sleep, not have sex.
Negotiating your salary.
You’d never gotten a job offer before, so when your company offered you a “compensation package,” you said yes right away without even reading the fine print. Now, a few months into your employment, a coworker on your same level let it slip that they’re making $10K more than you! And all they had to do to get that money was ask for it! You’d bang your head against your desk if you weren’t afraid of a bill showing up charging you for office furniture damage. Where was the salary negotiation role play scenario while in college? Why isn’t negotiation a class? What did you spend the last four years of your life doing if not preparing yourself to make bank? Arg! *bangs head against desk*
At college, you could pretty safely assume that your classmates were childless and either single, dating, or in a relationship. Now you’re in the real world, and there’s no guarantee what’s going on with anyone’s private life. You might strike up a conversation at a bar with an attractive stranger, and even go to bed with them, before finding out they’re married. Or divorced. Or separated (which basically means “too chicken to get divorced”). They might have kids, step-kids, or be expecting another kid! It’s a wild, secretive world out there, and your radar is weak. Keep your eyes and ears open. And look out for those wedding rings!
Navigating health care.
You never thought about health care before, but now that you’re out of college and off your parents’ cushy health care plan, it’s all you think (make that worry) about. Premiums, deductibles, co-pays – what does any of this jargon mean? You feel like you’re paying an arm and a leg every month for coverage, but one doctor’s visit for the flu resulted in a $250 bill! And don’t even ask about prescriptions. It’s enough to send you running for the homeopath, but you can’t afford one of those, either. That “Medicare For All” idea is starting to sound appealing right about now.
It used to be that if you had a problem, you called your mom and dad. Now you only see them on major holidays, and you’re trying to put on a brave face for them and pretend you have your shit together. Except, you don’t. The IRS keeps sending you certified letters, you have several parking tickets you forgot to pay, you and your landlord are feuding over replacing the furnace, and your company says you violated your non-compete agreement when you solicited employment from their competitor. Who you gonna call? A lawyer, that’s who. And then you’re going to spend the next 10 years paying off the ridiculous retainer (you still don’t understand completely what that is) that you put on your brand-new credit card.
In college, your day was mostly mapped out for you. There were classes, work-study, and sports practice at designated times. The rest of your time was spent doing homework. Every assignment had a due date and you had luxuriously lengthy holiday breaks to catch up on all your other “life stuff” (read: dating and mating). Now, you have to micromanage yourself, and it’s no fun! To paraphrase Calvin and Hobbes, there’s never enough time for all the nothing you want to do! When they called it “the rat race,” they weren’t kidding.
There’s little to no feedback in the real world (and what you do get is often unkind). There are no grades, no extra credit, no professorial encouragement, no applause at the end of your presentation. Now that you’re in the workforce, you assume you’re doing an OK job unless you hear otherwise, but praise is paltry. You can’t seem to impress anyone, no matter how hard you work. Most people don’t even care that you went to college, much less where you went. So much for the bragging rights of that Ivy League education.