Does college or anything really prepare you for the real world?

If it is Tuesday, it must be time for another Blog Off  with the links to others participating at the end of this article. This week’s topic is on “does college prepare you for the real world”? In a way, it is a timely topic, which affects not only the students, but also their parents as most colleges and universities are already starting back to class. The picture we are using above is of the new freshman class that is attending UAB. Using the national averages, just a little over half that class will have graduated by 2016.  

So for the remaining 50+ percent, will college prepare them for the real world? For the most part the question is both easy & hard to answer. In short, it truly depends on the individual, as the world of academia is generally completely different from what reality offers. While there are job placement facilities, counseling and classes on getting ready for the real world – only 19.7% of the graduates in 2009 actually landed a job.

The Challenges:

Unfortunately, for almost everyone once there college or university days are behind them, real life is ready to great them. The first big item is all that money that was spent is now due and payable. The second big item is that you now also have to pay for all your expenses as you go. A third item is that you had better hope you don’t break an arm, or get real sick as the insurance that your parents provided you is no longer in effect when you leave school / turn 25. Then we have the huge challenge, no matter what you think you may know – you don’t. While academia is Black and White, many real world situations don’t fit nicely in those categories (i.e. we don’t care that it says it fits this way on the plan, if it does not fit during assembly)

Other takes on college, trade schools, and the military:

While thinking about the topic, I started to wonder is anyone ready for the real world? What happens if you decided college was not right for you; would a trade school better prepare you for real life? Is this story in the Washington Post about “More college-educated jump tracks to become skilled manual laborers” really accurate? Fortunately for me, I know a great group of people that actively support &/or work in the trades who deal with this issue quite frequently. So early yesterday morning I posted the same question on the mikeroweWORKS (mrW) forum  for their take and opinion on the subject.

RiverGirl (actively supports the trades, especially mrW): I would honestly say a trade school graduate is better prepared for the “real world” because they haven’t been sheltered under a system that promotes the idea that when they graduate they’ll be applying all they’ve learned to leap to the top of the ladder as soon as possible.

In the real world the new guy or gal very rarely starts at the top unless there’s some type of nepotism involved. College doesn’t prepare people for entry level positions. Many graduates assume they’ll be making the big bucks right away since they just paid the big bucks for their education.

A trade graduate automatically gets the idea of working their way up because they understand the apprentice/master tradesman idea. They’re usually willing to do so because some day, they’ll be the master tradesman.

FRY1975 (aka Jeremy – Construction Equipment Mechanic): Any schooling, in my opinion, lays a foundation of sorts. It is not until you get fed to the wolves, that you will gain any “real world/job experience”. My schooling and foundation initially came from the United States Air Force. It wasn’t until I had my OJT, as an apprentice, at the dealership that I really gained any techniques to handle what my job threw at me. It is much faster pace in the civilian sector than in “peace time” military.

RAM (aka Bob Technical Learning & Development): Sean, I believe the answer to that question is no. The reason any school, secondary or post-secondary, cannot prepare the student for the real world is pretty simple. There is no text book for reality. Oh sure, you can learn all the technical stuff, and all the book stuff, but when it comes to real world application, that’s something we all have to learn as we go. That’s why I have always valued apprenticeships. In those learning situations, the student is actually learning by working on the job, not in a text book with right and wrong answers. They are out in the “gray” world we all operate in.

Having said all that, I want to note that advancing one’s knowledge is always a good thing. I believe in continuous learning. Learning should never stop. Unfortunately, after graduation some think, “well, my education is complete” and after that, they expect the degree to be the ultimate golden ticket to prosperity. 

Want some free advice:

For those of you planning to make the transition from the land of academia, a trade school or even the military let me offer a few piece of advice. My first piece of advice is during the summer break – find a job related to the field you want to go into. If you want to be an architect, maybe spend it working on a Habitat for Humanity project or working for a construction crew in the field to see how a plan is turned into reality & some of the issues.   

My second one revolves around money – get a job and make sure you save as much money as possible, to help you survive those first few months. Learn to balance a checkbook – while this may sound funny, I know plenty of individuals that cannot.

My third piece of advice for those that are going into the trades or will be supporting the trades (i.e. construction law) is to join forums dedicated to those areas. Look for blogs from experts in that arena, look to see who or what they follow, and try to find other sites dedicated to your endeavor. This will not only help you learn what the issues are and what you have to look forward to, but hopefully help you be better prepared for some of the issues listed above.

My final piece of advice is to remember when you do land a job, that you are the new guy there. You have a lot to learn about how things are done & why they are done that way. For those that have a degree and actually get a job in Management, you may want to take a lesson from the military and successful officers – they actually listen to the Sergeants or Chiefs who have been there for years.

For those of you interested in the trades or worried about the future of them, (Construction, Welders, Automotive, etc…) I highly recommend you check out mikeroweWORKS. This site not only contains numerous resources for teachers, those entering them, but also a great group of Tradesmen that want to help you succeed.

A Listing of others participating in today’s Blog Off:

Paul Anater’s Kitchen and Residential Design 
Bob Borson’s Life of an Architect
Amy Good’s Amy’s Blog (Splintergirl)
Nick Lovelady’s Cupboards
Veronika Miller’s Modenus
Becky Shankle’s Eco Modernism
Tamara Dalton’s Design Studios
Tim Elmore’s On Leading the Next Generation
Cheryl Kees Clendenon Details and Design
Rufus Dogg’s Dog Walk Blog
Bonnie Harris’ Wax Marketing
Cindy Frewen Wuellner’s Urbanverse
Steve Mouzon The Original Green

  • Josh

    I agree, college does not prepare you for everything. Especially in the architectural field. It is said 80% of what you need to know is taught on the job. Schools need to get out of theory based teaching, and teach more real world stuff.

    That is why I choose the university that I did, it seamed to be a good mix of theory and technical. However it still left out a lot of the daily workings of running an office or project.

  • Hawkins House Derby

    Great post Sean, and a lot of really great advice. IMHO, a graduate of any formal learning program is invariably like a toddler trying to learn to walk when they first get out there in the real world. A big advantage of the trades, military, and medical professions is that a master/apprentice -style system of indoctrination is an integral part of the process, whereas in the corporate world, an equivalent process invariably also takes place, though often with less emphasis on its importance. No formal education can possibly prepare anyone with every thing they need know. Also, liked the mikeroweworks web site and links. Thanks for including that.

  • Rufus Dogg

    Great post! Several times you alluded to being the “new guy.” So, in a nutshell, if you find yourself being the new job on the job, keep your mouth shut, your ears and eyes open, your back strong and your feet light and willing. Everything else is just a detail. :-)

  • Veronika Miller

    Good discussion! Yes absolutely agree that college is not for everyone but a good education is. Most of us learn from experience but we need the tools to get our first opportunities. Another thing is perseverance. Many employers care more that you’ve finished what you started whether it’s trade school or any other form of education. no one likes a quitter I guess.

  • Nick @ Cupboards

    Great post, Sean- really liked that you brought in lots of opinions and I had honestly forgotten about the technical aspects of education(blaming my Dad).

    When we(my brother and I) started working in the cabinet/kitchen business as kids, he explained right off the bat that if you didn’t know how to build and install a cabinet, you couldn’t truly be a good designer. Now, I know plenty of designers that can’t operate a cordless drill, but there is quite a bit of merit to the thought.

    Especially in our business, hands-on is the only way that you’ll really learn anything… Guess that’s why we have sawdust in our veins!

    Enjoyed it!

  • Kate Winter

    Thanks for providing impressive tips with us. I have read most of them and got a lot from them.

    <a href="; Merchant Cash Advance