Thought Catalog
August 13, 2014

6 Things I Wish I Learned In College

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What is the issue?
This semester, everyone will be required to enroll in a class called “life”!
image - Flickr / markus spiske
image – Flickr / markus spiske

1. What an interview is

Yes, I was taught what an interview is – you speak to the person responsible for hiring and try and convince them to give you something to do for 40 hours a week and give you money for it.

What I really wish I had understood going into my first interview is that there are two sides to this mess – you needing a job and them needing to fill a position. This is the beginning of a contract between your skills and their needs as a company.

It’s about you becoming a real human being, not just words on a resume. How can you make your resume come to life? Because that’s what an interview is – not you molding yourself into what you think they are looking for, it’s you coloring in the mental image you procured on paper and demonstrating that it’s what they need. You as a person are an opportunity for their empty position just as much as their empty position is an opportunity for you.

I had a strong resume, but I couldn’t tell you three details about my first couple interviews because I was so unmemorable that even I can’t remember what I did or said.

2. How to understand what your strengths are as a human being, not just a student

“I really excelled in my media genres and criticism class.”

That’s awesome, we’ll let you know when we need your opinion on the relationship between Sex and the City and modern feminism. But until then, how do you take criticism? Do you tend to take initiative or do you like to follow the lead? Is keeping the peace in a group setting more important to you than having your opinion heard?

One thing I didn’t understand in my first couple interviews is that the reason companies want to see experience outside of the classroom is because a huge part of your career involves dealing with other human beings. In fact, outside of the people you live with, you will spend more hours with your coworkers than any other people in your life. You need to show your strengths and weaknesses as a person because these traits will directly impact the work environment you are about to be thrust into for the majority of the time you’re awake during the day.

Show your personality, because they’re hiring that along with your skills.

3. The true cost of student loans

Interest rates. I can’t even begin to explain how I would have done things differently had I understood the total of my student loans – 6% interest over ten years adds on a gigantic chunk of change to the total.

I had a full ride to college and took out student loans to help with books, rent and meal plans. Piece of cake, right? No. Because of the interest rate and the reality of what recent college grads are paid, my student loans are the single most crippling financial reality of my life.

For ten years of my life, any monthly payment I take on (rent, car payment, mortgage) I instantly have to budget an additional $320 to account for my student loans. Because guess what – when you hear “the average starting salary for your major is $40,000”, they’re likely talking about the average salary for the area with the highest cost of living in the country to impress you; plus this total is before you take out taxes and benefits and the cost of things like feeding yourself.

When you’re 18 and you hear “$20,000 loan over 10 years” and “$40,000 salary in one year” it seems simple and easy, but it’s so much more than that. Why does no one teach us this?

4. The details of paychecks and salaries

The money you make is not the total that will go in your pocket – there are these things called taxes and benefits.

While I was younger, I would hear my parents or other adults complain about these distant enemies but somewhere in my transition from childhood to adulthood no one ever took the time to explain exactly what these are. So here I am about to graduate college thinking about how much money $30,000 is (when living in Indiana) because up until now my life has consisted of part time minimum wage jobs and $300 checks. But then taxes take at least 20% of that – so now we’re down to $24,000. Let’s also assume benefits take out $100 from every biweekly paycheck – your $30,000 is already down to about $21,000. This makes such a difference when budgeting, yet I had absolutely no idea how to do any of this. But don’t worry, one time in math class we figured out how many stops the mailman could make on his route with a simple equation.

5. How to leave a job with grace

Most people don’t work at the same place for their whole career. In your life, there will likely come a time where a different opportunity comes along and you take it. You will have parts of your job you loved and you will have people you enjoyed working with left behind. Why is this never talked about?

I think it’s an important skill to learn and when I encountered this situation I was completely at loss with how to handle it. It’s scary but it is a necessary part of the business world. No matter which way you look at it, you feel guilty for leaving and panic about making a mistake while also putting your employer in a situation no one wants to deal with – hiring a replacement and having to invest in their training as well. They give us the basics of an interview in college, but what about the rest?

6. How to tell time

Seems silly, I know. But sometimes I want to look back at myself in college and say, “Do you understand how long 10 years is? These student loans will go into your 30s.” At the other end of the spectrum, college students also need to understand that in the grand scheme of things, three months isn’t that long.

When I finished my (unpaid) internship after I graduated, I started panicking because it took three months before I found a professional job. I felt like the biggest failure and that my life was going backwards, not forwards. What I wish I had known is that your career isn’t the only thing that’s important – there are so many other ways we develop in our 20s outside of professional work.

I waitressed full time for those three months and learned some of the most valuable skills I still use my professional life – maintaining composure, relating to co-workers from different backgrounds, having a positive demeanor about the workplace – seems silly, but I use these skills every day in the business world. A year at a job is not a long time. Neither is three months of job searching. Not everything needs to be a rush when it comes to your career – it’s always going to be there.

Every day in your 20ss is a learning experience and you’re never going to be taught everything. But if I’m paying this much for my education, all I’m saying is I would hold some of these lessons at a higher value than learning iambic pentameter in English 101 when I’m not majoring in English or an equivalent. TC mark