What I Wish I Learned In College

Three missed opportunities, says grad

I attended a four-year state university that recently was named by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the top 15 public institutions in the country, complete with high graduation rates and high incomes for graduates.

When I graduated from the University of Maryland, I received a fancy, rolled-up piece of paper signifying that I had passed all my courses and earned my degree — and paid my tuition bill of more than $40,000 — but little else.

If you’re like me and did not learn how to set up a budget in college, you are probably facing the daunting task of trying to figure it out.

In memories, friendships, and experiences, I’m rich. In life skills, practical knowledge, and real-world intelligence, I’m poor.

Majoring in journalism taught me to excel in the newsroom under a deadline, but not how to navigate life outside the office.

Related: How to Thrive in College

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General education courses have the potential to teach valuable life skills, but their broad concepts proved unhelpful. I can walk someone through the history of journalism; I can describe a sea breeze and a land breeze; and I can demonstrate the concepts of supply and demand. However, ask me to plan a thorough and sustainable budget, and I’m lost.

I thought four years and a bachelor’s degree would prepare me to handle anything adult life threw at me, from filing taxes to successfully navigating a networking event.

In so many industries, it is not what you know, but who you know.

How wrong I was! Here are three subject areas I wish had been included in the syllabi:

1: How to budget
Accounting and finance majors have a leg up on the competition because their coursework taught the fundamentals of financial planning and budgeting. The rest of us are bereft of these basic life skills.

After college, mom, dad and student loans will no longer bail you out when you prioritize brunch over rent. Creating a reasonable and balanced budget is as essential to life as water and air.

Related: Is College Worth It?

Nothing is more terrifying than ending up with too much “month” at the end of your money. If you’re like me and did not learn how to set up a budget in college, you are probably facing the daunting task of trying to figure it out. Thankfully, there are a ton of useful apps to help you track spending, set monetary limits, and analyze your finances, and for that, all you need is your smartphone and a decent amount of patience.

2: How to network
Professors were always telling us to use them as springboards to break into the workforce. What nobody taught us is how exactly to use those teachers to our advantage. There’s a fine line between networking with professors to find career connections and begging these same professors to help you get a job.

Alumni are known for supporting peers fresh from the same college.

Teachers assume students can figure out how to ask them gracefully to assist in the job hunt. In so many industries, it is not what you know, but who you know.

To make up for this untaught lesson, reaching out to older friends in your chosen profession is one place to start. Asking them, as a friend, how they landed their jobs is a pressure-free way to get advice on effective networking strategies. Their responses will reveal candid yet helpful stories about networking successes and failures one can utilize — or avoid — in connecting with former professors and mentors.

Joining your alma mater’s alumni association and connecting with fellow graduates is another way to build a professional network. Alumni are known for supporting peers fresh from the same college, so connecting with them can open career opportunities.

3: How to make a speech
During an entry-level job out of college, you may not yet be tasked with organizing and conducting a meeting. However, many companies expect even brand new employees to speak up and address the room in gatherings both large and small.

In these scenarios, understanding and using the basic skills of public speaking can be a game changer. Successfully addressing a room full of peers and superiors could earn praise from the boss or a promotion. Improving public speaking skills takes practice, so use anyone — parents, roommates, friends, even pets — to rehearse prior to an important meeting. Watching TED talks on the web is also a great way to get inspiration and instruction on how a speaker connects with audiences, simplifies complicated points, and communicates effectively.

Part of life is figuring out things on your own and learning lessons as you go. With some practice, budgeting, networking, and public speaking will become part of your bag of adult tricks rather than merely skills you wish you had. Yet receiving a solid foundation for these responsibilities during college would have made the transition from student life to adult life a whole lot smoother.

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