ARTICLES | School Should Prepare Us For Reality

dear college, what nextThey kicked you out of college like a tramp with degree in hand. Yeah, yeah. A tramp in a tux, or perhaps a white, strapless dress, depending on who your parents are, maybe from Saks. It felt grand to feast with the fam in convivial excess dedicated to the greatest achievement thus far in your life span. But what about the crash, the collision experienced when you realized your 16-year melange of public and/or private school education most likely failed to teach you the essentials skills needed to make it (out there).

It’s really real out there.

Elise, an office worker from Boston with a BA in psychology, describes her college education  in the book “Twentysomethings” as “too broad and too shallow” to be particularly useful in a world that demands professional specialization.

Another millennial, who studied Jazz at the University of Miami, defends his college education, saying he could not do what he’s doing now [playing bass professionally] without studying for four years in college. It helped neutralize his previously skewed conception of what it takes to make it in America.  This millennial says he was unusual because he always knew his life purpose was to play music. He enrolled straight into UMiami’s conservatory, while his peers meandered, searching for what to study.  As far as college teaching him the business of music, however, which he considers to be the wild wild west, the next frontier, he has to learn as he goes.

I imagine those who study the humanities, or a subject that requires further schooling or additional knowledge in commerce and technology to put into vocational application, echo the sentiments of Elise. There exist about 250 liberal arts colleges in the US; schools that allow students to study courses like costume design and geology, calculus and the history of western civilization simultaneously. While information in these courses surely help to expand a student’s worldly knowledge and ability to think critically, a liberal arts curriculum seems somewhat arbitrary, too impractical to put into application when almost all jobs available require knowledge of a specific trade.

It seems that college positively functions more as a structured socialization chamber, a place where teens are weened off their parents. They learn how to clean their room, live within a budget, complete paperwork, and get to a place by a specific time. However, students leave college shocked due to their ignorance of how to successfully navigate the world of the industry they choose to study. They are forced to confront the naivety that drove their 18-year-old decision making.

Do what you love. Do what you love.

This piece of advice guides those both blessed and burdened with the choice of what to do with their lives.

A young sprout says, “I love working out. I should probably be a personal trainer.”

They are told to get a NASM certification or declare a major in exercise science. In school, they are taught about body fat ratios and peptides, but rarely on what life is actually like for a fitness teacher. The student is not warned studios take 75 percent of commission when they work 1:1 with a client. They are not counseled on how to market themselves so they can book the 20 classes a week required for a trainer to make a decent living. No lessons are given on how a trainer’s aptitude is judged on their appearance. No seminars are offered on ways to combat this when their once youthful bod begins to show signs of age. No, these hard lessons are learned only once a person has committed their time and money, nose diving to be a part of this field.

An idealistic walks into the office of their academic adviser and announces, “I’ve decided to declare a Creative Writing major. I am going to be a writer.”

Instead of reciting the student’s next semester worth of course requirements, it should be that adviser’s duty to tell the student that the only person who takes longer to respond to a query than the editor of a lit magazine is G-O-D. And thus, with that information passed, the student should leave school with the skills needed to tackle this.

An entire year should be spent on how to write pitches and proposals. Classes should be offered on how to create a personal brand, how to use the internet to market your writing, connect to bloggers, and stay updated with emerging technologies. They should be tested on grammar, SEO optimization, and the Chicago Manual of Style. No one should have to take a webinar five years after graduation to learn these vitals because their school’s curriculum simply was not progressive enough to stay up-to-date with advances in the writing industry. Or because instead of learning how to copy write or use InDesign, they spent six months studying Chaucer. No student should have to feel like they need to go to grad school to delay facing the fact making a living wage exclusively by writing is akin to making it to the Olympics. Thus after spending 100,000 dollars on an education, they have no choice but to watch their dreams die. No, that student should leave school armed with the tools to fight and innovate in an over-saturated market, or they should not be offered the chance to study creative writing at all.

As we blaze through school, we are not always taught how to succeed as a cog in the reality of this machine. We cram ourselves with facts we’ll be okay if we forget, but are not schooled on the rules of the game, our rights as workers, that it’s completely fair for our boss to fire us one day if he/she doesn’t like the color of our shirt, in this Darwinian, hierarchical world that functions by the credo of the survival of the fittest. Because of this, hoards of graduates will enter the real world tripping over their own shoelaces, feeling repeatedly bitch slapped as they try to figure out what to do, how to adapt, and use their major to make a career when college left them unprepared to work the kinds of jobs actually available.

If the idiom “those who can’t, teach” is true, it could be fair to blame the hiring of teachers without real world experience for the wide spread ignorance that causes students to study their hobbies unaware of the politics in that industry. For when the scholars who educate us  have never been able to steer their way to success in a subject outside the realm of academia, it makes sense college students would leave school feeling ill equipped to go on and do what those who taught them never could. Every class in college should be career day, or else degree inflation will continue to increase, which will only add to the income inequality and class warfare plaguing this country.

Of course, all this pissing and moaning about the failures of higher education put aside, no degree of bureaucracy, financial instability, or long hours hours worked away from friends and family will deter those truly invested to do what they feel so strongly called to do from doing just that. No amount of miles spent driving to and from gyms will prevent a fitness instructor from pushing soft bodies to become hard. No number of unanswered emails will keep a fiction author bent on publishing from pitching again. No amount of blood shed by the blade of a santuko will scare a chef away from the kitchen. No piles of paperwork and mounds of debt from law school will keep an aspiring Atticus Finch from working pro bono.

“Everymans work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” – 1 Corinthians 3:13

The time comes in our lives, often when it feels too early, and we must choose a career to provide our lives with sustenance and hopefully, meaning. Yet, the college we invest in to guide us in this choice should do its due diligence. It should prepare us for a specific line of work and the type of fire unique to it that it will inevitably accompany.

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  1. This is a very insightive article, I agree a lot with the author. You really need to know what you want to do, cause you will ingest a lot of knowledge into your works and your life. I’ve always felt that knowledge is for self awareness and enlightenment and not just education. Over the years, I’ve lived in life and learned a lot on what is needed to make it in a market that reflexes novelty rather than necessity. Which I’m glad for, because now I feel I can go to a college and learn what I need to learn to make that next step on having what I want. There should be schooling that would teach both at the same time so that we may further ourselves in life. But always remember, no matter how you learn what you need in life, be yourself and know that you can integrate the you that you are make a difference in todays world.

  2. This rings s true to my life. I spent 3 years in college before I left after realizing I wasnt being taught how to do what I was going to school for but rather random facts on how to pass a test. While you grow up thinking you need to go on to further schooling people dont tell you ho w life expierience can be worth so much more than a degree, and that life expierience doesnt usually come with nearly the same kind of debt

  3. Garrett A Smith

    Couldn’t agree with you guys more! A beautiful article and I’m actually going thru that right now with my gf of 4 years. She just graduated with a music education degree and while she feels prepard there are many areas she feels completely unprepared for and it makes her scarred. We want to be happy forever tho and to do that we need to so why makes us happy and not anxious. We are currently making music and playing around the Lancaster, PA area and are living what were doing and love the community music being and the love! As jimmy Hendrix once said, ” the best high is music.”

  4. Thanks for these comments Garret, Ben, and Bradford. While I’m weary to criticize our education system because it is responsible for allowing so many people to study their way out of poverty, I really do think most programs could use a major revamp.

  5. Cora

    AMAZING article! I highly enjoyed it and agree with your message. I also agree with everyone elses responses. This holds so true, especially for individuals who grew up being entirely brainwashed through the school system they’re in, out of complete innocent ignorance. Some simply don’t understand the real realities until a certain point in their life when they experience it for themselves. Some don’t take long to come around and balance the two, some take forever; and maybe had to have it hit them right in the face to realize it. Kids go through school being taught all different things, but depending on their teachers, they may not get a big enough dose of info about the real world, and all you have to do take care of yourself. For a lot of kids, the one thing that is taught that is sure to stick with them is the pressure of the world. But, not how to deal with it and how to keep your life running smoothly. As a teacher, I would say happiness is your key to success. But most teachers are going to tattoo ‘go to college ASAP!’ in their students brains. Which causes a lot of confusion for ones who are about to step into an independent world. MONEY is also taught. So when a freshman of the real world makes their post- high school decision, chances are it is college. But wait; some haven’t found their craft or passion yet. But they feel obliged to go. Or even if they have found their art, they are obliged to go. And I have heard many stories and watched many friends go through this… they go to college immediately, become unhappy because they feel like they learn nothing they thought they would, drop out for said reason; or they can’t afford rent/tuition, or even become flooded with debt. OR, they finish and graduate, and go through the troubles described in this article. Now, I’m not saying, ‘don’t go to college!’ Or college is bad, because college can be a great thing if you time it right and make sure you can use the knowledge to your advantage. What I am saying is that growing up we are made to feel obliged to attend it as soon as possible. Nobody ever tells you you can make it without it if you want to. No one says you can be happy without it. Nobody tells you, if it’s not for you right now, or you’re not ready, don’t do it. It can put a lot of pressure on someone who is about to enter the real world; if you teach them that they will be basically inferior, or looked down upon, just because they don’t have a college education. If the other, uglier sides of educational systems were taught… and the fact that someone who goes to college is NOT more superior, just for doing so… I think youth would have a less confusing/emotional time converting from dependence to independence, and have less trials and errors.

  6. Marthy J Cannary

    I think everyone is in agreement here. This article really hit the nail on the head, and shone a bit of light on a few corners of the problem. The system does need a serious revamp. I’m staring at the business end of the ugly beast. About to begin college -late- at 26 and even though I know what I want to do, I know that when I graduate I’m going to feel like the kid at the lake who’s clothes got stolen. I’m terrified now, and I will be terrified later, and I can only hope that the drive I’ve got now holds up. But how do you revamp the system? Its terrifying to think of all the things in the country that need a revamp, and to wonder how we will evolve and change the things we need to change.

  7. Really great stuff that everyone has thought or will in the near future. Thank you for putting it all into such an elegant easy to understand format. I myself have put myself through different colleges and certification programs and it wasnt until I truly sat myself down and got a basis of what I actually wanted to do in this crazy place we call earth. I dropped out of traditional college and entered a recording and production ceritification program in Atlanta. It was there I learned about the gear and the industry and how to market myself but I still wanted more. Im currently spending all of mine and my family’s money to attend Full Sail university for a bachelors in show production. Lights and sound for touring acts mostly. I feel I am in the right place for what I want to do and know many people who have been through it an have very nice jobs. So my point is dont give up. Find what you really want to do and give it your all to make whatever dreams you have come true. Find out what you love and do it. Thanks.

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