College and the real world

College and the real world

Robert Ingersoll said “College is a place where pebbles are polished and diamonds dimmed”. Well, hey, little diamond. Treat college as a boot camp for life and you’ll only end up shining all the brighter…

I remember sitting in my advisor’s office watching the clock tick. I was early as usual and as soon as the clock hit one he came through the door – right on time as always. As well as being one of my favourite professors, he seemed to be the only advisor who knew anything – or took your opinion into account, for that matter. He flipped through my file, asked how my summer was and got straight to work in seeing what my remaining classes were for my associate’s degree. He then said, “It looks like you graduate after you take these two classes.” I tilted my head in surprise. My schedule had been so screwed up, I’d figured I’d get both degrees at the same time. He then got out the paperwork and started filling it out and I signed as necessary.

It still hadn’t sunk in that I was about done with school.

In high school or secondary school we think college will be a step into the real world but in reality it’s training wheels. You flunk a class? You retake it. It’s not like losing a job. There are kegars on Tuesdays and in the real world you wouldn’t go to work hungover [Ed note – you’d be surprised… ] even if you attend class with a pale sweaty face and the shakes. You can half-ass a paper or cram the night before, but you really can’t do that with a huge presentation at work.

College is a mini boot camp into adulthood. It’s a really good way of getting all this immaturity out of you before you go out in the real world to look for a job with your shiny new degree. You can stay up as long as you want if you’re willing to reap the consequences the next morning. You have to do your own laundry, cook your own food. You learn how to budget and live off 10 dollars till your paycheck comes. You learn to do your homework without your parents getting on you about it. You learn that if you screw up it’s your fault and no one else’s fault but your own. You learn how to fix it without running to mum and dad. College is a reality slap in the face.

Sure, you’ll learn how to do many things that won’t be valuable in real life like keg stand and beer pong (this is for US mooks – but all colleges have their own drink traditions, to be sure). However, you’ll also learn valuable self-imposed disciplines like juggling a social life along with your GPA, or how to study with a huge party a few doors down the hall.

I’m in my fourth year now and just a year away from the real world. It’s the hardest and most intensive year yet. I have to go to classes which are 10am to 10pm at night and do several hours’ worth of homework on top of that. My final projects are supposed to be 10 plus hours a week outside class. I also have to put together a resume and portfolio, each personalized to what job position I’m applying for.

While researching companies, I’m posting profiles on job sites while studying for exams and writing thesis papers. I do all this while holding down a part-time job. Talk about a highly stressful environment! And you’re also factoring in trying to find time for your friends. Oh… And I also have to try to figure out how to pay for my increase in tuition now that I’m in upper division classes.

There is a lot on my plate, and I’m just taking it as it comes, one day at a time.

In the last four years of college, I went from having a sweet old lady teaching algebra to being taught by a strongly-accented PhD in Mathematics Calculus teacher who I barely understood, even though his role was to teach me the hardest mathematics course I’ve ever had to take in my life. I went from reading essays overnight to being forced to devour full-length novels, from writing three page papers to twenty page theses. I went from having a fun time to a Twilight Zone where every instructor assumes you have nothing else to do except their course – and you have four classes taught by instructors with similar outlooks each semester. Hard, aggravating and stressful. Of course, I realize I’m not the only one out there. And dealing with these high expectations by trying to match them is in itself a skill: In the real world I might come across projects with unreachable deadlines that I just have to deal with.

So there I was. Graduation. One step away from being done. Clutching a degree that didn’t seem as impressive as I’d imagined… And I just took a breath. This was a moment I’d spent countless thousands of dollars for, countless hours in the library and media labs, and countless anxiety attacks. So even though I was supposed to feel proud, my stomach turned at the thought of the future.

Yeah, you have to prepare somewhat for the future – but you can’t overwhelm yourself. Take time to breathe. You have a lifetime to work and only four years of college, so make them count. Try to make time for fun, because you will go insane if you don’t. Try to make time for work, not just because you’d be wasting money, but also because you’d be denying your goals in being there in the first place.

College has its ups and downs, fun times and bad times, love and heartbreak, old friends and new friends, but in the end it helps us grow each day and prepare for the next step. Whether it’s how to coast through an interview, to handling a new project proposal. To meeting contacts through friends and colleges. Whatever it is, you will always remember college – especially when you first paycheck comes to pay off your student loans.

After the grand step of college lies the future and the unexpected. Good luck!

It is an unwritten law that when you graduate you have to make little fairy cakes like this.