University Does Not Prepare You for the “Real World”

Usually I like to support my points with numerous articles but today I’m lazy so my arguments will be primarily supported anecdotally.  Although this article from the Economist touches on some of the points I will be discussing. They do discount some of the points at the end but it is a professor of higher education speaking against it – hardly an unbiased source.

Post-secondary education is highly overrated these days, in my opinion. Do not mistake me for saying that it is not valuable (it most certainly is), however, the perceived value may be much higher than the actual value received. My own experience and the experience of many friends I have spoken to have pointed to the same thing: university, while increasing our knowledge in our field of interest, does little in terms of developing specialized skills within said field. In other words, we learn a lot of theory but not a lot of “practice”. I realize this is not a novel idea in the slightest but I would like to delve in a little deeper.

For example (anecdotal evidence begins here), I attended Wilfrid Laurier University for Business Administration majoring in Marketing. For the record, Laurier is an amazing school, I learned a lot and I want to go back every single day. That being said, there is a lot that I could have (and should have) learned in order to better prepare me for the world of marketing. Who knew that you needed video editing skills to edit together promotional material? Who knew that you would be expected to have web design skills to perform SEO (search engine optimization), and manage the corporate website? Don’t know HTML, Javascript and VB? You’re out of luck. Fortunately for me, I picked up many of these skills as hobbies throughout my life – for those that were not so lucky (or did not have as much foresight) life might be a little difficult.

So instead of memorizing the 27 steps of “blah-di-blah” we should have instead spent a little more time developing specific skills to facilitate entry into our chosen field; especially technological skills. In the 21st century, it doesn’t matter what field you are in, you need to know about technology.

College programs suffers from a similar problem but typically reversed. College teaches a number of specific skills but very little in terms of “higher-level” concepts. So a college graduate may earn a diploma in web design and as a result have the skills to create a fully functioning website. What they may not learn are the “higher level”, less-specialized but related skills (e.g. how to promote said website/business/self, run a web design business etc.). It seems that to truly gain all the necessary skills to excel in a given field you need to attend both university and college. With tuition rising at phenomenal rates – this is putting a lot of pressure on students.

So what is the solution? Well, for those still in school and with time to spare: learn lots on your own. You have to. Oh wait, you are involved with 3 campus clubs, 5 courses, and a job? Too bad. You need to find time to learn the skills that you will not pick up elsewhere. If you are in marketing, start doing video editing, web design, SEO, online marketing etc. You will not learn it in the classroom and you will likely need it. For the rest of us, it is either back to college or we need to change our hobbies from “drinking beer” to learning client-side computer programming.

Do you feel like you got the most out of your education? Were you fully prepared for the “real world” with specific skills? If so, how did you do it? Please share these secrets.

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One thought on “University Does Not Prepare You for the “Real World”

  1. Do you feel like you got the most out of your education?
    > Yes, absolutley. I apply an awful lot of business theory at work. Perhaps not specific theories and methodologies, but rather general ideas and concepts. For example; I do a lot of ROI and sales forecasting and data analysis but do not calculate IRR, use 4 period moving averages and R-square measures. However, when I make recommendations and decisions profitability, historical precedent and correlations are huge factors in justifying my suggestions.

    Were you fully prepared for the “real world” with specific skills? If so, how did you do it? Please share these secrets.
    > Yes and No. I went into Uni fully aware that I was not going to attain ‘skill sets’. For me, the purpose of university was to instill a work ethic, adaptability and worldliness. I apply the ‘get it done’ attitude learned from tough exams at times of tight deadlines, the reasoning and argumentation from case studies to problem solving and identification at work.

    To me its about being aware that you need certain behavioural skills to be productive at work, the rest (specific skill sets) can be taught easily if you are able to apply yourself and learn them

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