Lessons College Never Taught Me…

It’s hard for me to believe that college is starting soon again.  It seemed like just yesterday that my friends were done with the semester and coming home for the summer.  Now people are going back to college or even starting their freshman year!  I remember each trip my parents took with me to college.  Each 700 mile drive was unique in some sort of weird and awkward way.

I learned a lot about myself during college (both mentally and physically).  The most important lesson I learned however,had nothing to do with courses.  I learned about myself as a person.

I’ve written about my definition of success and happiness several times.  I’ve also written about struggling post college several times.  When I was in college, I thought one I graduated, I would easily get a job in my field, work and then I would be successful.  I did my college time and now the reward (a job) would flock to me.  It’s partially true that I interned then worked in my field at SUNY Oswego.  I loved it and truly enjoyed my time there in the public health field. I learned even more about myself, my field (public health) as well as my personal relationship with Tim.

In the late spring of 2013, I had an important decision to make.  A decision college doesn’t really prepare you for.

Do I move and get out of Upstate NY? 

I was dating at the time, and a long distance relationship won’t work forever.  He was finishing his training so it made sense for me to move down there.  Being in the military, Tim will never have flexibility to move where he wants.  It was either I move or we continue having a long distance relationship.

I chose to move.  In the fall of 2013 I moved and found myself unemployed with no job leads.  People asked me all summer my job plans and I said I have no idea, live off savings and find one.

Being unemployed came just one year after spending four years trudging through gail force -30 degree winds to class.  It came six months after digging my car out of snow banks for work.

I stayed unemployed from September until around March.  During that time we found out we were moving to New Jersey.  We had one of the roughest winters on the east coast and southern states weren’t prepared to plow (I felt like I never left upstate!)  I hit the job market at the worst time since businesses weren’t hiring.  The last thing they wanted (or needed) to do was hire for their closed business.  I ate away at about 75% of my savings that I saved the previous year working.   College never taught me about budgeting or savings…but I thank my parents often that they did.

I applied for jobs everywhere and in every field.  Quite frankly living in Del Rio Texas, a job was not going to happen.  I lived there six weeks but almost a year later (read: last Tuesday) I finally found a job in my field that I remotely qualified for.  (After getting dozens of emails to be road kill collector…I don’t know why I’m still on public health job list…or why collecting road kill requires a public health degree…).  I would have most definitely had to do something outside my college degree if I had lived there…which is fine but not anything college prepared me for.

So when we moved to NJ, I was more than happy..  So many opportunities that aren’t road kill collectors!  I probably applied to close to 30 jobs.  (I filled out about 100 job applications).  I applied for multiple public health jobs, running store jobs, even a substitute teacher (as I spent 3 years with a double math/education major).  I was bored being at home and financially it wasn’t going to work out well if I was going to stay unemployed for another year.

As good as my first year out of college was (job wise), my second year was as bad. That was something I was not prepared for.  The only thing that would have really prepared me would be living through this situation.

So when I got a call that they would have room for me at a local running store, I jumped on it.  After 8 months of doing nothing, it was a nice change.  Now working there about 6 months, I can say I fully enjoy it.  While college taught me how to solve derivatives at the drop of a pin, it didn’t teach me that I was also growing as a human.  I was learning how to educate people in health awareness but I was also growing and needed to experience these lessons for myself.  I wish college taught me that it’s okay not to do anything in your major as long as you are successful financially, mentally and physically.  If you can say all of those things as well as you are happy with your life, then college has taught you well. 

I regret nothing about my education, my post college life and where I’m at right now.  I’m enjoying my life, financially stable and successful both mentally and physically.  None of those things are anything I took a college course for but at the same time needed college for.

Questions for you:

What is one thing you wish college had taught you?

What has been your favorite job? 


  1. College teaches you a ton academically, but of course it doesn’t teach you how to live and survive in the real world. I agree that I wish I had known it’s okay not to do something in your major. I was very singular minded and was scared to think outside of the box and be myself and really figure out what I wanted. Not sure I have yet, now over 10 years later, but at least I’m getting there! My 20’s taught me a lot more about life than my time in college 🙂

  2. I wish college taught you how to manage your finances and how important each financial decision you make!

    My favorite job…. Has yet to come.. Lol

  3. I think more college, more importantly, teaches you the process of learning. That way after you graduate, you are ready to learn whatever skills you need to do your job.

    I did the “what you’re suppose to do after college thing” – got a “great job” with benefits that was related to my degree. I did that for a year and a half and was miserable. It definitely takes a few years in the real world to figure out what makes you happy & feel fulfilled – I’m currently working on that!

  4. I’m currently in college right now and between having several part time jobs I definitely get where you are coming from. When you’re in college you can be very single minded about what you want to do in the future and how it has to fit in with the degree you’re doing.

    My favourite job is the one I have at the moment – I’m a private tutor and I teach a couple of extremely hard working kiddos!

    1. That’s really awesome Nessa. It’s always fabulous when your current job is your favorite 🙂

  5. I think college is a funny time. At 18, when you have no idea who you really are, you are asked (demanded?) to pick a major that will “determine the rest of your life”. how can you know what you want to do at 18, when you barely know yourself? just my thoughts on it 🙂
    my favorite job was a lifeguard during the summer time

  6. I totally agree with you about getting jobs not in your field/for your degree. I have a BS, MS, and PhD in biology but there aren’t really any jobs in my area that are right for me, so I, too, am working at a running store. (I’m overqualified for most jobs out there and my specialty is in the wrong field for the rest.) I do enjoy the running store gig, but I wish I hadn’t spent so much time and money getting degrees that I can’t use. So I guess the biggest lesson I wish college would have taught me is to make sure there are plenty of jobs (and alternatives) available in your field before you get that degree.

  7. I had a slightly different take on college. I was locked into serving in the Army after graduation, so in my head, my major didn’t matter at all so I just took courses I thought were interesting. I think what I’ve learned since then is that no matter what job you end up taking after college, there are skills you’re learning that can apply to your dream job. Plus you’re learning more about your ideal work environment, and how to interact with bosses/coworkers/customers, etc.

    1. That’s interesting. Thank you for sharing your perspective Lauren. I agree, I learned more about my work ethic being outside of college.

  8. There really is no substitute for straight up experience. College taught me almost -nothing- about the “real world.” I came out of it just as young and naive as I was going in, and it took life kicking my butt for that to change. Heck, I don’t even think a lot of the things I took for my major did me any good. I went to school for psychology, and while I aced all my exams and assignments, I felt like a complete nooblet when I actually started working. There are some things you just can’t learn from a book…

  9. It’s such a journey, isn’t it? And you will have many more twists and turns before it is all over! I am not doing anything related to my undergrad degree, but that’s just fine. I think college taught me that you’re still too young to really know what you want to do in life but that you’ll find your way!

  10. I felt like I was totally unprepared for the real world once I graduated, I sort of still do. A lot. I, like you, thought a job would just magically drop in my lap, because I was just so amazing.

  11. It was tough for me to accept what I thought was my dream job actually wasn’t–and I wasn’t sure where to go from there. But I LOVE my job now. Running stores rule!

  12. I am seriously impressed by anyone who easily understands math. It’s hard for me!

    A college degree is equally as important as “life experience”. They both bank on each other, with the latter being (in my opinion) more difficult since you’re often navigating alone with no real guideline.

  13. Oh my gosh it’s like you took the words right out of my mouth. “I wish college taught me that it’s okay not to do anything in your major as long as you are successful financially, mentally and physically. If you can say all of those things as well as you are happy with your life, then college has taught you well.” SO TRUE. It took me a year working internships in PR to finally accept that I want to get into health/fitness even though it has absolutely nothing to do with my degree. And that’s okay! Yes, I spent a ton of $$$ on college but that degree alone is worth a million dollars. That, along with all the unforgettable memories, of course. But I know exactly what it’s like to be unemployed. I kept getting passed around as a PR intern for three different companies every few months and I just felt used, to be honest. The job market was so overwhelming. But now I work at lululemon and am studying for my NASM certification so if your job at the running store is anything like what I do every day, I know you’re exactly where you should be 🙂 surrounded by people who love what you love, and talking about what you’re passionate about.

  14. I went to Francis Marion University. Local 4-year, liberal arts college.

    I don’t really think anything is really “wrong” with the 4-year college experience, but I think the expectations for it are a bit… off. For one, not everyone needs to go to a 4-year college. I worked in the math department and in the English department as an assistant (jack of all trades, master of none…), and I saw plenty of kids come through who didn’t want to be there but were pushed toward it in high school. Nothing wrong with a 2-year college, a trade school, going into the military, or for some people, going straight to work. It would save many teens and their parents a lot of heartache and money if high school guidance counselors tried to help people explore different paths and not fit into a mold of a 4-year college.

    As far as college leading to a job in a field… I guess that depends. It did for my husband, but he had a pretty specialized degree (computer science). But, if you enjoy working at the running store- and it’s obviously a passion of yours, then you’re being successful. You can be in a job in your field and be completely unhappy- I was for the first year after I graduated.

    I know some act like college is a cakewalk, but completing a 4-year degree, whether it’s in math, education, nutrition, professional writing, or whatever else, is a pretty big accomplishment- and if nothing else, it shows any potential employer that you stuck with college for 4 years to get the degree.

  15. I wish I had grown up quicker at college. When I look back now, I can see how immature and unready for the world I was at the time. More should be done to teach students about the real world and how to get by once they finish.
    My favourite job has been a restaurant manager for a big chain. It’s one I fell into out of college (University) as I was struggling to get a job based around my degree subject so went in looking for a waitress position to get by on. When they saw I had a degree they interviewed me for an admin position and within a few months I was offered a management role. It’s not something I ever saw myself doing but I made some great friends and learnt so much about myself and the world of work.

  16. It’s only now that I’m working a corporate job that I realise…it really is experience and no notebook, textbook or teacher can give you that experience which is imperative!b

  17. Love, love love this post, Hollie! I know you and I have talked about how I feel bad about pursuing things outside of my major, and I was so encouraged by you when we were texting and you were like “It’s okay to do things that aren’t your major!” because I think it was so nice coming from someone who has actually been there, you know?

  18. I wish they had told me to be more prepared in college and to follow my dreams. I regret not studying abroad. I also feel like college sets you up to just think you’ll be able to get the job you want because you have a degree and that’s definitely not the case. They should also have mandatory life skills classes like being able to do things like change your oil, do your taxes, understand health insurance haha!

  19. I graduated college just as the ‘Crash of ’87’ wreaked havoc on the industry all over the country, and I was suddenly along with many others in my class left without interviews as companies froze hiring and cancelled college interview tours. It was an unprecedented time as engineers had always just expected to be plucked out of good schools and go on to life-long careers at IBM or somewhere like that.

    When I DID get a job in my field (it was only 6 months, and I was working the whole time … seemed more dramatic at the time), I learned that most engineers weren’t prepared for life in the real world – they knew little about data analysis, cost modeling, and so on. And I wish that they made all of those things, plus writing and presentation skills requirements – which they actually do now! 🙂

    I think that life skills is definitely something most kids coming out of high school could use! They should really push that … I mean, sure i am making sure my kids can cook and clean and balance a checkbook and make a budget … but so many of their peers seem unable to distinguish between debit and credit! haha

  20. I think the ‘era’ we grew up in was the time of beautiful dreams and naivety. I grew up fully believing that going to university would guarantee me a job – like we all did. I walked out of my degree holding my first class honors degree feeling on top of the world. But in actual fact the world didn’t care. I think in this day and age degrees, unless in a really specific area like being a doctor, teacher or lawyer etc, don’t mean much. Maybe decades ago they did but now every Tom, Dick and Harry can get a degree and what does it really mean? My husband didn’t go to university but went straight into a job. He is doing amazingly. His salary is far beyond mine and he just keeps getting promoted and offered jobs. It really is down to experience and working from the ground up. If I did it again, I wouldn’t do it again 😉

  21. I actually work at a career center at a university and we are putting together this kind of curriculum for students – giving them the tools to be successful after college! This was interesting to read and I liked reading through everyone’s responses!

    1. I worked on a college campus and found it so interesting to hear what people thought about college when I was out.

Comments are closed.