What did college actually teach you?

Upperclassmen reflect on what they thought they’d know by now

Jordan Zy

As I face the last few weeks of college before my graduation, my mind wanders back to when I was a senior in high school. I thought college would be different in some ways. I assumed your major would directly be geared toward job training. Other things were as I imagined, like making really good friends and gaining some independence. But I didn’t realize I’d learn other life skills, like responsibility, people skills, and prioritization.

We all had our college life fantasies, but not all of us lived up to those ideals. I interviewed three Union College upperclassmen about what they thought they would be learning and what they actually learned.

Shaina Adams, a junior social work major, says, “I thought I would learn how to be a grown up, but it was less about life skills and more about learning to be yourself.” I know I am still waiting for my gift that will magically make me know all the answers to life as a grown up. In fact I used to think getting your degree would somehow give you the perfect grown up job.

I asked Kimberly McNeilus, who’s about to graduate with a business degree, about what she thought college would be like. She said, “I thought I was going to gain a materialistic knowledge of my field from my textbook. But the work fields are based on experience, you can read textbooks but that won't guarantee you a good job. Even after college, I had expected to have the perfect small business job lined up after I got my business degree.”

Kieth Wade, a computer science major who has dabbled in the math and sciences as a  physics major, said, “I thought I would learn a lot more practical skills that apply to your field. Not that you don't, but they seem very basic skills and knowledge to start in your field. On the one hand it's good to have that basics but it's disappointing that we are only now learning about cutting edge techniques. It's mostly ‘these things exist’ rather than ‘this is how you use these things.’”

Sometimes we learned something we didn’t know we would have to. “High school was very easy for me, so it was hard to learn to prioritize,” remembers Shaina. “You have to put the time in to succeed. Working a job, doing schoolwork, and playing volleyball, you have to learn to prioritize that.” Freshmen may resonate with this the most, life in college is a lot different. I am not sure as a senior that I have my priorities perfected. But priorities are different for different people, you need to learn what you need and what works best for you.

Kimberly was surprised to learn that “I didn’t need to rely on a planner. Personally, I am able to have everything organized in my mind, and I’ve never missed an assignment. I am a pretty good listener, but I found instead of using a planner to focus to rely on what was written in the syllabus.”

She is right. Gone are the days where a teacher reminds you daily of homework and deadlines. While many of us do need to write down everything to remember it, I still see seniors being chastised by teachers with a sigh and the classic comment, “It’s in the syllabus.”

So is college all it was cracked out to be? I’m sure the college experience is different for every person. It’s all about finding your place in life and working toward your goals that count. Be open to every experience, and stay focused if you want to make is as far as these students have. We did it, and you can do it too!

Jordan is a senior studying psychology.