What do you wish you had known or learned in school?
October 14, 2008 9:39 AM   Subscribe

What skills or subjects or topics or experiences -- not just academic but professional, social, and even personal -- do you wish you had learned or acquired in college?

I realize this question was asked regarding arts education back in July, but the topic intrigues me on a personal level, but I also think it would be of interest to all metafilter members.

I'm trying to get at whether the knoweldge and skills we find essential as adults, in whatever our life paths, were acquired in or out of school.

Was college indispensable for you, or could you have gotten where you are without the degree?

Any links or resources much appreciated if others have explored these questions.
posted by adamrobinson to Education (28 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
I wish there was a course for seniors called "How to get and keep a job in your field" that would be tailored to departments.
posted by parmanparman at 9:48 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

What I wished I learned:

Statistics (it really is everywhere)
Public Speaking (debate, rhetoric)
Writing Well
posted by chrisalbon at 9:49 AM on October 14, 2008

The single biggest regret of my life is that I never finished college.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 9:53 AM on October 14, 2008

I wish I had volunteered in my field while I was in college. I would have graduated with several years of experience, references, and industry contacts.
posted by orange swan at 9:55 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Roach at 10:00 AM on October 14, 2008

Forgot to add "... and possibly a job offer."
posted by orange swan at 10:00 AM on October 14, 2008

Money managment. We're a generation accustomed to debt, and large amounts of it, and I wish that I had learned more about credit cards, credit rating, and what it really means to sign up for thousands of dollars worth of student loans.
posted by emd3737 at 10:05 AM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't think that much from college taught me about the real world. My college job as a computer tech is what got me most of my post-college jobs. I guess you could also argue that I learned some stuff about time management and personal budgeting, but neither was in a class. It was just from living on my own.

However, now that I am a grad student and see students go into the real world, I've made a few observations:
First, I think that students should do internships so that they know how dull the working world really is and to see if they ar ready for it. They'll also build contacts, references, etc.
Then I think that students should take 2 terms of statistics. Understanding them may not help directly in a career, but it'll make a student a better consumer of news.
Similarly, media literacy - what an important skill!
Also, basic accounting and finance. Even though this might not help people with personal finances, understanding business finance is going to be helpful for anyone working in business.
A business writing class or any "how to write properly" class would be great. I never had one. I was reading undergrad statements yesterday and these kids can't even form a proper paragraph.

I don't think that we prepare kids properly for the working world. At my research university we prepare kids for graduate school, for sure. I wish that the students knew what they were getting into when they apply.
posted by k8t at 10:05 AM on October 14, 2008

I took a one-semester course on copy editing my senior year and by the time it was over I desperately wished there were more courses like it. Having a good command and understanding of language and writing can make a world of difference in any field.

I'm in the communications field, so a college degree probably isn't necessary for what I do but I'm sure it helped. In the end, though, I do feel college was indispensable. You learn a lot of non-academic things like how to do your own laundry and use public transportation, how to manage your time and how to interact with people on a professional level (i.e. professors or via internships).
posted by geekchic at 10:06 AM on October 14, 2008

I wish I had gotten married. I found that it was a lot more difficult to meet women in the real world.
posted by Class Goat at 10:07 AM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I wish I had studied abroad, for the linguistic fluency and cultural perspective it would have provided.

I wish the school would put out a book with sections from each department of study, explaining what kind of jobs (obvious and not-so-obvious) are available to graduates of that major. Talk about the work culture likely to be encountered, if it's a common thread. I would have loved to know, for instance, about all the opportunities available to math majors beyond "teach math." I would have loved for somebody to point out that insane hours to meet deadlines are de rigueur in many software development jobs, especially for consumer-purchased software.

I definitely wish I had done more internships. Like, a different one every semester. I did one during a summer, and luckily it was enough to show me that I needed to change my major. After that I didn't have time to try an internship in my new area of study, and I wish that I had.

Was college indispensable for you, or could you have gotten where you are without the degree?

The skills I use in my job are usually things I picked up since starting, not things I learned in college. That said, there's no way I would have been hired without that degree after my name on the resume.
posted by vytae at 10:07 AM on October 14, 2008

Two points:

1) I wish there had been more career planning and career-focused workshops, with input from local businesses, in the field for which I was training. I went to journalism school and found that a) the course of study was way, way off the mark in terms of what local media really wanted and b) other universities were doing it way, way better than mine.

This is the point of a university, right? But it was as if I wanted to be a chef, and instead of learning to cook vegetables, I was learning to farm vegetables. Not the same thing.

And given the above information, I wish I could've customized and tailored my course of study. History of media? Screw that.

2) I wish my university didn't make it easy for me to slack off. My university actually offered graded credits for physical education. Well, of course the dipshit 19-year-old version of me attempted to pad my GPA by taking classes in basketball, volleyball and scuba diving.

Again, the reaction I got when I told people that went to "real" universities was almost universally, "You got an A? In volleyball? In college? Holy fucking shit!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:17 AM on October 14, 2008

I wish I'd gotten into the habit of daily, intense physical exercise. Now my lazy, slothful, early-30s self finds it hard to motivate...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:32 AM on October 14, 2008

From a professional perspective, I wish college taught:

How to analyze problems from a big picture perspective: Most classes in college focus on a narrow area of interest, which just teaches students to focus on problems through one lens. That's how unforeseen consequences go unforeseen.

How to be a skeptic: Understanding the ways in which people mislead either deliberately or accidentally with numbers, bad logic and rhetoric. There's some small untruth hidden in 99% of everything you're told. Find it.

How to prioritize: Some people figure this out in school, but in the office world there's always way more work than there is time to do it. You need to be able to figure out what not to do.

How to play politics: There's a huge return on investment when you go out of your way to help someone, be it a customer, coworker, someone from another department, etc. They will do favors in return, your boss will have people telling him/her that you're good to work with, and you'll have people all over the place that'll be upset when they try to lay you off during a recession.

How to write: Writing in a business environment is not the same as in an academic environment. In school, you're taught to stretch weak ideas to whatever your page limit is. The rest of the world expects exactly the opposite. Figure out how to make your big ideas fit onto one page and shove the supporting detail into an appendix.
posted by paanta at 10:45 AM on October 14, 2008 [11 favorites]

This is something I *did* learn in school, but it's not part of the curriculum, so you'd have to find a way to do it... and I've found it to be the single most valuable skill I picked up: networking. I became friendly with one of our administrators through a volunteer program we both were involved in (FIRST robotics, for those who care) and she very purposefully got me into rooms of very famous and smart people, introduced me to them, and then walked away. I then had to learn to carry on the conversations myself: finding things in common, asking questions of them that I could learn from, leaving enough of an impression that I'd be recognized later on, and more than anything learning not to be intimidated by their celebrity or fall into hero-worship mode. This gave me the confidence to walk up to people I want to talk to at conferences, receptions, industry social events, etc, and has had a huge impact for me career-wise. Learn it! Use it!
posted by olinerd at 11:10 AM on October 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

I wish there would have been more time for the subjects I was interested and majoring in, so that I could actually get a good grasp on them.

Oh, you want to design electronic circuits? Sure, but also, you must learn about the strengths of materials, how to build a bridge, and the history of comedy in the US. After that we'll give you in intro to whatever you want to study. You'll be useless to who ever employs you first for about a year or two while learn actual, useful stuff, but we feel confident we've turned you into a good person.

So anyways, get internships, work on hobbies at home, read outside materials.
posted by low affect at 11:11 AM on October 14, 2008

I wish there was a course for seniors called "How to get and keep a job in your field" that would be tailored to departments.

I went to art school and we had this ("Business Practices for InsertYourDepartment"). I studied photography and I had to do everything I do now as a pro (marketing, finding jobs, submitting estimates, etc.). I was really surprised that none of my friends who went to "real" schools had this because it was incredibly valuable to me.

I wish I had taken more practical business classes. I took some but they were more general business principles than stuff like what you can deduct, how to do your taxes, negotiating, and things like that.
posted by bradbane at 11:32 AM on October 14, 2008

Discipline, personal finance, government, logic.
posted by joshrholloway at 11:42 AM on October 14, 2008

Like emd3737 said above, I wish that there had been a mandatory money management class in my college curriculum. Even if it was just an overview of budgeting, types of investments and how to buy a house or rent an apartment. I also think this should be a mandatory course in high school. That way, more students would likely leave school with debt only from their student loans (if they have them), and not their student loans and a whack of credit cards with nothing to show for that extra debt.
posted by melissa at 11:48 AM on October 14, 2008

Some things that I noticed from working with recent graduates is that they lack a sense of what it's like to be professional in a workplace. Some grads I worked with were not assertive with their projects and needed hand-holding to get things done. They acted immaturely and inappropriately in an office environment. Their writing was often atrocious (one time I received a resume that didn't have one capitalized word in it). I think there should be a class that prepares grads for the real world, especially if they don't have an opportunity to do an internship. It's tough to get tossed into a job where you are expected to act and perform a certain way.

That said, the thing I regret the most is missing out on all of the cheap or free opportunities/facilities I had while there. I could take karate for ten bucks a month, swim and use the track/weight room for free and play basketball any night of the week with other gals in my dorm. But no, I waited until I got out and now I pay 70/month for a gym membership to do those things. Sigh.
posted by bristolcat at 12:01 PM on October 14, 2008

1. Touch-typing, in the first term. God, that would have made my life easier and more productive.
2. How much easier it is to read philosophy books when you can underline passages with a pencil, and that this does not need to constitute unholy desecration of the precious volume.
3. Realistic expectations about how much effort and time it takes to get just about any job.
posted by Acheman at 12:12 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I finish university in two weeks. Context: Creative Industries degree.

My university bills itself as being "for the real world" but I found that it was very stuck on Western theory. A more worldwide view of things (that didn't treat Asia as consisting of "ooh ahh exotic" Japan) would have been nice.

I wish I'd learnt:
* The organisational elements of starting and running a venture. We had a class on CI Management, which was AWESOME, but it didn't go past the conceptualizing stage. I'm doing a placement and I've had a crash course on policy, procedures, agreements, risk assessments, and all these other fiddly things that are tiresome but much needed.
* How to write policy and strategy documents - more interesting than I'd expected
* More in-depth knowledge about what goes into a budget, as well as interesting ways to fundraise/find sponsorship
* Making use of your skills in places where Creative Industries isn't really a known industry. My degree seems to be more useful to those who live in places where creative jobs are celebrated, whereas where I come from you'd be looked at oddly and there are little jobs.
* Project management, in more detail

A lot of the other answers apply too.
posted by divabat at 12:33 PM on October 14, 2008

How to:

* Get jobs - Applying to things (internships, degree programs, jobs, grants) should be a required class, a major.

* Invest money - Seems like everyone who goes to university has a shot at the middle class and should know how to invest money.

* Maintenance buildings - Who shouldn't know about plumbing?

* Actually Speak languages - Took about 8 years of French, never learned it.

* Identify pills and understand medicines - Both of my parents and grandparents are like pharmacology lab rats in this modern world. It's sad but I wish I knew at least some basics.

* Tie knots - So many things can be fixed with string.

* Botany - Plants are awesome. You can look at them, eat them, make shit out of them, whatever.

* Program computers and websites - I learned what I know after school. It would have been nice to have learned it in school when I had more free time to experiment and people to guide me. There should be mandatory classes on specific apps like MS Office or Open Office or Adobe or Linux. ha, there should be mandatory linux. that's funny.

* Write professionally - College students, according to my college professors, are supposed to learn to write in high school but don't. I feel like I did but I know it's not true for everybody.

* Live alone - Some people think it's not for everybody but I think everybody should try it once.

OK, these are all pretty "vocational" rather than "academic" but I feel like that's what's wrong with US university studies -- it's all about professors trying to use you to do their research, not train you for the life you'll live after you graduate.
posted by metajc at 12:34 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I wish there was a course for seniors called "How to get and keep a job in your field" that would be tailored to departments.

Well, there you go. WRITE IT. These days, good content wins out in the digital publishing field. Why not (starting with your particular field) interview current professors, experts, alumni etc and publish an e-book with your findings? If you enjoy that, move on to a slightly different subject and repeat. You might just find yourself doing something you find really interesting, and it'll look great on a resume (lots of initiative = good!)

I went to art school and we had this ("Business Practices for InsertYourDepartment"). I studied photography and I had to do everything I do now as a pro (marketing, finding jobs, submitting estimates, etc.). I was really surprised that none of my friends who went to "real" schools had this because it was incredibly valuable to me.

You are very, very lucky there, bradbane, many arts-related majors don't get that education and desperately need it!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:02 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

I definitely learned networking in university as well. Priceless.

Also, critical thinking. Probably the most important skill I have in this world.

Wished I had learned:

- there was/is a world of options of which I was not aware
- I could have understood chemistry if I had a better instructor
- statistics would have been nice - I had no idea how important it would be

As for getting my job - I definitely would not have this job or any other in my field without my degree, but nothing in my degree prepared me for my job.
posted by Sophie1 at 2:45 PM on October 14, 2008

I wish there was a course for seniors called "How to get and keep a job in your field" that would be tailored to departments.

There should also be at least a short portion of a lecture in one of the first courses taken on "The ratio of graduates with this major to jobs in this field." My profs did this but I've found many others are surprised to learn this information after graduating.
posted by winston at 4:56 PM on October 14, 2008

Nothing new here, but:

Statistics - since having taken 14 grad credits or so, I have begun to notice the INSANE frequency with which people will try to mislead with statistics. It's also important to understand the actual act of data collection, which a lot of stats classes leave out - try a social science methods class for that.

Programming - I have had to teach myself, and it sucks. But the ability to throw together some code to make your work easier is probably the most gratifying skill I have.
posted by McBearclaw at 6:27 PM on October 14, 2008

College was a very formative experience for me. It was one of the best experiences of my life. It wasn't the specific topics that I learned. It was what I learned in managing my work load, living in the dorms, flirting with girls, interacting with professors, forming diverse friendships, expanding my intellectual horizons, and having a good time. And no, I couldn't have gotten where I am today without my degree. I wouldn't have had the qualifications, confidence, political savvy or organizational skills that I need to be where I am right now. But I could have done a few things differently for my betterment:

Socializing / Networking - I wish I would have rushed a fraternity and joined a few academic / special interest groups. I got too wrapped up in my little clique and wish I would have expanded my social circles and horizons.

Journaling - Dang I wish I would have kept a journal of all the experiences I went through in college. Even if I just wrote something once a week, that journal would be priceless.

More exercise & less partying - Duh

Accounting & Finance - I wish I would have paid more attention in those classes. I would feel more confident in the boardroom.

Skilled Trades - I wish I would have taken a few electives in the skilled trades. I am slowly becoming handy, but a few classes on mechanics, electrical, wood, etc would have helped greatly

Dated - I should have dated a lot more women. College is such a great place to play the field. I was too busy trying to be cool with my buddies and missed out on that experience. Had I not met my wonderful wife when I did, I actually considered going back to school, in small part because of the dating pool.

Studied - I would have studies a little harder, but not that much harder. An extra hour a day would have made a HUGE difference.

Spent time with professors - I can't stress this enough. I should have developed more relationships with my professors, spent time with them during office hours, and not been afraid to ask academic and life questions.

Credit Card - I would have never, ever gotten a credit card.
posted by jasondigitized at 9:20 AM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

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