Important Lessons You Learn in College to Take to the Real World

Transitioning from college to adult life can be difficult for most people. So know that you're not alone and take these lessons with you as a reminder that you can make life what you want it to be--because there's no one way to live your best life!

Leaving college and starting out in the "real world" comes with a lot of change—new environments, new people, new dress codes, and new requirements. Change can be great, and after four years in a classroom environment, we are often ready to stretch our proverbial wings and get out into the world. But there are still things to be missed from college. Not just the parties, the friends, and the late nights in dorm rooms, but how we generally lived our lives for four years, which can make living in a more "adult" fashion seem like a culture shock. Here are a few lessons that I learned in college that I’m taking to the real world, and you should too. 

Structure your time to fit your needs

When you're in college, each day you go to a few classes and get done what you need to get done, whether that's homework, study sessions, extracurricular obligations, cleaning your room, or going to the gym. And when you're done, you get to do whatever you want. With the exception of class times, you make your own schedule. For some it may be helpful to set your days up in a 9-to-5 sort of way, but no one expects you to sit around twiddling your thumbs for hours if you go nose-to-the-grindstone and get everything done by one in the afternoon.

In many "adult" jobs, you're at a desk from nine to five, regardless of how long your actual work takes you that day. This has its benefits: when five o'clock comes around, most people can leave work and not worry about it again till tomorrow, whereas in college you may have to spend all night cramming for a test. But what if the office is slow? With a college-like schedule, you could have everything done by lunch, go home, clean the house, go to the gym, pay a few bills, and be on to the fun stuff by five. Instead, you are often stuck at your desk far longer than you would like to be.

Now, this complaint may point to a larger issue of how employment and work schedules are structured as a whole, and there may not be much you can do about it depending on where you work. But if you get your work done quickly and efficiently, look for ways to make the most of your time. Find new projects to take on that could show your initiative and potentially get you a raise or promotion. Maybe there’s a side gig that’s appropriate to do from your desk when work is slow. Or talk to your manager about adjusting your schedule; some jobs offer decent options for flexible hours, so be sure to ask about it.  The more you show your worth, the more likely your employer will be willing to work with you to improve your schedule for your needs. 

Related: 4 Practical Time Management Tips for Grad Students

Doing things only because you have to is okay

Some college professors will openly admit to their students: "I know you're just here to fulfill a requirement, and that's okay." They’re aware that requirements offer an important base for education but that they aren’t for everyone. But how many employers will admit or be comfortable with you admitting that you're only at your desk to get paid? Not many. In almost every job interview, a big question the interviewer asks is, "Why do you want to work here?" Answers like "because I need a job" or "because I need money to pay my bills" probably come to mind, but unfortunately, that answer probably won't get you the job. While you may be lucky enough to be interviewing for your dream job, a lot of times you're looking for a job to build experience, to make ends meet, or just because you can’t find much else. And that's okay—just don't tell the interviewers that. Don't get me wrong, you could end up loving this new job you thought you needed just to get by. Just don’t be ashamed of your initial reasons for applying.

Never forget the importance of fun

Congrats—you graduated! The time has come to buy a suit and a briefcase, take out a mortgage, and never have any fun ever again! ...Just kidding. But doesn't it feel like that sometimes? Making friends as an adult is hard. When your primary social interaction for the day occurs on your lunch break, it can be difficult to find people with similar interests, and when you're a busy adult, it can also be hard to justify taking time to do what you enjoy. When you start college, you're bombarded with a wealth of clubs and activities to help you meet new people, fill your spare time, and keep you from getting homesick. Your social life is considered a legitimate priority in college. And it should be! Having consistent, healthy relationships with other people is important for both your mental and physical health. Even as an adult, friends can help you broaden your horizons and balance your life. So make the extra effort to meet new people either at work or outside of work. You’ll find you can build bonds as strong as the ones you did in college.

Related: 7 Tips for Making Friends in College

Whether you are stuck with more paperwork at the office than you were with essays in the classroom, whether you feel like you're putting on a facade at job interviews or surfing the internet for friends, know that you're not the only one. The college-to-workforce transition is not always an easy one. But with a little effort and creativity, we can find ways to structure our lives a little similarly to how they were in college, and maybe even find a new normal that works even better.

Get more advice about life during and after college in our Student Life section.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Emily Rogan

Emily Rogan is a student at Morehead State University, where she's studying Communications and Theater. When she's not in school, she is an actor, musician, singer, and writer.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Caio Matos

Caio Matos

High School Class of 2022

Starting the college admissions process as an international student was daunting. Thankfully, CollegeXpress was the first website I used for that cause and it helped me so much, from knowing where to start to deciding what my next move would be. I'll take a gap year, but I’m certainly using the website again when applying for fall 2023.

Courtney Smith

Courtney Smith

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has been a huge help! The website is very organized with finding the right scholarship for anyone and anything. With CollegeXpress, I've been able to find many scholarship opportunities to apply for. Not only that, I'm also able to search for the colleges I have interest in and see what’s required and what scholarships they offer. I've learned a lot from CollegeXpress. They've helped me in many ways to achieve my goals!



High School Class of 2021

For a long time, I've been searching everywhere to find the perfect website I can get scholarships and information from. Needless to say, I could never find the right one. That was, until I found CollegeXpress. Through my journey of finding the right scholarships for me, I was able to find articles about different things. They've all been helpful, especially in times like this! I was even able to connect with some of my favorite colleges! I love CollegeXpress. Thank you!

Samantha Fils-Aime

Samantha Fils-Aime

High School Class of 2019

I love that CollegeXpress has helped me find some scholarships to apply for but also helped me succeed in school with lots of tips. I also really like how they consistently email me about webinars that teach me a lot of things from the comfort of my home!

Lu Diehl

Lu Diehl

High School Class of 2022

I never would have found the college I plan on attending without CollegeXpress! I've always been a person of ambition and have been dreaming of studying and working on my passion for law, legal studies, and political science. Washington College is where I plan on pursuing my career. My journey with my education has been difficult, and oftentimes, I was told I would never amount to much, but now I'm dual enrolled at Caroll Community College and have had experience in the fields I am dedicated to. Without the help of CollegeXpress (even in its early days), I would never have found Washington College and the information I need to apply and become a part of their community.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Texas Tech University

Lubbock, TX

Whitman College

Walla Walla, WA

Grand View University

Des Moines, IA