5 Real World Skills You Won’t Learn in School

4 minute read

Success in school calls for a specific set of skills—for instance, time management, reading comprehension, and the application of learned abilities in narrowly defined contexts. In the world beyond school, however, the problems you face are rarely well defined.

One of the best things that you can do is to think of your time in school as base-building. Once you graduate, it is your job to figure out how to apply your book learning to the real world. Mastering these less common school lessons will help you make the transition in little or no time at all:

1. Focused communication

Most academic writing assignments carry a page minimum and a page maximum. In real life, your goal should always be to communicate information as concisely as possible—there are exceptions, but most individuals wish to read less, not more, and they will not provide you with a target length.

So, work on paring your emails and other communications to the bare minimum. Do not forego essential information, but do not include filler either. Your managers and colleagues will appreciate your brevity.

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2. Meeting efficiency

Many college students dread the group project. Unfortunately, unless your career involves panning for gold in the Alaskan wilderness, you will likely participate in group projects throughout the remainder of your working life. While ensuring that people work well together is technically a manager’s job, you can partially prove your worth as an employee by demonstrating your ability to make meetings run smoothly and efficiently.

There are many guides to this subject. Familiarize yourself with them, and then take these steps: arrive at meetings a minute or two early, come prepared, help others, and do not allow yourself to be distracted by minutiae.

3. Money management

The average college student worries about money, even if he or she is fully supported by his or her parents. After graduation, these worries may only increase. You will need to worry about earning a wage, paying your taxes, beginning a retirement fund, paying for health insurance, and so on. The cost of not understanding how to manage your financial life can be immense, but fortunately, a simple Google search can uncover many resources that can help you improve your financial literacy.

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4. Long-range planning

College is neatly organized into semesters and years, its boundaries clearly defined. The smart student will have monitored graduation requirements and important but rarely offered electives, but there are very few college tasks that last longer than a year. In the real world, however, there are often major undertakings that have multi-year timelines. Sometimes these timelines are negotiable, and sometimes they are not. Learning how to adapt is critical to your success beyond college.

Look for time management and project planning software. Speak with your colleagues about how they manage tasks, and what tools they use. Your employer may have a standard program that you are required to use, but do not be afraid to look beyond that to keep your personal life on track.

5. Contingency planning

One of the universal truths of the modern world is that no job is guaranteed. Positions are outsourced, businesses are sold or closed, and technology replaces human workers. Do not assume that your career or job will always exist. Keep your network thriving, and watch emerging trends in your field. Learn skills that augment your present abilities. Being computer literate, for example, will always add to your value. Your secondary abilities may help you survive a round of layoffs, or they may help you make the jump to a better opportunity.

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Brian Witte is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University

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