Student Life

How College Can Be Improved


Students Need to Learn Practical Skills and Gain Real-World Experience
By Margaret Smith, North Carolina State University

Hands down, college is a great experience. There is a degree of independence while still within a scheduled academic environment, so it’s like having the best of both worlds. However, the university setting is becoming less and less relevant to life outside of academia and isn’t providing sufficient preparation for the next phase of life — the real working world.

Here are a few ways a college education can be improved and made more relevant to what we will face when we emerge into the real world:

Foremost, universities should provide more internship opportunities and more ways to relate the knowledge we learn in class to real life, especially in the humanities. At least one internship or work-study job (even if they’re unpaid opportunities) per year should be mandatory. If an internship with a specific company isn’t available, then professors should try to incorporate real-world lessons into their lectures and rely on reality over theory. How can we use the information obtained in class? How is a degree in art history going to allow us to support a family? And if jobs in that particular field are hard to come by, tell us the truth. According to Business Insider, college students need more skills. We need to be “agile, resilient and cross-functional” in order to succeed in the real world, and those kinds of attributes come from a curriculum that doesn’t compromise.

In that same vein, lecture-style classes should be supplemented with hands-on opportunities. Maybe instead of assigning yet another paper, professors should give us assignments that will allow us to apply what we’ve learned to the real world and show us how things really are out there.

College should offer classes about money management and how loans, banks, credit scores, buying a house and checking accounts work. College students are graduating with the highest debt in our nation’s history and these toxic financial situations could be avoided with proper training. Money management is also one of the most practical life lessons that college students could learn. The inability to be responsible with money could have a damaging impact on a student’s success and career.

Because of the Internet, our culture is becoming more global. We communicate with people all over the world on a daily basis. Robert Berman calls the lack of students becoming fluent in another language a matter of “national urgency.” No matter what your chosen major is, at least one foreign language class per semester should be required — or at least enough foreign language classes to obtain fluency in one other language. (It would be a great idea to start students learning a foreign language from kindergarten so that they may become fluent by the end of college.) Many students in European countries are fluent in English; so why shouldn’t we take a leaf out of their book?

Obesity is an epidemic that claims many lives in this country. Proper exercise and diet are the foundation of good health in the future. Rather than spending thousands of dollars on medical bills to fix health problems that may arise later, why not start exercising and eating healthy now? Physical education courses should be required at least once per academic year, so the habit of good exercise can become ingrained while we’re young adults.

It’s definitely not news that the economy is struggling — and has been for a long time. Even after the economy improves, there should still be more emphasis placed on job fairs and networking events so students can establish themselves as professionals while they’re still in school. College is a great time to form a network of contacts you can use to get that great first job or internship. A job-hunting skills course should be offered (and made mandatory) for all students preparing to graduate.

The importance of giving back to the community should never be underestimated. Volunteering and community service should be required parts of a college education. Like exercise, giving back is a great habit to get into and it makes you feel glad that you’re doing something for someone else. Community service shouldn’t just be mandatory for those who’ve broken the law. It should be about enriching your life and the lives of others.

Making just a few changes to college curriculums will make those four years a starting point into the real world and not just a continuation of high school. After all, we’re teens when we enter college — we should emerge as adults ready to give back to our community and make a difference. As Maxx Blank from genjuice.com says, the real world is “about motivation, drive, communication, a hunger for knowledge and a desire to do better. Most importantly, it’s about a love for what you do.”

Margaret Smith is a columnist for The New Student Union. Follow her @maasmith

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About NEW STUDENT UNION

The New Student Union is an online magazine run by and for college students covering the issues we care about. Self-starters with great communication skills and a passion for writing should email info@newstudentunion.com to get involved. Official site will launch in late 2011.

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