What you (don’t) learn in class, part 1: Stereotypes, social rules, and the weird truths not on the syllabus

Arianna Erdman, Managing Editor

      After becoming a college student, everyone seems to realize all the things they never learned in high school. Balancing checkbooks, paying taxes, the difference between a W-2 and a W-4, etc. Most of us could quote the Pythagorean theorem with our eyes closed or define mitochondria, but don’t ask 90 percent of us to explain credit score, please. There are many standard life skills that get lost in the life tutorial of K-12 education, so most of us either Google them or call mom and dad in a panic when we need to switch car insurance but don’t know which forms we need. College isn’t exactly good for these life skills either, for the most part, but there are things that you learn in college that will become invaluable as you panic your way through your 20s. Here are just a few that just about any senior student can tell you are true.

1) There is a distinct difference between classes:
     We’re not talking about social classes. We mean actual grade levels. Remember being a high school senior and being so annoyed by all those freshmen who were starry-eyed and full of hope, or those sophomores who think they know everything because they survived one year? It’s as if a switch flips when we become college students, and we do it all over again for four years. The fact of the matter is that this is just how people are, and you’ll encounter this in just about any job you get either during or after college. With any luck, that shiny polish you have as a new baby employee won’t rub off in less than a year, but that’s just how it is, so get that switch ready.

2) Spaces please:

     This is a social rule you might not have thought much about in high school, but in adult life, space is sacred everywhere. Literally everywhere. In high school, you never really considered your seat on the bus, and when you went to the bathroom or the cafeteria, you didn’t think about putting a seat or a stall between you and the next person over. As adults, that’s just awk-weird. It’s something you notice very early on, and you either fall in, or get stared at like an alien. Carry this behavior over into your regular life after school. Public transport: no seat buddies unless you know them or there’s no more space to be had. Public bathrooms: every other stall until there’s none left, and then send out a silent apology for being The One. You’ll pick up the social cues pretty fast out in the big wide world. Don’t worry: you’ll make enough friends eventually that these constructed barriers, at least with them, will melt away just like in high school.

3) Pajamas and yoga pants are acceptable:

     In fact, they’re encouraged. This is something you didn’t think about doing unless you were going to Zumba after school, you were an athlete, or you were sick. In college, you’re probably none of the above on any given day, but you’ll wear pretty much anything that covers your no show zones enough to not get arrested walking to class. While many older folks you’ll meet will scoff or clutch their pearls when you walk outside in you comfy pajama pants or three-day old yoga gear, realize that they’re not the ones who need to be comfortable with your clothes. You are. Being in college just teaches you when to deploy maximum public comfort, and when you need to actually iron the only shirt that has remained hanging in your closet.

4) Sleeping in the library is normal:

     It’s also acceptable, and sometimes the only way you’ll actually get sleep. While out in the non-college world people call this homelessness or a cry for help, you do learn that just about anywhere is a great place for sleeping, and you learn which of those places work for your power naps. The power nap is actually the most important life skill this will teach you. It takes extreme circumstances and years to master, but it will come in handy when you’re climbing the corporate ladder or you’re raising a few loveable, sleep-sucking kids down the road.

5) Don’t be THAT roommate:

     College teaches you a lot about others. In class, you’re supposed to learn acceptance, tolerance, teamwork and other professional skills that will help you when out in the job market. Those are all fine and dandy until you’re living with those people, and then everything hits the fan. Your fan, and now it’s broken for the third time in a semester and you have to negotiate with the terrorist—I mean person you’re living with—on how to resolve the issue. Living on campus, or even off, teaches you what a bad roommate is, and how to correct your behavior if you’re the bad roommate. Reading articles on Brightside or Buzzfeed doesn’t do it quite as well as actually having the roommate experience, and in today’s economy, trust me—you’re going to need a roommate or two.

Bonus) You really build up a tolerance:

     Not necessarily to alcohol or sleep deprivation either. I mean you build a tolerance for just about everything. People who have different lifestyles from you, people who you can’t believe are allowed to be unsupervised, “experts” who aren’t really expert-like, and unprofessional professionals are just a few things. In high school, you might’ve called out people like these, or just flat-out blown up into an argument. On the grand stage of life, there’s no pausing to work out cast conflicts, unless of course you get fired because you compared your boss to an overflowing septic tank at an all-you-can-eat Taco Bell buffet. There’s a time and place for everything, and college teaches you what those times and places are long before you’ll get kicked to the curb when you have a mortgage to pay and your instant noodle stockpile has gotten dangerously low.