College Is the Real World

If you find yourself differentiating the “real world” from academia with your students, you’re not alone. Professors and students alike make the comparison regularly. If, for example, an instructor decides to be lax with a due date, she may try to mitigate her actions by adding, “Of course, in the real world, your boss will not look kindly on late work.” Likewise, while delivering an oral presentation, a student might comment, “In the real world, I’d be wearing business attire.”

nov2016_shutterstock_85522531Dr. Maryellen Weimer, blogger at The Teaching Professor, argues that although some differences between the worlds of work and academia clearly exist, habits accrued during college are indeed preparation for the workplace. As instructors, we can help our students see those connections. Below are areas in which you can show your students how their pre-professional behavior in class will make them more valuable once they leave the nest.

  1. Attendance. Anyone who has clocked in knows late arrival is frowned upon. Why not make the same policy in your class? As the “boss,” you may want to count two tardies as an absence. Or you may allow two absences during the term, but any more for any reason affects the final grade (not to mention wastes the money of whomever is paying for tuition!) Using these or similar policies helps groom our students for the expectations of the workplace.
  1. Many students fail to complete readings or other preparation prior to class, rationalizing they can catch up later or simply bank on the probability they will not be caught. It’s not a stretch to imagine such an attitude following a student into the workplace. As instructors, we can regularly draw the connection: Showing up unprepared for class and showing up unprepared for a meeting on the job are one and the same. Students who learn to be prepared in college will seamlessly acclimate to the work world.
  1. Collaboration. Again and again studies indicate that employers want new hires who can collaborate, and that means figuring out how to get the work done despite problems in a group dynamic. Yet many students have the unrealistic expectation that in the “real world” all members of a group will perform equally. Explain to students that difficult team situations actually mirror on-the-job situations. People in work-related teams do not necessarily do their fair share of the work or get along. Providing our students with the tools to help them work out their issues on collaborative projects is another way college can help prepare students for their professional lives.
  1. Assignments. It is true that not all college assignments will be applicable to the workplace. Certainly students will not have to compose essays or term papers using APA format. However, they may have to write reports or grant proposals or business plans for which they will have to cite sources. Once they are working, students will most definitely need to communicate clearly, write concisely, and solve problems. All our assignments are designed to polish these skills.

Of course, it’s up to students to decide if they want to use college as a way station—a place to party, to sleep in, to not attend class, to do the least amount possible—or as the place to become the professionals they aspire to be. As long as they know that college is like the real world, the choice is theirs.

How do your students treat their educations? Start a conversation!



2 thoughts on “College Is the Real World

  1. Louis Cartier

    Dear Mary Ellen and Dana —

    Well done. I’ve been insinuating the College’s “professionalism” Common Learning Outcome into BUS 217 and other courses for a year or so, still not settled on a definitive rubric. This helps. Thank you.

    Lou Cartier Adjunct Instructor Business, Marketing/Management, English Aims Community College Greeley, CO 80632


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