What I Should Have Learned in College (But Didn’t)

The older I get, the more I wish I knew. My desire to learn comes from a different place. It isn’t a have to thing, it’s a want to thing. If only we waited until our late twenties to go to college. I would have paid more attention. I would have gotten my money’s worth. I would have learned.

Sometimes I think that my college education failed me. Sure, I’m still 7 years away from being done paying for it. But what is it doing for me, now, today? When I think about the skills and tools that would really benefit me in the workforce (and in life), it leads me to consider what I did learn in college. And it turns out, it’s not really the stuff that I wish I knew.

A better name for this list would be: Life skills I wish I had.

What I Should Have Learned in College (But Didn't) | eastandblog.com

1. Excel everything

The single best thing that a college could teach graduates is how to do every possible crazy thing with Microsoft Excel. I’ve worked in the corporate and non-profit world. You need Excel no matter what. And while I’ve picked up some things along the way, being an Excel master would have been a huge help.

2. Personal Finance

This should have been the first class that everyone took in college, given that we nearly all left college in debt. I’m embarrassed to admit that I still know very little about interest rates and investing. I know nothing about mortgages. And if for some reason online banking ever went kaput, I’d have no idea how much money I had on a day-to-day basis (Okay ballpark? Yes. Down to the cent? No.).

3. How to write a press release

This is where my college major specifically failed me. My degree is in Communication. Every employer I’ve had assumes that I learned to write a press release. Not the case. Though I have some experience from an internship, not once did a professor touch on this.

4. Coding

For obvious (blogging) reasons. And because I’m pretty sure computers are taking over the world so it would be nice to know how to control them.

5. Resume writing

Never a bad skill. At N’s brother’s college, they didn’t graduate until they had a sparkling resume, seriously reviewed by experts. Doesn’t it make so much sense to send graduates into the world, ready to apply to jobs, stellar resumes in hand? What a great way to make sure graduates get their money’s worth.

All this said, I don’t regret my degree one bit. I loved every minute of college and it was worth every penny. I just think that much of what I learned was life experience type stuff, not actual applicable skills.

And some things college couldn’t teach me, but life should have by this point:

1. Keeping track of small belongings

I’m pretty sure my catchphrase is “I can’t find my phone.” The answer is nearly always – the most random possible place.

2. Buying toilet paper in a timely fashion

Like before you realize you have 2 squares left and no back up roll.

3. Parallel parking

6 months of city living and I still haven’t mastered this one! Pretty impressive, right?

So do tell, what life skill do you wish you’d learned in college, or at least by this point in your life? 

If you liked this post, you might enjoy:

24 Things I Learned in College (But Not in the Classroom)

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  • How to keep a really blank face when your boss says crazy things!

  • YES YES YES YES. I mean what are colleges THINKING sending young twenty-somethings out into the world without teaching them how to balance a checkbook?! I’m all for the last semester of college being dominated by real life skills classes. And if they wanted to throw one in there on how to build a decent resume, write a good cover letter, and ace an interview, that’d be okay too.

  • HAHA why is buying toilet paper at the right time so hard?!!?

  • alyssa

    This is so true and so perfect. <3

  • I majored in business so I actually did learn a lot about Excel (but zero Access which has actually been an issue for me on several occasions) and a fair bit of personal finance. And we did do some resume prep stuff. I did well in those classes but do I remember the majority of it now? Nope. I seriously wish I had taken a couple of years off before and then I would have taken it all much more seriously… and not graduated in 2009 into the shittiest job market possible. Oh well. There’s always the possibility of a master’s degree some day (when we are done with the student loans for my husband’s master’s.).

  • I agree with the personal finance. I am one of the few lucky ones that graduated with no debt and I still have no idea what the heck is going on. I kind of wish meal-planning and basic nutrition was a mandatory class for college students.

  • I went to school for Communications too and numbers 2,3,4 would have been life savers!! I def think there should have been a “What to do if you don’t get your dream job after college” class too!

  • Julia

    I’m still in college and I totally agree with these. Coding is one of the top things I want to learn!

  • Katie

    Funny, I went to college in Philly, and while I didn’t learn a number of things on your first list, Philly taught me how to parallel park with gusto. Nothing stood between me and my (then) CRV.

  • Liz

    I agree with most of these! However, I think personal finance should start even BEFORE college. If you have a job in high school, you should have a checking account and be learning how to balance the books. I wish I had learned more of Excel, and thankfully, because I was a communication major, I wrote plenty of press releases!

    College feels pretty useless these days though. Wish I had went to school for something more technical.

  • Vicki

    I think you mean THINK instead of thing in the intro.

  • I feel pretty good at Excel and did when I graduated, but I wish I had taken my Access class more seriously. I wish I could figure out how to do a v-lookup without a cheat sheet and I wish I could, for the list of me, create an Access database without having to ask other people. At least I work at a place that has people smart enough to know Access backwards and forwards.

    I also wish I had taken a CSS class so that I could create gorgeous blog designs and sell them. Oh and finances. Yea, I know nothing about investing – although I do know a lot about mortgages and the home buying process.

  • This is so true, and exactly the reason why I quite University after 6 months. I honestly felt like I was learning LESS and being LESS independent than I was before, which made it feel like a total waste of money!

    There are so many things that would have been helpful at some point in education; how to get a mortgage, understanding taxes, how to do great job interviews etc.


  • Elizabeth

    I work at a university where the students I work with are so much more driven than I was at that age. They have taken the time to get to know themselves & what they want in their careers or personal lives. I was too focused on making friends and having fun. My major was interior design because I wanted to make things look pretty. I was so shallow & naive! I have thought multiple times that it would be great for college to be for people aged 24-27. Take a few years out in the real world (where you learn actual things) and then get a degree to focus more on what you’re interested in or have experience in.

  • Oh my gosh, yes to all of these. I graduated in December and I’m already struggling with wishing I would have been taught all of those and more. I’m also a Communication major and sometimes I feel like my school failed me on so many levels. But like you said, if we would have gone later in life, we would have paid more attention to things. It’s like this post could have come from my own brain ha!

  • LOL’ing about the toilet paper. And this post got me to thinking- I have both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree and I honestly couldn’t tell you more than 3 things I really learned how to do in college. And yet, I’ll be paying my loans off until 2032. Now I’m depressed.
    xo, Sarah

  • Yes! I’m so mad they don’t teach Excel in college since all entry-level jobs require it. The same goes for courses on personal finance, how to get a job, resume writing, etc.

  • The press releases, yes! Instead of teaching me how to stretch my words to create a 30 page paper, professors should force students to condense a ton of information into a one page paper.

  • How to network!! I’m not sure if other majors learned the importance of this, but as a psychology major (a largely individual-based field), I’ve had to learn how to do it all on my own. And I’m still learning how to do it! Also, how to effectively job hunt would have been a useful skill.
    Also, I have no idea how to parallel park either. It wasn’t required for my driving test but considering I live in California, you’d think I should know.

  • I actually learned a lot of this in college, but I wish I had learned more creative things, like web design. It would be perfect if we could work in our desired field for a few years BEFORE going to college so then we would know what classes to really focus on. I took an intro to web design class my very last semester to satisfy an elective and realized I should have taken that class much earlier and followed up with more advanced classes.

  • I’m with you on all of these. I took a class on wine tasting in college but never learned anything about doing my taxes, personal finance, or resume writing/interviewing. Seems like they should be a requirement for graduation!

  • I don’t think I’ll ever master parallel parking

  • Moe

    I think college should have taught us how to do our own taxes! I have no idea how to do it. And a little cheat sheet of all the adult work terms would have been handy too.. like W2, 1098 forms, etc etc.

  • We usually learn so much more once we leave school, well that is how I have found it to be

  • There were excel courses at my school but I never even thought about taking them! I didn’t understand why I would need to…oops!

  • Cassidy

    I’m 27 and just now going back to school! It is harder than I remember it being, but the class that I found most helpful is nutrition. I didn’t even know I wanted to learn about nutrition, but after only a few days of class I feel pretty inspired. Eating is something we all do. Every day. And knowing how our bodies digest food will definitely help me make better food choices that will affect the rest of my life.

  • I had a senior seminar that touched on resumes and interview skills. But my resume is still pretty blah. I am with you with online banking. Thanks to my phone app I never have to know how to balance a checkbook. I can just log in and see what I have.

  • Technically I did learn about coding and personal finance (okay fine, I’m learning about financial literacy on Mondays this quarter…), and I still couldn’t tell you the first thing about all of it! Even as I’m IN college, I could tell you that I know this experience would be so much more valuable after like 10 years in the real world. I’d be so much appreciative, and wouldn’t skip class so often!

  • I definitely agree with your how to deal with your finances! Why isn’t this mandatory in high school and college? I am still learning all the ins and outs 5 years after being out of school.

  • Yes to all of this! Also — folding a fitted sheet.

  • This is a great list! I can definitely agree with each one of those. Excel is my favorite Microsoft program and I use it for everything. It is definitely awesome for keeping track of finances 😀

  • I would also add buying a house to this list. I would have loved to learn more about that in college. Also, I definitely have a list of things for a blog post somewhere that is called “things I have to learn the hard way every time”, maybe one day I’ll get it published.

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