One Difference Between College and Real World

How much does college prepare you for the real world? That’s a question I’ll be thinking about in the coming months and years.

One big difference between college and the real world is that college is an information-rich environment which makes it very easy to track your progress (and be motivated) day-by-day.

In college you constantly receive reports on your progress. You turn in assignments, you receive grades. Rarely does a week go by without some affirmation or refutation of effort from an all-knowing expert (professor, advisor, whoever).

In the real world, best I can tell, the information you receive from your “market” (customers, boss, whoever) is far more ambiguous. Anyone who’s built a company knows that months can go by without clear feedback about whether you’re on the right track. Indeed, sometimes it takes months of unyielding effort with your head down before you figure out whether you’re creating something of value.

The most successful people I’ve met in the real world have a tolerance for ambiguity and are self-motivated enough to take care of business even if there aren’t routine, external validations or challenges.

So do college students get spoiled by the constant information delivery and assessments that’s part of structured education? Is there a risk that such an explicit reward system will retard a student’s ability to be intrinsically motivated? Will a student, upon graduation, be able to apply consistent effort without receiving a decisive “A” or “B” for each of his tasks?

(thanks to my friend Cal Newport for sparking this idea)

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