5 Important Things I Learned From Life After University

Tom Stevenson
Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

When I graduated from university in 2011, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. The three years went by so quickly, I didn’t have time to stop and think bout my future career path.

The only thing I knew with certainty was that I wanted to travel to Australia!

Once I left university I felt like I had let loose into the wild without any guidance. Years and years of formal education had not prepared for what awaited in the real world of work.

I felt like I had spent the previous years in a bubble, immune from the realities of the world. University is great, but it’s not the best at preparing you for life outside of it.

When I look back at my time in university, I wonder what I got out of it. On the social side, I made friends with a lot of brilliant people, but I was underwhelmed by the academic side of things.

I’ve always felt like I didn’t learn all that much during my three years of studying history. Sure, I learnt a lot about historical events and different interpretations of these, but nothing groundbreaking that changed my world view.

What I learnt was an extension of what I had already learnt in high school. Compared to what I learnt travelling and living in Australia, New Zealand and Spain, it pales into comparison.

University was an interesting time for me, although it may not be for everyone. If you’re reading this and wondering what life might look like after your studies are over, this article is for you.

Learning Doesn’t Stop

It’s easy to think that learning stops once you’re finished with school or university, but that's not the case. Whether you realise it or not, you’re always learning new stuff.

Change is a constant in life. Things change whether we like them or not. We always take in new information even if we unaware we are doing so.

However, this alone is not enough. In an ever-changing world, it’s vital to keep learning. Advancements in medical science, AI and technology mean you could easily be left standing still while everyone else is running away if you’re not careful.

University is not the culmination of your learning, it’s the start. It is not the end, but the beginning.

My thirst for knowledge was not quenched when I graduated. Quite the opposite, after my experience at university, I was eager to learn more and more.

I felt my learning experience at university was not what it could have been. I was determined to learn as much as I could on my steam and terms.

Learning is a life-long pursuit, don’t feel it’s over when you graduate. It’s only just beginning.

Experiences Are The Best Teacher

As I have mentioned above, my three years at university left me underwhelmed. As I type these words, I’m struggling to think of anything I learnt that shook me to my core.

What I did learn confirmed what I had already been taught, or offered an alternative perspective on it. I didn’t feel like university was good at introducing new concepts. It felt more like a finishing school to me.

A year after I graduated, I decided to spend a year living in Australia. This was something I had wanted to do for years. During that year, I learnt so much more than anything I was taught at university.

I learnt to strip away my assumptions about the world. I learnt that just because someone is from a different country does not mean they conform to stereotypes based on those countries. I learnt that because things are done one way in my country, does not mean that is the correct way.

Travelling taught me to approach the world with open eyes. I placed myself in difficult positions, which taught me more about myself than I already knew.

Compared to the sedate world of university, travelling is shock therapy. It throws you out of your comfort zone into the deep end and forces you to adapt or struggle.

The experiences I had during my travels taught me more than any textbook or university course ever did.

University Does Not Prepare You For Real Life

One of my biggest gripes about university was how little it prepared for what awaited in the real world. I remember one talk towards the end of my final year which touched on the subject.

Other than this, there was very little offered about what you should do once you’re graduated. I understand this is somewhat beyond a university’s remit, but I feel they do have a responsibility to prepare for life in the real world.

Maybe it was just the university I went to, but I felt like I had been thrown out of a plane without a parachute.

When you leave university, you are leaving behind a life of formal education. All I had known was learning. All the stages through to university, I knew nothing else apart from this.

A degree is useful, but it can only help you so much. It is not a ticket to your dream job, it is a guiding hand towards the route you want to take.

If I could do things differently, I would have looked into life post-university in a more in-depth manner than I did. This would have better prepared me for the shock of applying for jobs and working life.

University is a bubble, it insulates you from what lies outside of it. You may not be living at home, but you’re still wrapped in the tight embrace of the education system.

Once you leave, you’re on your own.

Time Is Precious

I spent three years at university. Even though it didn’t feel like it, it was a long time. When I look back now, I feel as though I did not make the most of my time there.

Yes, I enjoyed myself, made a lot of friends and had fun. The social side of things I cannot fault, it’s the academic and learning side of things I fell down on.

I guess it’s hard when you’re 18 to 21 to have your life in order. I know I didn’t and I suspect many of us don’t at that age. But, writing this at the wise old age of 29, I can’t help but feel it was a missed opportunity.

The time I had could have been utilised better in regards to improving myself, learning new ideas and doing more activities. I didn’t push myself enough back then, something which I have remedied as I’ve got older.

The key difference is that I didn’t value my time, now I do. Time is a finite resource. It’s the one thing we cannot get more of, no matter how much we want to.

How you spend your time defines how you live your life. If you’re not careful, you can easily waste the best years of life in front of a TV, or drinking from a bottle.

Treat your time as you would treat your most prized possession because however much you value that possession, it’s nowhere near as valuable as your time.

You Are One Of Many

Before I went to university in England, I was studying in school. The final two years were optional and if you stayed on, it was expected you would end up going to university.

No real alternative to university was mentioned in these two years. Everything was focused around pushing you towards going to university. While this is not a bad thing, it does mean that you are one of many people heading down this route.

This can cause a few issues once you’ve graduated.

With so many people going to university and the workplace becoming ever more competitive, you are one of many people in an ocean of prospective employees.

It’s hard to stand out when everyone else has the same qualifications as you. The rise in people going to university has led to supply outstripping demand.

Employers now have their pick of the best and brightest. This can make the post-graduate world a harsh and unforgiving place. It’s sink or swim, and it’s easier to sink than it is to swim.

It’s important to flesh out your resume as much as you can. Do extra-curricular activities, go travelling, read more books, anything you can do to give yourself an edge the better.

Alternatively, you could look at this and decide university isn’t for you. It may be better to take a different route and go straight into work or set up a side hustle.

Just because everyone is doing something doesn’t make it right.

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