In my personal opinion, being prepared for the real world is indeed a multi-faceted phenomenon that is difficult to evaluate in one measure. Someone who is prepared for ‘real life’ should have a variety of skills: quantitative skills, communication with others, research skills, and ability to make strategic life decisions like choosing a job or a partner for marriage. This list can be expanded. Students do differently in all these areas.
Thus, in the quantitative sphere modern students may indeed need more coaching and training. I have noticed that I feel frustrated when I do not have a calculator or computer to help me with computing a certain value. I can blame this on myself since I have never been too excited about math, but I would also say that neither the school nor the university curriculum emphasized this part enough. Numbers are a difficulty to many students who struggle to get their accounting done.
In terms of communication, I believe that many students are prepared for real life no worse than adults. Since our college campuses are highly diverse places where students from different backgrounds come together to spend classes and free time together, there are many opportunities to learn to interact with all kinds of people. I think this experience is especially transformational for international students who, prior to their studies, had not traveled or lived much outside the US. I have a Chinese friend who only left China for the first time to join an exchange program in our university. He says that coming here gave me a wealth of experience in communication. The first semester was strained for him as he spent a lot of time improving his language skills and at first felt lonely and left behind in a new land. Later, he was able to find many new friends. He says now that he built his social circle here, he will feel easier communicating with people from anywhere.
I also think that we are relatively well-equipped with research skills and process textual information pretty well. The US university education places high value on critical thinking skills that help students adequately develop understanding of various texts they encounter over the course of their lives. I think I now approach articles I read in periodicals with a much more analytical and even skeptical reaction as I can analyze the author’s arguments and find fallacies that help me identify if information contained in them is valid.
As to the ability to make strategic long-term decisions, I do not think college graduates are well prepared to make them or should be able to do so. I believe that making important choices takes more than a college degree – it takes experience that only comes with years. Many people come to regret, for example, the type of job they chose after college or the specific industry they went into. My mother, for example, was not happy with her choice of accounting as a major and had to make a change of profession later in life. However, college can and should do a better job informing students of the consequences of their choices.
Therefore, college students are ready for life in some ways and could do better on others. They are more or less comfortable with communication and research skills, but need improvement with quantitative issues and decision-making. Improvement in these areas can help them meet real life that starts after college with greater maturity and courage.
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