The Four Biggest Differences Between Being a Student and Joining the Workforce

For college seniors starting their last semester of undergrad this month, graduating probably seems like an exciting and scary time. And it is: The accomplishment of finishing your degree is always followed by the fear of what you’ll do next, whether it’s travel, take a job or continue schooling. But beyond the obvious changes like not having a month off for Christmas and maintaining a regular 9-to-5 schedule, there are some differences between working in a classroom and working in an office that you might not have anticipated. Here are the four biggest differences between being a student and working in an office, with suggestions on how to make them work for you:

1. No grades.

At first, this can seem like a huge relief: No grades! I don’t have to care about my GPA or pop quizzes anymore, this will be great! But having regular feedback from a superior, like you get when a teacher hands back a paper, can be really valuable in gauging how successful you’re being at a given project. In the workplace, there are no grades. There is no clear way to tell how you’re doing until your quarterly performance review, and that makes it harder to get back on course if you might be having a tough time in your job. In many jobs you have no feedback at all from the people you’re working with, positive or negative. One way you can ease the shock of going from constant report cards to never hearing how you’re doing is to make friends with coworkers you trust. Making work that you yourself are proud of will also become more important as feedback in an office is rare.

2. Geography.

At a lot of colleges, most students live relatively close to campus so they can get to class quickly by walking or biking. Some students even live on campus, minutes from the classrooms and libraries where everyone interacts. This makes it fairly easy to make plans with potential friends you meet in classes or clubs. But with an office, professionals have a much longer commute than college students. Even if you are lucky enough to meet someone you want to hang out with outside of work, he or she might live a 40-minute drive or train ride away. One way to deal with this is to seek out activities that are close to where you live, or maybe plan an activity in between a coworker’s house and the office.

3. No extracurriculars.

In college, if you’re not feeling satisfied in your classes, you could easily go to your department office and switch your schedule for the next semester. You can join clubs that fulfill interests other than what you’re studying, spend time volunteering with a group that does something important to you, or try out for a student production. This is all easy, encouraged, and rewarded on a resume. But once you enter the workforce, it is mostly expected that your job is your passion. Not only is it harder to fit in volunteering when you’re working 50 hours and driving 40 minutes to work, it’s also much less encouraged. But even though people might be skeptical that you still want to work with an animal shelter or be involved in the arts, it’s especially important to do so once you graduate. It’s easy to get tunnel vision of work/make dinner/work more/sleep/do it again, and prioritizing other interests helps keep you from that rote routine.

4. No new semesters.

Even in the worst, hardest class you’ve ever taken, you know it will be over in about 15 weeks. With a job, if you find yourself in a less-than-ideal situation, there is no summer vacation waiting at the end of the tough road. This also makes it harder to delineate accomplishments, because there’s no certain path to a promotion the way there is to a diploma. In a workplace, it takes a lot longer to receive recognition and the experience needed to move up. One way to deal with this transition is to still take a short “summer vacation” to mark every year at your job. It is important to mark accomplishments like this, but doing so isn’t built in like it would be on every last day of school. Taking the time to mark your own small, incremental achievements can help a long year in a cubicle feel like it’s building towards something like a real-world diploma.

Featured image via Shutterstock

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