True Stories: How I Use My College Education Every Day

Three college grads share their stories about how they put their degrees to use in the workplace and beyond.

By Heather Fishel | August 18, 2014

Photo: ThinkStock

“What are you going to do with a degree in that?” This remark is one of the most common – and most frustrating – questions people ask college students. Many students worry about making the most of their education after graduation. Yet no matter your major, attending college will change your life in many ways.

Whether you’re a liberal arts student learning about Japanese art history, or a science major trained to dissect the human heart, the classes you take will give you skills that you put to use every day. Here’s how three college graduates put their degrees to use every day in a variety of ways. From the office to their living rooms, these former students discuss how they make the most of their education.

Whether you use the novels from your freshman literature class to solve your friends’ dilemmas, or you examine a crisis at work like a field experiment from your biology course, you can use the knowledge you gained in the classroom to navigate tough tasks in the real world.

Jerome Wang, B.A. Advertising

When Jerome Wang first began searching for a post-graduation plan, he wasn’t quite sure what he could achieve with a degree in advertising. As a student at California State University -- Fullerton, Wang spent five years studying how to communicate with audiences via imagery and catchy phrases. “My favorite thing about advertising is that it combines the artistic with business,” said Wang. “You get to create ad campaigns, but you also get to track their effectiveness and come up with unique methods of attracting consumers’ attention.”

After graduating, Wang struggled to put his advertising degree to work. “I thought putting my education to use meant creating ad campaigns,” he said. “I eventually realized that I’d learned so much more than that in college. When my boss pointed out that one of my strengths is working under pressure, I realized that skill came from completing group projects under a tight deadline as an undergrad.”

Wang, who recently began a new job at an advertising agency in Los Angeles, credits his college education with making him a well-rounded person. “You learn so much more than just your intended major,” he remarked. “I’m great at using Powerpoint and Excel because of how often I used it for college classes. But I’m even better at speaking up in meetings and sharing my ideas because my professors required us to participate in class discussions.”

Using your college education doesn’t always mean getting a job in your desired field. The skills you learned and practiced every day in your classes are applicable in many situations. Have a project to complete? Use the system you relied on when writing a tough term paper. Need to get a long with a coworker? Think back to that frustrating group project you completed freshman year.

Joe Marion, B.S. Computer Science

“Contrary to popular belief, I don’t spend all day staring at HTML coding,” laughed Joe Marion. A graduate of the computer science program at the University of Redlands, Marion is well versed in a variety of programming languages. Yet he uses his college education in a way that seems to have nothing to do with computers.

As a customer service representative, Marion spends his days on the phone solving problems and soothing frustrated consumers. His only interaction with a computer is recording notes and customer complaints in the call center software. “Most people think I don’t use my degree at all because of my current job,” Marion said. “In reality, I think my computer science education prepared me for difficult situations very well.”

On a daily basis, Marion faces furious callers with seemingly unsolvable demands. “Learning the different languages of computer coding is tough. Each one has nuances that make it different from all the others, and it’s very frustrating when you mix them up. So I treat each customer and their problem like a new programming language,” said Marion. “My job is to figure out what little tricks will make them happy and solve their problems effectively, or, as I like to say, make their program run perfectly.”

If you have a major that seems specific to one field, you can apply your knowledge to other areas like Marion. Put your education to work by comparing situations in your everyday life to problems or tasks that you remember from college. Whether you use the novels from your freshman literature class to solve your friends’ dilemmas, or you examine a crisis at work like a field experiment from your biology course, you can use the knowledge you gained in the classroom to navigate tough tasks in the real world.

Kelsey Warner, B.A. Creative Writing

Kelsey Warner knew writing was her passion before she graduated from middle school. When it came time to choose a college and a major, Warner was set on earning her degree from a well-known writing school. As a creative writing student at the University of Iowa, Warner spent her time crafting poems and analyzing the works of poets like Whitman and Eliot.

“College was all reading and writing for me,” said Warner. “I always felt confused when I took a science- or math-based class. The written word was, and still is, my comfort zone.” Warner planned on a career in writing after graduation, yet found the field was difficult to break into.

So how did she manage to use her reading and writing skills after graduation? “I use my creative writing major every single day,” Warner said. “Reading and writing are a huge part of every job, and employers really appreciate college graduates who know how to do both well.” As an executive assistant, Warner is responsible for drafting emails, taking notes in meetings, and often summarizing documents for her supervisors. “All those years of editing my roommates’ papers has really paid off,” she laughed. “Almost every day my boss asks me to edit a document or revise something he’s written.”

Though you may not be a creative writing student like Warner was, every college major involves a lot of writing. Put those paper-writing talents to use every time you take on a writing task. You’ll be an expert at communicating your thoughts and findings in words, so treat work documents like a college paper. Plus, after four years of taking notes in class lectures, you’ll be able to grasp what’s important at work meetings easily.

Quick Tips

  • Pay attention when your professors share anecdotes about their own careers or life experiences. The stories your professors tell are great examples of how education can be applied to everyday life.
  • Every class you take in college will teach your valuable critical thinking skills. Whenever you’re confronted with a problem, you’ll immediately put that college degree to use as you figure out a solution.
  • It might sound obvious, but a college education is very useful when pursuing future studies. You’ll be an expert at studying both in and out of the classroom, and you’ll also know how to balance school and life.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

5 Most Underrated College Majors
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What If You Don’t Know What Career You Want?

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