Practical College Courses That Don't Exist But Really Should

Practical College Courses That Don't Exist But Really Should

Why do we go to college? Is it to learn a skill? Is
to learn how to think? Is it to meet a future mate? Is it to become a
well-rounded person? Get shit-faced? Or is it purely a means to an end — a place to make
valuable networking connections and net higher lifetime earnings? On some level
it’s all that stuff, and yet most of us end up in the real world without a clue
how to navigate the fresh labyrinth of expectations involved in being an adult.
Looking back, it’s easy to see what could’ve helped, if we’d only had these classes.

You Won’t Be Able to Buy a Car Until You’re 30 Because of a T-Shirt

This one is a
big, fat, no duh, but most of us go into college ill-prepared for how an
interest rate works or a minimum payment, and even less concept of how often or
in what ways credit cards report to credit bureaus, or exactly how terrible it will
feel to wait out seven years for a bad choice at 19, that you won’t even realize
has screwed you until you are 25 and trying to buy a car, or a house, or rent
an apartment (the answer: it feels like burning). There’s certainly more
information online now than when I was in college about avoiding these
pitfalls. But the basics of how banking and credit work should be a required
course for everyone who steps foot in the hallowed halls of a university, ready
to sign away their good name for a credit card just because it comes with a free XXL Hanes beefy T with a cat on it.

Everyone Should Know How to Throw a Punch

This! I think it
should be mandatory college training to be able to defend yourself, especially at the one time in your life when excessive drinking is so often mixed with poorly reasoned arguments. I think there’s no reason men and women
can’t be trained for the world as it is while also working to change it, and including
the real-life statistics about violence and risk is not just common sense, but
raises incredible awareness.

Practical Feminism for Everyday Bullshit

The naming
convention here — Practical Feminism — is not meant to imply that most
women’s studies classes are not practical. Rather, they are academic and theoretical. It is
great to be armed with theory, but it’s also great to teach young women about
the realities of how sexism manifests in the world and some possible defenses
against it. This approach combines the stats-heavy approach of gender bias with
the practical aspects of navigating it when it actually happens to you. This could include self-defense tactics, but
I’m really concerned with helping women understand about things like harassment
in the workplace (great opp for guest lecturers!) or the more subtle, insidious
ways sexism manifests during job interviews, or when asking for raises, or announcing
a pregnancy. I’d have loved to have a parade of women in a class laying it bare
about how they managed sexism on the job, whether as a doctor or a barista. Another aspect of this class could
look at the sorts of practical, grassroots feminist campaigns that actually changed laws: How women
organized and what they accomplished.

You Have No Idea How Jobs Will Actually Be

You’d think
you’d learn a lot about the job market in college, and there’s certainly some
discussion of it, but when I graduated with a journalism degree as a woman from
a state school, no one bothered to mention that 95% of the jobs would be given
to white men from better schools. That the internships would be reserved for people with impossible-for-me connections and generous financial support. Most of us are hoping
we luck out in the real-world mentor department, and most of us graduate still
hoping. Colleges could help prep students by explaining in very broad terms to
freshman what various career paths look like by have students research their
pay, employment rates, job satisfaction, salaries before ever picking a major.
What are the ideal jobs for someone with your major, and what does the reality
look like? For me, I ended up taking a job copy editing press releases out of
college for five years, which paid well, but it’s something I still consider one
of the most soul-sucking enterprises of my adult life (and I’ve scraped the
paint off a house by hand). Also, this is not about just seeing what a
veterinarian does every day on the job (though that’s helpful); it’s about
seeing the choices various successful career folks made to get where they are,
one tricky job move at a time.

Office Politics: Someone Already Hates You, and You Just Started!

This could be
considered part of a course on careers, but it’s really its own uniquely
insidious little life lesson. Because hoo-boy is it disillusioning to show up
at a job, fresh out of university as an eager little meritocracy beaver, only to
discover that the only meritocracy to be found is figuring which of the people your boss likes more will get the promotion. That’s right: In the real world, mediocre
people can be promoted often, while hard workers can be ignored or maligned just
cuz. Them’s the breaks, kid. Friends hire friends, bosses have irrationally reasoned favorites, and nearly every place of
employment has a toxic coworker and a secret saboteur and a magical golden child (and they are often the
same person! And that person is loved! Because they made a pie once!). There’s
no reason to incite panic and fear in fresh-faced future workers, but students
a mere year or two away from seeking internships DESERVE to be taught how to
enter a workplace neutrally, but armed with the knowledge that no place is ever
what it seems.

Everyone is Out to Take Your Money

Could also be
called: How to be an Adult. Did you
know that when you have to get the gas turned on at your first place that you
have to pay a deposit, but you could get out of it if you had someone cosign or if you pass a credit check? But that if you choose the credit check option, and it doesn’t go through, they won’t let you then have someone cosign, because you already picked your choice — and it was the wrong choice? I’m serious. Shit like this is not always
obvious, and most places will let you hang yourself on the fuckery of large fees, because why should they give a shit? Not getting screwed over in the world
requires a kind of constant consumer vigilance, a willingness to advocate for
yourself when no one else will.

Bank accounts,
savings accounts, good interest rates, starting a retirement fund — who knows
how to do any of this stuff right off the bat? When does that person the insurance company sends to explain it ever actually help? But I would scrap all that
knowledge if young adults were taught something even older adults still aren’t
sure how to do: how to buy a car without getting fucked over. Buying a car is
one of the most stomach-churning displays of the dark side of power there is, and few
people are prepared to do battle with these unethical henchpeeps. Training young
people on the art of dealing with the fuckery of car shilling goes beyond
practical training, IT IS A REVOLUTION.

Your Insurance Will Pay for Your IUD But Not the Required Pre-Insertion Pregnancy Test

Do you even know
what a deductible is? Or how to manage one? Or how high yours should be? Or
when to schedule certain kinds of healthcare choices so as to avoid paying your
whole deductible in December only to re-up first thing in January? Do you know
how to pick a health plan? Does just thinking about this make you want to die,
but dying is too expensive? Exactly.

How to Red-Team Any Situation

Red-Teaming is basically shooting holes in any idea or plan to understand its weaknesses. This is a valuable skill throughout life that comes in handy constantly when deciding to take a new job, buy a house, move to a new city, trade in your car, plan a day at Disneyland. It’s meant to improve any strategy by recognizing the vulnerabilities in the plan, and though most four-year-degrees teach you something about thinking critically, that’s not the same thing as strategizing.

You Have No Idea How to Make a Relationship Work

I saved the best
for last, because all that stuff above is super real and critical, but you may
very likely spend most of your free time outside of work or on hold with your
bank chilling with another human being. And most human beings are piss poor at
being with other human beings. It takes real skill to make a relationship work,
not just fireworks. Yes, sociology departments certainly offer classes about
marriage and family, and some of them offer practical guidance on marriage
readiness and how to do a budget. Post-college couples on the marriage track
can read books, take quizzes online, or participate in counseling they pay for
or get free through their church to gauge their readiness. But given that most
people desire stable, lasting relationships at some point in their lives, and
most people pursue them based on love and affection and not necessarily ability
to weather storms, this sort of education should start early and be regarded as
important as Western Civ.

University has a
special course offering
that specifically aims to teach students how to
have good relationships. In it, freshly minted adults part with the notion of
soul mates, and do so by interviewing their parents about their marriage (or
divorce), ask friends to help the student identify their own shortcomings and triggers,
and work on projects that teach them critical cornerstones of healthy
relationships, like the significance of knowing yourself to be good at
marriage, accepting that some conflict in marriage is healthy and learning how
to deal with it, fighting fair, and the importance of a shared worldview. Instructors
told The Atlantic that they see the class as a kind of “inoculation against potential life trauma.” Amen
to that.

Image by Jim Cooke.

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