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As college students, none of us are strangers to high stress levels. At some point in our college careers, most of us will be faced with 5:00 a.m. nights to finish essays worth 20% of our grades and networking events for which we feel not at all prepared. I’m convinced that the fact I’ve made it this far in college is partially due to “winging it” and partially due to obsessively planning all of my days down to the minute.

The fact of the matter is, nothing truly prepares us for college, and a lot of us end up “winging it” just as I have. And once we’re in college, we are met with the same dilemma — college doesn’t equip us for the rest of our lives. Our sense of agency over our own lives could be drastically improved if colleges dedicated more time to teaching students life skills rather than primarily teaching students career skills (which is another area colleges fall short in to begin with). 

A 2021 survey revealed that 81% of college graduates wish they had been taught more life skills before graduating. Some of the main areas where students felt lost were investing money, planning long-term financial goals, managing student loan debt and learning how to budget. 

Outside financial literacy, students were concerned about being unable to cook, do laundry or reset a Wi-Fi router. For issues like those, one would think we could turn to our parents or guardians for assistance. I have been lucky enough to have my mom provide me with much of the knowledge I will need to succeed in life outside of my career. However, it is ignorant to assume that every student has the privilege of a safe, comfortable living environment with access to someone who is knowledgeable in all of those areas. Luckily, our generation has brought with it technology — we have access to the internet, which gives us access to any knowledge we could possibly desire. Even then, it would be convenient to have a mainstream form of guidance provided through our education.

Fortunately, progress has been made. In the state of Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed a bill requiring all high schools to include a financial literacy course in their curriculum, an invaluable asset to any student. At the University of Michigan we actually have a couple resources such as a one-credit LSA course about financial literacy; the Smart Borrowing initiative, which includes counseling about student finances; and the National Endowment for Financial Education, which offers many resources for students to learn about money management.

Personally, I did not know about any of these resources until doing some research for this piece. Maybe I did not hear about them since I was an incoming freshman during the “COVID year,” but nevertheless it does seem to be a general area that students should be made more aware of. With the new presidency of Santa Ono, we can only hope that the change in administration will encourage this much-needed shift in awareness.

With all that said, we would hope that we are preparing students well for their careers since we are not necessarily preparing them for some aspects of life itself. Unfortunately, another survey conducted by McGraw Hill Education shows that a mere 40% of college seniors feel prepared for their upcoming life in the workforce. Participants reported that they wish their colleges would have provided more internships and professional opportunities, more career preparation and more alumni networking opportunities.

I am lucky enough to be in the College of Pharmacy, which has only about 100 undergraduate students, thus giving me ample opportunity to work in a personalized, one-on-one environment with instructors who are eager to connect me with whatever and whoever I need to prepare for my career. However, this isn’t the case for all colleges within the University. If you are feeling estranged from your administration or your future goals, consider smaller communities within the University, which will help you to accomplish your career goals while feeling a sense of solidarity with your peers — for example, professional fraternities.

LSA senior Izzy Steinberg, executive director of Wolverine Support Network, reports on this solidarity phenomena by emphasizing “the power of peer support and forming genuine connections on campus.” There are over 1,400 clubs on campus, tens of thousands of students and infinite things to do in Ann Arbor. With all these options comes the opportunity to connect with like-minded students and superiors, which are both crucial to career preparation and success. There is a world of opportunity which we can and should take advantage of. 

Change and indecision are undoubtedly scary parts of college, but you are not alone. Between 20% and 50% of college students come in undecided and about 75% of college students change their major at least once before graduation. Even though many schools allow two years of time before declaration of majors, any time taken to “explore different options” can end up feeling like wasted time that could have been spent taking core requirements. 

Granted, some majors allow more flexibility than others. For example, with a Communication and Media Major there are 28 credits that must be strictly adhered to, as opposed to a Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences, which demands 73 inflexible credits. For this reason, students often rush themselves to choose a path more quickly than they are ready for. The idea of knowing exactly what you want to do at a young age is flawed — our education system should have more fluidity, opportunity and exploration.

In the grand scheme of things, a degree from the University is great, but what if you don’t know what to do with that degree? What if you don’t have any interpersonal skills or blow through your newfound earnings within a couple months because you weren’t taught financial literacy? Let’s do better as an institution and as a holistic system in helping our students carry their bright knowledge out with them with self assurance that they can and will do great things in life. 

Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist & can be reached at annatrup@umich.edu

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