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The 10 Crucial Skills They Won’t Teach You At School (And How To Learn Them Anyway)

This post was originally published on the UnCollege blog.

No matter what you major in at university, there will always be lessons that can only be learned in the School of Life. In an increasingly competitive job market, companies are looking for graduates who have learned not only from their textbooks, but from the world around them. If you practice these ten crucial life skills while you’re still in school, you’ll be well-prepared for the world outside of college.

Networking can get a bad rap: the idea of connecting with others for the express purpose of using them in the future is, admittedly, a bleak way of seeing your friendships. It’s also the wrong way to see networking! Building a network doesn’t just mean forming relationships that will serve you professionally. Networking is about finding your tribe — people who inspire and challenge you — and forming mutually-beneficial relationships with others.

Teach yourself: Try one-on-one networking with older students, professors, and others in your field. Don’t be afraid to reach out with an unsolicited email; remember, they were once in your position! And remember that serving as a connector — being able to link two friends together — is just as important as forging connections for yourself.

In 2015, could there be a more crucial skill than knowing how to manage your money? Surprisingly, schools have done little to prepare students for their financial futures. By failing to require personal finance classes for students, many universities send their graduates out into the world ill-prepared for the realities of adult life.

Teach yourself: Be that impressive 20-something who knows the ins and outs of their bank account, their credit score, and their investments. Create an account at and start a realistic budget for yourself. Set aside 10% of every paycheck you get, and look out for free MOOCs about personal finance. Get familiar with helpful money-saving blogs like 20somethingfinance, The Billfold and The Financial Diet.

Most universities were founded at a time when graduates pursued one stable career for a lifetime. Today, few graduates will stay in the same job for more than a few years at a time! The reality of the workforce has changed, and universities are still a bit slow to catch up. Today, hyphenated careers are on the rise: the writer-slash-entrepreneur, the nurse-slash-consultant, the investor-slash-filmmaker. Creating a job that’s all your own, combining your many passions into one career, and gaining the necessary experiences to forge your unique path: you can’t learn these skills in a lecture hall.

Teach yourself: Take time to determine what puts you in “flow.” Take classes outside of your subject, and think creatively about ways that you can make a living. And be sure to check out the UnCollege blog for more tips about pursuing your passions and building a singular, extraordinary life.

The ability to trust your instincts is one of the hardest skills to teach and one of the rarest skills to find. You can take eight semesters’ worth of seminars in multiple disciplines without ever having to gauge your gut once. But when it comes to making big, life-changing choices — which job to pursue, which city to move to, which partner to build a life with — a well-honed understanding of your instincts can be invaluable.

Teach yourself: Start by making yourself a person who doesn’t second-guess her choices, even small ones. Have to choose which restaurant to check out for dinner? Go with your first instinct. Don’t know which class to sign up for? Go with the one that “feels right.” And be sure to pay attention to when something feels “off”: trust your gut, and act immediately.

College can be a time when you’re encouraged to work yourself to the bone. Don’t fall into this trap! Your early 20s are an important time for setting boundaries with yourself, learning what your body and mind can handle, and preserving your physical and mental health in the process. Remember: if you burn-out now, you won’t be able to achieve as much later. It can seem paradoxical, but knowing how to step back and get proper rest is just as important as knowing how to push yourself and work hard.

Teach yourself: Start practicing meditation for just ten minutes a day. Take advantage of on-campus counseling options. Set boundaries for when you allow yourself to check your inbox, and try to limit your “screen time” in the mornings and evenings. Know how to ask for a “personal day”: professors and employers will respect you for knowing your boundaries.

School is a place that trains us for success, but if there’s one reality that you should get used to when you’re young, it’s failure. The most successful people are those who know how to fail with grace, and how to bounce back refreshed and ready for the next challenge.

Teach yourself: Read the biographies of people you admire, and make note of the ways in which they coped with set-backs. Always remind yourself of the big picture, and learn not to sweat the small stuff.

Here’s something you’ll likely never see on a university syllabus: Relationships 101. But choosing the right life partner — and learning how to be a supportive, communicative, and loving partner yourself — are two of the skills that will undoubtedly shape your future happiness. Harvard’s 75-year longitudinal psychological study, which followed 268 male Harvard graduates over the course of their respective lifetimes, found that family relationships and strong, loving connections were the most valuable indicator of overall life satisfaction. Why don’t we teach that in school?

Teach yourself: Remember that time spent on your relationships in your twenties is not time wasted, even if those relationships eventually end. Every friendship and relationship you form can teach you how to strike the right balance in a life partnership. Write down the qualities you are looking for in a partner, and focus on the qualities you have to offer. Make sure to protect time each week to spend on your relationships: don’t let yourself become a one-sided person.

Communication isn’t just about being a good partner. It’s also about being a good business person, friend, and future leader. Equally important as knowing how to communicate is knowing how to negotiate for what you want. Mastering the art of negotiation can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars, in the long run. And it’s one of those superpowers that can take years to hone.

Teach yourself: Start with small negotiations. Your landlord tries to raise your rent? Ask him to meet you half-way. Your part-time job still paying you minimum wage? See if they can up your hourly rate by just a few dollars. Learn to recognize your worth, so that when you get out into the real world, you’ll be able to negotiate a healthy starting salary.

This seems like an obvious one, but you might be surprised how many university graduates have no clue how to cook a simple meal, keep an apartment tidy, pay utility bills, and manage a household budget! This is the 21st century, and it’s unlikely that your parents are going to be looking after you when you leave school. Back in the day, schools used to teach female students “home economics”; but these days, college dining halls and maid service can keep students from gaining basic and necessary home-making skills.

Teach yourself: Don’t rely on house-cleaning apps and food-delivery services! Learn how to whip up basic, affordable meals, and check out blogs like Apartment Therapy and Lifehack for tips on keeping a tidy home.

Leaving your comfort zone and seeing other parts of the world is a vital part of growing up. Students who take a year out of school to travel — whether out of the state or out of the country — find that their gap year shapes them even more than college itself. Not sure if you can afford a year of luxury travel? Try volunteering or teaching abroad, or check out programs like WWOOFing. And if you can learn a new language, by all means, do it!

Teach yourself: Whether you leave the country or just leave your town, try to plan at least one trip every six months. Use websites like Student Universe to find affordable deals, and communicate with your university about travel grants. Consider going on a gap year. According to an interview with Dale Stephens, the founder of UnCollege Gap Year, students that take a gap year have higher graduation rates and GPAs than students who opt not to take one.



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