The Major Life Differences Between College And The Real World

by James Teague

It has been almost four months since I graduated from college and started my quest in the “real world.” So far, it's really not so bad. I'm working in my parents' State Farm Insurance office for the time being, while also balancing freelance writing. I prefer not to worry about what is to come in the future because I'm doing my best to open the doors to a variety of opportunities, which will lead me towards not only a favorable career path, but also down the road of independence.

Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful to even have a roof over my head at this point in my life. However, I always keep in mind that now is the time for me to get myself together, prepare to manage my own funds and leave the nest so that I can finally begin living my independent, young adult life.

College and the real world are so similar, yet so different. At this particular moment, I'd prefer my old college life to the real world, generally for more personal reasons, but that's neither here nor there. It's really about what you make of these experiences.

There are so many pros and cons to living in college and the real world for Millennials. You can either make these the best of times, or mediocre times. It is all up to how you choose to live your days. Here is a detailed comparison of the things college students and graduates in the real world encounter on a daily basis.

The Every Day Worries of Life

College: College students are primarily focused on the college environment. School is the number one priority on their list. After school comes deciding whether or not going to class, dealing with the crap some teachers put them through, and combating the evils known as homework and studying. College students also deal with the stress of financial aid and making sure that their futures are secured as far as graduation and employment goes.

Real World: Bills, bills, and more bills. Welcome to adulthood, where most of your money will be allotted towards rent, car payments, and your debt to Sallie Mae before you can even consider splurging on yourself. Your check from work is here today, but it will be gone tomorrow. Dealing with a job you strongly dislike is a challenge that no one wants to battle.

Waking up every day, fighting sleep and traffic in order to get to a job that you despise is something no one wishes even upon their worst enemy. Unfortunately, some have dreadful jobs, which they have to push through until a better opportunity arises. It's best to try and avoid jobs like this, but sometimes it’s the only option for those of us who require more experience before moving onto something bigger and better.

Eating And Health Habits

College: Depending on which meal plan you have in college, it can either help you flourish or help set you back. The killer part about the meal plan is that most of the food in the cafe isn't even considered to be real food. You begin to have withdrawals from home-cooked meals you used to indulge in at home.

Outside of athletics, most college students don't really work out often. There are very full-time students you can find dedicated to fitness, but the rest aren't routinely into fitness, unless it's preparing for spring break vacation.

Real World: You're back to eating all the food your little heart desires. No more of that artificial cafe food at school. You can actually afford food you want to eat. It is a must to begin focusing on your health. The older you get each year, the slower your metabolism becomes and eventually, all of your bad eating habits will catch up to you.

It's important to create a habit of working out whenever you can. Throughout your busy schedule, you have to make the time necessary for you to add at least a little bit of fitness in your day. Whether it's running or spending some time in the gym lifting weights, a 20-minute workout regimen is necessary to keep you healthy.

Budgeting And Finances

College: Most times, you're forced to live off of your parents’ money. It's a troubling and stressful task for college students. For one, sometimes the money your parents send you isn’t enough to support your lifestyle; therefore, your spending habits may end up leaving you high and dry with empty pockets. Everybody experiences being broke in college. It's not fun, however, it helps us become more creative when dealing with our expenses. Some of us are lucky enough to obtain part-time employment during college to help bring in a little extra cash.

Real World: Some are fortunate enough to come out of college with jobs, while others may end up job searching for months on end, with limited funds to support them. If you have obtained a job, congratulations! You now officially have your own money. Having your own money is a beautiful thing, considering that you can budget however you please and no longer have to rely on your parents.The problem with having your own money to spend is learning how to budget it.

It’s difficult to avoid spending money on personal wants and needs, which are added expenses onto monthly payments. After you notice your habitual spending habits, it will be much easier to write out a budget to stick to each month. Saving money will also be a huge benefit in the future, which you may not realize in the present. Sometimes, it's not about the "right here and now" but more what your financial future will look like.

Place Of Residence

We Heart It

College: Most times, you're reduced to living in the dorms in your early college years. Eventually, some will find their way out of their dorms and into apartments that are on campus, or even off campus. Off campus living is typically more appealing because it gives college students the feeling of greater independence.

Real World: Coming fresh out of college, most graduates decide to return home to live with their parents for some time, while searching for a job or saving up money. Meanwhile, there are those who have already adjusted to living on their own so well and have a job lined up right out of college, that they head out on their own right away.

It all depends on the individual’s situation. The truth of the matter is, once we experience freedom, we have a thirst for it forever. Likewise, once we move away from the comforts of living at home after college, we want to go back, but generally steer away from that decision. Once you’re on your own, you’re on your own!

Social Life

College Life: In college, you’re surrounded by peers of similar age. Therefore, it's not really difficult to meet new people and create new friendships and acquaintances. You meet some really great longtime friends in college that you spend every waking moment with, while others are fun acquaintances to party with on the weekends.

Real World: You're out on your own, living in a new city, with brand new people. However, most of the time, you're alone and far away from family and close friends. It’s a little more difficult to make new friends after college. You're surrounded by people of all ages, but every now and then, you'll come across someone your age.

Most times, you have to explore different opportunities in order to make and build new friendships. Giving people a smile, telling them good morning, or having a brief conversation can create unexpected friendships, flings, or someone that can lead you to a job opportunity.

Traveling Opportunities


College: Spontaneous road trips are the move in college. It's that time when you and the homies can get away from campus for the weekend and live it up. The mini-holiday breaks, such as fall break and spring break, are goldmines to every college student in America. Some take the opportunity to bring their friends home with them for the weekend, while others travel to visit friends in another city or state. Either way, you have all the time in the world to create these kinds of memories.

Real World: Say goodbye to those spontaneous road trips. Now, work and a busy schedule will hinder your traveling habits. You have to start planning months in advance for certain trips. It's really important to travel as much as you can while you're still young. You learn a lot about yourself in different environments and cultures. You might even begin to pick a couple of good habits, meet some new friends, discover new lovers, and learn life lessons. Overall, traveling helps shape your perspective on life.


College: During your college years, you’re more focused on having fun than having serious relationships. It's more about meeting new people and experiencing different loves than jumping into relationships. College brings many one-night stands, sometimes friends-with-benefits relationships, and even frequent spur of the moment sex with the same person.

When you jump into a serious relationship in college, it often ends up being more of a “life lesson," no matter if it is a great relationship or a negative one. You find out more about yourself and the type of person you attract during your college years in the dating game.

Real World: In the real world, you can only date for fun for so long until that day comes when you begin thinking about settling down. It's more about being involved in serious relationships the older you get. If you've dated enough and learned from your past mistakes in college, you'll be more prepared for dating in the real world.

For those who may not have dated much while in college, they learn more about themselves and the people they attract in the post-college stage. This is the time you start thinking more seriously about marriage and whether or not you're ready for it.

There you have it. That is my account of the differences between living in college and in the real world. From what you've read, both situations have similar experiences, but with different outcomes. The main commonality between these two different worlds is the personal growth you experience. No matter which environment you're in, it helps you grow.

When you look at each of these beginnings compared to where you are now, you'll find that you’re in a much more comfortable place mentally. At the end of the day, it's what you make of your experiences that shapes you. They can either make you or break you as a person. In the end, you'll always feel like a better version of yourself with each passing day.

Top Photo Courtesy: Sky Rocket