The Problem of the Perpetual Student

May 23, 2011


My Undergrad Graduation:  May 2011

This was me a year ago…about to graduate from a generic undergrad institution in a generic part of a generic state.  I had no idea what I didn’t know, but I was ready to find out.

Now I’m here, in Chicago, just having finished up my first year of grad school and trying to find my footing in new avenues of adulthood, exploration and crafting my best life.

One thing they don’t tell you is that as much as people hate school- they love it too.  Being a perpetual student gives you a sense of comfort, guidance, a familiar format to follow and measurable progress.  You get grades that rank your performance and a degree upon completion- but the real world is a lot less murky.

There’s no real universal markers for progress, or success.  There’s no perimeters of potential failure- it’s all variable and individual.  People have made and lost fortunes, gotten married and divorced, gained and lost- all at different rates and at varying levels of intensity.

I never seem to understand when people say that college was the best years of their lives, or it showed them who they “really are.”   For me, college showed me nothing- it was a way for me to adhere to rules, meet requirements unchallenged, and to pass quietly through the system.  I knew what was expected of me, I followed and I was rewarded accordingly.

I took conventional steps, towards a guaranteed end point:  a piece of paper that dubbed me “qualified” in my years of study.  Never though, was I, or anyone, promised that it would yield success.  It was just a necessary product that I was expected to attain.

Now, though, approaches the true challenge:  Life lessons without course titles and required reading,  cultivating expertise without declared majors and minors, finding mentorship and leadership without faculty and student peers- in short, where the real learning comes from– where nothing is promised, nothing detailed on a syllabus.  The semesters are that of the months and years of your life, the final exam is the day you look back on your life and reflect on whether you passed the test of your best life.

It’s a big, bad, glorious world out there, and it’s all up to us to cut our stars out of the cloth and fly the flag of our purpose.

…and perhaps that’s what’s tripping me up a bit.

When you have your butt parked in a classroom, it’s easy to dream of the world outside- of the great things you’ll do with a degree in hand.  We all know our majors in college don’t determine our career paths, but did we never stop to think at how jarring it would be to have absolutely NO guidance on how to format our passions and work?

Having a limited range of choices in which to identity, “Yes, I’m an English Lit major!” gives us an easy pass, a quick (and changeable) way to form our selves.  In the real world, if you’re not still working primarily with english literature, you’ve got a problem- and that’s where I’m at.  Who the heck are we and what can we do that is truly meaningful in our short lifespans?

What I’ve learned since graduation:

What you might not anticipate though, are the ones who quietly drift from your life simply because you forgot to look in the rearview mirror.  Some of these departures will make you truly sad inside since they insist on sitting roadside back in a metaphorical hometown of comfort and familiarity, never understanding you invited them to get in the car and believed they could make the journey too.

So, I’m curious- what have you learned since college?  Is there anything you wish you would have learned in school?  Do you grade yourself harder than a professor ever did, or do you do better as your own teacher?

19 comments so far.

19 responses to “The Problem of the Perpetual Student”

  1. Carole Crossley says:

    I'm regularly amazed at your writing and depth of introspection. You've learned more than many adults I know.
    You ask what we've learned since college. I've learned to be grateful for those professors who guided me and challenged me not to believe it because they said it, but because I investigated and learend that it is true. I learned that CAN do anything I choose if I prepare myself and work hard. I've learned that without true friends, what I have isn't worth much. I definitely learned that student loan debt takes a long time to pay off!
    I love reading your blog. And, yes, grads who cannot differentiate you're/your, etc., do bug the cr*ap out of me, too!

  2. Hahah Carole I'm so glad "your" on my blog and leave such great comments!

    I too am grateful for the professors that helped me step up my game and try to reach for my highest potential. Those that offered mentorship, guidance and encouragement when I was challenged or frustrated will always be treasured.

    True friends are something I value above all else- you realize as you get older, some people just take up space in your life, others take the life out of you, and others put the life back in your when times get tough. After moving out to Chicago, I value the people in my life even more….little comments on Facebook, or this blog, support in my fundraisers and phone calls really make the distance seem shorter and give me a reason to be my best.

    When I first moved out here, I got totally depressed. A man I was smitten for broke my heart, I missed home and I was stressed about school. I realized I wasn't serving those I loved or doing them any favors by being sad and grumpy all the time, so I did my best to get out of it and be a better friend. It's amazing- good friends will put up with you when you're a pain in the butt, but they also give you a reason to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and to show them you value their friendship by being a better friend yourself!

    Thanks again for the lovely comment Carole, your replies always seem to make me smile!

  3. Lena says:

    There is so much that one learns after graduating college and honestly, I was not prepared for the after undergrad life. I thought I knew everything I had to know, but I was proven wrong. Grad school definitely taught me, along with the technical stuff, communication skills, accepting life for what it is, valuing each and every situation presented to one, and making the best out of even the most difficult challenges. It was not easy to accept that there was so much more to learn and that many things are not found in books or research articles. One has to figure it out for oneself and learn the life lessons presented to one. There is no cookbook, no recipe, no real guidance, you just have to experience and learn from it.
    Love your writing Shannyn. TFJ

    • ShannynofFB says:

      Lena! I hear you- when I graduated from our school, it was like I had just enrolled in "Life Lessons 101" and had my tush handed to me in the form of challenging/uncomfortable situations, new technology I had no idea existed, how to navigate a new city and basically- how to act like an adult that is self-reliant (budgeting? what's that??! haha).

      I wish there was a recipe for a good life, but I guess that's one we put together for ourselves through experience, trial and error and lots of hard work…I would say it's worth it though! I think college gives you 4 or so years of "feeling" like an adult without actually really being one 100%, when you get out, it's like "whoa, I had no idea it was going to be like THIS!" I truly learned a lot and have emerged a more humble and gracious person (I hope) I think I appreciate my family and friends a lot more too (that includes you!)

      Hearts Sunshine, Shannyn

  4. I learned a lot from the other students in my MBA program. Their insights into their companies and challenges made the program worthwhile.

    • ShannynofFB says:

      Hey Super Frugalette! I went on your blog and posted some replies of my own- I love your posts and I think we have some things in common! Also good to know that I'm not the only one who loved Kate's dress from the Royal Wedding- people tease me that I was sooo giddy about that day, but I don't care…for those of us who know classic style and appreciate the pomp and circumstance, it was a glorious day! 🙂

  5. brittany220 says:

    Cool, thanks for sharing what you learned since graduation! I'm actually just graduation high school and will be entering college soon, so I will keep your words in mind. People have told me that the high school years are the best of your life, and I hope not! I mean, high school was fun, but I hope there's more to come than this. Graduating high school will be a big change, but I imagine graduating from college is a huge change, because after that, you probably won't go to school again! You'll have to enter a whole new world of life without school were your main activity is working. Good luck to you and I enjoyed reading your post! 🙂

    • ShannynofFB says:

      Thanks so much Brittany! I hope though, no matter what- you never stop learning, whether or not you're in school. It's a big change that many people fear but it's part of the growing process, that if you try to do your best to adapt, it will produce many rewards and great experiences. Thanks for visiting and hope to see you again soon!

  6. Alyse <3 says:

    Hey Frugalbeautiful!
    I am still in college, the college you left behind. Thank you so much for your insight! Graduating from college can be overwelming. I hope you keep writing. I love it. I love your blog. This is my first time (writting on your blog). The experiences you have and write about inspire me to get thinking about things I have put off about thinking of. Like graduation, grad school, and more. Graduate professional school seems so scary. It seems lonely, without direction. I see people in grad school going for their masters and they seem like they are all alone. There is no progress reports. Do you have any positive notes on grad school? What are the highlights?

    • ShannynofFB says:

      Alyse- it is so good to hear from you, thank you for commenting on my blog! I hope things are going well for you and we keep in touch! 🙂

      I appreciate the compliments and always hope when I post something it will inspire a dialogue, whether or not people see eye-to-eye on my viewpoints or have questions about my experience. I'm glad this post got you thinking- I know whatever path you choose it will be the right one for you!

      As for grad school- I think at times it can be like any life transition, as you go through it you begin finding that you have less and less in common with certain people you knew before, and at times *that* can be lonely. I imagine it's the same for anyone that dedicates themselves to a fast-paced or time intensive career after graduation, gets married or has a child, you find that these life changes start to impact who you are, and for those that are still dillying around on their parent's dime after college or still "act like undergrads," you start noticing the differences and it can be great to know you're progressing, but a bit alienating too. So regardless of whether or not you're in grad school, I think you'll start to notice these differences- people change, and for those that don't, well, you'll notice a change in your relationship too.

      As for the highlights, I think I'll have to dedicate a blog post to that! 😉 I think my experience is a bit biased since going to grad school proved me one thing: I don't want to get my Ph.D. after all. More people read and are impacted by what I write on this blog than what I write for my Thesis. What I really wanted to find in grad school was a chance to impact people's lives with what I've learned, but I came to the realization that I could do that on my own and didn't need to be enrolled (though I still am and will finish my M.A. degree in Sociology a year from now).

      I did post some articles on "Should You Go to Grad School?" here:… and

      Also, you can see my "freak out," I had this winter (which I hear is normal for many grad students) and my writing on whether I should quit or finish my degree here:

      Thanks again for posting Alyse, I'll try and get a blog post up addressing some of your other questions! 🙂

  7. Ixy says:

    Yeah, the "their/your" thing is definitely worth unfriending haha! It's like fingernails on a blackboard to me – how can you graduate from university and still not understand the placement of apostrophes? The hardest part of real life for me has been the lack of regular feedback. I'm really goal-oriented and loved the constant grading in school – didn't always like the grade, but at least I had information to work with. As a professional in a management position, so much depends on office politics and you rarely have any idea how your performance is viewed, unless you've made a mistake. Even then, you may or may not hear about it. That sucks.

  8. Hey there I wanted to stop by and say i love reading your website.

  9. Albert Okagbue says:

    Shannyn, we spend most of our lives in environmental cocoons. The school environment is amazingly stable and unchanging (unlike the real world), and the inputs you need to get desired outputs are clearly expressed. This is dangerous because eventually we all have to graduate.

    I am Nigerian, and Nigerians in the U.S. are the most educated group (ethnic? National?)…even more than Asian Americans. I see this all the time; and after graduation I see people stumbling around – even the ones with good jobs. They don't understand how to cope in an environment without clear expectations…i.e. the real world.

    • Shannyn@FruBeautiful says:

      Albert, thank you so much for leaving such a great comment! I would have to agree with you- I\’ve seen so many bright people who received high grades and academic honors flounder in the real world since there aren\’t such clear guidelines or signposts for success. If anything, doing well in college grooms you for finding a job with little risk, clear deadlines and obvious routes for promotion and \”success\” with very little creative growth.

      Granted, there are plenty of people who overcome this, but it does take some time and independent research. I graduated at the top of my class with two degrees from undergrad and then got accepted into graduate school only to realize that I had very little true \”knowledge\” much less, a true path for fulfillment, contribution or innovation. I had to do a lot of learning on my own!

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  11. osteoporoza says:

    Od dawna szukałem artykułu na temat The Problem of the Perpetual Student – Frugal Beautiful | Frugal Beautiful . Dzięki

  12. Thanks for expressing your ideas. Another thing is that learners have a selection between federal student loan and also a private student loan where its easier to decide on student loan consolidating debts than through the federal student loan.

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  14. jason roguez says:

    Can’t pay off the student loan? The answer is simple…go back to school. Stay in school. I’m not talking about a bookshelf of liberal arts degrees either. Go for business, engineering, etc. By the time the student loan bubble bursts you will be able to pay off all your loans with a few of those gold coins you have hopefully been stacking in preparation for a dollar collapse. If you don’t have time to work on another degree then you must be making enough money to pay back your loans. Become a slave to knowledge or a slave to the bankers.
    Trying to put that liberal arts degree to work? Good luck in this economic depression. Your job has already gone to Bangladesh or Vietnam. Proud of that law degree? America has almost half of the world’s lawyers and a quarter of the world’s prison population. After the student loan bubble bursts the law enforcement growth industry will be the next one to bust. Already, lawyers in India are training in US law so now much of your legal paperwork can be outsourced. There is a huge glut of lawyers and MBAs now. Nevertheless, MBA at least has some personal value if you start your business or manage your own money. Law is useless unless you have contacts or an Ivy League Masters Degree.


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