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How to Insert the 'Real World' into Your College Courses

College Treps

Editor's Note: College Treps is a weekly column that puts the spotlight on college and graduate school-based entrepreneurs, as they tackle the tough task of starting up and going to school. Follow their daily struggles and this column on Twitter with the hashtag #CollegeTreps.

How to Insert the 'Real World' into Your College Courses

After discovering ways to apply knowledge and creativity to the real world by starting a business, going back to class can make you feel a little detached from reality.

While many universities talk about their ability to bridge theory and practice, it is difficult to imagine anyone actually doing this better than a student entrepreneur. As student entrepreneurs, we’re uniquely positioned to get the most out of educational offerings while simultaneously fine-tuning our startup’s vision and industry relevance in the real world. Classes themselves can cater to this.

Related: 5 Ways to Land Press for Your Startup From Your Dorm Room

At Georgetown, I participated in a program called City Lab, where we joined with students from other academic tracks including communications, research methodology and technology. Together, we adopted a city and went on to strategize and implement real solutions to regional problems. Instead of, say, reading about "economic cluster theory" from textbooks, we worked with businesses, government and local nonprofits to incubate a real one.

While it was frustrating at times, many of us felt we learned more than we ever had in a classroom. Plus, we gained all sorts of transferable skills applicable to business development and benefited real human beings in the process. I got to see the faces of people fighting for opportunities in their neighborhoods, and directly hear about both their frustrations and what gives them hope for their kids. No amount of imagination on my part could have brought an economic research paper to life like that and because of it, the lessons have stuck with me much longer than information I was expected to simply regurgitate on an exam.

If your university isn’t yet on board with bringing the real world into its curricula, there are ways to help usher in these opportunities by proving student demand for it. Write a letter or article, start a petition, at least begin the discussion. The emergence of flipped classrooms -- where students rotate lecturing and combine their personal experience with subject matter -- and project-based learning that allows students to explore real-world problems and current events are evidence that this movement is gaining ground.

Related: How to Gain Free Feedback from Your Classmates

School should be just as much about the practical skills of patience, self-discipline and resolute determination as it is about information consumption. Here are three tips to keep an eye on the real world while in school:

1. Enroll in applied, real-world lab courses. If your university offers classes like this, take them. If they don’t, initiate the whole squeaky wheel cycle. Such efforts could have a ripple effect that you and your university’s entire region could benefit from.

2. Resist tunnel vision. Don’t departmentalize your life. Maximize mutual exchange in your school, business and personal life. Make connections from seemingly unrelated topics, classes and conversations to your business vision or operations.

3. Embrace the diversity of your environment. Subsequent life experiences typically filter out people dissimilar from you or who make very different choices. Intermix at campus events and even with organizations that may make you initially cringe. Your business will thank you.

As a college student, how did you stay connected to the outside world? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Lila Wilson is a freelance writer, photographer and student entrepreneur in Washington D.C. She has worked in organizational development in Los Angeles, London and Kabul. She was a semi-finalist in Georgetown’s Hoya Challenge and is part of the inaugural Georgetown Summer Startup Program. She is currently spearheading Mōdefy Labs, aiming to democratize the fashion industry by expanding access points in the design, feedback and production phases.
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