What is the "real world"?

I hear people talk about “the real world” a lot. They’ll say things like “college isn’t the real world” or “computer games aren’t the real world” or something like that.

The statements are literally absurd; these things are part of the real world. Stories may be about worlds that don’t exist, but the stories themselves are real - that is, the stories exist - and that’s all that matters, because nobody who isn’t psychotic believes that they depict actually existing universes or events.

I get the sneaking suspicion that people say that certain things aren’t part of the “real world” to trivialize anything that fits outside their simple notion of what “real life” is like.

I think what’s actually meant with “the real world” is other people, and dealing with them. Also: earning a living, but you don’t need to be clever to do that.

Yeah, I detest that expression. I read a NYT article the other day where the commenters enthusiastically supported the notion that most graduate students just go there to avoid ‘‘the real world’’ for a few more years.

I don’t understand where the hell anyone got the idea that getting an education is some kind of cakewalk where you don’t have to deal with life’s pressures. I’ve worked enough 9-5 jobs (and worse) to know that this is pure bullshit. My stress levels are exponentially higher as a student. The demands on my time are much more intense. Neither am I shielded from financial concerns, relationship dramas or ‘‘workplace’’ politics. I have the same basic problems, just less time to work out the solutions.*

I’m beginning to wonder if people just invented this idea of ‘‘the real world’’ to feel better about not having furthered their education.

I think the real world is just as arbitrary as the idea that some things aren’t natural.

*Maybe, mayyyybe when people disparage college as ‘‘not real’’ they’re referring to the fact that some students live at home/don’t pay bills or work until well into their college years. If that’s the case, it’s a gross overgeneralization of what it means to be a student. There are those kids, and they do seem a bit out of touch with the mainstream wage-driven society, even in grad school, but they aren’t somehow exempt from life’s existential crises and they certainly aren’t representative of the student body as a whole.

If you have to ask what the real world is, you’re not in it.

This is basically what my accountant friend Eric told me: “the real world is a place where people don’t ask questions like ‘what is the real world?’”

It’s sort of funny, but it doesn’t justify the phrase at all.

In the real world, phrases don’t need justification.

So is this statement. They are just “absurd”. They don’t have to be “literally” or even “figuratively” absurd.

In spite of your protestations, referring to life after college as the “real world” is a time-honored and perfectly acceptable useage of the term.

Yes, everything is in fact part of reality and thus the “real world” but that is an overly pedantic and useless definition.

People have long refered to post-college life as the “real world” because once you graduate, you are no longer in the relatively sheltered environment of college life. In college, all you are required to do is follow what few rules there are, do your schoolwork and pay your tuition/room & board. There are no “wrong choices”. As long as you follow those guidelines, you can pretty much stay there and advance towards the successful completion of your degree. You have professors and advisors who are there to help and you are surrounded by thousands of your peers, all who are in a similar situation.

After graduation, all bets are off. You have to figure out how to support yourself and you will be competing against others who are probably at least as smart and qualified as you. No one will tell you what career to pursue or where to live or how to take care of yourself. You are expected to figure this out on your own. And once you start working, you may be working for someone like me. I don’t give a shit about your whining or whatever bullshit you bring to the office. And I’m easy. All I expect you to do is your job and do it well or I’ll simply find someone else who will. You may work for some psychotic lunatic who will simply abuse you because you remind her or him of some kid in high school who throw a wad of toilet paper at them.

There are real consequences in the “real world”. You don’t go to “student court” or sweet talk the professor into giving you an extension or petition student affairs for a new roomate. You get fired, or evicted, or you get fined/jail time.

IOW, the “real world” is simply shorthand for “you aren’t a freakin child anymore or even a dumb college kid”. Does that make sense?

I have a master’s degree, so no. People were using the phrase when I was a student. You know why? Because we all knew in the back of our mind that living in a door or fraternity house with hunreds of teenagers and 20-somethings and partying our ass off every weekend was not adult reality.

“the real world” varies depending upon what you’re comparing it against. If you’re 21 and study really hard and pull all nighters but have had your tuition, room and board paid for by your parents your whole life you’re living in a different world than a 21 year old who has to work hard or not have any money for food.

On the other hand, say you’ve spent a lifetime in academia. I don’t know any professors who would object to the idea that academia is different than “the real world”. They might find it an annoying description- I don’t know - but that doesn’t mean there’s a significant difference between it and what most other adults do.

I would have thought it self explanatory why video games are not the same as “the real world”, but it’s because they’re fictional.

I think the bottom line in any case is that “the real word” is a default. It’s the state that people tend to reach unless they take steps to avoid it.

Say you’re 20 and living it up at college on your parents dime, studying your ass off. Your dad gets arrested for embezzling from his employer and there’s no money left for college so you drop out and get a job as a landscaper. It never happens in reverse. “what happened to landscaping?” “aah, well my dad’s assets were all frozen so I had to stop mowing lawns and start studying architecture while not paying any bills or earning any income…”

Or, say you’re 20 and you’re working nights and taking out student loans so that you’re paying for your education yourself and your dad gets arrested for embezzling from his employer. “Stupid git.” you think and end up with a degree and a nice job with a corner office and live happily ever after. Whee! I like hypotheticals!

The real world is what you experience from the moment you’re born until you die. The phrase, ‘the real world’ refers to the life that one has after college or whatever level of education one attains. It’s the one with monthly bills and a clunker car. It’s the place where there are no retests, makeup exams or study groups. It’s the sink or swim locale where you have to be on the ball at all times or it runs over you. The validity of such a view, I’m not prepared to argue, but I think that’s what is meant by the phrase.

I think it’s stupid because college is just as ‘real’ as a 9 to 5 job. It may have different expectations but that doesn’t make it less ‘real’. It just makes it different. If you wanna say that someone can’t hack it in high finance or car sales or accounting, then say that. Precision never hurts. But making one aspect of life into ‘the real world’ is a silly thing to do in my opinion

People will laugh at this as some witty remark, sad fact it is true.

I meant to say that the statements are absurd if taken literally. :wink:

In other words, the “real world” is the place where people work for assholes, whereas college is a candyland of drinking and youthful immaturity.

Even if your beliefs about post-college vs. college life were entirely accurate, the phrase “real world” would still be a silly euphemism. Annoying, stupid bosses are not “real” in a way that considerate college advisers aren’t. Hearing a euphemism over and over and over can be annoying. This makes sense, right?

But it just so happens that your ideas of pre-college and post-college life are not quite right. I’ll go point-by-point here:

  • People do not suddenly become more intelligent when they graduate. The phrase “dumb college kid” has no basis in reality.
  • Tons of college students have a mature focus on their work and take their college work seriously. Some people who were immature in college become more mature when they graduate from college, but others don’t.
  • College is not a financial joyride for everyone. Lots of people work their way through it. I know a woman who works at the University Book Store to get through college; she gets a little financial aid, but not nearly enough to pay for everything. She gets almost no money from her parents.
  • College is competitive. There is competition to get in, competition to get grades, and competition to get the internships that lead to hot jobs. There is also competition to get into graduate school, especially medical school.
  • Graduate school may have been easy for you, but it is not easy for the majority of graduate students. Did you do some sort of easy master’s? I have heard horror stories about the sorts of lives that Computer Science graduate students have to live here at the UW. Many professors - especially ones in the hard sciences, engineering, and mathematics - are not particularly personable. They expect a lot of their students. Many graduate students work for the universities they go to.

Does after-college life tend to be harder than college life? Yes. Do forty-year-olds, on average, tend to be more mature than twenty-year-olds? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that your sharp distinction between college and post-college life is valid.

And, as I said, even if it was, college would still be just as real as “the real world”.

Thanks for demonstrating exactly the attitude that pisses me off. By overgeneralizing what the college experience is you are basically invalidating every hard-working down-to-earth responsible college student out there.

I’m glad you were so sheltered as a college student, and you must have been doubly lucky to have such a sheltered grad school experience. I am someone who was dealing with the ‘‘real world’’ of Nobody Gives A Shit long before most people got their college acceptance letters. IME this overgeneralization applies even less in grad school. Do you really think we’d be shelling out thousands of dollars just to fuck around for a few years? My fellow classmate mother-of-two (both children she inherited from her dead sister) working two full time jobs, you want to tell her about the real world she doesn’t live in? This choice requires considerable personal sacrifice. It’s a fuck of a lot harder than the 9-5 grind… well, for my program, it basically IS the 9-5 grind plus research papers up the ass and hundreds of pages of reading every week. And my experience pales in comparison to the level of professional responsibility expected out of my Ph.D.-seeking husband.

Seriously, I don’t know how else to take this attitude other than as a profound insult. It also portrays what I think is a pretty warped view of the way academia works. In a field where your entire career can be fucked before it begins just because someone Important doesn’t like your advisor I’d say you’ve struck the Nobody Gives a Shit goldmine.

First of all, you have to realize it’s just a stupid expression. If you rounded up 1000 people who admitted to using the expression I bet 999 would admit on further inspection that it’s just a stupid generalization that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Second, the point is just that the responsibilities and consequences of most college students are very different than most people. People who don’t have to worry about money but only about their grades and finding internships are in a very different ‘world’ than virtually everybody else. You talk about 20 year old college students vs. 40 year old college grads, but how about college students vs. contemporaries who started working right out of high school?

Finally, even as a stupid generalization I don’t find that people overgeneralize it to include anyone in college, even one who works long hours to afford it. I worked my way through college and nobody ever accused me of not living in the real world.

A. An vacant expression used for demeaning students
B. A vacant, and demeaning, MTV program

Eh, the “real world” is a place where you pay your own bills, and there’s no one to bail you out if you can’t. Doesn’t matter if you’re a student or a 9 to 5er or a bartender at Fat Tuesday’s, if you pay your own bills, and are fucked if you can’t figure out a way to do that, you live in the real world.

The real world is being a grownup and supporting yourself, and dealing with assholes who are idiots yet have underserved power over you, so you have to grit your teeth and put up with their shit. The real world is chaos and injustice without end or reward.

“The real world” is the one in which the speaker lives, which is much more harsh and demanding than the world in which the person being spoken to lives. No more, no less.

IOW, I’m 30 and work an average clean-hands job while you are a 19-year old college sophomore free-riding on Dad’s money. I live in the real world. You do not.

IOW, I’m 30 and work a crap job like one of Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs. You’re 45 and have an office with a window, company-paid pension, profit sharing, and a nice house. I live in the real world and you do not.
In each case, the speaker is emphasizing the heroism needed to live their life, while trivializing any difficulties in the other person’s life.

This meme is often applied to college vs post-college, but not necessarily. And as noted by others above, a college experience need not be what we called “College Bread”: a 4-year loaf made of Dad’s dough.
Example: St. Louis is a very racially polarized place compared to anywhere else I’ve lived. I’ve read locally-written articles in mainstream publications which essentailly said that Black Americans live in the real world and White Americans don’t.
Bottom line: “the real world” is a quitessentially harsh place. If you don’t have enough obvious harshness in your life to suit somebody else’s ego, then you don’t live in their idea of the real world.

Really? I’m an asshole because I expect you to show up to your job on time and do your job properly? Another distinction between the “real world” and college. Out here, our actions and decisions have real financial consequences for people.

No. Not really.

It does. Because everything you learn in college is theoretical. When you start actually working, you will then learn how your job actually works when applied to real-life situations.

Yes, I understand all that. College should be hard and competetive. But the point that you keep missing is that nearly nothing you do in college has any real consequences or repercussions. Let me give you an example. In medical school, you learn from your mistakes and they don’t harm anyone. Once you are working as a doctor, mistakes can cost lives. Do you follow?

I was in an evening MBA program while working a full time job, so it doesn’t apply. So I was in the Real World already while in grad school.

So clearly if you are in undergrad, working jobs to pay your tuition that is a bit more “real world” than if you are just riding on your parent’s checks. But there is still an element of “not-real world”. Chances are those jobs are not your career.

It’s like, until you receive that diploma, your entire life is in preparation for something else later on. But once you graduate, that’s it. This is your life now.

As I said, I worked a full-time professional job while taking a 3-4 master’s level business courses a semester so I could finish in a reasonable amount of time.

Once you start working full time, you have entered the “real world”. You only leave it if you stop working and someone else (husband, grants, whoever) is paying for you.

Well, that’s a shame you feel so insulted. But what you described is why people don’t view academia as the “real world”. It’s a bubble. Basically it’s own self-contained universe where they have their own rules and their own way of doing things.

I don’t know what your program is about, but is it a purely academic pursuit? I mean it sounds like you are looking for an academic job once you finish. So is that the “real world”, teaching students about a subject that you have only studied in text books in an academic environment?

Anyhow, I’m sorry your program is so hard for you.
It sounds like most of the resentment for the anti “real world” crowd comes from a perception that their hard work and academic achievements are not being valued.

…welcome to the Real World.

I think the “real world” is a hypothetical reference to the world we all share, emphasizing that people who are smarter than the speaker do not deserve to enjoy life.

Let me try to explain where I’m coming from. I took my first full-time job as a legally emancipated minor at the age of 17. I financially supported myself my senior year of high school while taking college courses for dual enrollment and fulfilling all of my community obligations, and I graduated 2nd in my high school class while enduring one of the most hellacious personal traumas of my life. Becoming an adult overnight was quite a shock, I remember the precise moment when it first dawned on me that nobody gave a shit what monsters my parents were and just wanted to me to STFU and punch my timecard. That experience completely altered my understanding of reality. Some kids go through that and maybe they reject the basic tenets of The Real World, but not me. I may have had my issues to deal with, but I never assigned responsibility for my own success to anyone other than myself.

And it was precisely my acceptance of The Real World, rather than my resistance to it or need to blame others for my personal failings, that motivated me to follow through with my education in the first place. So for me, the two were inextricably linked from the beginning.

If I was living in the ‘‘real world’’ then, how would I be exempt as a college student? I didn’t work full time as an undergrad, but do you honestly believe the hard facts of reality were any less real to me during my years of study? Like you can undo past experience? I think the idea that as a student I was somehow exempt from financial insecurity, personal responsibility and the basic arbitrary injustice of life is absurd.

I guess, if you see your degree as nothing more than a means to an end, that’s accurate. I just never saw it that way. This, what I’m doing now, that is part of my career, and I take it every bit as seriously.

I posit that once you enter the ‘‘real world’’ as you conceptualize it, you never leave. I don’t labor under any delusions that I’m sheltered or protected or safe as a student.

Isn’t every profession its own little world? Seems like the politics manifest themselves in different ways, but you get the same shit no matter what profession you go into. Every game has rules you have to learn to play, and the consequences for violating those rules are just as dire in academia as they are in any other profession.

I’m currently earning a professional master’s degree in a program that is academically demanding. I plan on pursuing a career in social policy research or some other macro-level application of social welfare, and yeah, I’d like to teach. A Master of Social Work is a requirement for the Ph.D. program, because the line between professional practice and academic research is pretty blurred in this field. You are expected to be able to do both.

It’s hard for all of us. I’m kind of a hardass so I underestimated how difficult it would actually be. It’s not the coursework that is difficult but the time management. And of course because we are constantly dissecting human suffering at the micro and macro level and constantly encountering it 24 hours a week during internship and being deliberately provoked into confronting our own past demons and somehow being expected to see straight despite it all, yes, it’s tough. If it’s not obvious by now, though, I love a challenge. I live for this shit.

Yep, that’s it in a nutshell. And I don’t believe I’m wrong for feeling that way.