I have always been a fan of real world experience over class taught techniques. My logic was that even if I didn’t find something I liked, at least now I would know what I didn’t like. In fact, it was this thinking that got me off a career path that I always thought I wanted onto one I had never considered before. With the average worker today staying at each of his or her jobs for 4.4 years, knowing where we want to be earlier in life is more important than ever. The advent of internship culture has made it is easier than ever to gain these experiences that may seem like mundane tasks at first but over time come together to give you a complete experience.
In the December of 2012, instead of spending all my holiday break gaining weight, I decided to take on a full time salesperson position at the main outlet of a national clothing chain. My time working in the store proved to be very different than simulations in the classroom. The customers were ruder, there was no one to correct your mistakes and the hour hand on the clock seemed to move slower than in real life. But it gave me a skill set that my classmates never learnt first hand in that tiny classroom. I can now smile at people for 12 hours straight with varying amounts of discomfort caused by my heels. This is not being fake, just polite business courtesy that will now help me no matter which industry I finally choose. You should also remember that while business connections can be forged by people you study with who will ultimately work in the same industry as you in the future, making contacts with people who already work and have seen your work firsthand gives you the kind of connectivity that may land you a job later. I now understand why they say you should work a retail job, whether in clothing, or food and beverage, at least once in your life. Not only does it give you invaluable life skills that can be applicable in many situations, but it also teaches you the value of labor.
Of course this does not discredit studying the industry that you do want to enter. Classes will teach you the common lingo and how to solve common potential problems that may or may not arise in the workplace. While interning or working service jobs have their place in the education sphere, it is not complete without a formal education. There are industries that are an exception, but a solid base will never be a detriment to whichever career path you choose.
You can also look at this from the point of view of a future employer. Whether it was recruiting people for school clubs or hiring them for positions in non-profits, I have always found people with relevant past experience trumped the ones with straight-As in the classroom but nothing to show outside. Of course I also took into account other factors like writing samples (for writing positions and similar additions to their portfolios depending on what they were applying for), else the age old dilemma of not getting more experience due to not having experience came into play. But I realized that if I had discovered this as a student, professionals in the real world would certainly pay as much attention to it, if not more.