Adulting 101: The 5 Topics That Should Be In Your College Curriculum

Adulting 101: The 5 Topics That Should Be In Your College Curriculum

It’s that time of the year again…the time where all the students are packing and heading back to school! Although I’m loving this chapter of my life, I get very nostalgic watching my younger peers’ Snapchat stories as they move back to college dorms and houses.

When graduation came around in May, I knew I wanted to decorate my cap. I searched all over the internet for inspiration, but nothing really described the way I felt about graduating. It wasn’t until a few days before my sorority’s senior photoshoot that I realized I had no idea what I was taking with me except for a very expensive piece of paper and many memories. It wasn’t because my education wasn’t fulfilling or hard enough (because believe me, I think college took out a decade of my life span). It was because I felt like I had no idea how to adult! So, I put on my cap “tbh, I winged it” to describe how I felt about being clueless about life, which my business school dean cracked up when he saw as he handed me my diploma.

Don’t get me wrong: I think attending any university is the most rewarding experience of a lifetime. It teaches you how to live on your own, develop your own perspectives and interests outside of the environment you were raised in, and how to be both independent AND co-dependent on your peers to push you to grow. However, college curricula are so focused on the material we need to absorb for our careers that they forget to teach us the basics to adulting in America.

As I sit through training this week, I’m overwhelmed with information about taxes and insurance. What plan do I enroll in? Do I have any exemptions? How do I start investing? Can I start saving for retirement? I don’t know all the answers yet, but I’m starting to figure out a good portion of them so I can share the information with you, mes chéries, in this series Adulting 101. We will be kicking it off with the five topics that should be in your college curriculum to prepare you for “the real world.” If you’re still in school, I highly recommend you research more into each topic. If you’re starting a career like I am, join me in my adventure to figure out how to adult!

The 5 Topics

1. Taxes, 401(k), and Insurance

Does anyone else also wonder why the (k) in 401(k) is in parenthesis? Or what a deductible is? Or why we even pay different amount of taxes based on income bracket? Now some of these things were briefly covered in my high school history class, such as the existence of tax brackets, but no course in college taught students how to file for tax returns, how retirement funds work, the ins and outs of your insurance, and so forth. These are such crucial “adulting” topics that should not be left to parents to teach, wouldn’t you agree?

The first step to learning about these three things is to ask your parents or any alumni you were close with. Your parents can give you ample amount of information because they’ve been exposed to this information for much longer than we have. They can lead you to a CPA (an accountant) or show you how to file your taxes yourself. Chances are, your parents or your mentors can also teach you a little bit about 401(k) which are retirement funds. There are three typical types: before-tax, after-tax, and Roth 401(k). I’ll be getting into that a little more in a future Adulting 101 post. As for insurance, policies vary from company to company. I would suggest looking at what plans best suit your personal medical needs and budget before enrolling.

2. Obtaining and Maintaining a Good Credit Score

Ahh. The credit score. Whether it’s applying for a loan, a mortgage, or even a rental apartment, your credit score is going to be a deciding factor as to what interest rates receive. None of us truly know how credit scores are calculated, but there are a few things that will definitely negatively impact your credit score or at least lower it slightly.

If you look on Wells Fargo’s website, they talk about the five factors that make up your credit score:

  1. 35% of your score is based on your payment history
  2. 30% is based on current debts
  3. 15% is determined by credit history
  4. 10% is allotted to new credit applications
  5. 10% is about types of current credit

Essentially, this means the following actions could lower your credit score:

  • opening a credit card initially (it can boost your score in the long run!)
  • not paying off your bills in full or more than the minimum amount each month
  • accruing more debt than you can pay off with your savings or income
  • increasing your credit utilization (the ratio of your credit card balances to your credit limits)
  • if an inquiry is placed on your credit card application
  • spending a large amount on your card after initially opening it
  • skipping payment altogether

I’ll go more into detail in another Adulting 101 post soon.

3. Negotiating Salaries

Face it: we all could use a raise! However, sometimes salaries and bonuses are just not negotiable. When I first received my full-time offer, I attempted to negotiate as well since there were a lot of other costs going on at home. Unfortunately, my company didn’t allow for negotiations this year. However, if you know that your company is willing to negotiate, there are a few ways to go about it.

First, you have to ask HR respectfully and with good reason. A good reason could be relocating far from home. A good reason is not because you want a larger income to fund your lifestyle habits or a nicer apartment. You also need to be reasonable with your request. A company is more likely to grant a small percentage salary increase than a huge increase. Ever heard of the door-in-the-face technique? That is when you ask for a little bit more than what you want knowing the person will say no before negotiating a more reasonable request compared to your previous one. This usually helps you actually achieve your goal more because it gives you wiggle room to get the actual amount you want.

Each company is different, so be sure to do some research and understand your corporate culture and operations before jumping in and trying to negotiate your salary like crazy!

4. How to Network Efficiently 

Networking alone can help you open doors and find a job faster than your resumé and knowledge can sometimes. In business, it’s really about the people you know. This applies to other industries too, as you rely on connections to help you open doors to new opportunities. In order to broaden your network and have the chance to grasp these opportunities, you have to put yourself out of your usual circle and meet others. Don’t be afraid to go to networking events or meet friends of friends, as they’re your keys to a large and powerful network. Introduce yourself to those who are slightly above you in experience and learn from them. As always, give the impression you want them to have of you! This means looking polished, acting professionally, and being true to your values. People value willingness to learn, team players, those who are genuine, and people who are unafraid of going out of their comfort zone to grow. You’ll find yourself shaking hands with powerful and influential leaders soon.

5. How to Communicate (Socially, Professionally, Romantically)

With the internet, social media, and casual work settings becoming more prevalent, people tend to forget how to respect others when communicating. Texting has made relationships much more casual while more collaborative work environments have lowered the walls between hierarchies of employees. That is why it is more important than ever to remember what is appropriate and inappropriate when socializing with your peers, speaking with those superior, and to someone you’re romantically interested in. No matter what, it is crucial to remain respectful of differences and to listen to what someone else has to say and be aware of what their perspectives are. For example, if someone you’re speaking to does not like it when others don’t make eye contact while conversing, make an effort to maintain eye contact even if it is out of your comfort zone. This shows that you noted their preferences and are willing to respect them. Always double check your tone of voice and how you express your thoughts to avoid miscommunication. Remember to stay calm, cool, collected, and mature when handling difficult conversations. If you ever feel yourself spiraling out of control, just inhale and remember that one poor action can stay with you forever.


Those are my top five things I wish they taught better in college! I’ll be going more in-depth for a few topics in future Adulting 101 posts. Stay tuned for the next one in the series: How To Budget. Have a safe trip back to school and remember to seize every moment of it. Time flies, and you’ll be missing your days at college very soon. I’ll see you Monday, mes chéries! Bisou, bisou…





Erica Huang
Erica Huang

Based in New York City, Erica Huang is the creator and voice behind Bouge & Rouge. This blog is a playground of her thoughts where she invites you to join her on her journey through her 20s. Erica shares her lifestyle, fashion and beauty tips, adventures, and personal thoughts with the goal of inspiring others to always persevere and be unapologetically yourself.

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