The biggest difference between college and work

At Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and California State University Maritime Academy, students experience an aspect of professional life that most won't see until they land their first job: organizational hierarchy.

Many institutions encourage students to think of themselves as intellectual equals and challenge authority figures, but this non-hierarchal learning environment may not prepare students for the way most organizations actually work, Scott Carlson writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In reality, every work environment that students encounter will have some type of pecking order, Carlson notes. Hierarchies comes in many forms and may depend on a firm's size or mission, says Adam Galinsky, a professor of management at Columbia University.

Organizations may try to imitate the freeform exchange of ideas that students experience in an academic environment, but it can feel like a bit of a ruse, says Dan Charnas, a journalism professor at New York University (NYU). Employees don't actually have an equal say in a project's direction; only the manager has final decision power, Charnas adds.

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Most colleges aren't teaching students how to respond to hierarchy or manage resources, but CIA students learn these lessons on day one, he says.

CIA operates on a status hierarchy where leadership is given to those who have shown mastery in a field, Carlson writes. When students arrive, their age, experience, and background fall to the wayside, and status is determined by "how good you are in the kitchen," says Daisy Yoo, a CIA student.

Cal Maritime, however, operates on a strict hierarchy particularly suited to work that happens in stages and relies on interdependent tasks, Carlson writes. At sea, a sudden emergency requires a clear chain of command, says student John Berg.

According to Galinsky, students lack a nuanced understanding of how organizations work and how to move up the ladder. And if graduates expect their workplace hierarchy to mimic the free-form college experience, they're in for a rude awakening, he warns (Carlson, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/11)

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