Respect the difference between theoretical and practical.
Don’t get me wrong, school is great, and by all means revel in your trek through academia, because nothing will ever be the same. Appreciate the time you have been given to learn about yourself, and get an education that you can apply to your whole life, not only your job.
In school, your instructors push you to express yourself, they insist on your developing the essence of your design perspective. They want you to be able to articulate why you believe in your work. Every day you try to find a unique way to express your ideas, so, in that way, school is creative nirvana. A teacher’s objective is to develop students’ skills and to nurture creativity before you set out on your own upon graduation.
Once you’re out in the real world, however, it’s a whole new game; in a professional environment everything changes, and there’s no room for being an isolationist, or demonstrating that you alone are terminally unique. You are now expected to understand your clients and their objectives. In order to do so, you may work in a team, and the emphasis is on how you—collectively, not singularly—are going to meet the aims of the client and the client’s business. Suddenly you are one of many, and no one might even care what you think.
Design firms are businesses. They are not created to teach and nurture, although both sometimes happen along the way if you find a great mentor. A design firm’s objective is to be a successful company. You walk into a firm and acquire the processes, culture and the various stylistic methods of the firm. You are a part of a group, and you begin to realize that you thought you knew a lot six months ago, but now you only know a fraction of what everyone else seems to know. The learning curve changes.