6 Life Skills Every Teen Should Master Before College

Updated: July 10, 2019
Before your teen heads off to college this fall, teach them these six important life skills to help them manage their newfound independence and set them up for continued success.
Teen doing their laundry

The stress of entrance exams, applications, narrowing down acceptance letters and choosing a college is finally behind your teen. Academically they have spent at least the last four years focused on getting to this point and feel ready to succeed. However, there are many life skills teens need to know in order to be successful as they embark on their college career, and most of them you won’t find being taught in a school setting. As parents you can help foster all of these skills before your teen heads off to school in the fall, which will help them manage their newfound independence and set them up for continued success.

For your teen to achieve the best success in college, start by focusing on the following six life skills before they embark on their journey in the fall.

More: Easing Anxiety and Worry in Teens Before Starting College

Time Management 

Teen practicing time management

Transitioning from the structure of a school day to a more relaxed college atmosphere can be challenging for teens. From getting themselves up and out the door in the morning without the support of a nagging parent, to managing days with fewer classes and less structure, there are many opportunities where poor time management can quickly spiral out of control.  Helping your teen learn how to prioritize, set a routine, and allow for flexibility will provide them with an important tool for success. 

Daily Living Skills

Teen waiting for the subway

Basic daily living skills that teens are not always responsible for when living at home can often be overlooked. Examples include doing a load of laundry (before that one red sock contaminates the whole load!), cooking a basic meal (even if you’re using a school meal plan this can come in handy), or calling an Uber for themselves. Tom Nathaniel from Lush Dollar recommends many free options for college students, including free rides. “A lot of colleges offer free rides on public transportation, so instead of taking an Uber or begging a friend, see if you can hop on the bus at no cost.”  With a little bit of research this might be a cost effective option for your college teen. Being on their own for the first time is hard enough, think of the small day-to-day tasks you complete out of habit, and have them start helping you at home before they head off to school in the fall.

Money Management 

Teen using a credit card

Many teens have part-time jobs while in high school, so they may already be accustomed to earning and spending money.  Even if they are, it's a good idea to make sure that they know how to responsibly use a credit/debit card, avoid overdraft fees, secure work study opportunities, and budget their money. Some students will receive lump sums from scholarships or financial aid packages, so it is especially important that they are equipped with the skills necessary to budget these funds and make them last through the semester or year.

Download our free Teen Budget Worksheet to help set your college student up for success.

Dealing with Illness

Teen with a cold

In the college atmosphere, especially dorms, illnesses tend to spread. It will be important that your teen knows how to care for themselves when they are sick, and knows when and how to seek medical attention when they need it.  Whether they need extra rest, medication, or to miss a class, being prepared to handle illness without Mom or Dad there to care for them or communicate on their behalf can be stressful.

Scheduling Appointments

Teen calling to scheduling an appointment

For most of their lives you have probably been responsible for scheduling doctor appointments, dentist appointments, eye exams, etc. Before your teen heads off to college in the fall, help them learn how to schedule appointments on their behalf. Having ownership over their appointments and schedule will help them manage their time and gain an important sense of control.

Vehicle Maintenance

Teen learning car maintenance

If your teen is headed off to campus with a vehicle, knowledge of car maintenance is crucial.  From knowing how (and when) to fill their tank with gas, how to call roadside assistance, where their spare tire is located, when an oil change is needed, to who they are comfortable driving their car and how to communicate that, etc.  With a car comes greater responsibility, and these are all skills that can be practiced at home with a family vehicle before heading to school.

College is an excellent introduction into the real “adult” world while still having support around.  Teens who are confident asking for help and seeking guidance will thrive in this new environment. These six life skills are easy to practice at home before they head to school in the fall. Have open and honest conversations with your teen so that they are able to achieve well rounded success on this exciting journey.

If you still have a few years before college arrives, these are the age-appropriate life skills you can be working on with your children.

If your teen is headed to college in the fall, be sure to check out the The Ultimate Checklist for Parents of College-Bound Teens to make sure you have all of your ducks in a row.