6 Life Skills to Have Before Starting College

If you’re about to start college, there are lots of folks willing to give you lots of advice: teachers, counselors, friends, family, and even strangers. And while there are, of course, some basic academic skills you need to have in place before starting college, there are also a few life skills you’ll need to master.

With everyone giving you advice about what you should do and what you should know and what you need to finish before you head to campus, how can you make sense of it all? It may very well seem like you could spend all of your time listening to how to prepare for college instead of actually preparing.

If you aren’t sure where to start, begin with the basics. And while there’s always more to learn and more to do, the following list of life skills to have before starting college should be enough to get you going.

1. Know how to do your own laundry.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to not have to do your own laundry until now, congrats. When you’re in college, however, you’ll be on your own. Figure out what can go in a dark load and what should go in a white load. (Where do your reds go? What about that blue-and-white striped t-shirt you love so much?) Figure out what kind of detergent the machines on campus use (traditional? high efficiency?) and how to include fabric softener (liquid? dryer sheets?). Know how often you should wash things like your sheets and towels. You want to spend your evenings looking up information for your papers, not trying to use Google to figure out how to clean your clothes.

2. Have a budget and know what you can spend each month.

Knowing you have some money in your bank account is one thing. Knowing that you have X amount and can only spend Y each month is another. Managing your money is one of the larger challenges of your time in school, and things can get pretty ugly if you mess up. Set up a budget as well as a way to track what you’ve spent so far so that you don’t have to ask your parents for money or not make your financial obligations when the end of the semester rolls around.

3. Master a few basic cooking skills.

You don’t need to know how to make a 10-course meal, obviously. But you should know some basics. How do you cut up basic fruits and vegetables? How long does it take to cook some simple meals (ramen noodles, microwave soup, quesadillas) in the microwave? If you live in a residence hall, you’ll likely be cooking a lot less than if you’re in your own apartment. A few basics, however, can keep you from embarrassing yourself if you’re invited over to a friend’s (or a date’s!) house to cook dinner together.

4. Know a few basics of making healthy lifestyle choices.

You’ll undoubtedly be presented with all kinds of opportunities that you might not have had before college. And, given how serious the consequences can be for mistakes in this area, you want to go into those kinds of situations with some basic knowledge instead of complete naivete. Do you know how to put a condom on yourself or a partner? Do you know how to take your birth control properly? Do you know how many drinks you can have before you reach the legal limit for driving? Do you know what constitutes binge drinking? Do you know how quickly alcohol and other substances can impede the average person’s decision-making skills? If you’re going to college, after all, you’re certainly smart enough to make informed choices about your own health and healthy behaviors.

5. Know how to manage things you need for your personal health.

Are you taking a prescription that requires refills? Do you know how to request, order, or otherwise obtain them? Are you in counseling and need to continue with treatment during your time in school? Do you know you need a certain amount of sleep, have special dietary needs, or otherwise need specific structures so that you can remain in optimal health? If so, know what specifically you’ll need, where you’ll go for assistance, and how you’ll go about getting your needs met once you start classes.

6. Find out where to go for help.

There are key offices all students should know about — ideally before they even step foot on campus. Know these offices and how to reach them. Know when you should reach them. Know what services they provide, how you can gain access to them, and how far in advance you need to request assistance. Being a college student means being able to navigate (sometimes complicated) systems in a way that allows you to get the most out of your time in school. And since it’s silly (if not downright impossible) to make it through your college years without at least a little help here and there, know where, when, and how to get that help in advance.