70 Life Skills Your Kid Needs Before College

Make sure your kiddo knows their way around a washer! Photo courtesy of Canva
Make sure your kiddo knows their way around a washer! Photo courtesy of Canva
3/16/23 - By Jody Mercier

When it comes to life skills, I can’t be the only mom of a college-bound senior wondering whether I’ve done all I can to prepare my kid for life outside my day-to-day care. High school graduation is on the horizon, and my son will fly the coop shortly thereafter. He’s smart, poised, and well-spoken, and I marvel every day that I had any role in shaping this incredible human. I also worry that I haven’t done nearly enough to teach him how to handle the day-to-day life skills that seem almost innate to me.

So, to help him—and me—prepare for his college days, I’ve put together this list of 70 life skills for teens. Checking off even a few of these lessons before my son heads to college will ease my mind, and hopefully his!

Looking for life skills for younger kids? We’ve got a list of 65 life skills for kids of all ages that will get you teaching everyone from toddlers to teens. And, take it from me, you’ll need this list soon, because high school graduation comes quicker than you think!


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Basic Life Skills for Your College-Bound Kid

1. Memorize Personal Identifying Info

Sure, your kid has had their birthdate and address memorized for years, but what about their social security number? Make sure they’ve got this down pat—they’ll need it for everything from financial aid applications to tax docs and more.

2. Apply for a Job

Whether they’re eligible for work-study programs or need to find a gig off campus, make sure your kid is equipped with the life skills needed to search for a job, fill out an application with references at the ready, and knows how to dress to impress for an interview.

3. Craft a Resume and Cover Letter

While your typical campus gig may not require such formal application documents many internships, scholarships, and professional jobs will.

4. Tie a Tie

The time to learn how to tie a necktie is long before that big interview!

5. Sign a Document

No, we’re not talking about electronically, or (gasp) in printed letters. Every college-bound kid needs to know how to sign their name in cursive.

6. Safely Consume Alcohol/Drugs

Face it: Even the most square kid is going to get carried away at a college party. Have a chat with your teen now about responsible consumption and what to do in case of overdose, whether it happens to them or a friend.

7. Interact with the Police

Whether in a traffic stop, at a party, at a protest, or somewhere else, have a chat with your kids about how to deal with public safety officers.

8. Know What to Do When Sick or Injured

Whether it’s a cold, a stomach bug, or a nasty sprain, knowing how to take care of yourself when you’re under the weather is invaluable.

9. Basic First Aid

Related to the above, it’s helpful to know how to take care of basic cuts, burns, and abrasions, plus when to seek help. When you’re going through that dorm packing checklist, make sure you include a basic first aid kit, and consider taking a first-aid class together before you send them out the door.

10. OTC Medicine Safety

Go over proper dosing and use for popular over-the-counter medications and what to use each for. A strong warning to not combine these accessible drugs with alcohol is also in order.

11. Make a Health Care Appointment

Whether self-care isn’t enough or your (big) kid is due for a checkup, make sure they know how to locate a provider and can make the call to set up an appointment. Go over your insurance coverage, and find a local provider who participates in your plan before your child needs care.

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Life Skills for Teens: Driving 
Driving is an essential life skill, even if your teen doesn't yet have their own car. Photo courtesy of Canva

12. Drive

Most teens will clamor for their license the minute they’re eligible. Even if they won’t have a car of their own, it’s an important life skill to have. Ensure they have the skills necessary to drive where their school is—whether it’s in winter weather, torrential rains, or on winding mountain roads—particularly if the climate and setting are different from the one at home.

13. Change a Tire

If your kid is going to school with a car, make sure they also have a jack and a spare and know how to use them in a pinch. If your family has a roadside assistance plan, ensure they know who to call when they need help.

14. Perform Basic Car Maintenance

Can your kid check their tire pressure or oil level? Do they know what to do if a warning light goes off or how to clean snow and ice off before hitting the road?

15. Navigate the DMV

Whether they need to update their license or apply for new license plates, make sure your kid knows how to take care of these important appointments.

16. Use Public Transportation

Whether they need it to get to campus or just around town, have your kid get used to traveling and navigating alone by bus, light rail, subway, or whatever is available.

17. Read an Analog Clock

Sure, they’ve got a smartwatch and a smartphone, but they should still be able to tell time on an old-fashioned clock at the front of the lecture hall.

18. Unclog a Drain

Poop happens. Make sure your kid can take care of this dirty job when it does.

19. Turn off the Water

It’s better to know where these shut-off valves are before water is flowing…everywhere!

20. Locate the Breaker Box

Now’s the time to show your kid what to do if they overload a circuit.

21. Change a Light Bulb

Pro tip: Start by turning the light off!

22. Basic Self-Defense

Though you hope they’ll never need it, this one is important. I still thread my keys between my knuckles when I’m alone on a dark street late at night, just in case.

23. Address an Envelope

Snail mail is still a thing—for bills, thank yous, and letters to your mom! Make sure your kid can get the addresses and the stamp in the right places so the mail gets delivered.

24. Write a Thank You Note

Speaking of thank yous, writing a heartfelt, handwritten thank you note is one of those life skills that will get your child far.

25. Register to Vote and Find Their Polling Place

When your kid turns 18, make sure they’re registered to vote either in their college town or at home. Ensure they know how to find their polling place if they’re going to vote in person, or are appropriately registered to receive an absentee ballot. I’ll tell my kids the same thing I tell my friends and family: I don’t care who you vote for, but you have to vote.

26. Pack a Suitcase

Here’s hoping my kid comes home to visit—so I’m going to make sure he knows what to pack, and how to fit it all in.

27. Wake Up On Time

OK, this one shouldn’t be hard, but add late-night study sessions (or parties, video game marathons, etc.) into the mix and those early-morning classes come too soon. Make sure your kid has an alarm they can’t ignore and knows how to get up without hitting snooze so many times that their roommate wants to chuck it out the window.

28. Exercise Common Sense

This is a common thread throughout so many of the life skills for teens listed, and while it’s hard to teach, it’s easier to model.

Life Skills for Teens: Budgeting
Budgeting is one of the most important life skills for a young person to master. Photo by Liza Summer, courtesy of Pexels

Financial Life Skills for Teens

29. Budget Their Money

Whether it’s stretching their financial aid from August to the end of the semester, making their allowance from you last, or making it to the next paycheck, college kids need to understand what’s coming in, what’s going out, and how to make it all work.

30. Understand Debt

Unfortunately for college students, some debt—we're eyeing you, school loans—might be necessary. The credit card someone is trying to bribe them to sign up for in the student union with a free T-shirt from their new U is not. It’s helpful to arm kids with the knowledge of how debt works before they’re confronted with it.

31. Write a Check

I barely use a check in my day-to-day, but there are some times it’s necessary. Make sure your kid can write their own and remembers to reserve the money in their bank account so it doesn’t bounce!

32. Banking

Likewise, college kids should know how to use the bank to deposit and withdraw funds, know how to endorse a check, and know what kind of account they have (savings vs. checking), plus how to use it to avoid unnecessary fees.

33. File Taxes

Once your kid starts working, they’ll likely need to file their own taxes. Make sure they understand the process, deadlines, and necessary paperwork needed to do this themselves or hire a pro.

34. Fill Out Financial Aid Forms

Depending on who is on the hook for tuition, those yearly FAFSA forms may fall under your kid’s purview. Even if they don’t, it’s helpful to know how to fill them out.

35. Retirement 101

As kids approach college graduation, have a quick conversation with them about retirement planning and paying themselves first. Their future self will thank you.

36. Pay Bills

This goes hand in hand with learning how to bank. Make sure they understand due dates, late fees, and how long snail mail can take while you’re at it.

37. Calculate a Tip

You probably pay the bill when you go out to eat now, but let your kid calculate the tip next time so they’re ready to do it when they’re footing the bill.

Kitchen Life Skills for Teens

38. Grocery Shop

There are still times when I find myself wandering the grocery store looking for an out-of-the-ordinary item. Once you’ve settled your kid in on campus, do a trial run at the grocery store and help them locate a few staples and favorite snacks so you can head off an SOS text message on their first solo trip.

39. Do the Dishes

Whether they’ve got a dishwasher or have to wash them by hand, teach your child how to keep a clean sink!

40. Meal Plan

This one might not come in handy until their dorm days are behind them, but it pays to have a plan in place.

41. Master a Few Basic Recipes

I use the word “recipe” loosely here. This could be anything from a package of ramen to scrambled eggs to grilled cheese. Just make sure they can whip up a simple meal in a pinch to fuel a late-night study session.

42. Know if Food is Safe to Eat

I’m the only one in the apartment who cleans out our fridge, and my motivation is mostly to make sure the omnivores I’m surrounded by don’t eat something past its prime. Teach your kids to give food the old sniff test, and when in doubt, throw it out.

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Life Skills for Teens: Cleaning a Kitchen
A clean kitchen goes a long way. Photo courtesy of Canva

Cleaning Life Skills for Teens

43. Clean a Kitchen

Kitchen messes can be dangerous, whether they lead to food poisoning or grease fires. Walk your kid through the basics the next time you’re cleaning up at home.

44. Clean Up After Themselves

The last thing you want is for your kid to be the dorm-room slob. A little self-awareness goes a long way in a communal living situation.

45. Take Care of Personal Hygiene

This may be even more important than our last tip. Make sure your kiddo is well-stocked with toiletries and deodorant...and cross your fingers that they use them.

46. Clean a Bathroom

Remind your teen that there just might not be a cleaning crew, and you won’t be doing the rounds either. Teach them how to clean the toilet, sink, mirror, and floor, then make sure they’re stocked with the appropriate supplies.

47. Laundry

Whites...colors...bleach...detergent...fabric softener...there are so many ways this basic life skill can go wrong. Give them the rundown to keep it clean so you can enjoy weekends at home without a mountain of laundry between you. 

48. Make a Bed

Remind them clothes aren't the only things you need to wash, and teach them how to remove sheets and remake a bed. You want those clean sheets to be properly tucked in at least for a night.

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Life Skills for Teens: Self-Care
Self-care is essential to avoiding college burnout. Photo courtesy of Canva

Social-Emotional Life Skills for College 

49. Set Aside Time for Self-Care

Here’s one most parents I know are still struggling to master, but college-age kids will benefit from allowing themselves some downtime and paying attention to their needs for rest, relaxation, and time to recharge.

50. Navigate Disappointment or Rejection

It’s the cold, hard truth that things aren’t always going to go your kid’s way. Whether it’s learning how to handle bombing a test, missing out on a job or internship, or navigating tricky relationship moments, kids who can cope with disappointment will fare better.

51. Motivate Themselves

Temptations and peer pressure aplenty await on campus. It’s up to your teen to get through their to-do list without your (very helpful) reminders to keep them on track.

52. Respect Boundaries

This skill set is an offshoot of the previous two and is particularly important for the communal living situations that college students face.

53. Know Where to Find Help

Help can come in many forms, whether it’s help with navigating this huge life transition, help dealing with interpersonal relationships with peers or on-campus adults, or just help keeping up with a mounting to-do list. Make sure your kid knows the resources available to them, and expect plenty of SOS phone calls and text messages as you gently (attempt to) let go.

54. Know How to Disconnect

Sometimes you just need to shut down the distractions—we’re looking at you, smartphones and gaming consoles—and buckle down and get to work.

College Life Skills for Navigating Campus

55. Be Their Own Advocate

You’ve probably been your kid’s biggest cheerleader and advocate up to this point, and it’s time to let them take the reins. You can still guide them from the sidelines, but they’ll have to make their case now, whether they’re dealing with professors, supervisors, or peers.

56. Write a Proper, Professional Email

Set those funky text message abbreviations aside and keep the tone professional with a greeting, proper sign-off, and proper grammar and punctuation in between.

57. Networking

I often tell people this is the most important thing I learned in college, and my ability to make connections has been more important than my degree has been in opening professional doors for me.

58. The Art of the Elevator Pitch

Similar to the above, if your kid has 30 seconds to impress someone with an idea or introduction, what will they say that will make them memorable?

59. Know How to Access Resources on Campus

Professors, teaching assistants, resident advisors, financial aid counselors, health clinic staffers—all of these individuals (and more!) want to help your kid succeed in college and beyond. Make sure they know who is available and how to find them.

60. Disagree, Respectfully

Depending on where you’re from, college might be the first time your kid has been exposed to a less-than-homogenous peer group—that’s part of the beauty of the university experience, but it can also be a challenge. Make sure your kid is ready to share their ideas in a space where everyone might not agree all the time and is also willing to listen to others while formulating their own thoughts and opinions.

Life Skills for Teens: Thinking for Themselves
Teach your child to be their own wonderful, unique self. Photo by Julia M. Cameron, courtesy of Pexels

61. Think for Themselves

This tidbit applies equally to social situations (hello, peer pressure!) and more theoretical ones. Be prepared that the kid you drop off at campus might think quite differently than the one who graduates.

62. Career Plan

It’s hard to know just what you want to do when you’re 18… or 20… or maybe even 22, but keep an open dialogue with your kid about their future plans and how to set them up for success in their job hunt upon graduation.

63. Know How to Choose/Change a Major (and the Consequences!)

Depending on their goals, your teen's major can play a huge part in their success, so make sure they keep their eye on the ultimate goal. If they’re really not sure about their major, just make sure they get the basics out of the way early on so they can specialize when they’ve got a clearer picture.

64. Know How to Register for Classes

Part in parcel with choosing a major, knowing which classes to take and when, and paying attention to important deadlines, are key here. Thank goodness for academic advisors to guide your kiddo!

65. Know How to Deal with the Registrar

This all-encompassing office likely handles billing and financial aid, and can help keep transcripts in order if your kid needs them down the line for grad school. Your teen should know where the registrar's office is and how to access the help they need here.

66. Eat the Frog First

This is a silly way of helping your kid get over the hump when procrastination takes over. Teach your kid to tackle the most dreaded, ugliest to-do first, the rest of the list will be a breeze.

RELATED: 25 Random Acts of Kindness Ideas for Kids

Life Skills for Teens: Social Skills
Strong social skills will help your teen relate to other people. Photo by Anna Shvets, courtesy of Pexels

Relationship Life Skills for Teens

67. Know How to Navigate Dating Safely

Whether your child had a relationship in high school or not, it’s good to have a chat about what a healthy relationship looks like, as well as ways to keep themselves safe while navigating a brand new pool of potential partners.

68. Understand That Everyone is Not Your Friend

No matter how affable your kid is, they’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Encourage them to focus on the friends who bring the most to their lives and cut loose the ones who are bringing them down.

69. Know How to Celebrate Differences

Teach your teen to be open to learning about their new roommates and friends and their backgrounds. I had my first seder in college and my roommate was so excited to decorate her first Christmas tree. Sharing—and celebrating differences—was a beautiful eye-opener for both of us.

70. Safe Sex/Birth Control

It’s not the most comfortable talk, but it’s one of the most important ones. Offer a plain discussion of sexually transmitted infections and birth control, and don’t be shy when talking about consent either. Offer judgment-free help, whether you need to send your son to school with a stash of condoms or help your daughter get on birth control before she packs her bags.

You Are Loved

If you've made it this far, you'll indulge me for a mushy mom moment: The most enduring lesson I want my son to keep in mind when he walks out the door is that he's loved and home will always be his safe space. His father and I are always and forever only a phone call away, and we'll be there to help him master (or muddle through) any of the life skills he hasn't quite conquered—and I'm betting all the other moms and dads out there would share the same sentiment with their (really) big kids!