Top 10 Life Skills Kids Need Before College,

Top 10 Life Skills Kids Need Before College

My book list of Top 10 Books to Teach Kids to Be More Responsible made me start to think about life skills that kids need before going off to college. That and the fact that my oldest, Grasshopper and Sensei, will be starting high school next fall so we have only 4 years to tackle this list!


What are the life skills that you think kids need before leaving the nest? Do you remember struggling with any life skills while in college? Please share!


1) Self Advocacy

This is my #1 priority because it’s the mother lode of life skills and the key to fixing life’s issues. My husband and I started teaching this when the kids were little by simply letting them ask the waiter or waitress for things that they needed rather than having us fix it. It’s usually something like needing a fork at a Chinese restaurant because my kids are not that dextrous with chopsticks, or needing more napkins.

Surprisingly, the leap from asking for help at a restaurant to solving class schedules is not a very big leap. This actually worked for my kids!


2) Laundry

Doing your own laundry in college might not have been a competitive sport like it was at my school, but there’s more to it than sorting and saving up your quarters. My business school roommate used to jam in 3 loads into one washing machine, and the clothes in the middle would not even get wet. Suffice it to say that his laundry ended up dingy and wrinkled.

There’s also the issue of waiting for your laundry or chancing it that certain items won’t disappear. Laundry in college is a lot more complex than it would appear.

We’re starting with basics: sort into 3 piles (whites, lights and darks). Change the temperature for each pile. Hot for whites and warm for lights and darks. Don’t overstuff. Don’t dry wool or cashmere.  My kids will thank me one day!

3) Personal Finance: Budgeting and Credit Card Management

It’s so easy to get into credit card debt when you get your first credit card in college. They are so easy to obtain and the credit card companies are so generous in raising your credit limits!

Save/Donate/Spend is something that all kids can learn at any age. It’s simply budgeting money into three piles. And the rule for credit cards is simple: pay off balances every month!

teaching kids about credit cards and debit cards, personal finance for middle school kids students

I have a guest post on Credit and Debit Card Personal Finance for Middle School Kids.

4) People Skills: The Art of Dinner Conversation to Make New Friends

My college roommate who is now on Obama’s cabinet as Health Secretary is my touchstone on the importance of Social Emotional skills and the art of conversation. I’ll be blogging on her shortly. In the meantime, I recommend Growing Book by Book’s Table Topics as a great way to get into the habit of pleasant and interesting dinner conversation.


5) Time Management

I think tools can help anyone learn the skill of time management. We’re starting by putting the family calendar on Google Calendar and putting our two kids iPhones on as well. They are responsible for updating their events and keeping track of their own schedule. The family calendar is especially useful when my kids ask if I can drive them somewhere. If they look at the calendar, they can see exactly where I am supposed to be!


6) Problem Solving

Like Self Advocacy, this is an important one to foster but how exactly??! I think the secret might lie in not giving the solution but in asking probing questions. I know this is easier said than done!

Top 10 life skills kids need before college

7) Running a Household: Cleaning, Cooking, Meal Planning

When I shared a house during a college summer, I discovered that one of my roommates had no idea how to clean whatsoever. I wasn’t the best at cleaning myself, but we were forced to help clean at my house when we had guests. My chosen chore was usually the bathroom because I hate vacuuming.

The college experience often includes living in an apartment, whether it’s during the summer or the school year. Without dorm food, you are on your own and I’ve noticed that those kids who can cook become instant Rockstars!

The upside of teaching kids to clean, cook, meal plan and grocery shop is that they can help out at home. It’s a gift of learning that keeps on giving!

We’ve tried cooking camps but I noticed that it didn’t seem to translate somehow into cooking and cleaning up the kitchen at home. We’re doing a combination of learning by participating and trial and error to get our kids to learn to cook.

Top 10 Life Skills Kids Need Before College

8) The Art of the Interview and Other Job Finding Skills

The average worker todays stays in a job for 4.4 years. In college, it’s probably a lot shorter because there are part-time jobs, work-study jobs and summer jobs that all have to be obtained. Since my past life was in the world of work via freelancers, I could go on and on.

But after conducting over 1000 interviews with candidates, I will say this: the art of the job interview is to make it a conversation. And, the key to a job opportunity is the ability to network. If you have these two skills, a job search is a numbers game.

Again these skills come back to Social Emotional skills and the art of conversation. Keep up those family dinners. It’s where a lot of valuable learning occurs!


9) Risk Taking and Resiliency

Did you know that I love failure? It’s the best teacher in the world. As an entrepreneur with many failures under my belt, I can honestly say that failure is your friend. The key to failure is to fail often, fail small and learn from failure. Resiliency is key but it’s all in your attitude. If you see failure as your teacher, you naturally get up to try again. If you see failure as something shameful, you will never have the courage to try.

How can we teach failure? It’s all in the interpretation whether it’s internal or external via other people. No one can make you feel bad about failure if you don’t see it that way. As parents, try encouraging risk taking and turn failure into another opportunity to try something slightly different. New and improved. Praise failure and the courage to try even more than success.


10) Navigation/Map Reading

I have no sense of direction whatsoever, so this is high on my list! But I remember how intimidating learning to take the public bus which I have never mastered or the subway was. Inbound versus Outbound was vastly confusing until a friend from Boston pointed out that it’s about whether the train is headed to Park Station (i.e. INBOUND) or heading away from it (i.e. OUTBOUND). I was then able to navigate any subway station in the world after this valuable lesson!

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Public Buses, Subways … learning to navigate all forms of transportation is a valuable skill and not as easy as it would seem.


Follow PragmaticMom’s board Life Skills for Kids on Pinterest.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. I completely agree on the self-advocacy skills. I began having my daughter complete her own “check-in” at the receptionist for her medical and dental appointments. Big bonus points for receptionists who do not look over my daughter’s head to verify or validate her information with me!

    The easiest place to start was the library – having the kids carry their own library cards and bring their books to the desk for check out. Librarians (as we know) ROCK!
    Cathy Ballou Mealey recently posted…Perfect Picture Book Friday: FEATHERS Not Just for FlyingMy Profile

    • Hi Cathy,
      What great ideas for letting kids experience self advocacy!! My kids check into their ortho appointments but they are much older now and I wish I had done that at the pediatrician when they were little!

      Librarians are also such a great resource for all things including trying out self advocacy skills!!! I love that idea!! Thank you!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble Blog TourMy Profile

  2. I didn’t go to a dorm college but from what I understand beer drinking is quite big on the campuses…so what about adding alcohol consumption & drinking responsibly!!
    Faigie recently posted…Symmetry art: Spring is in the air and butterflies are everywhereMy Profile

    • Hi Faigie,
      That’s a great point. My middle school girls have had a lot of questions about drugs and drinking lately. They are learning about this in Health Class. My husband is the go to for their questions.

      I think you are right. We are trying to teach them what the consequences of drug use is … particularly to stay away from drug parties and to let us know when they want to leave parties early.

      Great messages! Thank you for that!!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble Blog TourMy Profile

  3. I am so glad I didn’t miss this article! I think I have 7 or 8 years but I am totally scared! Ugh… I think we only have laundry covered…. of all things…. btw, I clicked onto the failure-hyperlink and didn’t find anything. thanks for writing this post! great!
    jenn recently posted…Review & Giveaway: Faber-Castell: Upgrade Your Art Supplies for LessMy Profile

  4. Excellent list. I wish I had started off with better self advocacy and job finding/interview skills!
    maryanne recently posted…Painting With KidsMy Profile

  5. This is a very thoughtful and important list for parents. My daughter naturally began advocating for herself as a child in restaurants. We were shocked when she’d point things out to the waitress or ask for more napkins etc. Problem solving and people skills were at the top of my list. Some skills come easier than others. Great post!
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…Going PlacesMy Profile

  6. What a fantastic list. We love the piggy bank you featured and give it as a gift to families. Thanks so much for including our table topics in the list too!

  7. This is a really wonderful list, Mia, and has given me a lot to think about! My oldest (7) definitely doesn\’t have self advocacy skills. I remember how loooong it took me to get them, so I am going to work harder with her at that! I\’m featuring this on Monday\’s After School Linky.

  8. P.S. Have you thought of making a big image using Picmonkey with just the words “top 10 life skills kids need before college?” I can see that being something people would want to repin and check out – would love to see this post get a lot of mileage!
    Anna recently posted…Fairy Tale Coloring Pages (subscriber freebie)My Profile

  9. Rea

    Hi Mia, I’m visiting from Countdown in Style and I love your list especially the self-advocacy and problem solving. Somehow I did survive college away from home even when I hated laundry, didn’t know how to cook and I had no sense of direction. Haha. It was a lot tougher though so I’m gonna have to look for these when my son is ready to go to college which is gonna be yearsssss from now. 🙂

  10. Great points! 😀 I need to learn how to do laundry…
    Erik ThisKidReviewsBooks recently posted…Creative Kid Thursday! My Review of Cave Planet by kid author Luke Meier!My Profile

  11. Love Love Love this!! I try to tell my 15 year old step son these all the time.
    Melissa recently posted…The Good, The Random and The FunMy Profile

  12. Brittnei

    These are some great skills. I definitely agree that they are all needed before a child leaves the nest. I would say I would also want them to learn a little about cars (changing a tire, putting oil in, etc) Thanks for being such a lovely co-hos with us again this week!
    Brittnei recently posted…Countdown in Style- Week 22My Profile

    • Hi Brittnei,
      Yes, I love your addition! I am learning about cars now … a little late, I agree! My husband says that he will teach all our kids how to change tires, add oil etc when they learn to drive. I just figured out how to open my hood and add windshield washer fluid recently. A little late!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble Blog TourMy Profile

  13. What a great list. You know, my Mother put us in Inroads throughout high school. Have you heard of Inroads? It’s a program for minorities in the sciences, math and business – and they build skills. They help you get internships, help with interviewing, etc. We have to dress up in suits to attend events.

    It was a really great program – it really prepared me for life in general. To this day, I am an extremely good interviewer – which I 100% attribute to the Inroads program.
    Lisa Nelson recently posted…A Special Invitation to a 21-Days Health ChallengeMy Profile

    • Hi Lisa,
      What a great program! It sounds like every kid would benefit from a program like Inroads! Interview skills are so important; not just for getting a job but for finding a way to connect with new people that you meet. You put those skills to use as a blogger too which is why you are so successful so quickly! Thanks for sharing about the Inroads program!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Japanese Heroes Picture Book of the Day and GIVEAWAYMy Profile

  14. This is such a wonderful list! I loved that you included self advocacy; we let the kids order at restaurant too. The waiters/waitresses are always surprised when our five year old can do it all on his own 🙂 Even though we’re good at that, I still do quite a bit; I’m trying to lay off my helicopter ways… trying.
    Thanks for sharing your post with us via Mommy Monday.

  15. Yes! This is a great list. Definitely pinning it right now!
    Aubrey recently posted…6 Easy Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe this SummerMy Profile

  16. What a great list! There are some I would expect and many I didn’t, but totally agree with. Thanks for sharing this with the After School Linky crowd!
    Deceptively Educational recently posted…DIY Water FountainMy Profile

  17. This was so timely for me as my son enters his senior year this coming September. All we talk about is where he’ll be going for college. Beofre he takes off, there are still so many small but important lessons I need to teach him.
    Cassy recently posted…Half Teacher, Half Super HeroMy Profile

  18. Nat

    Thanks for this great post. Yes, self-advocacy and laundry, i appreciate the order. Very good list for survival skills out in the wild!

  19. Couldn’t agree more with how important these skills are for teens to know! Featured you on Mom’s Library!
    Ashley recently posted…Practical Skills on Mom’s LibraryMy Profile

  20. I totally agree with your list. I hope my son masters them all. Thank you so much for linking this wonderful post up to The Sunday Showcase.
    JDaniel4’s Mom recently posted…Children’s Books with a LEGO ThemeMy Profile

  21. I’m not sure I have any amazing tips on how to do it, but I think another big one is self motivation. You really have to learn how to motivate yourself to do the things you need to do.
    Denver Photographer recently posted…Meredith Model Portfolio Work { Denver Photographer }My Profile

  22. Wow this is seriously a good read (will pin this). I love the idea of having kids ask for things they need from the waiter directly! Awesome. I agree about so many of the skills too, many overlooked, like personal finance, how to conduct yourself in an interview (I’d even say guide them towards the kinds of jobs that would be most useful to them) and cooking. I’ve started doing a little bit here and there (my eldest is only five) like giving them coins to save, cooking with them. Such good tips for when they’re older!
    Nina recently posted…18 Popular Children’s Books Translated in SpanishMy Profile

  23. Never got anything like this when I started college. Never going back though. I guess I’ll just pass this on to my kin then. Then again, most people didn’t either even after graduating. This will be useful. Thanks.
    Matt recently posted…100 Reasons It’s Really Great To Be A Guy!My Profile

  24. I wish i could’ve known these life skills before. This would be great for teens to have these skills as early as now because when the time and occasion calls for it they will definitely thank you for this!
    Kaye recently posted…Let the Good Times Roll! Crazy Happenings During EnrollmentMy Profile

  25. Great guidelines indeed. All these life skills kids or teens should have before college. It is because they can easily handle college life and enjoy college life.

  26. Liz

    We are just a month away from the May 1st deposit deadline for five colleges, and I have no idea what will be decided. I enjoyed your list and it actually made me feel good that my child has learned and practices MOST of these skills, which she picked up through home, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, and high school. No one talks about life skills needed for college. Parents and kids are counseled on high GPAs and SAT study skills and college essays and well-rounded activities. However, the reason I did a google search is because she is not making progress on a few skills and now that we are 1 month away from a big decision, I have formed the opinion that it may be too early for her to live away from home. Here’s why: Time Management – You mention the calendar, but it is so much more than the calendar! It was a painful year or so, but we have trained our children to finally keep track of their activities. We have a shared family calendar and my children are responsible for checking their emails, sports and theatre schedules, work hours, etc and posting them to the calendar. It was difficult, but we succeeded in getting them to confront the conflicts without us. For example, talking to the coach or the church choir director themselves about why they can’t attend something. BUT, we are so far from success on being ready and on time. We are far from even being just 5 minutes late – it is a constant 15 min to half hour lateness. This is a cause of huge fights and conflicts – skills like getting up on time, setting an alarm, and being ready. I shouldn’t have to pack an 17 year-old’s lunch or wake her up. She even prefers to not drive and instead be driven so she can put on makeup in the car when she has her own bathroom/sink to do that at home. I dread special occasions. They are not happy occasions because there is always an argument about leaving – very stressful and ends in tears for one of us. I have tried to not nag and throw in the towel. I try so hard, even to not say “don’t you think you should go upstairs and get dressed? or are you planning on washing/drying your hair before you go?” The next skill that is related to this is NAVIGATING DIRECTIONS/MAPs. My daughter should be driving everywhere, making decisions on where to park, planning enough time to find a location, having parking money, knowing alternate routes if you make a wrong turn or there is traffic. First of all she doesn’t leave enough time for this and we’ve “punished” her by not letting her drive if she is leaving late. This has failed to solve anything, as it puts less responsibility and stress on her as far as getting herself somewhere. I don’t know if these issues can be overlooked. Some friends tell me it will fix itself once she is away at college, but I see it as not quite being mature enough. I enjoyed your list!

    • Hi Liz,
      We have the same issues with time management and with fixing logistical conflicts. For example, I asked my daughter to reschedule her dentist appointment since she had a minor personal conflict and just preferred to have the appointment moved. But making that call to her dentist office was apparently a high barrier for her. Her orthodondist thought she had a small cavity under a band that was recently removed and my daughter was worried her dentist 1) would not know who she was, 2) would have no idea about her orthodontist’s diagnosis about the cavity, 3) beconfused about which tooth was involved. I explained that her dentist would have her orthodontist’s paperwork including the recommendation that they look at a particular tooth and she just needed to reschedule an appointment for a filling which takes a half hour. My normally independent daughter refused and wanted me to deal with it. We are also have trouble getting our 15-year-old to wake up on time and she also naps frequently requiring multiple wake up calls both for school and for her activities. And then the pressure is on me to get her on time for her sports practice which are punitive via laps for being late. I know that teens require as much sleep as toddlers but it’s frustrating to watch her nap which makes her late and then makes her stay up late, making a vicious cycle of not waking early enough in the morning. We are also on a family calendar and still my two kids with iPhone access to it fail to put in their important stuff like a sports tournament and also fail to check it when they make plans.

      I guess the only thing that works is small baby steps for improvement with forward and backward movement. It’s not perfect but what can you do?!

      It’s not easy parenting teens, that’s for sure!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Best Multicultural YA Books & Kid Lit Blog HopMy Profile

    • Hi Liz,
      OMG, we have exactly the same issues with our 15-year-old. Especially the time management/waking up/tardiness that stresses out the driver. I think it’s because teens need as much sleep as toddlers but get just 6 hours because of their workload. It’s crazy! Mine is always falling asleep as weird times which messes up her sleep schedule. I’m not sure if it will fix itself in college. It will probably get worse before it gets better as least that is what happened to me!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Teaching Kids About Money TWITTER PARTYMy Profile

  27. homeschooling

    This is new for me and I want to follow this for my kids. I totally agree all those write up and hope will come this site to read new thing from here.
    homeschooling recently posted…Parenting Tips – What Is Unschooling?My Profile

  28. Abhilasha

    Perfect Points, Some things are there which i am not following.But I am completely in the favour of you. The self-dependent kids can really do well in their future. Keep sharing such blog articles.

  29. Demi @ Homiee

    What a great list. I learned most of these “skills” at home. I think they also need to learn basic manners, and social etiquette, how to say thank you, and send sympathy cards, etc,!

    • Hi Demi,
      Great point! YES! Basic etiquette is so important and not so commonly taught any more. My husband is our etiquette expert; he learned really old fashioned manners from old timer military men growing up near a military golf course. I love that he has these old fashioned manners like opening the door, sir and ma’am, and written thank you notes.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Win Nintendo Yo-kai Watch Game #YOKAIWATCHMy Profile

  30. Jane Allen

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I did have some of these skills but for the most part, I’ve had to learn the hard way. And, as I write, some of these skills I’m still trying to master. As a result, I want my kids to be better equipped for life and will be introducing them, going forward. I particularly liked the tip about self-advocacy. It helps develop independence in children. It makes them speak up, when they have to. Thanks for sharing!
    Jane Allen recently posted…What is the Best Recliner for Newborn?My Profile

    • Hi Jane,
      I have to say that even small things in the self advocacy department like making their own appointments with the orthodonist or dealing with a little issue that they can handle like switching a class seems to really empower them and set them up for the future when they are on their own in college.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Can You Spot Him? A real life Halibut JacksonMy Profile

  31. Lora

    great . Thanks for sharing this. very important facts

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