Top 10 Things Kids Need to Know Before Going to College


The Quad at the UW, cherry blossoms. My alma mater.



“He tried college a couple times. It just didn’t take,” a dad of one of my son’s friends told me last night at the grocery store.

Next, I got a call from a close friend, whose happy-go-lucky daughter checked herself into a campus hospital, because she felt so overwhelmed and out of control.

Another friend told me their son quit after one semester after too much partying and not enough studying. Yet another mom left on a rescue mission to help a child in need.

What the heck is going on with our kids and college? My own son struggled to find his way his freshman year.  

All of these parents, myself included, believed college was the best and only choice for their kids.imgres-1

Maybe college isn’t for everyone? Maybe we did too much for them? Maybe we didn’t let them fail often or enough?

I’ll talk more about why kids are struggling in college on another day. And if we have an epidemic on our hands.

But, first, I want to share basic things kids need to know before they leave for college. I was often surprised at questions my son would ask me during his first year at college. I’m going to make sure my second child checks off every item on my “top 10 things kids need to know before going to college” list.

  1. Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
  2. Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic! imgres-5
  3. Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables, and cooking rice. 
  4. Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.imgres-6
  5. How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Robert: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?”  Hmmm. Good question.
  6. Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
  7. Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes — gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room — and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike — use a solid bar type. 
  8. Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships — and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!images-2
  9. Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
  10. Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.

What other essential life skills would you add to the list?

imgres-4The first and last photos are from my alma mater the University of Washington. A gorgeous school!

5 thoughts on “Top 10 Things Kids Need to Know Before Going to College

  1. Reblogged this on bleuwater and commented:

    It’s that time of summer when we’re thinking about back to school lists. If you’re the parent of a college freshman — like I am — you may wonder if your child is ready to leave home for the first time. Here’s a story I wrote about what you need to teach your kids before they go to college.

  2. This is so true! I have just started studying for my Masters Degree and there were a few points on this list that I had to remind myself of 🙂

  3. Great post! I had to laugh, however, about how obvious these points are, yet many of our kids haven’t acquired some of these life skills by age 18. My own two included… rather embarrassing if you think about it. My two kids are now recently graduated from college and after reflecting, I would add 6 more items to your list:
    1) Find out where the campus health/ medical center is and how to use it.
    2) Meet your assigned college advisor and use this resource for planning your major.
    3) Familiarize yourself with the college recreation center and use it. Exercise can be a life saver for college stresses…. and there will be many.
    4) Learn how to take care of your laptop and cell phone/charger, etc. A laptop gets schlepped around from dorm to classroom/library on a regular basis and the chances of a broken screen and damaged connectors is great (or pretty much inevitable.) My daughter broke her laptop/screen at least 4 times while in college! Even though it is justifiable, don’t buy them a new one. Make them buy it or go without until they have the money to do so. They will learn VERY quickly how to care for their laptop if they have paid for it themselves. My daughter went 6 months without a laptop. I was very tempted to bail her out, and was worried it would affect her grades. However, as a result, she immediately found a part time job (to pay for things like this) and also how to use the library’s computers and resources.
    5) Get a part time job. If possible, look for a job way before school starts. The most “coveted” are the on-campus jobs since students can go home on the breaks. However, they go quickly! Having a part time job while in college is important for many reasons. As the parent of two college grads, I can say that employers are impressed when they see that you worked while in college and it will give you a “leg up” in the job hunt arena.
    6) The most important tip I can recommend is to get out of the way. Let your kids learn their own lessons. Even though it is tempting to bail them out of their current crises, unless it is life threatening, just say no!

    • Great points, Cindy! I’m so jealous that you have two college graduates.

      After my son’s brand new MacBook Air was stolen in the common area of the dorms — we did not replace it. He worked an entire summer, two jobs, and bought a used one. He still has it three years later and takes very good care of it.

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