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Life Skills College Students Should Learn Now

Image via Flickr by mer chau


School teaches us plenty of important lessons like critical thinking and problem-solving. However, there are certain skills that many millennials and Gen Z college grads—and current college students—feel were lacking from their education. Personal finance, cooking, and basic self-management skills are routinely touted as vital areas that many educated adults wish they knew more about. So, before your soon-to-be or current college students reach the stage of full-time adulting, make sure they have a solid grasp of life skills that make a difference before, during, and after college. These essential skills can help them achieve their dreams while balancing the demands of college.

Setting and Following a Budget

College-age students suddenly encounter a lot of financial obligations: student loans, food budgets, and credit cards under their own name. But students who live away from home simultaneously obtain a tremendous amount of freedom. Paying monthly debts, tracking account balances, and otherwise managing money can quickly become overwhelming for someone who’s never had to do those tasks regularly.

Both parents and students can ease into these financial maelstroms by learning about budgets. Key aspects college students should consider are:

  • How much money they receive per monthly or bi-weekly period from grants, campus jobs, and other sources of money
  • Monthly expenses, including food and supplies costs, insurance premiums, and credit card bills, as well as money for socializing and free time
  • Less frequent costs, such as tuition payments or books
  • Savings, which students should learn to prioritize now to set up good habits for the future

By keeping track of these numbers, college students can start to understand their general monthly income and expenses, which will make it easier to set a budget and establish their savings goals.

Social Media Management

More and more college students enter the college admissions process with a comprehensive understanding of how to navigate social media platforms. However, it’s even more important to understand the potential ramifications of using said social media improperly. Divisive or offensive messages, pictures that display inappropriate or illegal behavior, and even political reshares can all have an impact on how colleges, selective programs, and potential employers view individuals.

College students need to learn early in their college careers what information they want to share publicly, what information they want to share privately, and what information they don’t want to share at all. This skill isn’t self-censorship; it’s an understanding of what their social media profiles say about them and what potential ramifications they are willing to deal with years down the line. At the same time, college students should also establish a positive presence on social media platforms like LinkedIn. This careful balancing act of self-expression and professional appeal can be challenging for adults of all ages, so students should start thinking through these decisions now.

Social Skills

Students leaving home for the first time are swiftly going to be engaged in social interactions with a much wider variety of individuals than they’ve previously experienced. They’ll be interacting with dorm mates, fellow students, college admissions interviewers, professors, and employers. As much as it may be a stereotype for high school teachers to say that college will be dramatically different from high school, there is a lot of truth to that generalization.

Students must learn how to interact with other adults in widely different contexts to:

  • Settle disputes with roommates
  • Advocate for themselves with professors and university personnel
  • Present themselves professionally for internships, interviews, and employment

Not only are there varied contexts in which your college student must engage, but they’re also connecting with people from widely different backgrounds, and it’s important to be open and sensitive to other people’s experiences. Intentionally learning social skills through YouTube videos, courses, or articles, is thus crucial.

Time Management

All adults have their own methods for managing their time, and college (or even earlier) is an excellent opportunity for students to find the method that works best for them. Some people prefer to rely entirely on electronic systems, like automated reminders and calendar alarms on their phones. Others rely on bullet journals and written lists to organize key tasks and priorities. Students should experiment with various methods to organize tasks, assignments, and monthly responsibilities to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

Time management is more than just task management, however. Staying focused and efficient is a valuable skill that takes time and practice. Students can practice with the Pomodoro Technique, timers, and web restriction apps to remove distractions and set up specific times for being productive.

Breaking Down Goals into Manageable Tasks

This skill can be considered tangential to time management, but it will test students’ ability to organize and anticipate their own abilities. In college, many grades are determined by term papers and exams, rather than smaller daily grades or homework. To prepare successfully for these larger assessments, students need to break them down into smaller tasks. Writing a term paper, for example, can be deconstructed into tasks like research, producing an outline, compiling sources, actually writing the paper, and proofreading it. If students don’t establish deadlines for these more manageable tasks, then the overall work can pile up and become unmanageable.

Students also must break down less clear goals, such as applying for grad school or medical school, managing their first job searches, and securing their first apartment. These objectives require even more forethought and planning. Students can research how to break these goals into clearly outlined processes and practice finding the right organizational tools and strategies that work for them.


Ultimately, preparing for college is about much more than getting the right grades and test scores. Contact Spark Admissions today if you want assistance putting your child’s college plans into action—or if you think there’s another critical life skill we should have on this list!

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