5 Skills Every Kid Should Master Before College

three cute chicks isolated on whiteYikes! We’ll be launching our last chick out of the nest in a matter of months. With each of our kids, after Christmas of senior year, I start to panic a little, feeling overwhelmed by all of the things we MEANT to teach.

So I came up with a list of five skills every college student needs and two honorable mentions .  . .

  1. Talk to adults well. This is a biggie. Kids, students, and young adults who can carry on meaningful conversations with adults find themselves with more opportunities. Period. Whether it’s a summer internship, an extra “grace point” that impacts a GPA, or permission to date a daughter, conversation and communication skills can be dealmakers or deal breakers.
  1. Change a tire. Regardless of gender, this is a big deal. However, for a guy it’s a bigger deal because there is the whole “damsel in distress” thing. Every guy likes to be a rescuer on some level. Even for our girls, knowing how to find the spare tire, the jack, and get the job done might come in handy. At the very least, they need to know exactly what they should do if they have a flat tire (have AAA or Hero help numbers plugged into their phones).
  1. Jump-start a car. The tire thing might be a stretch, but knowing how to jump-start a car with a dead battery is a must. It’s a simple process, doesn’t require heavy lifting, and will undoubtedly be needed numerous times throughout their lives. A set of jumper cables from my dad one year for Christmas was probably one of the most practical and useful gifts I’ve ever received. Added bonus: they learn how to pop the hood.
  1. Quick-press or steam a shirt. You know the feeling. You’re 20 minutes from needing to head out the door, and you realize that the shirt/blouse you need to wear is in the bottom of a bag or is wrinkled beyond acceptability (happens to college boys weekly!). Most guys under 21 will just wear it as is, unless they’re headed to an interview or to meet a girl’s parents for dinner. Therefore, this skill is imperative.
  1. Make one real meal. I have to confess that the “young mom” me assumed that each of my kids would be a culinary master, along with mastering most other skills known to man. But the “older mom” me is just glad they’re still in one piece and were accepted to college somewhere. Knowing how to make one real meal, as in spaghetti, salad, and a store-bought loaf of Italian bread, will definitely come in handy.

Okay, there are two more, so I’m calling them honorable mentions.

  1. Write a check. In this day of quick debit-card swipes, kids rarely learn to use a checking account and even less frequently learn to write checks. However, as they lease apartments, have roommates, and need to split utilities, they really need to be able to write checks—yes, the paper kind.
  1. Understand table settings. The knife goes on the right side of the plate with the blade facing the plate; the spoon partners just outside of the knife; and the fork is on the left, atop a folded napkin. No need to worry too much about multiple forks, spoons, and knives, although it would be great for them to understand that as well. While we’re at it, you know all too well how embarrassing it can be when you’re not sure which bread plate is yours at a formal dinner. Just teach ‘em BMW—bread, meal, water. Simple left to right. So, the bread plate on the left is always the one to use.

Leave a comment if you have your own “must-know-before-college” idea. Please hurry. I only have a few months left!


  1. says

    My parents had me cook once a week before leaving for college! It was actually kind of fun, I would try new + weird recipes (she wanted me to know how to make basic recipes too). I would say going to the doctor + dealing with insurance! I’ve been out of college for almost two years, and I’m married, and sometimes insurance still confuses me!

  2. Karin says

    My husband and I have the amazing privilege of investing in college students. I think it is important for them to know how to do laundry, wash dishes, and perform other simple cleaning tasks. Your list is great, by the way!

    • Sandra Stanley says

      Yes! The first time I visited Andrew’s apartment (a couple months after he moved in), I realized that we needed to have a quick cleaning lesson. Should of started it earlier! 🙂

  3. says

    Awesome list. I would add general travel category where they know how to pack, read a map (the paper kind for when google fails), and navigate an airport!

    • Sandra Stanley says

      I remember dropping each of boys at the airport, on the curb, and praying they would make it to their gates. They did! If you can navigate the Atlanta airport, any other is a cake walk!!

  4. Ainsley says

    My parents armed me with these skills as well as a great lesson on the use of credit. If you use a credit card for anything, pay off the balance immediately. This was such a valuable lesson/skill that I still practice today!

  5. says

    Most teens screen phone calls and text instead of having phone conversations. Making or confirming their own appointments by phone is another one I am requiring of my teens. The old “this is she” training from my mom is kicking in…

  6. Lisa Stalica says

    I love this list and have felt the same panic 3x….and i still have a flush of “yikes” every once in a while. i had the same things, plus these: know how to separate your “colors” to do laundry, know how to clean a toilet bowl (upon visiting your child’s dorm room at college, you will remember me on this one…), know WHEN (and how) to change the sheets on the bed, try to not let your gas tank get too low, and check your on-line bank account with regularity. 🙂

  7. says

    We have been SO intentional on the how to talk to adults skill, beginning at a young age with telling the doctor how you feel and ordering at a restaurant on your own, even if it’s Chick-fil-a. I would add how to wash a load of laundry/separate colors to the list. After reading your list, I’m pretty embarrassed that I have never changed a tire but think I know enough to muddle my way through it or give up and call someone. 😉

  8. Tifani Thompson says

    I don’t want the college years to come,,,,but know so fast they will be coming:( I LOVE your list, and we will be full-filling them along the way. I’m so so grateful our baby girls are home with me all day long, and we are able to teach them so much along the way. I don’t know how to change a tire(not good:(, but I will be learning along with our girls on how it is done:)

    I’m always hungry for your sharing and awesome wisdom!

    Keep sharing it all! I look so so forward to your postings!

  9. Hallie says

    I would second the person who said making their own doctor’s appointments and understanding how insurance works. I work at a doctor’s office and it is still shocking to me how many twenty-somethings have their parents call to make their appointments and/or pay their bills… even married twenty-somethings! From my own marriage I would also second knowing basic cleaning skills- future roommates and spouses will appreciate this.

  10. Betsy says

    Not just HOW to clean a bathroom and change a bed, but HOW OFTEN. Once a semester is not enough! (Can you tell I have boys?!)

    • Sandra Stanley says

      I KNOW what you’re saying. My first visit was pretty horrifying. AND, to make matters worse, the laundry basket of clean clothes that I had sent back with him two weeks before was in the middle of his room on the floor and he was using it like a closet…

  11. David says

    Understand their faith: to know and be able to explain why they believe in what they believe. To have the skills to know how and when (and why) to feed themselves spiritually. So many things that will compete for their attention, affection, and affirmation.

  12. says

    1. Do the laundry.

    2. Shake hands appropriately. I would have never thought about this one until recently when I heard our pastor say that his Dad taught him how to shake hands with men and women alike. How to do it respectfully, firmly, but not too firmly and how to shake the fragile hands of the elderly.

    3. Admit when you need help.

    Great list! I have a senior boy heading off to college in less than 6 months. Keep the advice coming for us rookies. He’s my first born!! sniff sniff

  13. Kimm says

    How to drive in snow! It may only come in handy once every few years here, but it’s a good skill to have if you want to keep your car out of a ditch. It would really come in handy if college is located above the Mason-Dixon Line.

    • Sandra Stanley says

      Good one, Kimm! Allie had a little practice a few weeks ago. But, our tendency is to keep them OFF the roads, rather than teach them. Gotta look for opportunities!

  14. Cindy S. says

    Unfortunately, it’s good for them to know what to do, who to call, what info to collect in the event of a car accident. Even as an adult, I’m not sure what to do in that situation since I’ve never had a wreck. Also, I think it is SO important for them to handle their own money, credit cards, etc. before leaving home. Most kids WILL make mistakes overdrawing an account, bouncing a check, missing a credit card payment, ruining their credit score, etc. It’s my preference to coach them through that while they are still under my guidance and I can help them through the maze of the mistake, what it ends up costing, and how to live within their means. Balancing a checkbook is an obsolete skill now, I suppose, but the principle is important, I think.

  15. Kate says

    The skill I failed to master before college was the ability to wake up with an alarm. My roommate would shake the bunk beds. And now my husband pushes me out of bed so I guess it’s a good think I’ve never lived alone! 🙂

  16. Laina says

    All of these are so true! I have enjoyed reading all of these so much. This is always my advice to young moms now that I am an “older” mom. TEACH them HOW to do it. I think that as moms we often think doing everything FOR OUR KIDS makes us “good moms”. NOT true! It is amazing how this “creeps” up on us so quickly and how many young adults are so unprepared for independent living. Like so many other things it is not something that can be taught in a week

  17. Alexis R says

    I did not know hot to do laundry or cook when I went off to college, my single mom had much more things to worry about. 🙂 I do want to make sure that my boys (7/10 yo) know how to clean, do laundry and contribute to a household for when start their own and be responsible for themselves.

  18. Karla Burford says

    Wish I had these years ago!, but something my grand kids have taught me, something very simple…when setting a table… Put your 1st finger and thumb together, they look like b’s and d’s.. So that is the side the drinks and bread go, and spoon and knife have 5 letters that’s why they go together.. Again very simple but easy to remember!

  19. Sharon Sudu says

    Thank you for this timely post, and thanks, awesome Moms, for sharing your ideas. Here are my top few: FOLD clothes as soon as you take them out of the dryer! Develop a good relationship with drawers and the closet. And MAKE your bed as soon as you get out of it – every time!

  20. Miranda says

    How to write a thank-you note and RSVP if it’s a big-deal thing, like a wedding. is this too old-fashioned? 🙂

    Also, that it’s OK to take some time for themselves — how to notice when they’re starting to go off the rails. Someone taught me “HALT” in my 20s: When you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, HALT! Nobody makes good decisions in those moments. Learning to notice and heed those vulnerable moments is a skill that may take some time to develop, but maybe this is the age to introduce the concept.

    Thanks for what you’re doing!

  21. Karen says

    I have sent 3 off to college and I think one of the biggest things they need to know is how to live on some semblance of a budget!

    Also, when they came home to visit, i only did their laundry IF they gave me an hour at the coffee shop. It was a win-win. They didn’t take me up on it all the time, but when they did it was great! 🙂

  22. Lynn says

    How to write a handwritten Thank You note….and send it through the postal service. The “old” fashion way.

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