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6 Adulting Skills You'll Need for College


From professional networking to folding fitted sheets – there are basic life skills every college freshman needs to succeed – not just in school, but at work, home and life in general. Here’s how to start acquiring these skills now.

Life skills are the skills you need to make your life more manageable – healthier, more efficient, and simply easier. They range from cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry to time management and paying bills. They may sound like “things we all just do,” but they actually take a little bit of practice to get right.

What life skills does college teach?

Some universities have begun offering a life skills curriculum through “Adulting 101” workshops. Kansas State University, the University of Nebraska-Kearney, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, all offer courses on different aspects of ‘adulting’ while others like UC Berkeley offer a student-led “Adulting” course. There is even an Adulting School in Portland, Maine that teaches everything from professional networking to folding fitted sheets.

Here are a few “adulting” skills that will help you take on the “real-world” challenges of college – whether you are living at home or on campus.

1. Time Management

Time management comprises a variety of skills such as planning, organization, and prioritization. Managing your time does not have to be complicated. It can be as simple as writing down your tasks for the day or week and putting that list in priority order. In fact, making lists has a proven positive effect on your mental state, and is known to relieve anxiety.

Make the act of creating and reviewing your to-do list a routine part of your day. Be realistic about the time requirements of a particular task or activity and your own ability to complete it. Interruptions and scheduling conflicts are bound to occur, so it can be helpful to leave some unplanned time every day as a buffer. A pen and paper are enough to get you started, but there are also a slew of digital solutions you can use.

2. Stress Management and Self-Care

Eighty-five percent of college students say they feel overwhelmed by their work load (as reported by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America). Paying attention to your mental state and stress levels is crucial for your overall health and your academic performance. Here are some ways to manage stress and self-care.

  • Pay attention to the basics of sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Learn how much sleep you need, how to eat healthy, and find an exercise or physical activity that you like to do. You may also want to set a hydration reminder on your smartphone to ensure that you are drinking enough water. Or, try meditation, which studies have shown provide increased focus, improved breathing and metabolism, and the one thing many students wish for: undisturbed sleep.
  • Do everything in moderation. Managing how much time you spend on various activities can be difficult — as can understanding how much of something is good for you, or at least, not harmful. This includes academic and non-academic activities: studying, attending parties and social events, food and alcohol consumption, and streaming media and playing video games.
  • Take advantage of health services at your college. Most colleges provide access to a gym, counseling services and medical services — all of which can help you manage stress and live a healthier lifestyle. Alternatively, your college may have connections with an external agency for the same purpose or offer peer-mentoring programs. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of these services, whether you are living on campus or at home.

3. Money Management

College students and money struggles often go hand-in-hand, and not just because of the increasing cost of attendance. More often, money issues can be attributed to a lack of basic knowledge about budgeting and paying bills on time. Here are some steps you can take to prevent money woes:

Educate yourself about banking services. Most likely, you will need to set up your own savings or checking account, so you can access money for tuition payments, books and supplies, and food and other expenses. Use money-saving features that many of these accounts offer. For example, look into savings accounts that automatically save a pre-determined amount each month or pay bills automatically. Learn how to use credit cards responsibly so you do not incur more debt than you can afford. Understand the differences between debit, credit, and prepaid cards.

Budgeting. Not only do good budgeting habits serve you well in college, but they lay the foundation for less stressful financial dealings later on. Creating and sticking to a budget is crucial if you use student loans to pay for living expenses and receive a lump-sum amount each semester or year.

4. Communication, Collaboration, and Cultural Competency

College is a shared and increasingly multicultural experience. Communication and collaboration skills will not only help you succeed socially, but professionally and academically as well. Here are three skills to master before and during college:

  • How to communicate professionally. Contacting a professor, colleague, or potential employer – by phone or email – usually requires a higher degree of formality than contacting your parents or friends. While you’ll find many tips for writing professional quality emails on the Internet, you can start by avoiding the use of emojis, slang, unofficial abbreviations, and informal language such as “Hey” or “Hi”.
  • How to deal with different opinions. You will likely encounter various viewpoints, backgrounds, and opinions while in college. You may even be encouraged to challenge convention and defend your opinions – tactfully and respectfully – be it with a professor, another student, or even your roommates. Differences can easily lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Try not to take things too personally and be willing to listen. You might win or lose an argument but learning how to deal with differences and resolve conflict is the real victory.
  • Cultural competency. You are likely to meet students from various countries given the diversity of the college population and large numbers of international students enrolled at US universities. Cultural competence is the ability to understand, appreciate, and empathize with people from different cultures who may hold value and belief systems that are different from your own. Many companies, both US and multinational, consider cultural competence to be an asset.

Developing cultural competence might involve, among other things, reaching out to new and diverse groups of people and examining your own heritage, cultural roots, and belief systems.

5. Document Protection

  • Keep your documents safe and easily accessible. While in college, you will need to safeguard various forms and documents, such as your college ID, insurance card, bank and tax documents, driver’s license, passport and possibly your birth certificate. If you are an international student, this list includes your I-20, and it never hurts to have a hard copy of your visa and latest I-94. While it is unwise to carry your Social Security card in your wallet or phone, you should memorize the number since you are likely to need it for job applications and for other forms and applications.
  • Review your digital safety basics. Your personal computing devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones should be password protected, and locked before you step away from them, even if just for a minute. It may be prudent to install tracking software on these devices, in case of theft. Backing up your files (and soft copies of forms and paperwork) on a regular basis will safeguard you from data loss in the event of accidental damage, computer failure, or theft. If you would like to know more, has compiled a detailed list of digital safety tips.

6. General Domestic Skills

Knowing how to do some basic, domestic tasks will serve you well in college and for years to come. Consider these “chores” a form of self-care that can have a positive  impact on your health and well-being.

  • Learn some basic cooking skills. Cooking your own food is a great way to control what you eat and save money. Although cooking while you are living in a dorm may not be easy, microwaves are often available and there are blogs and cookbooks that provide microwave-based recipes.
  • Review (or learn) how to do laundry. Whether you love it or hate it, doing your laundry properly (and regularly) is important – your roommates, peers, and professors will thank you for it. After all, showing up well-groomed and appropriately dressed is a big part of making a strong first impression with faculty and students. Reading the labels on your clothes will tell you if any specific machine settings or treatment is required (temperature, detergent and softener requirements). Ignoring washing instructions can result in damage to and discoloration of your clothes, which can be expensive to replace.

The move from high school to college can feel overwhelming and even a bit disorienting. Mastering some of these life skills now can make the transition easier.

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