What to Know Before College: Important Life Skills for Teens

By Marie Schwartz
For StudentAdvisor.com

What to Know Before CollegeAn article by Alina Tugend called “Pink Underwear and Other Lessons for the College-Bound” in the NYT on Saturday, July 15, 2011 caught my eye. Apparently, today’s students are completely clueless about how to handle certain things when they first enter college, such as how to do laundry, pay bills on time, write a check, mail a package, sew on a button, tip properly, make a bed, pack a suitcase, boil water, identify when food is spoiled, and safeguard valuables. Students with cars need to know how to jump start a car, identify and fix mechanical problems, deal with a flat tire, speak to a police officer, and exchange info in case of an accident.

“Many have no idea how to keep their space clean.”

I decided to investigate this further by getting a reality check from our two summer interns, Julia Bernstein, a rising sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, and Kaitlin Ryan, a rising senior at Boston University. They confirmed that many of these tasks are indeed issues for many students, especially in the area of hygiene and proper nutrition. Some students go for months without changing sheets or throwing out trash. Many have no idea how to keep their space clean, beyond using Lysol wipes (if that).

“Students don’t think enough about their personal security.”

Julia mentioned being blind-sided when she got sick and didn’t have the information she needed for the doctor, such as her immunization record. They both said that students should know how to use public transportation to get from Point A to Point B and how to buy a ticket. Kaitlin brought up the fact that many students don’t think enough about their personal security and what to do if they are robbed or feeling unsafe. Julia is conscious about where to walk and what to wear when walking home from the library late at night so that she’s not an easy target.

Teaching Your Child Life Skills Before College

In my opinion, students need to learn these things MUCH EARLIER than college. Summer programs or activities that offer travel in a foreign country and/or a home stay experience are excellent preparation for college. So is a boarding school or semester school.

My hot button is teaching students how to manage their finances at an early age. Parents should get their children in the habit of managing their own money as soon as they are old enough to go out with their friends on their own. We set up a debit card for each of our sons when they turned 16 that was linked to a separate checking account that they shared with me. They used this account to pay their cell phone bills and manage a fixed income (allowance).  As they got older, I made them responsible for buying clothes, gas, and school supplies for a set amount.

What other life skills that students need to learn before college do you suggest? Let us know in the comments!

Marie founded TeenLife Media in 2007, a few years after she moved with her husband and two sons (12 and 14) to Boston. She found that there were no websites or publications that helped families with teens — just those with babies or little kids – and the idea for TeenLife was born! Marie is passionate about experiential learning for teens as a result of living abroad in her childhood. Her career includes over 20 years of experience as a marketing executive at American Express and other companies in the financial services industry. She is active in the community and currently serves as a Trustee on the Board of the Boston Ballet. She has a BSE from Princeton University and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

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