10 Essential Life Skills for College Students & Young Adults

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell

When your kids get ready to leave the nest (whether for college, the armed service, or just for their first apartment), there are certain critical life skills they need to know. You’ll feel better when they go if you know you’ve finished strong as a parent, and equipped them with the skills they need to succeed. Today I’m sharing 10 essential life skills for college students and young adults. These are the things your kids need to know before they go!

For you, launching them probably brings up a whole mess of emotions. On one hand, it’s a time of celebration. This is what you worked for all these years! On the other hand, it’s the beginning of the end as a parent. It’s normal to feel sad, and maybe even a little panicky about what life will be like when your young adult leaves the nest.

I have lots of resources on Empty Nest Blessed to help you get through that transition, adjust, and move forward, but for now, it’s important to remember that your job isn’t quite finished yet. You’ll feel better when they go if you know you’ve finished strong as a parent, and equipped them with these essential life skills.

Like most high school seniors and young adults, hearing your opinion and absorbing your great wisdom on life is probably not high on your child’s agenda! 😂 It’s important to know that learning these 10 essential life skills will not be exciting or a priority for them! (But you still need to make sure you do your part to help them grasp them.)

Start HERE

In late March or April of their senior year, tell your son or daughter that you need five minutes of their time to have a sit-down discussion. (If they’re like our kids, this will make them nervous! Hahaha!) During your discussion, let them know that during your last few months together you will be working on making sure they know the critical life skills that they will need to know in order to navigate college and the adult world successfully.

Tell them that teaching these things is part of finishing strong as a parent. Tell them it’s more for you than for them. Don’t tell them this, but trust me when I tell you that when they get to college, they will be grateful! They will be shocked at the number of fellow students who are not likewise equipped with these essential life skills.

Finally, let them know that you will be using the summer to make sure they know these things. When the eye rolls come during the summer, you can refer back to this initial discussion, and again ask for their patience.

10 Essential Life Skills for College Students

1. Find Their Way Around

If you’ve lived in the same place for a while, your kids may not know how to use a navigation system. Make sure they can use both the driving and walking directions on the navigation system on their phone or download Waze or Google Maps. They also need to learn how to read an old-fashioned paper map in order to get an overview of an area. When Bob and I were in NYC a few years ago, we realized we had been using our phones to find our way around, but we were a little fuzzy on the actual layout of the city as a whole. (Where is the Meat-Packing District anyway?) We snagged a city map at a souvenir shop and got the big picture.

Your kids also need to know how to navigate their way around an airport as well as how to use public transportation. Tell them the key is to look around and read signs. It seems obvious, but some kids may panic and forget this simple tip in an unfamiliar place.

2. Be a Good Roommate

They need to learn how to pull their own weight in a household. This includes not only things like unloading the dishwasher, taking out the trash, and doing laundry, but especially noticing when it needs to be done and taking the initiative to do it.

3. Manage Medical Issues

Have your child take over making their medical appointments, filling and refilling prescriptions, and being their own advocate when it comes to managing their health. Before I sent my kids off, I realized they didn’t know that pharmacists can often be a great resource and that many of their medical questions could be handled by calling their doctor’s nurse or medical assistant. Knowledge like this really empowered them when they were ill at school and had to navigate the campus medical center and local pharmacy.

Fellow empty nester and physician Dr. Jill Grimes has done it again! This expert on college student & young adult health just published an updated version of her Ultimate College Student Health Handbook. Trust me when I say that THIS is the book you need to get your young adult and college kids. Click through HERE to read more about it. I HIGHLY recommend this book! 


Last year, Dr. Grimes and I put together a College First Aid Kit with all of the items that Dr. Grimes suggests college students need to have on hand when they leave the nest, whether for college or for a first apartment. You can find it on the Empty Nest Blessed Amazon page by clicking HERE.

4. Talk to Strangers

You may have been handling this one for your kids without even realizing it! They need to be able to ask for everything from directions to advice and guidance from all kinds of people. From their teachers and librarians to waiters and store clerks, stating their case or asking good questions is an important life skill. Encourage them to see others as valuable resources to help them learn, grow, and achieve their objectives. Let them practice by returning an item to Target or getting their car inspected.

5. Interpersonal Skills

Do your kids know how to get along with and respect those who don’t share their value systems, political persuasions, or even fashion sense? Do they know how to disagree respectfully? Make sure they understand how to be a good listener, a good friend, and how to handle difficult people.

Also, be sure they know when to reach out for help in dealing with a challenging person. One of my friends had a son who was assigned a severely depressed roommate. Her son needed to know that it was okay to talk with his Resident Assistant and bring his roommate’s issues to the attention of people who were equipped to help.

6. Manage Money

Talk with your student about the type of expenses you expect them to take care of, and what expenses you’ll handle. Encourage your child to get a job on campus, to babysit, referee or dog sit to earn extra cash. Agreeing in advance about who pays for what will prevent potential conflicts down the road. We told our kids that we would always pay for their meals — even if they were out with friends — because we wanted to make sure they were well-nourished(!).

7. Try New Things

College is full of new experiences, from meeting new people to studying abroad. Encourage them to try new things. This might be something as simple as trying a new food or taking a unique class. We were amazed when our middle son, who would never even sing the hymns in church, joined the Men’s Chorus at his university! Make sure they know that college is the time to stretch themselves and take some risks. If not now, when?

8. Cope with Fluctuating Emotions

Whether it’s the moodiness that comes with hormones, or just the ups and downs of adjusting to college life, help your student recognize that the ebb and flow of moods and emotions are normal when it comes to life transitions. We told our kids they could call us day or night when they needed to vent, cry, celebrate, ask for advice, or just talk. (Warning! When they do reach out, how well you respond may well determine if they’ll continue to do so. For articles on parenting your adult kids well, click HERE.)

9. Manage Assignments & Deadlines

Stop acting as your teen’s alarm clock and reminding them what to do when. Help them understand that life is full of choices, and those choices have consequences. They need to suffer the consequences of poor choices or poor planning in order to learn and grow. This can be difficult to watch as a parent, but it’s a necessary life skill for a young adult.

10. Stay Safe

Make sure they know how to call an Uber, dial 911, and share their location on their phone. Talk with them about staying safe in various situations and make sure they have an exit plan if they don’t feel comfortable. We told our kids they could call us any time they felt compromised or vulnerable, and we would stay on the phone with them as long as they needed. Encourage them to develop a support system of friends or roommates who will be there for them if they ever feel unsafe.

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Have your kids already left the nest? What life skills did you make sure they knew before they went? I’d love to know. Please share in the comments below!

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  1. Suzy, this is such wonderful information. Also how to fill out a job application, write a check, balance a checking account, how to make a budget, & how to save money.

  2. Great article! My daughter’s in college now and all these skills are vital. Thanks for the reminders on them.

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