What Skills Does Your College Student Need?

“How to do their own laundry!” calls out a woman, a mom, as she’s raising her hand, before she’s even called on.

The question is, “What skills does your college student need?”

The woman asking is from the Admissions Office at CSU (Colorado State  University). Or was it the Dean’s Office? She’s had several roles at CSU, including the two aforementioned ones, as well as a professor and also a mother of a senior in college and a senior in high school.

It’s Campus Visitation Day at CSU and this woman is addressing about a hundred of us in a breakout session that is just for parents.

“Okay, besides laundry, what else?”

“Time management!” yells a father in the group.


“Asking for help when they need it.”

“Yes, self-advocacy,” clarifies the Admissions/Dean’s Office/past professor/mom.

“Safety,” I add to the list.

All of this in thirty seconds and I’m starting to have physiological reactions. You know, the type that would probably make me fail a polygraph test.

Why? Not because I couldn’t have come up with this list myself and not because I haven’t considered these things plenty over the years and not because I haven’t been working on developing them in my daughter. I have. Trust me, I have, since the day she was born.

But when the time is drawing near, when it’s less than a year now before my baby will be leaving home and going to live on her own, I start to question whether I’ve done an adequate job.

And I wonder if she’s ready.

Was I ready at age 18? Did I do my laundry when I was in high school? I can’t recall, exactly, but I’m thinking not. I remember asking my mom about bleach several months into my freshman year. My favorite thing to sleep in was a white football practice jersey that I stole from some boyfriend. When I lived at home it smelled heavily (and heavenly) of bleach. The smell of bleach reminded me of my mother and clean laundry and the comforts of home. After a few months at college, the jersey was dingy and didn’t smell as nice and I had to ask my mom what her magic secret was. So, I’m thinking she must have done my laundry and I had to learn once I got to college.

My daughter has done her own laundry for years. She doesn’t like anyone to touch her clothes. It’s been easy to respect that about her.

Time management. I know I was good at this one. Always was, and always have been. However, there really is no way to prepare someone for going from being in school all day long and having to get homework done in the few remaining hours of the day to having one or two hour-long classes and the rest of the day free. With so much free time, it’s easy to put homework off, thinking there will always be time to do it later or another day. Anyone who goes to college has to adapt to this change, no matter how good his or her time management skills are, no matter how diligent the parent was in teaching this skill.

Budgeting. I’ve tried. Tried to budget my money and tried to teach my daughter some skills in this area. For the past few years, I’ve given her x amount of dollars per month for clothing. But it’s never really worked out quite like I wanted it to. I hoped there would be months when she spent her money too soon, frivolously, and then really needed something and would learn how to go without. But it’s hard to watch your child not have proper shoes for the snow, to go without a sports bra for exercise, to be the only one in the group who’s not getting the t-shirt for a special event. And so there were many months when I would give her a little extra.

I tried having her buy all of her own gas, too. But I rely on her to help me get my younger daughter, who is not yet driving, to and from sports practices, and so I think it’s only fair that I give her some gas money. And also pay her a little extra for her time.

My daughter has learned some great money management skills that I surely didn’t have at her age. She’s a healthy eater (doesn’t spend much on junk food, which tends to be expensive), a great bargain shopper when it comes to clothing (Goodwill, clothing exchange stores), and knows how to entertain herself and have fun without spending a dime. Still, the shock, once you leave home, of not having your mom pay for all those little random things. And so much time to go out socializing with all the new friends you make.

Asking for help. I’ve never been good at that. Instead, I’ve always been determined to figure everything out on my own. Independence–it’s a strength and a weakness. My daughter is a bit stubborn about this, but she’s way ahead of me, not just the me at age 18 but the present-day me, of knowing when she needs help. She’s so open with her fears and her struggles that she’s constantly indirectly stating her needs. If a friend or a teacher is nearby and listening, they often offer some help or advice. At college, she’ll need to learn what resources are available to her on campus and within the larger community. But I think she’ll do well in the self-advocacy department.

Safety. My purse got stolen from my truck when I was 16. No one ever told me not to leave it on the seat in plain sight. My dad yelled at me for just that and I’ve been extra vigilant ever since.  Vigilant when walking alone, quick to enter my vehicle and lock the doors right behind me, not very trusting of strangers, holding my purse a little tighter while in crowds, all that stuff. I worry about my daughter here. She is friendly, so friendly, even with complete strangers. She takes pride in the fact that she trusts people, that she gives them the benefit of the doubt, that she’s not judgmental like her mother. She’s a stroller. She does not walk quickly from point A to point B. And she’s often in her own little world or wrapped up with chatting and giggling with her friends. In other words, she’s not as aware of her surroundings as she should be. And in some other words, she’s a teenager.

The thing is, parents can’t fully develop these skills in their child. Life is what develops these skills, not parents. Kids have to leave home and get out there and experience life, on their own, to figure this stuff out.

Will bad things happen?

Will her favorite white shirt turn pink? Yes!

Will she, at some point, be up all night finishing a paper due to procrastination? I don’t know a single college student who hasn’t pulled an all-nighter studying or writing a paper or finishing a project. I certainly did, even with my out-there time management abilities. After a few of them, she’ll learn. Or she’ll learn that that’s really how she prefers to operate.

Will she run out of money some months? Yes, most months, for many years, perhaps decades. She may never learn how to budget, but if that’s the case then she’ll learn how to deal with not having any money for a while. We’ve all been there, even as adults.

Do you ever learn to recognize your needs? To ask for help? To stick up for yourself? Most people do. Most people figure out that most things are easier with a bit of help. And that it’s rewarding to help others in return.

And safety. Do you become more wise in protecting yourself and your belongings? Life will teach you this. Sometimes in harsh, painful, personal ways. Sometimes more gently, more indirectly. But every living thing learns to protect itself eventually.

I’ve done my best, as a parent, for better or worse, and soon I’ll turn things over to life. It is, after all, the best teacher. I know it’ll get the job done.

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. theclocktowersunset
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 13:01:38

    Well said! You know, this should be the first page of every college premptatory pamphlet. And yes I, just made that word up….. 🙂


    • Randee
      Oct 29, 2013 @ 13:23:51

      I was thinking it could be the basis of a parenting book. Theme: You don’t need to do anything, life will teach them everything. If only it worked that way for everyone…


  2. farfetchedfriends
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 09:31:22

    I love the money management part. My daughter & I went to a thrift store yesterday to find the “perfect” end table. We did, but also found a $5 bread machine. Score!
    Anyway, there were the cutest knit winter beanie hats and the yard was three or four colors and she grabbed it and said, “Oooh! That is pretty!” Then she saw the $6 price tag and threw it down like it was poison. LOL. She may not yet be doing her laundry, but at least she’s okay with money. 🙂 (high school freshman)


  3. Broken White Line
    Nov 02, 2013 @ 21:29:35

    My oldest moved away almost three years ago (he’s 22 now). We taught him everything about money management, shopping, laundry, cooking, etc., before he left. We thought he was definitely ready for this. Apparently we missed the lesson on submitting a Change of Address card when he moved so he missed a bill and ended up in Collections. Boy, was he mad at us! Lol!

    Yep, you can never teach them everything. Life is good about filling in those gaps.


  4. Broken White Line
    Nov 02, 2013 @ 21:49:44

    Nope. Not me.


  5. K D Blakley
    Dec 08, 2013 @ 22:40:47

    This is such an important topic! When I left home for college, I was unprepared. My husband and I created a list of skills we wanted our kids to know before they left home – I’m now in the process of turning that info into a website devoted to the topic. I still have a lot of writing to do, but I’m always on the lookout for new ideas to include. Thanks for sharing your ideas!


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