College survival skills: 8 things you need to know before you go

College Skills

By Hannah Mcdonald-Moniz

Moving away from home might be something you’ve been looking forward to for a long time (Freedom! No curfew! No nagging!)…but you’ll probably miss the convenience of living with mom and dad more than you realize. Your parents take care of so many little things that you take for granted, until you move out of the house and suddenly—not only do I have homework, but I have to pay bills? And vacuum the dust creatures accumulating under the couch? Here are a few tips to make the adjustment a little easier, whether you’re moving across the country or just across town.


The number one, infamous incompetence of new college students: laundry. That’s right, it’s time to start learning how to pre-treat your stained clothes (a little something called Spray ’n Wash), and then separate whites from colors. Learn what settings your clothes are usually washed in at home. And start to remember to check the tag of your new clothes. Is it machine washable? Can it be put in the drier? Pay attention or you’ll end up ruining a new silk blouse or shrinking a wooly sweater. It would be handy to learn how to pass an iron over those dress pants or sew on a stray button as well.


A surprising number of people actually come to college without a driver’s license. Luckily, you might not need to drive a lot once on campus, but it’s better to learn when you’re at home, in familiar surroundings. And living in a city is no excuse: even if you have no need for a car on a daily basis now or in college, it doesn’t hurt to have a license. You might travel someplace with friends in college and someone will need to do the driving, or you might choose to volunteer for a group or work at a summer camp that requires you to get van certified. And it’s always good to have one extra person available to be a designated driver. You’re going to want to know how to drive at some point in your life; now’s a better time than after graduation, when you’re applying for jobs and possibly moving again.


With your newfound freedom come new costs. Chances are, you’ll be the one paying for that burrito you picked up at 3am, and the pizza you ordered last night, and those flip-flops you just had to have. Writing checks, balancing a checkbook, and paying bills are all important lessons to learn before setting out on your own. You like buying—and nobody likes a mooch—so it’s time to figure out the mechanics of paying for it, from online bill payment to keeping up with your pricey cell plan. And even if your parents are generously covering many costs for you, it’s good to know how to manage your money, because you’ll have to eventually. You don’t want to be the 24-year-old who doesn’t know how to write a check, so start practicing.


You’ll set your room up just the way you like it when you first arrive—and then four wild parties, three exams, one all-nighter, and two pizza deliveries later, it’s unrecognizable. Sure, you probably have janitors who clean the hallways for you (have a little sympathy for them and make sure trash actually makes it into the right receptacle), but your room is all yours. This isn’t just about picking up after yourself (everyone can live with a little clutter); this is about giant dust bunnies, Oreos mashed into the carpet, unidentified spilled substances. Never run a vacuum before, or even heard of a dustbuster? Take a trip down the household cleaning section of Target and chances are you’ll pick up a lot, from Wet Wipes to room deodorizer. If you have your own bathroom, that’s a whole other story. A recommendation: make a cleaning schedule with your roommates in order to avoid one of those silent battles that take shape when each person waits for the other to give in and scrub the accumulating grime.


Think you’ll be looking for a summer job or an internship after your first year? It’s time to learn how to make a professional-style resume. Take a look at some different templates to get an idea of what you’ll need: usually contact info, education, previous work experience, activities and leadership experience, sometimes special talents (like proficiency in a foreign language, or computer programming). Start compiling a list of things about yourself that would fit on a resume and try putting them together. You might be surprised how tricky it is to keep things concise, so start it now. When you’re going in for that interview in a few months, all you’ll have to do is click “print!”


Read and repeat: a credit card is not an unlimited allowance, a credit card is not…College might be the first time you’ve had your own credit card, or at least free reign over it (and responsibility for the bills). You might think you’d never be one of those people who would start spending out of control, but the charges can add up quicker than you’d expect. Take the time to read the fine print, as boring as it is, and ask questions when you get your card. You should understand how it works: what your limit is, if you can use it out of the country, and what happens if you overcharge. And check your balance online. Regularly. Your wallet will thank you.


You breezed through AP English Lit by reading Sparknotes and wrote your final US History paper with Wikipedia as your only source? That may have worked in high school, but chances are your college professors won’t let it slide. Before you get swamped with midterms and discover you’re in over your head, you need to learn how to write a research paper. Acquaint yourself with the library (that’s right, it’s still not possible to do absolutely everything online!) and how to put together a proper bibliography, MLA style. There are still some good resources on the web, like Google Books, which you can use to skim samples of books to decide whether it’s worth the trek to the library, and Google Scholar, where you can find full academic papers. 


Surprisingly, everyone doesn’t get this lesson down perfectly in preschool. Jokes aside, though it may sound simple, in college you’ll find yourself having to share things you never did before, with people who have different lifestyles and habits and who you might not have chosen as roommates. Compromise is key when it comes to the bathroom/kitchen/bedroom/storage space/you name it, because even the best of friendships can be seriously strained by choosing to live together. And don’t forget that sharing doesn’t just mean letting your roommate use half the closet—it also means not making her the only one who cleans the common room.

Health Care


Need more help surviving college? Check out our essential college first aid kit.