Essential skills for college freshmen

Laundry, car maintenance skills, other life savers

As I confidently waltzed into my dorm for my freshman year of college, with my new-found independence and debt in tow, I felt ready to conquer the world. Other than to check in, I refused to call my mother for any issues; I pridefully decided that if I had any problems I would solve them myself.

I was horribly mistaken. I found myself calling my mom about everything from learning how to make do with limited resources to how to handle the dreaded financial aid office and even how to remove a nail polish stain from a comforter.

"Most students have been in the same district for 12 years and struggle with the unknown," said Julie Kampschroeder, counselor at Pattonville High School and the new St. Louis Graduates High School to College Center. "Students are often unaware of certain procedures and professor expectations. I would advise any first-year student to take advantage of Residence Advisers and college counselors because they are trained to help students with these concerns."

As opposed to relying on Google and phoning Mom 24/7, these are a few life lessons that every parent should ensure their child knows before sending him or her off into the great unknown.


Transitioning from high school to college, it is imperative that your student know how to schedule his or her free time effectively. Using a planner consistently will help him or her keep a track of classes, meetings and study time.

Students can also use their smartphones as a scheduling tool. Some great apps are available to help you avoid the pitfalls of procrastination:

iStudiez Pro — Students can include course schedules, plan study sessions, and input assignment deadlines, among other things (available on iOs).

Outliner — This app allows you to organize your thoughts, tasks, and to-do lists. Outliner uses Dropbox so that students can share their information from any computer or web-enabled device (available on iOs and Android).

Trello — Trello takes a productive approach to studying and collaborating with your peers. This app helps you plan an entire project from the beginning stages to the final product.


If the recent recession taught us anything, it's that credit card debt can get you in trouble.

"Young adults need to know that they will be targeted by credit card companies," Cheryl Bohlen, Finance Park Manager at Junior Achievement, said. "Know how credit works and how it can affect your future buying power."

Students should also learn to budget and prioritize their expenses. Many free online tools and templates are available to students and parents. Also, be sure your child knows how to use an ATM, balance a checkbook and pay her or his own bills.


Some students seem to wait until Thanksgiving break for Mom to do all of their laundry.

"While visiting my daughter (at college) I noticed that one of the biggest issues for students was knowing how to do laundry properly; there were a lot of kids walking around with discolored clothing," said Lisa Bobbit, whose daughter Jordan goes to Belloit College in Wisconsin. Go over the basics of color sorting, the correct temperature, and when and how much detergent to use.

Many students are concerned about storing their laundry and other items in such a compact space as a dorm room.

"Vertical storage is essential for small spaces. Mount shelves on the wall, use shoe organizers on the backs of doors, add an extra hanging bar in the closet," said Jodi Granok, owner of Organizing Magic in University City, Mo. "Loft the bed and use the space underneath for a study zone. If at all possible, only bring one season's worth of clothing at a time and rotate during the year."


Your teen should know the basic operations of a car and how it functions. Some basic tasks to know are: how to pump gas, how to check the oil level and washer fluid, how to jump-start a car and how to change a tire.

"Prior to going away for school you should get the oil changed, check the fluid levels, and just have a general inspection done," said Peter Huey, owner of STL Auto Advocates in St. Louis. "Also, a first aid kit, window cleaner and blanket are items you should always keep in your vehicle."

Young adults should also know how to book a flight, navigate a map and decipher public transportation schedules.


Even if your child has a meal plan, he or she should know how to prepare a simple meal such as spaghetti. How to cook poultry, knife-handling, and microwave safety are just a few other important skills.

"Some tools and cookware you should have in your beginners kit are: cutlery, a skillet and a cookie sheet," said Sally Burns of Dierbergs School of Cooking.

Don't forget to teach them safe storage for leftovers and proper clean-up. For example, a week-old pizza is not edible.

"Going out to eat is a social experience," said Anne Cori owner of the Kitchen Conservatory. "Many students won't cook because they don't think they have the time, but there are many dishes that aren't time-consuming. Experiment and try new things. That's how you learn."


Students are more susceptible to chronic illness because of the close living quarters of the residence halls, says Dr. Douglas Carlson, professor of pediatrics at Washington University. "It's important to take precautions such as washing your hands and not exposing yourself to others if you are sick."

Dorms are a breeding ground for bacteria. Changing your sheets, staying up to date on vaccinations and cleaning your room frequently are great ways to prevent the spread of germs.

Poor immune systems lead to more illness. To combat this, be sure to get plenty of rest and exercise and eat healthily.

"We are naturally drawn to foods with high fat and cholesterol content," Carlson said. "It's important to limit your intake of these items and avoid processed foods. Many people are unaware that fruit beverages and sodas have high calorie content. Limit those liquid calories; water is always the best option."

Take advantage of athletic equipment. You pay for it; you should use it. Many students played sports in high school but don't in college. Inactivity leads to the all-too-common weight gain known as the Freshman 15, Kampschroeder said.

Sending your child off to school can be one of the most frightening yet rewarding moments of your life — and theirs.

"Don't smother them; talking every day is not realistic," said Bobbit. "You can always talk on the phone, Skype, and most schools have a parent weekend. You have to know that you prepared your child 17 or 18 years for this and that they are ready."