Brushing up on a number of basic life skills can help smooth out your child’s transition to college.

Do you remember when you first learned how to create a budget and handle your money? Arrange a visit to the doctor on your own? Develop a daily schedule to manage your time?

For some students who have put in the hard work to get into college—and presumably learned a few things along the way—the surprising answer to many of those questions is “no.”

We can all agree that the ability to figure things out on your own is a valuable one. You might have even put in the time to instruct your newly minted adult on the finer points of changing a tire and handling their own laundry—the basics will certainly come in handy. But before you send them off to college, it’s a good idea to make sure he or she has some advanced, real-world skills that will help college life go much smoother.

Money Matters

Handling finances can be one of the trickiest parts of growing up. Will your student have a credit card? A debit card? Who will she bank with? Does she know how to create a basic budget and keep track of where her money is being spent? A 2009 study by Sallie Mae found that the average undergraduate held $3,173 in credit card debt. “At freshman orientations, there are oodles of tables and booths for banks and credit unions, all calling out, ‘Get a card! Get a card!’ ” says Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, author of adMISSION POSSIBLE: The Dare to Be Yourself Guide for Getting into the Best Colleges for You. “Kids will do just that, having no idea what it’s all about, including minimum payments they will need to make and what it means if they don’t pay on time.” Michelle Bata, director of Clark university’s LEEP Center, which was designed to support students and connect them with the right people, opportunities and resources on campus, says budgeting is one of the skills students most commonly lack. And what they often don’t know is that there are resources on campus to assist them in funding their studies and getting their finances in order. “The folks in financial aid are willing to help them talk about their financial aid package and budgeting in college in general,” she says.

A number of online budget tools are readily available for students who are ready to take charge of their finances. has a student budget calculator specifically formulated for students attending a college, university or educational institution to manage expenses and income during a standard eight-month school year from September through April. The calculator allows users to run projections and reports that help them analyze exactly how their money is being handled.

Aside from tapping into on-campus financial programs and advisory offices for additional funds, students can look into other avenues of financial aid at Federal Student Aid (, a part of the U.S. Department of Education. The largest provider of student financial aid in the nation, this organization issues more than $150 billion in loans, grants and work-study funds annually to more than 15 million college students.

Freshman 15 Checklist

Does your college student know how to:

  • Do laundry?
  • Create a budget?
  • Build credit?
  • Open a savings account?
  • Pay bills?
  • Make a doctor’s appointment?
  • Change a tire?
  • Stock a first-aid kit?
  • Keep personal and academic records safe?
  • Find and use campus resources?
  • Manage time and stress?
  • Take safety measures when walking alone?
  • Make travel arrangements?
  • Converse with professors?
  • Prepare a resume and interview for jobs?

In Sickness and Health

It’s always helpful to have an idea of what to do in an emergency, whether it’s a minor car accident, a medical issue or an extreme weather event. A first-aid kit is a great thing to keep in a dorm room or car. Harmful drug interactions can be avoided by properly reading labels and understanding whats going into your body at all times.

When illness does strike, many students have never made a doctor’s appointment and they don’t know what to say when they call or to bring along personal identification, a list of medications and allergies, etc. Anne Welch, Clinical Administrator of the University Health Service at the University of Kentucky, urges parents to arm their children with this information, but points out that student health fees likely cover many basic services under regular tuition costs. Parents and students are typically notified of available campus services such as office visits, allergy shots and counseling during advisory conferences and orientations. Health educators are also available on some campuses to promote preventive medicine programs; the UK clinic recently added a dietitian who addresses eating disorders and dietary recommendations. It’s a big part of what we want parents to know that these kids have access to coming into college, Welch says.

Students should also check to see which immunizations their college requires and ensure they get those taken care of before heading off to school. While each state has different requirements, most colleges require prior vaccination for measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox), along with Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (also known as whooping-cough).

Due to the increased risks of living in residential housing, vaccinations for meningitis and hepatitis B are also recommended. Bacterial meningitis is more easily spread through shared, close quarters with other students; symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and a confused mental state. The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through blood, semen or other body fluids and can cause a serious liver infection without a vaccination. Plan to protect your student against these risks by reviewing vaccination records before they depart for campus.

Campus Resources

Finally, students will put themselves in a much better position at school if they identify early on all the services their college has to offer. Many don’t know where to go for help until it’s too late, but they can get the kind of assistance they need before they go too far down the rabbit hole and you can’t bring them back, Bata says.

Most colleges such as Clark University have programs in which advisers are assigned to individual students to help facilitate student connection to resources that support academic and life skills. The intent is to help them with tasks, from identifying extracurricular and co-curricular experiences to making valuable connections with professors, alumni, businesses and community organizations in their field. Resident advisers in student housing are also great resources for campus information, counseling and support. And while every college is different, all have programs to help make sure students do well— including mental health counseling, tutoring, time management workshops and more.

So don’t be afraid to put your children through a Life 101 crash course—learning these practical skills early on can set them up for success.

Among the basic items the Mayo Clinic recommends for your first-aid kit are:

  • Adhesive tape
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Antiseptic solution or towelettes
  • Bandages, including rolls of elastic wrap and bandage strips in various sizes
  • Cotton balls and cotton tipped swabs
  • Disposable latex or synthetic gloves, at least two pair
  • Duct tape
  • Gauze pads and rolled gauze in assorted sizes
  • First-aid manual
  • Petroleum jelly or other lubricant
  • Scissors and tweezers
  • Soap or instant hand sanitizer
  • Thermometer
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Over-the-counter oral antihistamine
  • Aspirin and nonaspirin pain relievers
  • Calamine lotion
  • Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream
  • Personal medications that don’t require refrigeration
  • Emergency phone contacts, including numbers for the family doctor, local emergency services, emergency road service providers and the regional poison control center
  • Small, waterproof flashlight and extra batteries