7 Things Teens Need to Know Before They Leave For College

by Dana Baker
Originally Published: 
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It’s that time in senior year of high school when people are hearing back from colleges. Some applied Early Decision and know where they are going; others managed to get their essays done, have applied and are now waiting anxiously until April to hear back. Will they get in? Deferred? Rejected? So much stress swirling around these kids as they wait, checking email and portals constantly, hoping and fearing they will have a letter.

But when they do get in (and they will), how do we know if they are ready to go? How do we let go as parents this year –on some things, but not everything? How do we know they are prepared, and what can we do to ensure they are?

Well, here’s a small checklist of what your kids need to know before they head off on their own to college. Luckily, you have several months left to teach them.

1. How To Self-Advocate

If you’re still emailing their teachers or chatting with the principal, it’s past time to stop. It’s hard to ask for help—we all want to be competent and confident, but there will be times when, for whatever reason, we need help. Make sure your teens know how to ask for what they need. Maybe the math is too hard, or they really want to get in to a closed class; or maybe they have an issue with a roommate or anxiety. Colleges have many places they can go for help, but they have to ask.

Along with standing up for themselves and asking for help, teach them to listen well and communicate calmly. Things won’t always go their way and they need to understand that and really be able to participate in a discussion and negotiate in the conversation. To self-advocate, they need to be comfortable speaking to authority figures and to admitting they want or need something.

2. How To Travel Alone

This doesn’t have to mean fly alone or go abroad alone. But they should be able to plan a local outing and get there by themselves. That could mean walking, taking a bus, subway or a train. If they do need to fly to school, be sure they know what to do if there is a delay or they miss a flight. That can be really stressful on your own. They need to be able to spread their wings before they actually have to. So when in doubt, let your kid take public transportation.

If your kid is lucky enough to have a car, they should know how to change a tire,​ and get and use roadside assistance. If their college has shuttles or uses Zip Car, they should know that and research how to utilize them effectively. Basically, students should feel confident about using mass transportation​ or taking care of their own car if necessary.

3. How To Be Safe and Healthy

Campus safety and sexual assault are significant issues on college campuses. Your teens can’t be prepared for everything, but they can be careful and mindful of their surroundings, and they can research the safety of their school before they go. Talk to them about watching out for others, making a safe community themselves, and knowing how to get help on campus. They should walk with others at night, know where the blue lights (or whatever system the college uses) are and try to avoid getting super drunk. Students should also understand how to navigate a pharmacy, fill prescriptions, ​change doctors​ and find any other resources that they may need.

4. Do Laundry

You won’t be there to do it for them in college—no mater how often they seem to come home with dirty clothes. The key here is not to assume they know how. If you haven’t actually taught them and watched them do it, you have no clue. So show them the ropes, make sure they leave for school with laundry detergent and let ’em run!

5. Cook a Meal

A few meals, really. They may not have to in college, thanks to meal plans, but they sure should know their way around a kitchen. Fry or scramble some eggs, make some toast; throw a sandwich together and at least boil ramen—a staple for college age kids. Basically if they find themselves alone in a kitchen, hungry and no one else around, they should feel that “Yeah, I’ve got this.”

6. Manage Money

Make sure your college kid already knows how to handle money before they actually are far away and in control of it. That means they can make and stick to a budget and can prioritize strategically. Discuss ahead of time what, if anything you will be paying for day to day. For instance, they want to go away for a weekend and visit a friend or see a game. Does that come out of your bank account or theirs? Flights or trains home—you or them? Text books can add up quickly, so just check that they will buy the book before the beer!

7. Persevere

No one gets through college without failing at something. Period. Let them know that, so they don’t end up feeling embarrassed or defeated. Make sure they have the resilience to handle what gets thrown at them. Perseverance is a really great word–teach them that.

When you’re done with all that, just make sure they know how to call, text or snap home—and that they do!

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