Seven Life Skills Your Teen Needs for College

By Huntington Learning Center

The list of academic aptitudes and skills your child needs for college is long. Whether your teen plans to become an engineer or an English teacher, those college professors expect that he or she has the subject-matter knowledge as well as fundamental 21st century skills like critical thinking and problem solving.

But there are many other important life skills that teens need to succeed in the real world. Here are seven of them:

  1. Money management – Teens go to college to prepare themselves for their future careers (in which they will make money), but it’s essential that they understand the basics of money management long before they set foot in the working world. At a minimum, talk with your teen about how to create a budget, why it’s important to manage to that budget, how to set financial goals (such as saving toward something) and why debt can be dangerous (especially debt racked up by credit cards).
  2. CommunicationEvery career involves communication in the form of writing, talking and non-verbal communication. Teens need to learn how to communicate their ideas and opinions clearly, but it’s also crucial that they are able to negotiate, build good working relationships through effective communication and diffuse conflicts when they arise.
  3. Listening – In addition to being able to communicate and express themselves, teens must be skillful listeners. Remind your teen that listening is not just about hearing people talk. It’s about focusing on what they are trying to communicate, processing it, watching for non-verbal cues and confirming understanding. Good listeners listen to understand, not just to formulate their own responses.
  4. Self-discipline – In college, teens no longer have parents telling them what to do and how to do it. It’s up to them how and when to study and whether to go to class or not. Do your best to take a step back in high school so that your teen can step up and take responsibility for his or her life—including school. You can support your teen from the sidelines by providing structure and encouraging the adoption of good routines.
  5. Self-advocacy – Self-advocacy goes hand in hand with good communication. In college, it is expected that teens will reach out when they need help or want to understand professors’ grading policies or something similar. Encourage your teen to be assertive and to take the initiative in high school to talk directly with teachers and guidance counselors about all things school-related.
  6. Decision-making – Without Mom and Dad around at college, teens are put fully in charge of their lives—quite possibly for the first time. This can be a rude awakening without practice, so the best thing you can do is offer your teen choices when appropriate. For big decisions, let your teen weigh his or her options and think through various outcomes. Be on hand for support, but make sure your teen learns how to navigate decision-making independently.
  7. Emotional intelligencePeople who are emotionally intelligent recognize their emotions as well as those of others and use that to guide their thinking and behavior. This aptitude is essential in college, and helps teens work effectively with others, build good peer relationships, solve problems and feel more confident as students.

The above skills are all related to school and/or productivity, but there are plenty of other life skills your teen will need, like basic kitchen and cooking skills, cleanliness, personal hygiene and healthcare, and navigational skills for driving around. The point is this: Don’t wait until a month before your teen goes to college to show him or her how to use the oven…or to work on fostering the above skills. In the very near future, your teen will need to operate independently in the world.

If you’re concerned that your teen lacks some of the essentials to succeed in college and beyond—such as time management, effective studying and organizational skills—or is missing important content knowledge, call Huntington at 1-800 CAN LEARN. We’re here to help your teen make the transition to college a successful one.


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