Have A College-Bound Kid? Pass Along These Important Tips Before They Leave

When I left for college without basic survival tips, I turned out to be…kinda f*cked. 

I knew how to take care of my medical health (washing my equipment, timing my meds, etc.), but I didn’t know how to cook pasta. I didn’t know how to do laundry properly. One of my proudest moments was learning how to cook bacon without a microwave. (I had just turned 20 at this time.)

Yeah, I was unprepared to say the least. I thrived in most ways, but the basics were missing. And I really really wish I had the basics. 

So, dear parents, which basic tips should you teach your child before they leave for college? As a former student who didn’t have them, and with input from our lovely Editor-in-Chief, Kelly, regarding what she taught her own kids, here are ways you can prepare your kids for independence.


Cooking Easy Meals

Remember how I said I didn’t know how to cook pasta? Yeah, being able to cook pasta and a nice sauce would have been way better than going to the dining hall for cold cheese pizza.

Teach your college student how to cook three basic meals. They can buy microwaveable food in a pinch, but homemade meals beat out three-minute ramen for the fourth night in a row. Plus, they can make enough for leftovers – perfect for the student who doesn’t have time to cook every night, but wants that delicious stir fry for the next day.

Making A Budget

I received a debit card when I went to school, and I may or may not have gone a little crazy with it. Freedom, ya know? But my parents were NOT fans of me overspending, so after a few months of impulse purchases, we sat down and made a budget.

The budget included room for necessities, emergencies, and just-for-fun purchases. The bulk went to the necessities – things like home items (toilet paper, Clorox wipes) and groceries – and emergencies, like if I needed to go to urgent care. Then I had a little bit for impulse buys to give me a serotonin boost. I never went over again, and I’ve carried this college tip with me (adjusting based on income, of course) all these years later.

So, if you have a kid who has the ability to spend, sit them down before they head off and open Excel to outline a budget. If you can foot the bill, explain that they can’t take advantage of your generosity. If they’re paying for it themselves, make sure they understand that they can only spend as much as they earn (and ideally, less). Basically: help them learn the value of a dollar.

Basic Household Chores 

I read a lot about how to do laundry, but I never actually did it. And then, when it came time to do it, I thought: “Okay wait, is this a delicate? Do I actually need to hang to dry, or will it stay the same size if I put it in the dryer? What do these symbols on the tags mean!?”

This extended to other basic household duties, like how to properly clean a kitchen (including its appliances) or sanitize a bathroom. Could you use bleach when cleaning, or would that destroy the sink? Could I use a steel wool sponge on aluminum?

If your child is heading off to college, make sure they know these basic tips. You don’t want them living in filth, wearing clothes for days or letting mold grow in their shower because they’re not sure how to handle it.

Getting Movement In 

I was cramming for finals and constantly doing homework at all hours. In between, I wanted to do nothing but watch reruns of Veronica Mars and nap until the last minute. I had been a dancer for 13 years, but movement went out the window during my first semester. Plus, I had never loved the gym, so I just…stopped moving. 

Parents, if this sounds like something your child will do, check in on them and encourage them to get their stretches and steps in. They don’t have to lift weights every day – just explain why walking to class is good for their body, and that stretching will keep them from tensing up. They may not enjoy it at first, but they’ll feel better, which will encourage them to keep it up.

Taking Sleep Seriously

I was not a partier in college, but my sleep schedule was screwed. I would stay up until 5 am, and then wake up at 9 am and head to class. I was sluggish throughout the day, and my undiagnosed ADHD was running rampant, so my productivity was…not the best.

So, parents, make sure you emphasize that they need a solid sleep schedule. Teach them why sleep is important – including why sleep cycles with NREM and REM are crucial to productivity – and why it will help them. Sure, they can run on coffee for most of the day, but the crash is no fun. Sleep is not for the weak!

Advocating For Themselves 

In middle school and high school, your child depends on you to speak up for them. It’s only fair – they’re young and still learning that they have a voice that matters.

But in college, they won’t have you as a shield to hide behind. Professors are understanding to a certain degree, but they see your child as an adult who should be able to handle their problems themselves. Give your children the gift of advocacy. Teach them when speaking up for themselves matters, be it when they’re penalized for something out of their control or feeling disrespected.

This isn’t just relevant to school – it also is relevant to boundaries with friends and speaking up with professionals, like doctors. If they can’t speak for themselves, they’ll accept the lowest standards, and that’s the last thing a parent wants. Don’t let them settle for mediocre care because they’re scared of using their voice.

Practicing Mindful Conflict Resolution 

I hate conflict and confrontation more than anything. In a class on interpersonal communication, I scored 11 out of 12 for avoidant conflict resolution during a personality test. I took everything that came my way without a peep, and rather than talk it out calmly, I retreated within myself. I ended up with no true friends and barely any respect. Mindful conflict resolution? Nah.

But this tip is crucial to teach your child before they head off to college! Fight with their roommate? Degrading teacher? Disagreement with a friend? Mindful conflict resolution should always be the answer. 

Instead of reacting with a temper or making themselves tiny, teach them how to speak up for themselves while also remaining calm, cool, and collected. Help them to practice active listening without compromising their values, and to use “I” statements rather than “you” accusations. Diffusing a tough situation is important to moving through life without constant tension and a chip on their shoulder.

Asking For Help 

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We ALL need help. Fact of life. I was lucky to grow up with a mom who always had my back and let me know she would help me fight my battles if they were too big for me to manage alone.

Be that parent. Let them know you’re in their corner, and that if they’re facing a huge problem – like sexual harassment, hazing, grade disputes – they can come to you for advice and backup. We all need that person – be them for your child.

Watching your child go off to college can be scary, but if you teach them the basics, they’ll be able to get through it – and they’ll take these lessons with them through the rest of their lives, too. The world is a big place, but trust that they’ll be okay with the support you give them. It will be appreciated, even if they don’t realize it immediately. Trust me, from firsthand experience: they’ll remember it forever.


What advice do you have for parents with college students? What college tips do you wish you had taught your kids? Share with us below.

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