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  • Writer's pictureJohn J. Diak, CFP®

Life Skills College Students Should Know Before Leaving Home

Factors to Consider When Buying Life Insurance

During the fall, families around the globe find themselves planning and organizing for a rite of passage: their kids leaving home and going off to college.

There are many skills young adults need to live on their own successfully, and most parents have tried to prepare them for this big transition. To help you be sure your college student is ready, here’s our list of nine life skills your college students need to have.

Budgets Are Necessary

When talking about life skills for college students, budgeting should be right near the top of the list. Whether a student is using financial aid or their fees are being covered by the family, understanding how to create a realistic budget (that they can actually stick to!) is critical.

Even if you’re the one paying the bills, they should still know exactly how much everything costs, how often things have to be paid, and how much spending money they have at their disposal. Most students are working with a limited budget, so planning out their disposable income will help them ensure they don’t fall short.

Have your new college student write out a budget and review it with them. It should include things like gas, car insurance, transit passes, toiletries, incidentals, clothing, and, of course, some fun money.

Effective Time Management Can Make All the Difference

For some college students, managing their own time without guidance from the adults in their life can be challenging. Time is a finite, valuable resource, so understanding how to prioritize it is crucial.

Talk to them about scheduling. What’s most important and what needs to be prioritized –– school work, sleep, a part-time job, chores, or time for socialization?

The key to teaching life skills to college students is empowering them to make good decisions and pointing them towards resources that could be helpful. Are they using an online calendar to plan their time? A paper planner? Sticky notes on their computer? Whatever their system is, spend some time talking it through with them and helping them decide how to make their time most effective.

If your student has had significant trouble managing their time in the past, consider putting them in touch with the student outreach services at their university. They will likely have suggestions and resources available to help students who struggle with this skill.

Save Up for Opportunities

One amazing aspect of going to college is all the opportunities along the way. But many times, these opportunities come at a hefty price. So while a student may not have anything on their radar for the current semester, they never know what may become available in the future.

Semesters abroad or unpaid internships can open a whole new world of experience and opportunities, but they’ll need money to make them feasible. This is precisely why having a “rainy day fund” where they’re putting money aside each month is a great approach.

If the money is saved, they’ll have a better chance at grabbing these opportunities as they come up.

Don’t Spend Money You Don’t Have

As far as life skills for college students go, this is one lesson you cannot skip over.

When college students are away from home, and they have access to credit cards or loans, it can be very, VERY tempting to spend money they don’t have — which is money that they’ll have to pay back (and typically with interest). Make no mistake, that money will come due, and if there’s no way to at least make the minimum payments, it’s a hole that’s hard to get out of.

Getting a credit card is a trap some college students fall into. While credit cards are a great way to build credit, payments must be made monthly, and college students don’t usually have a lot of extra room in their budget for making those payments.

If your student is receiving loans to pay for tuition, warn them against getting spendy with refunds. When financial aid is issued, it’s typically issued directly to the school to cover tuition and fees. Once those costs are paid for, students will be issued a refund for anything leftover. What they need to know is that this money will have to be paid back and, depending on the loan, could be accruing interest from the first day it was borrowed, meaning they’ll be paying back even more money.

If the student qualifies for the loan refund, in most cases, they can request the school return the funds back to the student loan company directly. This can save interest, minimizing the overall amount that will need to be paid back.

Be a Great Roommate

Moving in and sharing close quarters can be a huge adjustment for a college student, especially if they’ve never shared a room with anyone.

Share with them these ideas to help them be a great roommate:

  • Make an effort to get to know the person they’re living with. They’re going to be together for the next eight months, so it’s important they get to know each other so they can live together peacefully.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. No one is a mind reader, and your roommate doesn’t know you that well yet. So make sure they’re clear, but kind, in any discussions they may have.

  • Be flexible. Living with someone is all about give and take. There may be things that are more important to them than they are to your college student, so they need to be willing to compromise.

  • Respect their space and belongings. Nothing will sour a roommate relationship quicker than someone who has no boundaries when it comes to their personal space and items.

  • Work on conflict resolution skills. Conflicts are inevitable in life, and if your life lessons for college students haven’t already included how to resolve conflict productively, now’s a great time to start working on it.

It’s Okay to Ask for Help

When kids leave home and are living independently for the first time, it can feel like they’re already supposed to know it all. But the reality is, as a young adult, there’s always more to learn. Once they’re settled, they may realize there are things they just aren’t equipped to do.

While the internet can be a treasure trove of information, reinforce that it’s okay for them to ask for help from the people around them. Not only can it help them forge stronger bonds with their peers as they learn, but it can also help them develop important skills.

No person is an island, and asking for help when needed shows strength, not weakness.

Work First, Play Second

One of the most exciting parts of going away to college is all the opportunities for play. From hanging out with dorm mates to hitting the town for a night of dancing to heading off to the big game on a Saturday afternoon, there’s something for everyone at college. But just because something seems like a good idea, doesn’t mean it actually is.

Before they say yes to something, they need to consider the real impact that choice will have both now and long term. Remind them that they’re in college to expand their horizons, gain knowledge and expertise, and earn a degree or diploma, which should always be their top priority. Maybe they’ll have a chance to take a weekend getaway with some friends, but they’ll need to consider if they have the time and money.

Stay Smart, Stay Safe

Staying safe is more than just locking the door before going to bed at night. Being away from home for the first time gives college students the freedom to make their own decisions — and their own mistakes.

First and foremost, make sure your child knows where to turn if they need help. This may be the resident advisor in their dorm, campus police, or the university counseling office, depending on the situation. What’s important is that they know what resources are available at their school should they need help.

Talk to your son or daughter about drinking safely. Even though they may be under the legal drinking age, there’s a chance they’ll be given the opportunity to consume alcohol. Make sure they understand the dangers of binge drinking and driving under the influence - or riding with someone who is.

Finally, encourage your child to maintain a healthy lifestyle while away at school. Good sleep habits, eating healthy, and getting regular exercise can help them feel their best physically, mentally, and emotionally so they are up to the task of college lectures, research papers, and exams.

College Is What You Make It

One of the best parts of going to college is that the experience can be anything your student wants it to be. Whether they’re trying to be top of the class, the social butterfly in every club, or the lowkey student who quietly moves through campus, there’s room for everyone.

They’ll get out of their college experience what they put into it, so by approaching the entire thing with an open mind and sense of adventure, they’ll open up doors they never even thought about.

And no matter what life lessons college kids may bring with them, there are many, many more in store over the coming years.

John J. Diak, CFP® is the Principal & Client Wealth Manager at Oatley & Diak, LLC in Parker, Colorado. He assists clients through many difficult lifestyle changes such as business downturns, retirement planning, divorce, the death of a spouse, and family estate issues among others. Oatley & Diak, LLC is a family-run registered investment advisory (RIA) firm that provides clients with investment management and financial planning services in a hands-on, intimate environment. Learn more about them at

This material was prepared by Crystal Marketing Solutions, LLC, and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate and is intended merely for educational purposes, not as advice.


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