Life Skills to Learn Before Freshman Year

There's plenty you can do as a high school student to prepare for college. This article will help you to hit the ground running freshman year.

By Connor Daniels — April 24, 2023

Life Skills to Learn Before Freshman Year

Buying dorm room furniture, assembling a packing list, and enrolling in your first semester of classes aren't the only things you can do to prepare for your freshman year. To gain a head start on success in college, work on learning some practical life skills that will make transitioning from your childhood bedroom to living on your own as seamless as possible. Here are some categories to consider, with a few tips to get you started in each.

Taking Care of Your Space

A happy college life starts with a dorm room that you're happy to live in. Although your standards for "neat and organized" will probably not be the same as your mom's, you should and probably do have some expectations for what your room will look like. Giving some thought today to what routines will help you keep your room a peaceful, refreshing place to be can help you to avoid overwhelm a few weeks into the semester.

  • Tidying. Your room does not have to ready for a magazine photoshoot, but everything should have its own place. Anything you carry with you every day should be readily accessible, but not strewn across your desk. (Some people prefer to stock their backpacks and work from them, even when inside their dorm rooms, to make sure you never lose important papers and or your computer chargers.) A drawer or bin for miscellaneous items can be helpful, as long as you don't use it for everything. Papers for your classes should go into binders or file folders, not in stacks where a spilled cup of coffee could spell your doom. Keep clothes in drawers or the closet, not the floor. In addition, the age-old advice to make the bed first thing in the morning is genuinely worth heeding-it will not only make your room more pleasant to return to at the end of the day, but also easily provide you with a sense of achievement each morning.
  • Cleaning. The basics are all that's really necessary for a dorm room: throw away any trash, dust any furniture that's visible, run a vacuum over the floor, and wipe down any bathroom surfaces (if applicable) with a sanitizing spray. Set up a weekly schedule to keep cleaning from becoming daunting. You can spread out the tasks through the week or do them all in a batch on the weekend-whichever helps you to get it done.
  • Laundry. If you don't know how to do it for yourself, figuring it out now will save you from embarrassment down the line. Hot water for whites, towels, and sheets; cold water for colors and anything delicate. Use detergent (and learn the difference between softener and detergent while you're at it). Don't forget to wash your towels and sheets regularly. If in doubt, call your mom or head to Google for advice.

Taking Care of Your Stuff

Anything you own is bound to break at some point, and, in college, your dad won't be there to fix it for you. However, if you learn a few basic skills now, you will be prepared for any minor disaster that strikes.

  • Sewing. You don't need to be a professional seamstress to get by, but knowing how to perform minor sewing operations is essential. Buttons are bound to come off—usually at the most inconvenient times—and you never know when you might need to mend a split seam. Learn the basics of sewing repairs now and bring a small sewing kit to college. It just might save your outfit before the big interview.
  • Shoe repair. Some polish and a brush will keep your shoes looking sharp throughout the school year. In addition, some shoe glue is good to have on hand to repair minor cracks in a sole.
  • Auto maintenance. If you're bringing a car to college, you should at minimum know how to check your oil, top off your tires, and refill your wiper fluid. Knowing how to change a tire and get a jump if you're stuck is also vital. If you make sure to have your car serviced when it needs to be, you're much less likely to be stranded somewhere far from home.
  • Electronics. It's unfortunately getting harder to repair your own electronic devices, so oftentimes the best thing you can do is have a backup for anything that's likely to fail. Charging cables and adapters are the most common culprits, so bring extras with you to campus. Keep a cloud backup of your important files in case anything more serious breaks.

Taking Care of Your Future

The most significant difference between high school and college is the degree of independence you have in deciding how you will spend your time. In general, college classes will require you to study outside of class and work on long-term projects on your own. In addition, you will need to figure out how to make progress toward your long-term goals without external pressure to do so.

  • Setting goals. Success in planning starts with setting measurable, achievable goals with a concrete timeframe. Make it a habit at the beginning of each term to review a list of goals for yourself-goals for that semester, goals for your time in college, and goals for the long-term future. It's perfectly OK if those goals change to better reflect you as you grow; just be sure to intentionally review and revise your goals to make sure you keep sight of what you're working towards.
  • Scheduling. Get comfortable planning out your weekly schedule independently. At minimum, you will need a calendar system and a system for keeping track of projects. Planners, bullet journals, and to-do lists are all potentially useful tools as you find a system that works well for you; I use Google Calendar and Workflowy.
  • Budgeting. The sooner you learn to keep track of your finances, the easier (and less stressful) it will be. To begin, set up a simple bookkeeping spreadsheet, enter all your transactions for last month, and make a budget for the upcoming month. Make sure you write down a reason why you want to stick to this budget-paying for your books, graduating debt free, or saving for a new car for when you current ride eventually breaks down-as having a goal will help you stay motivated to spend your money wisely.

Taking Care of Others

Finally, to succeed in college, you will need to develop strong interpersonal skills and know how to build relationships with others.

  • Resolving conflicts. Whether it's an argument with your roommate or a disagreement with a professor, conflict is bound to happen at some point in college (and in life). However, if you can handle conflict with maturity and grace, you'll have a far smoother college experience and be better respected by those you communicate with. It's important to know when it's important to stand your ground and when to set aside your frustrations because the issue isn't worth arguing over. Practice remaining calm and polite when you do have to speak up for yourself, and be sure to make specific observations rather than generalizing or assuming someone else's motivation during conflict.
  • Building long-term friendships. Everyone needs a support network of friends who have their best interests in mind. The best way to build that network is by being that kind of friend for those around you. Do what you can to help others and don't be afraid to ask for help yourself. Develop skills such as intentional listening and empathetic communication. Practice small talk, but don't shy away from deeper topics when you're getting to know people.
  • Maintaining old connections. While you're expanding your network and building friends in college, remember to keep in touch with friends and family back home if you can. They can be a source of encouragement in hard times, may celebrate your successes with you, or could help you to make new connections in the future. Even though you're in the next stage of your life in university, the people and places who formed you in childhood are still an important part of your story.

Even if it's too soon to pack your bags or purchase your furniture, there's plenty you can do as a high school student to prepare for college. Building life skills like these is a great place to start as you focus on becoming the kind of person you want to be, and will help you to hit the ground running freshman year.

Connor Daniels

Connor Daniels

Connor Daniels teaches humanities to 7th through 12th grade students at Bloomfield Christian School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In 2021, he graduated summa cum laude from Hillsdale College with a degree in history and politics.
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