Basic skills every college student should know

Help your student this summer by teaching them some basic skills that may be new to them.



A student looks at a checkbook.

By Abigale Svoboda, Brand Manager

When I started college way back in the fall of 2013, my friend from high school, who was just starting school as well, called to tell me he had just taught someone from our rival high school how to do laundry. We laughed about it, but when I got off the phone, I couldn’t help but wonder how this kid made it to college without learning how to do his own laundry. Plenty of students come to college each year fully prepared to tackle their classes, make new friends and get involved, without knowing some basics of living on their own. Here are a few key components of making sure your child thrives in their first year of college.

Time Management

Chances are, most students about to start college — especially at the U of I — have developed good time management skills during high school; however, college provides students with much more “free time,” which can definitely be daunting. Having just a few hours of class each day sounds like a dream come true — when I started college, my younger sisters called it “summer camp” — but in reality you have much more work to do outside of the classroom. Everyone develops their own systems and routines but what’s important is that something is established. I found that what works best for me is to schedule my free time — I know, that sounds crazy. Allow me to explain. If I have two hours in between classes, I’ll plan to go to the library or the Union and get some work done — and yes, I normally plan out what tasks I’ll tackle during that time. I’m not too wary of using that time to run errands or schedule meetings if need be but having time set aside to keep up with my regular work keeps me on tasks.

Keeping a budget

Oh boy. This is a biggie. Unlike time management, budgeting isn’t something many new college students had to learn during high school. Budgeting isn’t a part of the typical high school curriculum and — though I think it would be an extremely beneficial general education requirement — it’s unfortunately not a part of most University student’s education either. So it all boils down to what your parents have taught you and maybe a little common sense.

Whether I’m talking to friends at the University, friends across the country, sophomores or seniors, whenever spending comes up, everyone seems to say the same thing: “I spend so much on food!” Being a freshman on a meal plan is nice because food expenses aren’t really a concern, but the temptation to eat out will still be there. I know, I know, Joe’s burgers are half priced on Thursday and really hit the spot, but even cheap food adds up. Make sure your daughter or son realizes the cost of eating out, especially when there’s a meal plan involved.

Explain to them that they’ll also want money to go to the bars, a football game or see a concert. Personally, I love to eat out, and I love to grab a coffee at Starbucks, but I also love to go out with friends and indulge in experiences and cute new outfits now and then. My mom explained it to me best by simply telling me I had to pick. On a college student’s budget, I could have Starbucks every day or a fun social life, but not both. I still stop in Starbucks more often than I should but I’ve learned to make my own coffee at home — it’s almost as good.


This is a five-minute lesson you can teach your soon-to-be Illini while you’re doing the laundry and it should stick. Every washing and drying machine is different but they’re all pretty easy to figure out once you know the basics. After that, the most important tips are to remember to separate whites and colors and not to put your denim in the dryer. Bonus: Tide Pods are much easier and more convenient to use than traditional laundry detergent, especially when you’re lugging a week’s worth of clothes down four flights of stairs.


Most freshmen don’t need to know how to cook, but it never hurts to have a few simple meals in your back pocket. Whether it’s how to make a perfect PB&J or easy, healthy snacks to keep on hand — knowing a few tricks will come in handy on days when dining hall food sounds utterly awful or in between meals.


Dorm rooms are small to begin with, but they feel even smaller when they’re cluttered and dirty. Your student likely knows how to put their clothes and books away, vacuum and clean surfaces but there’s a greater chance they won’t realize — or care — when a little tidying up is necessary. Rather than teach your daughter or son how to clean, make sure they’re equipped with tools that make it easy and all of your best tricks for getting it done quickly.

Task sharing

As one of five, I’ve been familiar with this one for a while but a lot of students grow up as only children — or at least don’t have to share a room from birth to 18 years-old. No one should be entirely responsible for their roommate, but it doesn’t hurt to help out when you can. If it’s the roommate’s turn to take the garbage out but they have a big exam coming up, help out and trust that they’ll pick up the slack later.

Abigale is a senior in LAS.
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