After a long break, I’m back – I promise I didn’t disappear! I’ve recently moved into college and begun my classes, which has been insanely packed, chaotic, and so much fun. Yet, as I was trying to organize and re-organize my life, it made me think, what skills do I have that would prepare me to succeed in college? Not in terms of academics, but in terms of life skills. A couple years ago, I saw a poster advertisement for a babysitter that had a list of skills that she promised that all the kids she took care of would have before they turned 18, which included skills like swimming, cooking, and independence. So in honor of leaving for college, I’ve begun reflecting on the question – what have I *really* learned in my years on Earth? Have I really completed my childhood training preparing me to become an independent adult? Throughout the past few weeks in college, I’ve finally come up with a list of things I’ve learned throughout my time on Earth as a list of 18 skills you should know before you turn 18 years old!
1. Understand nutrition and how to take care of your health
Okay, here’s an actual, real-life situation for you. You’re at the university dining hall for the first time, and you notice the unlimited piles of delicious cookies, tres leches cake, matcha and ube ice cream, all for you to grab with no one to tell you no (I swear, the Stanford dining hall has the best salted caramel cookies I have EVER had in my entire life, and I’ve been walking around telling this to everyone).
You’re going to run into this situation. As an adult, no one’s going to stop you if you eat an entire birthday cake for breakfast, but it’s now your responsibility to deal with the consequences. Because of this, it’s important to understand how to take charge of your own health. Start by getting a basic sense of nutrition – how much protein, fruits, and vegetables should you be eating? What does a serving size look like? What kinds of foods should you be snacking on during the day? Create a routine for yourself. For example, I’ve made it a habit to work out for 30 minutes a day in the mornings to get my 30 minutes of activity everyday out of the way first thing in the morning. The Mayo Clinic recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day, and while you might feel like you’re too busy, in reality, 30 minutes is a really small part of your day. You probably spend that time (or more) mindlessly scrolling on social media or doing nothing anyways, so just build it into your schedule to spend time taking care of your health.
2. Learn about financial literacy
When you’re an adult, money matters isn’t just saving pennies in a piggy bank anymore – you have to figure out how to invest your money, save for retirement, and save for long-term goals. Because of this, it’s important to develop a sense of financial literacy, both in understanding the complexities of many things that are finance-related, such as checking, savings, 401k, Roth IRA, brokerage, and what all of those terms mean, as well as regulating your own savings and spendings.
To understand the basics of finance, there’s lots of information online available to read and find. For example, websites such as Investopedia, NerdWallet, or The Motley Fool often provide articles about the basics of investing, types of accounts, retirement funds, and more. You can also find YouTube videos and online courses about personal finance for free, such as on massive online open course (MOOC) websites like Coursera, Edx.org, or Khan Academy. These are helpful resources to gain a better understanding of terminology and basics in finance.
As for your personal spending habits, lots of your own habits may be handed-down based on what you learned from your parents. In general, the standard rule of thumb is that 20% of each paycheck should go towards savings, 50% towards necessities, and 30% towards things you want. Budgeting can also be helpful, such as by keeping a spreadsheet or ledger that contains your daily spending. For me, I’ve started saving receipts and recording all of them on a spreadsheet to keep track of my spending, and I created a planned budget at the beginning of the school year for how I could allocate my spending. That way, I’m more aware of the money I actually have available to me, and won’t blow it all on overpriced drinks at the school cafes.
3. Learn how to Google
If you ask anyone who has worked in IT, they’ll tell you that tech support pretty much just consists of googling the answers – but being really good at it. As an adult, you’ll need to find the answers to pretty much anything, from fixing a leaky pipe to making bank transfers. Because of this, it’s important to learn the skills to find the solution to problems you’ll face in your daily life. Expert googling is more than being able to type in a search – it’s also a matter of knowing which websites to visit for certain things, which websites to trust, where to find certain pieces of information, or even who to visit when you need help.
4. Learn how to cook
Unfortunately, I hate to break it to you, but you can’t really eat ramen for the rest of your life. And while this might be news to my dad, adding frozen vegetables to instant noodles does not make it a balanced meal to eat every single day for the rest of your life (but it is a great nutrition tip to add proteins and vegetables to your quick meals if you’re short on time). However, cooking doesn’t have to be intimidating! Just start with simple recipes (no French macarons or almond croissants yet), and follow the instructions step by step, until you figure out cooking. It takes a bit of trial-and-error sometimes, but in the end, it’s a very useful life skill to have as an adult, as in today’s economy, it’s usually not very feasible health or finances-wise to eat out at restaurants every single day.
For some potential recipes to try out, I made a post about simple recipes that students can follow, with recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Some other recipes that are surprisingly easy are spaghetti and meatballs, chili, sandwiches, and quesadillas. I also enjoy finding recipe inspirations through Instagram, YouTube Shorts, or TikTok, as there are often some quick, simple, beginner-friendly recipes that you can find through these short-form videos.
5. Learn to organize your life
Okay, my first week of college, I was so prepared to be organized. And I was feeling good about completing all my assignments and readings the day before. That is, until I sat down for my second chemistry lecture – and realized I didn’t understand anything. Literally anything. Because I forgot to do the pre-readings.
In college, they’ll tell you in the beginning of the course that you have to do your pre-readings before every lecture, and you’re probably coming in from high school thinking, “oh, my teachers will probably remind me or I’ll get a notification about it.” Nope, it’s up to you to remember all your assignments and make sure to do them, so if your professor said you have pre-readings, you have to remember it yourself – nobody will be there to remind you. Because of this, it’s important to find a system of organization that works for you, whether that’s keeping a physical planner or bullet journal, or writing everything down in your phone calendar. You have to remember all your classes, events, and plans, so make sure to come up with a system that works for you. For me, I have a physical planner for assignments, a phone calendar for events, and finally, for those urgent, spontaneous tasks I just can’t forget about, I write those on my hand in black marker. I’ve also been working on using Notion, which is a productivity app that allows you to customize pages for pretty much anything you want, from scheduling to note-taking – essentially a digital bullet journal – so there are many options out there to explore.
6. Create an *actually functional* schedule
In college, no one’s going to be there to tell you when to wake up or when to sleep. Because of this, you’re going to be responsible for creating your own schedule, and figuring out when you need to wake up, do your laundry, eat sufficient meals, run errands, all while getting your work done. At home, you might not have had to coordinate all the technicalities. One of my biggest surprises in college was realizing how much time little errands take, like picking up a package from the post office or scheduling a time to do my laundry (dorm laundry somehow requires much more attention than you would expect). Similarly, there’s no one to tell you to go to bed early, so while you’re free to pull all-nighters every single day or stay out partying, you’re going to have to deal with your tiredness during the day or the hit it takes on your immune system. I’ve actually been more strict about my sleep schedule and my schedule overall since being in college, since I feel more responsible for getting everything done during the day, so it makes me feel better if I have the extra time in the morning.
Also, fun fact – one of the top complaints we get in our dorm? Our walls are paper-thin, so you can hear everyone’s else’s alarm going off in the morning. So, you’re going to hear the alarm from that one 6 AM gym girl every morning. But hey, whether it’s a 5 AM alarm or an 11 AM alarm, we gotta do what we gotta do.
7. Learn to stay safe and protect yourself
During my college decisions process, campus safety was a pretty significant factor, because as a girl, I want to be safe during my time at college. The safety of your campus depends significantly on the college you go to – some cities are notoriously known for being unsafe and crime-ridden, while other college campuses are relatively isolated and safe at night. However, in any case, it’s important to have the tools for self-defense. For example, you could carry around pepper spray with your keychain. Make sure you know the emergency numbers for safety, such as your campus security guards, emergency transportation services, and the police station. Some phones also allow you to set up emergency shortcut features. On an iPhone, you can use the shortcut feature to create a button that will send your precise location to your friends and family, so that can be a helpful feature to set up to ensure your safety.
Yet, safety extends much past just not getting mugged at midnight. It’s also important to make sure to stay safe in social situations and events, such as at parties. Going into college, many freshmen are overeager with their newfound freedom to party and do whatever they want without their parents watching, so they end up going crazy with the partying and drinking. Again, you’re responsible for your own decisions, but before you go to college, make sure you know your own values and limits when it comes to what you want to do. Know how to say no when it comes to things you don’t want to do, and know when to say no in terms of your limits. Also, be aware of your safety when it comes to sexual assault and harassment. College campuses have alarmingly high sexual assault statistics, with nearly 25% of female college students reported to have experienced sexual assault on campus. Make sure to be alert of your surroundings, and if you’re with your friends, take on the role of taking care of each other. If you’re going out, look out for each other, stand up for someone if you see them being harassed, and protect your drinks. There’s a lot more to staying safe from sexual assault that’s extremely critical, which you can check out here.
8. Build a social life and a support system that works for you
When it comes to finding your friends in college and building your social life, it can definitely be incredibly stressful to have to make all these new friends and figure out your new role on campus. However, I have a couple recommendations to give. Firstly, figure out what works for you. If you’re not the type of person to want a big social group and prefer to have just a few close friends, that’s perfectly fine. If you’re highly independent and like having friends that you just hang out with during certain times, that’s fine too – just whatever makes you happiest. Yet, whatever it is, when times get tough, one of the hardest things is to go through it alone. So, make sure you have your support system. That can be a few friends you know you can rely on, or staying in touch with your friends and family back home that you can always talk to. For me, I’m also really thankful for my resident advisors (RAs) in my dorm, as I feel like they are the upperclassmen that I can really talk to if I need help with anything.
As for finding friends in college, I definitely have to agree that it’s very different from high school. In high school, you see the same people in your classes, so you end up making friends with the people in your classes. However, in college, the campus is much bigger, and you might not regularly see the same people. Because of this, you really have to take the initiative to set up lunch dates with someone, or reach out to them in order to establish a friendship. At Stanford, it’s big enough where you won’t just know everyone on campus, but you will still occasionally run into the same people in classes or club events.