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15 Skills to Master Before You Head Off to the Dorm

College students walking on campus
4PM Production/Shutterstock

College is about more than studying (and partying), and a whole lot of it revolves around living on your own and learning how to manage your time, money, diet, and more. Here are some simple skills to master before you head to school.

If you’re getting ready to go to college for the first time, you’re probably spending a lot of time wondering what you should bring to decorate your dorm room. You’re probably not spending as much time wondering what skills you should master before you head out.

The skills outlined in this article aren’t the most exciting, but they are practical. Before you go to college, you’ll want to master these skills, so you don’t fall flat on your face the first time you live on your own.

Or, at least, if you do, you’ll know how to bandage yourself up.

Let’s dive in.

How to Share a Room

The first thing you need to master when going to college is how to share a room. The vast majority of college freshmen have a roommate they share a space with. Learning how to comfortably share a space ensures your dorm room will be a home and not a conflict zone.

How to Manage Your Money

Running out of money as soon as you get to college can be easy. Money goes fast when you’re living on your own and going out with friends. Learn to balance your budget and live within your means. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck turning down fun experiences or balancing several jobs while also trying to study.

How to Eat Healthy

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Freshman 15: the fifteen pounds many college freshmen gain because they don’t know how to properly feed themselves. As a freshman, you’ll likely be your school’s meal plan, which can include access to an all-you-can-eat dining hall. Learn how to balance your indulgences (midnight pizza) with healthier choices (a salad at lunch).

How to Do Your Laundry

Your mom doesn’t get to come to college with you. This is a good thing for your social life and a bad thing for your cleanliness . . . especially if you don’t know how to do your laundry. Learn how to do your own laundry before you move to college. Your new friends will thank you.

How to Do Basic First Aid

Whether you stub your toe on a late night walk across the common or bump your head trying to grab a library book on the lowest shelf, knowing some basic first aid will be useful. Familiarize yourself with how to use hydrogen peroxide and antibacterial cream to fix minor scrapes—and with how to call for reinforcements when you’re out of your medical depth.

How to Cook

As we mentioned before, most college freshmen have meal plans that give them unlimited access to the dining hall. That being said, knowing how to cook some basic meals can be handy. Don’t leave home without learning how to boil water for fresh pasta or how to heat up a can of soup. If you’re feeling ambitious, grab a dorm room cookbook to learn how to create more complicated meals.

How to Clean a Toilet (and the Rest of the Bathroom)

Whether you’re one of the lucky freshmen who has a bathroom in your room, or you’re sharing a group restroom with other coeds in your hall, learning how to properly clean a toilet and the surrounding bathroom will go a long way toward having a fresh smelling room and keeping everyone healthy in the process.

How to Manage Your Time

student sleeping in the library while his friends are studying
4PM Production/Shutterstock

College is different than high school. Most of the time, your professors won’t chase you down if you don’t come to class. And they certainly won’t bother you if you don’t do your homework. With all of that freedom, getting off track is easy. Practice setting a schedule and sticking to it, so you can enjoy your downtime and still finish your work.

How to Send a Letter or Package

Sending snail mail or care packages is a great way to keep in touch with friends who are spread across the country. Learn how to properly pack, add postage to, and ship packages before you head off to school.

How to Say You’re Sorry

You’ll likely make a lot of mistakes in college: You’ll use your roommate’s toothpaste instead of yours, you’ll show up late for your work-study shift, you’ll forget to turn in a paper on its due date. Learn how to apologize without hesitation when you screw up, and your relationships will flow more easily.

How to Use Public Transportation

Many students go to college without cars. If you’re in an area with public transportation, knowing how to navigate it can help you explore new areas of the city. If you’re in a more rural area, familiarize yourself with the transportation options that are available, such as Uber or taxis.

How to Write a Professional Email

Once you get to college, you’ll need to send professional emails: to your professors, to your peers, to potential employers. Being able to quickly craft a professional email can save you anxiety once you get to college and set you up to achieve your goals.

How to Register for Classes

Most colleges require freshmen to pick and register for their own classes. Each college does it a bit differently. Familiarize yourself with the system before you get there, so you can register on time and get into your first choice of classes.

How to Iron

Chances are, you’ll have to wear something other than pajamas during your first year at college. Whether you’re going to a job interview or giving a presentation, learning how to iron can help you look clean and professional when you need to.

How to Know Your Limits

College offers endless opportunities: opportunities to learn, opportunities to grow, opportunities to have fun . . . and opportunities to get yourself into a bit of trouble. Know your limits when you go to college, so you can establish with yourself what you’re comfortable doing and what you’re not. If you don’t want to party, don’t. You’ll find other people to hang out with. The more honest you are with yourself, the better experience you’ll have.


While you’re traipsing between Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target this summer, make some time to master these skills. By doing so, you’ll set yourself up to have a fun, healthy, and productive first year at college.

Hayley Milliman Hayley Milliman
Hayley is a former Teach for America teacher turned curriculum developer and writer. Over the past five years, she's written hundreds of articles on everything from education to personal finance to history. She's co-author of the book Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females. Read Full Bio »

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