15 skills for college success


Succeeding in college doesn’t just mean sitting in class, taking notes and doing well on exams. Possessing certain skills will help your student be successful in all aspects of college — inside and outside the classroom. Take a look at this list of skills your student should start developing in preparation for college.


That old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is an old saying for a reason — it’s true. Your student will likely have several occasions when they will have to stand up for themself and make their voice heard in college. Depending on the situation and the student, it can be hard. But the more they do it, the easier it will become.


When your student is on their own in college, they’ll have to be responsible for, well — everything! Waking up on time for class, completing their assignments, making their own food — it’s all on them now. Help them prepare by giving them more responsibility at home. Don’t wake them up (even if they’re oversleeping), don’t ask them whether they did their homework, have them cook their own meals a few days a week. It might be a little hard, but it will benefit them in the long run.

Self management skills

Becoming a good self manager goes along with responsibility. Your student will need to make their own doctor and dentist appointments, do their own laundry, and create and stick to their own budget in college. Again, these are things you can help them start doing now.

Communication skills

In college, your student will encounter new advisors, professors, staff members and others who communicate with students in a variety of ways, so your student should be prepared to communicate in different ways with different people. An email to a classmate might begin with “What’s up?” but they certainly wouldn’t want to begin an email to a professor that way.

Collaboration skills

Your student will likely have a lot of group work in their college classes. That’s a good thing since many careers require collaboration. But if they don’t have much experience working on a team, they need to know what to expect. This includes doing their share of the project and speaking up (see the assertiveness section above) if another team member isn’t pulling their weight.

Independent work skills

Along with teamwork and collaboration, your student will also need to be good at working alone. They’ll probably be doing more individual work than group work, so being a self-starter, knowing where to find information and understanding how to problem-solve are big pluses.

Critical-thinking skills

College is big on critical thinking. No more memorizing the state capitals — now your student will be expected to figure out problems by thinking them through. Help them start now by giving them hypothetical life questions and let them think through the best solutions.

Study skills

Hopefully your student has developed strong study skills in high school. These include organization, note-taking and plenty of study time. If your student feels they need to improve their study skills, the internet is filled with good advice.

Technological skills

Many students are comfortable and able to navigate today’s technology — it almost seems like kids are born with the skill. But if your student isn’t comfortable with tech, they’ll need to become familiar with some basic software programs, as well as searching for and accessing information online. And getting familiar with online communication tools like Zoom and Slack wouldn’t hurt either.

Tolerance for ambiguity

College, like life, is not all black and white. Some professors give guidelines rather than specifics when it comes to assignments. Students who are better able to accept working in the “gray” area when things are not crystal-clear will be less apprehensive and better able to pick up on subtle cues.

At ease with diversity

In college, your student will encounter people from a lot of backgrounds — different races, cultures, religions, political affiliations, sexual orientations and economic backgrounds. What’s great about this is they’ll not only learn from their professors, but also from the various students they go to school with.

Creative thinking

If your student is an innovative thinker, college is the place to start making things happen. Creative and fresh approaches to routine ways of thinking are in demand. This will help your student stand out and get noticed for all the right reasons.

Ability to follow directions

Although your student will have a lot of freedom in college, they’ll also be expected to follow a lot of directions. This includes their professors’ instructions on turning in assignments and classroom norms, as well as other things like how many guests they can have in their dorm room, where they can park, and even where they can or can’t ride their bike on campus. So while college is a time for freedom and self-exploration, there’s always going to be a certain level of conformity, too.

Having personal goals

Having goals will make your student’s college experience much more valuable. This doesn’t mean they need to have their major picked on their first day of college. It can mean they want to have certain experiences in college, such as working with a professor on a research project, joining at least two clubs or studying abroad. College affords so many opportunities, so be sure your student is aware of them and incorporates them into their long-term goals.

Being engaged

Encourage your student to be engaged no matter what they’re doing. Pay attention in class, even if it’s not the most exciting subject — there’s always something to learn. And they should also engage with college life in general — join clubs, really get to know professors, keep up with student government (even if they don’t join), read the student newspaper, go to football games. There’s so much for your student to learn and experience in college, but they have to make the effort to get involved.