5 Life Skills You Absolutely Need After College (and How to Develop Them Now)

Renee Layberry
May 4, 2021

College is so much more than attending classes, reading textbooks, and studying for exams. Those things are essential, of course, but college is a defining life experience too. Your time at school can help you develop important life skills that you’ll use long after you throw your cap in the air.   If you start thinking now about the skills you’re already developing and how you might apply them later you’ll be better prepared for your life after graduation.   Here are five vital skills that you can hone in college, sharpen after graduation, and apply in your personal and professional life for years to come.  

1. You need to know how to relocate successfully

The reality of work means that you may have to move to a new city at some point in your adult life. And you may have to do so several times throughout your career. On average, the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that people work at least 10 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 48.   You may have already experienced relocating by going to college in a different city or state. If so, you can develop your successful relocation skills by exploring the area ­– just like you will if you relocate to a new city later in life. Even going to college in your hometown means making new friends and learning how to adapt to new situations.   Relocating requires those same skills, which you can start practicing right now. Here are some examples:
  • Make a point to talk to one new person a day for the next few weeks. That could be a classmate or residence hall neighbor. If you’re taking classes online, participate fully in discussion groups. You can even ask your professor to set up an off-topic discussion thread for people who want to get to know each other outside of class.
  • Designate a time once a week to wander around campus or your new neighborhood. You don’t need a destination. The point is to simply wander and check out the sights. You’ll be surprised by how much you discover just by giving yourself time to look at your surroundings.
  • Ward off loneliness by staying connected with friends and family. Start a blog, chat group, or social media channel to send regular updates to a core group of important people in your life. That way, you’ll feel more connected to home while getting acclimated to your new surroundings.
  Photo by Sonnie Hiles

2. You need to know how to create (and stick to) a budget

Your financial health depends on having a budget and then holding yourself to it. College is the perfect time to start practicing proper budgeting.    You’ll be paying bills your whole life, so now is the time to start thinking about budgeting strategies. Some of these tactics include:
  • Cancel membership fees for services you don’t use. Do you actually use all your streaming services? Are you paying for subscription boxes or other recurring charges that you don’t want anymore? If you have a lot of subscriptions, you might want to use a service like Truebill, which makes finding and cancelling subscriptions easier.
  • Reduce how much you do pay for necessary services and products. Can you lower your phone bill by switching plans? Look for student rates on everything, including bank account fees and credit card interest rates.
  • Make a budget. List all the bills you have to pay each month. Be sure to account for food, gas, medications, and personal care items. After you subtract your bills and living expenses from your monthly income, take 10% of that remaining amount and put it into a savings account. Always pay your savings account first, even if you are only putting a few dollars away. What you have left will be your monthly allowance for entertainment, clothing, and other discretionary spending.
  • If you have less spending money than you’d like, see if you can reduce any other expenses. Can you trim your food bill by eating out less? What about making coffee at home instead of buying it from a coffee shop? Can you use public transportation more and drive less? Is it possible to get a part-time job on campus to bring in more money?
  Budgeting is a habit. The more you practice it, the better you get. And the sooner you start budgeting, the easier it’ll make your life later on.   Photo by Bewakoof.com Official

3. You need to know how to communicate effectively

You might think you already know how to communicate with others; after all, you talk to people all day long every day. But real communication is an art. It requires practice and reflection to get better at it. You may have practiced this with your roommate in the past, but here's how you can strengthen this skill even further.   Good communication skills are sought after by employers, so can help in your career. And knowing how to really talk to someone can help with every relationship you have personal or professional.   Here are some things you can do right now to improve your communication skills:
  • Practice listening. Most people talk more than they listen, which makes them poor communicators. When you’re having a conversation with friends or participating in a class discussion – practice staying quiet. Let someone finish their thought and then pause for a second before you respond. Ask follow-up questions and don’t interrupt.
  • When you speak, build on what has already been said. You can practice building conversational threads in the classroom. Instead of launching into a monologue, say something like: “Joey, I agree that anarchism played an important role in the Spanish Civil War. Specifically, I wanted to add…”.
  • Ask for feedback on your communication skills. You can approach a professor to do this by informally evaluating your class participation. If they criticize your performance, ask for clarification without getting angry. Reflect on the criticism and don’t respond for at least 24 hours. Then decide if you would like to apply it.

4. You need to know how to live in a value-driven way

The most rewarding life is one that’s based on your values. Each decision you make – personally or professionally – should reflect your commitment to what matters most to you. That kind of life is value-driven, and it requires that you set goals that are in total alignment with your values.   Here’s how to start living a value-driven life right now:
  • Identify three values that are most important to you. For example, do you value kindness, loyalty, honesty, open-mindedness, dependability or courage? These are just a few examples, but think broadly to identify characteristics and behaviors that speak to who you are as a person.
  • Set one or two long-term goals that are in keeping with your core values. A long-term goal could be getting your degree in a medical profession to live out your value of helping others. Or you might want to get in shape so you can run a marathon and uphold your value of healthy living.
  • Set three or four short-term goals that will become milestones toward your longer-term goals. Short-term goals are things you can do in a few days or weeks. So perhaps you’ll set a goal of training four times a week for one month. Or maybe you want to study for two hours a day, six days a week. Whatever you plan, make sure your short-term goals lead to your long-term goals. Do frequent checks to be sure you are making decisions that align with your values.
  Photo by Wes Hicks

5. You need to know how to be a lifelong learner

Even people who ace college sometimes lack the drive to continue learning after graduation, which doesn't translate great to your career. Lifelong learning is a skill that requires practice, but it also requires passion.     You have to cultivate curiosity in yourself and commit to an in-depth exploration of questions that drive you. Even if you are taking classes that aren’t exciting to you, you can practice finding ways to connect it to your passions and hone your skills as a learner. Here’s how:
  • Determine what stimulates your mind most. Is it learning something new? Figuring out a thorny problem? Learning about people? When you decide what drives your intellectual curiosity, you can try new things regularly and create a “to-learn” list that fits into your value-driven goals.
  • In your classes or at work, look for ways you can capitalize on what excites you. If your literature class is a little dry, but you love meeting new people, form a study group with classmates to discuss what you’re reading. If you work a customer service job at a fast-food restaurant and you love solving problems, come up with new ways to improve service.
  The point is that once you know what sparks your passion, you can use it to fully engage with everything you do.   College is your time and place to explore the world and yourself. Take every opportunity you can to practice and develop the skills that will last long after the ink on your degree is dry.