Seven Essential Life Skills for High Schoolers to Build Before Graduating

Oct 23, 2023

As an educator, how many times have you heard students ask why schools don’t teach things like how to file taxes or some other reasonable life skill necessary to successfully master “adulting”? Basic life skills like how to clean a bathroom or sign an apartment lease may not always be part of the curriculum, but that doesn’t mean you can’t answer the call and help your students be ready when they take the post-graduation leap to adulthood by helping start off on the right foot.

The transition from secondary schooling to the world at large can be a challenge but having a strong foundation in a few key life skills can help things go a little smoother by equipping young people with the tools and techniques that make for a less stressful, organized, and productive life. Young adults can work on building these skills in the classroom for later independence. To help, we’ve compiled a list of skills that students should start practicing now in order to be ready for success after graduating.

Managing Money

Money can’t buy love; money makes the world go ’round; money, money, money. Despite how often it is referenced in music, talking about money isn’t always a comfortable conversation. Regardless, financial literacy and money management are possibly the most critical life skills young people need to grasp before going off on their own, whether that means starting their first job, going off to college, or taking a gap year. Students should understand how to handle the basics, such as how to build a budget, whit it’s important to pay bills on time, and why a credit card isn’t free money, as well as know the odds and ends of borrowing money, for things like student and auto loans. There are tons of worksheets on the Internet that you can incorporate into a lesson on basic budgeting, saving, investing, and managing other money matters.


There is so much value in personal connections, and it can be hard to understand that value as a young person. The word “networking” can be intimidating or sound stuffy and dull, but it’s ultimately just relationship building with a purpose. As an educator, you can stress the importance of building a rapport with teachers, bosses, eventual professors, and classmates early on. This can help students in the future when the time comes to finding a job or interviewing for scholarships, but it is also great to just have contacts who can vouch for one’s skills.

The earlier students get to practice networking, the better they will be in interviews or other critical touchpoints in their professional lives. To help students practice their networking skills, hold a college and career fair or conduct mock interviews with the help of community volunteers.​

Organizational Skills

Knowing how to get and stay organized is another invaluable life skill that a lot of people struggle with. By nature, some people are more organized than others, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t the right balance for everyone. Developing and maintaining good organizational habits can help build a strong foundation for other critical skills like time, task, and money management; effective communication; and even self-care. For students, being organized is particularly important because it helps them prioritize activities, set goals, and reduce stress. Having good organizational skills also makes it easier to collaborate with others and helps increase productivity and efficiency.

Managing Stress

Preparing for a big transition like graduating high school and for what comes next can be stressful. Learning how to manage stress in healthful and productive ways is pertinent to success as young adults navigate life on their own. There are plenty of stress-management tips and coping techniques available and accessible on the Internet. Whether it’s using a guided-meditation app, journaling, or knowing it’s OK to go talk to a professional, what is important is that young people remember to pause and take a breath now and then. Sometimes, we all need to simply stop and focus on tackling one task at a time, remember that not everything will always go according to plan, and find a little joy every day.

Managing Time

There’s truth in the saying that time is a precious resource. Whether students like it or not, chances are that there is someone in their lives looking over their shoulders to make sure that they stay on schedule. Once they are on their own, this responsibility will fall on them, which can be a rude awakening if they aren’t prepared. How many of us take a quick peak at our phones and the next thing we know it’s been an hour? Help your students avoid bad habits of spending time unproductively going down rabbit holes and transition to adulthood more effectively by encouraging them to develop good time-management habits like creating a calendar for appropriate times for school, sleep, appointments, and recreation; making daily to-do lists; or following a work/break method.

Building Healthful Habits

Have you ever seen those viral threads where young people ask the Internet for advice they wish they had known when they were starting out on their own? Outside of “start saving your money now,” the next most popular piece of advice is usually making physical and mental health and wellness a top priority. Keep in mind that forming simple habits like making the bed each morning or significant habits like running two miles every day can take time, anywhere from a few days to almost a year. The keys are to stay focused on developing a routine into a habit and remaining motivated. Not only does cultivating healthful habits help build a strong foundation for lifetime wellness, it also teaches the importance of determination and patience.

Communicating Professionally

Most young people view digital communications as casual, often entailing the exchange of instant messages with friends throughout the day, every day. But in more professional and/or academic settings, using email is the go-to form of communication. You might think it’s common sense to not use “textspeak,” such as emojis, GIFs, or memes when composing an email to an instructor, responding to a manager offering an internship, or even asking for a formal letter of recommendation for a scholarship, but this style of written communication is second nature to digital natives. They sometimes don’t realize when they’re doing it. Additional proper etiquette entails responding in a prompt manner, being careful who to CC, and remaining respectful (such as not going off on angry tirades). It’s also good to remember that emails are like a digital paper trail, so discourteous behavior is well documented. Have students practice good email etiquette so that they can get in the habit of always putting their best digital foot forward when corresponding in professional and academic settings.

For more tips on preparing for post-graduation success, explore our article, Six Tips to Help Students Build Their First Resume: College and Career Readiness.

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