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Adulting Survival Guide for College Students

You may be academically prepared, but have you mastered the life skills you’ll need to live on your own? No? Well then, allow us to drop some knowledge.

Great study skills will help you get the most out of your college courses (and keep your grades and your GPA up). But there are other skills you’ll need to thrive in your newly independent life on campus … and they have nothing to do with academics.

Call them life skills—the know-how to live life as a well-rounded, fully functioning human being. An adult! And if your parents usually cooked and cleaned and did the laundry for you (even if it was so you could concentrate on your studies), then maybe you haven’t yet become skilled—or even proficient—in such things.

So what should you know to master this next phase of your life? Of course, there’s Siri (or Alexa or Google), and you can always text Mom or Dad in case of an emergency. But before you do, refer to this how-to list we’ve compiled to help you make it on your own.

Study resources for the courses you’re actually taking—whenever you need them.

Start here

How to …

… Boil an egg

In a survey of 1,000 students in the UK, 20% of respondents asked their voice assistant how to boil an egg. If you have burner in your dorm room or access to a communal kitchen, and you have a saucepan with a lid, here’s how it’s done (courtesy of the American Egg Board):

  • Place eggs in a single layer on the bottom of the saucepan, then add cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Heat on high heat until the water begins to boil.
  • Remove from heat and cover the pan. Let extra-large eggs sit in hot water for 15 minutes, large eggs for 12 minutes, and medium eggs for 9 minutes.
  • Wait until they’re cool to peel (it will be easier). To cool the eggs quicker, cover them with cold water. Gently tap the egg on the counter and once it’s cracked all over, roll the egg between your hands to loosen the shell, then peel. Unpeeled eggs can be stored in the fridge for up to one week.

… Tie a tie

According to the editors of Esquire, the Four in Hand is the most commonly used knot. It’s also pretty simple:

  • Drape your tie around your neck with the wide end on your right and extend it about 10 inches below the narrow end. Cross the wide end over the narrow end from right to left.
  • Then cross it under the narrow end.
  • Cross the wide end over the narrow end one more time.
  • Pull the wide end under and through the loop between the tie and the collar of your shirt. Holding the knot steady, slip the wide end down through the knot. Pull the tie all the way through, center the dimple, and tighten. (You can watch this video if you’re more of a visual learner.)

… Unclog a drain or a toilet

toilet plunger with flange
image: Webrestuarantstore.com

It’s bound to happen with several roommates sharing one bathroom, so make sure a plunger is on your back-to-school essentials list. (Buy one with what’s called an extension flange on the end, which delivers more “oomph” when plunging toilets. Fold the flange back into the rubber bell to unplug bathtub or sink drains.) When the inevitable time comes, grab this tool (and a pair of rubber gloves) and save the day!

  • Place the rubber cup of the plunger completely over the drain opening. Water should cover about half of the plunger cup. If not, turn on the faucet to add more water.
  • Keeping the plunger upright, begin to push it up and down, forcefully but gently, without breaking the suction. Repeat a few times, then pull up completely to release the suction.
  • That should dislodge the clog. If it doesn’t, repeat a few more times. (If this doesn’t work after a few tries, you’ll probably need to call a licensed plumber or drain cleaning service, as too much force can damage a pipe.)

… Iron a shirt

That button-down dress shirt you packed for special occasions probably needs pressing. (Just FYI, wrinkle-resistant doesn’t mean wrinkle-free. After lots of launderings, the non-iron coating will start to wear off.) To smooth out the wrinkles, you’ll need an ironing board, an iron, and a spray bottle for water. GQ recommends laying your shirt down on the wider end of the ironing board, rather than the narrow end, which most people use.

  • Spritz the shirt with water until it’s damp. Heat the iron to the setting recommended on the shirt’s label. (100% cotton can usually take high heat. If it’s unclear, start with a low setting.)
  • Unfasten the buttons, including collar and cuffs. Start by laying one side of the front of your shirt flat on the ironing board, smooth out, and iron. Repeat on the other side.
  • When you get to the button placket, give it an extra spritz, then hold it down with your left hand and pull the material as you’re ironing to really smooth it out.
  • When ironing the shoulder areas, angle them on the corner of the ironing board.
  • GQ recommends ironing the collar on the underside, then folding it down on the seam and ironing again. This will make it sit better, and better accommodate your tie.
  • Lay one sleeve flat on the board, with the inside of the cuff facing up. Iron the inside of the cuff, from the center out. Next, lay each sleeve flat with the seams in a straight line, and iron.
  • Finish by ironing the back of the shirt and hang your shirt up, buttoning the top button so it sits nice and flat.

… Sew a button on

No sewing machine required—just a trip to the supermarket or pharmacy for a thread and needle kit.

  • Cut about 24 inches of thread and thread it through the eye of the needle. Tie the ends of the thread into knots to prevent them from slipping through the fabric as you sew.
  • Place the button on the fabric (the ridge side of the button facing up, flat side down) and, starting from the inside of the garment, poke the needle and thread it through one of the holes on the button. Pull the thread all the way through, then bring the needle back downward, threading it through the opposite hole in the button and through the fabric.
  • Repeat three times, and continue with the other holes in the button (if there are more than two).
  • Once secure, thread the needle back through the fabric and through the base of the button a few times to secure, then tie the thread into a simple knot, and snip any excess thread.

… Open a bank account

Sure, you can Venmo a payment using a credit card, but why incur extra fees? If you don’t have a checking account linked to your Venmo account, you should. To open a checking account:

  • You’ll need to be 18 or older.
  • Provide a photo ID (driver’s license or U.S. passport), Social Security number, and proof of address (utility bill, signed lease, or school housing agreement).
  • Have some cash to make an initial deposit into the account.

Next, choose your bank. Chances are, there’s a local bank’s branch on campus, but it may make sense to use a larger, national bank if there’s one nearby. Look for a bank that offers student checking accounts with no monthly fees; no minimum balance requirements; and free, unlimited ATM usage (a checking account usually comes with a debit card, which allows you access your money at ATMs; using another bank’s ATM will incur fees). Once you’ve decided where you want to bank, bring your documents to the branch and speak to a customer service rep. In addition to getting you set up with checking, they will likely explain bank policies and procedures for using the account.

… Do laundry

You know that Tide Pods are for doing laundry and not YouTube challenges. But do you know how exactly to wash and dry your clothes? Here’s how to lighten the load:

  • Sort dirty laundry into two piles—darks and bright colors, and lights and whites.
  • Add the detergent to the washer tub or the detergent dispenser, depending on the machine. Use the detergent’s cap as a measuring cup. (Refer to instructions on the back of the detergent container and match the amount of detergent to the lines on the inside of the cap.) Or use a detergent pod.
  • Next, add your clothes and choose the temperature/cycle. Wash darks/brights (including denim) on cool/cold to avoid the garment’s color bleeding from the fabric; wash whites (T-shirts, sheets, towels, underwear) on warm/hot. Press the start button.
  • When done, place items in the dryer and choose the heat setting: Towels and sheets can withstand high heat; choose low to medium/permanent press for other garments (such as cotton) to avoid shrinkage. Press start.
  • Oh, and clean the lint trap before and after you use the dryer!

… Pump gas

This is for students who grew up in Oregon (where, until January 2018, only attendants could pump gas) or New Jersey (where that’s still the case)—or whose parents filled their tanks while they lived at home. When Oregon changed their law allowing drivers to fill their own tanks, Road and Track offered these helpful instructions:

  • First, extinguish any cigarettes, as gasoline is extremely flammable.
  • Park at the pump so that the fuel gauge is facing the pump and turn off the engine. (Look for the little arrow on your dashboard’s fuel gauge if you don’t remember what side it’s on.)
  • Pop the fuel door and get out of the car. If you’re paying with a credit card, insert it into the pump. If you’re paying cash, you’ll need to enter the station and tell the cashier how much money you want to spend; whether you need regular, plus, or premium; and the pump number.
  • If you have a cap on your filler, turn left to loosen; remove the nozzle from the pump and insert in the filler.
  • Pull the lever on the nozzle to start pumping gas. Hold the lever fully on; it will stop automatically either when the tank is full or when the amount you’ve prepaid is reached.
  • Remove the nozzle when done and put it back on the pump. (Tip: Rotate the nozzle upward so the open end faces up to avoid spilling any gas on yourself or your car.)
  • Put your gas cap back on and shut the fuel door.
  • Take your receipt and hit the road.

… Know if your food has gone bad

Your breakfast yogurt tasted a little off. Best-case scenario: a little upset stomach. Worst-case scenario: full-on gastrointestinal distress. If foods are mishandled, stored incorrectly, or past their prime, molds, yeast, and bacteria can quickly multiply.

According to the USDA, there are two types of bacteria that grow in food: spoilage bacteria, which causes foods to deteriorate and makes them less tasty but might not always make you sick; and pathogenic bacteria, which causes food poisoning.

Checking the “Sell by,” “Use by,” and “Best by” dates on food packaging is a good step, but keep in mind they refer to food quality, not safety. While you probably don’t want to eat something way past those dates, a few days beyond should be OK as long as the food was stored properly. If you’re not sure if something is still safe to eat, sniff it. Spoiled foods will smell funky, and you’ll usually see a change in texture due to bacteria growth. When in doubt, throw it out.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests following the 2-2-4 rule: Don’t leave food out longer than 2 hours; refrigerate in containers less than 2 inches deep to speed chilling; and consume leftovers within 4 days.

Also important: Since you’re probably microwaving a lot of your meals, make sure to cook frozen foods for the full recommended time (indicated on the package). And don’t use foil or put dishes with metal into the microwave.

… Vote!

If you’re 18 years old and haven’t yet registered to vote, do it now! Go to vote.org to find out registration details for your home state.

Currently, 37 states and Washington, D.C., allow you to register online. If your state isn’t one of them, you’ll need to fill out the National Mail Voter Registration form, print it, and mail it to the address indicated on your state’s registration form. Be aware of any registration deadlines your state may have.

To vote, you’ll need to find out where your local polling place is. First-time voters may need to show proof of identification. If you’re attending school out of state, you’ll need to submit an absentee ballot. Visit your state or territorial election office through vote.org and search for “absentee voting” or “voting by mail” to find out how to do so for your state.

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