22 ways to prep your TCK for college

Aug 26, 2021 | 0 comments

For families who live and work overseas, the process of our kids growing up and transitioning into adulthood is a mixture of realities. 

Our kids have had incredible life experiences, living in ways that have expanded their worldview and grown them into independent young adults. 

They speak other languages, have sat in far away villages, visited numerous countries, ridden public transportation and flown across the world. They understand currencies, time differences, international politics and world history. 

As third culture kids, they have friends from all over the world and carry full passports with interesting stamps. They might love Korean dramas, singing in French and eating street food from local vendors.

The other reality is that they might not know how to drive a car or recite their state capitols or understand, in our case, American slang or be able to count US coins. They might not know how to return a shirt, call the doctor, run the dishwasher or mail a letter. They could feel a step behind their peers and maybe, a little lost, as they realize all the things they’ve missed out on or can’t remember.

There is a gap between the amazing things they know and the important things they need to know or experience for beginning life in their passport country.

The short weeks between high school graduation and college move-in are a crazy countdown of to-do lists, teaching moments, and small bursts of independence.

It’s a great, overwhelming scramble to do all the things at once.

We’re going through this right now with our oldest, and it truly is a scramble.

The journey of this season is unique for each situation, yet many of the real life, practical tasks they need to accomplish before college remain the same. 

The tasks will be done in different orders, depending on the circumstances your TCK is facing. 

Yet, the things to learn, do, buy, remember and experience are still similar for everyone.

Thankfully, with groups and communities like this, we can tackle it together while getting our kids off to school, prepped and ready for life on their own!

Here is a list for prepping TCKs for college:

1} Learning to drive – I put this first on the list because for TCKs who weren’t able to do this overseas, having as much time as possible for learning to drive, getting a license and having hours in the car to practice is vital. Whether they will have a car at college or not, having that little driver’s license card is a big deal for adulthood in the states. Every country, state, or province are different, so be sure you know what’s required for where you want to get licensed.

2} Create a resume – If they haven’t already done this in high school or if an older one needs updated, make sure your TCK has a solid, updated resume for college. We’re finding that having a resume, a class schedule for fall, a reference letter or two and a copy of your high school transcript are important things that are needed for applying for jobs on campus. 

3} Job applications and interview process – This could be something they talked about in high school, but actually having their first interview is a big deal. Talk this through ahead of time. Think through potential questions so they are prepared.

4} Immunizations – There are certain ones they’ll need for college and sometimes the timing of vaccines is specific. Start on this early!

5} Insurance – This is a big one. As soon as they have a permit to drive you can add them to your car insurance. Also, make sure they have medical insurance for college and have all their insurance information to keep with them at school.

6} Doctors – Depending on where your TCK goes to college, you might need to do some research. Find a family doctor that is in network for your insurance. Find a dentist or quick care in case they have an emergency and need that information quickly. Having those numbers and addresses ahead of time will be a huge help if needed!

7} Contacts – Take some time with your TCK to create contacts in their phone or in a google doc. Family, friends, emergency contacts, doctors… anyone you think they might need to call or contact for help, information or just someone to talk to while they’re at school.

8} Calendar – For us, google calendar is a perfect way for us to share dates, stay connected and organize all the things. More than likely, your TCK or your family is already using something like this but if not, teaching them to organize dates and times will give them a great start right away.

9} Finances – This one encompasses many things. Apply for their first credit card, open their bank accounts, get a debit card, learn how to use the ATM, drive through the bank, make a deposit with the bank app… Will they use Apple pay or PayPal? How will you send them funds? Can they log in to their accounts online? 

10} Pause… don’t forget that you’re all in transition and this takes time. Go out to eat, get a pedicure, spend an afternoon at the beach. Then, move to the next thing on the list.

11} Set up a budget – Whether they have a job or they are working off of savings or you’ll be sending them money each month, starting some kind of basic budget will be extremely helpful. Think through normal expenses like phone bill, groceries, toiletries, meals with friends, clothing and cleaning supplies. Add in extras like fall break or saving for a laptop. This budget can be in excel or there are many, many apps to get them started. Just remind them that however they choose to budget, keeping up with it is key. 

12} Set up accounts – There are so many accounts and some of them can be very helpful for college students! I’ve already mentioned Paypal but there is Amazon Prime for students or getting their own Netflix account. You can download apps for almost anything… pharmacy, deliveries, uber, or Telehealth. Help them make a list of things that could be good to have set up ahead of time!

13} Passwords – All of those accounts and apps means lots of new passwords. Add the new ones to college passwords and work passwords and emails and gaming accounts and all the other things. They will have a LOT of passwords to keep track of. We use mSecure to manage all our accounts and passwords. You can save copies of important papers, security questions, phone numbers and more all in one safe place. There are a lot of apps that do this. Find one and encourage them to set it up.

14} Church – Find a local church, connect with a pastor, search for a young adults group or college group to join, commit to serve in some way, talk about tithing and giving. These are all things that will build quick community and keep your TCK connected to the body of Christ. 

15} Finding their voice – Whether learning to make phone calls and talk to someone in a professional way, or figuring out how to word emails to potential employers or communicate with their guidance counselor, taking a bit of time to talk through what to say and how to say it can be very valuable. For a generation that thrives on texting, these can be new skills and might seem scary and overwhelming at first. Developing their own, healthy, online tone will go a long way as they move forward in their adulthood.

16} Pause… remember to bring balance to all these skills. They will not master them in one summer or even one year. But they are talking points and learning moments to build on as young adults. Remind them to ask for help, refer to notes, send you a text if they have questions or reach out to another student or adult who’s in the process with them. Also, remind them that they can do this. Take a breath and move to the next thing.

17} Shopping – As TCKs, depending on where in the world they’ve been living, they might need new everything. This is overwhelming and quite expensive! New clothes, new styles, new things for their dorm room, new suitcases, new shoes and new toiletries or makeup. We created very specific lists, shopped for specific things online, chose specific stores for shopping and sales and finally, made sure we got only what was needed. 

18} Life skills – From laundry to cleaning to returning an item at the store, shopping for groceries to addressing an envelope, take time in your day to invite your TCK along as you do these practical things. It takes some extra time but you will give your kids extra confidence in these basic areas that other kids might already know.

19} Go Folder – To help your TCK organize, buy an expandable folder with multiple folders inside. This folder will be home to all their important papers like birth certificate, social security card, bill information, passport copies and banking information. In a world that has everything digital, as travel families, we know how important these paper copies can be. This can go to school with them or be left with a trusted family member. But having all their papers in one place is a great way to help them know where these things are if they need them.

20} Plan their next travel date – When will they see you again? Will they fly overseas for Christmas? Will they travel to grandparents for spring break? For some TCKs, having this on the calendar will give them a date to look forward to and a countdown to see family again.

21} Talk through possible situations – “If this happens, I do this and call this person.” From getting in an accident, dropping their phone, feeling overwhelmed late at night, needing help with a bank or making a doctor’s appointment, having a plan in place will give everyone peace of mind and help your TCK handle these things with confidence.

22} Mom Notes and Dad Mottos – In our family, I write my girls cards and my husband has a whole list of family mottos that our girls can recite by heart. Make sure these kinds of things are written down for your TCK to have on hand. What would mom say? What would dad do? Those are important questions that they might have often in various circumstances. If you can, write simple recipes or shopping tips or laundry advice or other things that they might need. Write down job advice, friendship tips, study helps or financial notes to refer to as they begin their lives on their own. This is a valuable gift to your TCK.

I’m overwhelmed again just reading all of that!

But, as I look at each thing on the list, I’m reminded that these are daily things. With some intentionality, it can all at least be started before they leave for school.

Create a few ongoing shopping lists or to do lists and just keep doing the next thing.

A few tips as you work through your lists.

 – Ask your TCK to look through this list and start making lists of their own for each item.

 – Plan ahead, work together and set goals to get these things done.

 – Enlist family and friends to help you.

 – Have your TCK take ownership of this preparation. Ultimately, it is up to them to use a budget, save their passwords, enter contacts into their phone and so on. 

Then, give the timing, the preparation, the lists, the work, and the tears to Jesus, trusting Him with the outcome. 

He is faithful and walks before and behind our kids in this time of change, transition, and growth.

We couldn’t leave them in better Hands.

What are some things that you’ve done to help your TCK prepare for college?

What things do you wish you’d done before your TCK went to college or left home?

Any encouraging words for those of us releasing our TCKs out into the world?


Does the thought of helping your TCK apply to college send shivers up your spine? Do you feel overwhelmed and unsure where to even start? In this workshop, Kristi Steele will provide you a four year road map starting with 9th grade. She will guide you through what you and your TCK need to focus on in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade to be ready for college. Get this workshop before the price goes up at the end of the month.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

Jenilee Goodwin

Wife, boarding school mom, runner, writer, lover of books and a huge coffee fan

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