College Life Week (formerly Survival Week)

A week-long challenge put on by high schools that addresses the non-academic obstacles faced by college students.

Photo of Danny Scuderi
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Written by

Edited 4/15/16 

Rebranding with new name: College Life Week

Working list of challenges:

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A big Thank You to all who helped with Survival Week. It has been a fun, meaningful process! Grateful for the feedback and the insights. Cheers to educational change!

Edited 3/29/16

High School Student Survey Results:

Most anticipated non-academic challenge:

  • Budgeting Finances (57%); Discovering Social Connections (28%)
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Most important personal skills to succeed in transition:

  • Time Management (55%)
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Biggest help in transition:

  • Friends (37%)
  • Family (29%)
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Edited 3/28/16

I'm refining Survival Week challenge ideas by referencing the biggest finds from our survey--thinking about how to marry students' worries about budgeting finances, time management, and the need to rely on their social networks to help them become more independent. 

Partnering with Facebook will help greatly, and finding the most optimal way to leverage their platform is key. Let me know your ideas you have for challenges or specific ways we can use Facebook to make Survival Week help students.

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Edited 3/28/16

Wrote an article on Medium giving a fuller scope of Survival Week:

Edited 3/24/16

Survey Results continue to shape the challenges being created! Have your HS students/recent college grads have a voice in Survival Week:


Edited 3/23/16

Building Survival Week challenges based on responses about biggest concerns from HS student survey:

  • Budgeting finances
  • Time Management
  • Friends helping to ease transition

Edited 3/22/16

Video pitch for Survival Week below:

Edited 3/21/16

Mock up of Survival Week homepage that lets schools download ready-to-go Survival Week challenge kit, track your (students') progress, post/peruse photos, connect with other students in the challenge, and post reflections (at conclusion). Homepage makes nation-wide scalability free, as any school can download the kit filled with all 5 days of challenges. 

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Edited 3/21/16

Mock up of the Survival Week card deck with daily challenges. Cards will mirror those in the app to provide a physical tool for schools and students, and they'll be online and downloadable/printable for free anywhere, anytime!

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Edited 3/20/16

Mock up of the Survival Week app which will let any high school download and immediately participate in Survival Week at no cost--it's all ready to go with a deck of daily challenges. It will also let schools and students connect with each other for broader reach of tasks as well as create accountability. Students can upload a picture of their completed tasks to receive credit throughout the week, and administrators can keep track of students' progress.

The app lets schools change Survival Week as much as they want or nothing at all. 

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Edited 3/19/16

Updated Google Doc to include brief analysis of different skill-building programs and how we can learn from them in building out Survival Week. These programs don't teach accomplishment of tasks, but rather building of skills to overcome array of future challenges. 

  • Outward Bound
    • overcoming personal, physical challenges to instill perseverance
      • what challenges can we build into daily, week-long experience to emulate perseverance of different kinds?
    • bonding/group activities to build personal connections
      • group cooking tasks to bring people together (make initial connections via app)
      • partnering with other Survival Week cohort members to complete certain tasks
  • Test-Taking Programs
    • Test-taking strategies are all about how to solve TYPES of problems rather than specific problems themselves
      • how can we build necessary independence skills through challenges that emulate TYPES of decision-making required in college
        • budgeting finances can be reflected in budgeting of food across the week
          • i.e. at least one meal a day has to include pasta (which is given in Survival Week kit)

Edited 3/18/16

Updated Google Doc (link below) to begin ways to include budgeting into different Survival Week tasks. Jump in!

  • Food/meals throughout week
  • Time management by forcing students to choose between many activities
    • By providing (too) many activities for students to do, they must prioritize what needs to be done
    • Seeing what activities students chose to do will show trends

Brainstorming ways to use Survival Week app to help students create social connections throughout week

  • creating new social connections was 2nd largest concern among HS students
  • create challenges that ask students to work in groups, discuss, share experiences

Edited 3/17/16

Finding ways to include the idea of budgeting into different tasks--in our student survey, that is the biggest concern (though the sample group is small at the moment)

  • Giving students dry foods/ingredients that need to be included in at least one meal per day
    • They have to portion food across the week much like they have to budget finances

Edited 3/17/16

Added info on app to "How I'd Get Idea Off the Ground" and "Materials" sections below. Essentially, creating an app to accompany the physical experience of Survival Week will help track completion of tasks and possibly serve as a way to connect students and allow for group reflections. 

Initial survey feedback states that financial budget, time management are the biggest non-academic concerns for entering college students and that family will be the biggest help in easing that transition. 

Edited 3/16/16

I created a brief, simple sample day of Survival Week aiming to balance different daily tasks a college student is faced with. These are not necessarily tasks that I envision will make it in a final version of this idea (though they may), but simply they communicate variety and a balance of scavenger-hunt-style tasks and design thinking/long-term problem-solving skills

Sample Challenge Day 3

Task 1: Top Chef 3

Cook a meal with another member of your cohort using ingredients from both of your kits. You do not need to follow a recipe card.

Task 2: Discovery Zone

College is filled with services meant to help you help yourself in and out of the classroom, during and after college. These services, though, can be hard to track down.

Task: using the Design Thinking Kit, work with at least 2 other members of your cohort to think of different ways you could discover ALL of the academic, career, and personal services a college offers.

Task 3: Hot Seat

Interview someone you don’t know about his/her college experience. Record/transcribe their answers and keep in your log. Begin with the following questions, but feel free to add your own:

·      What do you wish you would have known before you went to college to make it easier?

·      Besides classes, what do you value most about your college experience?

·      What is the goal of college?

·      Persuade me to go to college.

Task 4: Coupon Corner

Discover at least 3 businesses that accept student discounts. Upload a picture of each in the Survival Kit app. They cannot all belong to the same industry (restaurant, movie theater, etc.)

Edited 3/15/16

Added student survey to "Metrics" category below--Sending out a survey to current high school students asking them to gauge their concerns in anticipation of a college transition. A similar survey could be sent out to current and recently graduated college students asking them "I wish I had known"-type questions. 

Feel free to pass this survey on to your high school students to have their voice heard in the creation of Survival Week!


Edited 3/14/16

Expanded "How you can get started" section below. 

I'm also working on creating a sample day in this Survival Week that addresses the objectivity of a scavenger hunt built around decision-making and skill-building independence while also including challenges that have students engage in a design thinking challenge of their own (great suggestion from Dan Ryder on this one). For example, what are ways to discover the seemingly infinite student services offered at a college? Working with other students to engage in design thinking could maximize the long-term skills we're looking to instill. 

Edited 3/13/16

Elaborated Overview to give more clarity to possible challenges and tasks 

Edited 3/12/16


Survival Week examines the decision-making involved in college students’ non-academic life by creating a week-long series of challenges and activities that aim to increase students’ self-awareness and skills in becoming more independent. As college involves much more than going to class, Survival Week prepares students to be able to be independent in a new environment with new responsibilities, all of which require myriad immediate and long-term decisions.

The week is defined by challenges that require students to work independently and together in order to complete various tasks that are meant to recreate the skills necessary to be independent in college. Some challenges are scavenger-hunt-esque and others more straight forward. Each challenge is worth a certain amount of points, challenges and points are tracked on an app through pictures uploaded by the student, and at the end of the week we have a winner! Some sample tasks are below:

  • Cook and document 5 different meals in same week (1 point each)
  • Extra challenge: cook a meal with another student using both partners’ ingredients (5 points)
  • Discover how many business accept student discounts (1 point each)
  • Take public transportation (1 point)

Potential For Impact: (Why is this an idea that creates a culture of innovation?)

Survival Week pushes students, high schools, and colleges to examine the various non-academic decisions entering college students face which, at times, are much more difficult to navigate. By either recreating these situations or placing students in positions to succeed, we are facilitating a smoother transition in an arena that is often overlooked or undervalued but that nonetheless profoundly impacts students’ lives when they goes to college.

Value Prop/Pitch: (How would you pitch this to other teachers in your school? Your principal? Etc)

The academic end of college comes with a roadmap--requirements, timelines, etc.--but the living of college is learn as you go. If we are truly preparing our students for college, we must do more than prepare them for the classroom. We must prepare them for the life they will be living.

That life is defined by a new sense of independence which is inherently defined by one’s decision-making skills. Giving students practice in those skills is just as important as the academic skills we teach, as it will allow them to be more successful in and out of the classroom. By helping to develop their sense of independence, the transition to college will be a lot more efficient and, consequently, more successful.

How’d I get this idea off the ground?

Creating a realistic list of challenges students can tackle that asks them to budget time, money, transportation logistics all while keeping track of a less structured academic load (but that nonetheless has accountability).

Explore different aspects of a user-friendly app that allows for picture uploads to track task completions, connect students engaging in Survival Week (for possible group-oriented tasks), provide resources to be used during challenges (recipes, municipal transportation tips, laundry FAQs, etc.)

How you can get started:

By talking to high school juniors and seniors as well as others who are entering college for the first time (going back to school, transferring from one college to another, moving from out of country), you can survey common concerns. Similarly, by surveying current college students or recent grads, asking, "What do you wish you had known?" is a great way to find the same. 


  • In anticipation of the creation of Survival Week and its components, high school students answer a brief survey about their concerns about the transition (updated 3/15/16)
  • Current high school students provide insight into their concerns about entering college
  • Current college students and/or recent alumni give feedback regarding what they wish they knew
  • Survival Week students write about what they think will be challenging about the week
  • Survival Week students reflect in writing and in group discussions about the experience

Materials to get this idea off the ground:

To prepare them for the week, students would receive a physical Survival Kit (backpack) and an app that would facilitate the learning of new responsibilities. The backpack would have a small array of helpful tools like:

  • Easy and cheap meal recipes
  • College meal sample ingredients
    • Pasta, granola bar, coffee beans, Gatorade
  • Laundry instructions & reminders
  • Budget calculator
  • Map & Activities 
  • Challenges and Tasks Card (i.e. find the Career Center, map out/visualize graduation requirements)
    • Challenges broken down by day
    • Completed tasks tracked by pictures uploaded to app
  • A balloon (to be inflated) and confetti
    • Embrace the fun!


Original Post

Here are some of the initial ideas that could bring this idea to life: 

  • A week long grocery budget that students manage and stick to
  • Students do their own laundry
  • Students prepare meals
  • Students get a piece of paper with some deadlines on it - but teachers never say the deadlines out loud. Students need to internalize the info and manage these deadlines (much more like the college experience) 
  • Attendance isn't taken! And they have show up in an unfamiliar place. (i.e. Their Geography class is actually in the music room - but it's only written on fine print on their schedule). 
  • Forcing them to live with people that they didn't choose (active parents in this effort)
  • Coach the parents to stop doing the normal care-taking things they do at home 
  • Loaded social calendar - that they decide what they want to do and what they dont. They need to make those time sacrifices. 

The challenge could be kicked off with a kit that students get with the schedule, some basic tools to navigate. After the challenge, the high school guides students through a reflection about how it felt. 

Feel free to jump in on the Google Doc and collaborate:

Have a doc or slides that you're collaborating in? Link it here.

List of Challenges: Program Ideation:

Evaluation results

15 evaluations so far

1. Do you love this idea?

Yes! I love this idea! - 100%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bridget McGraw

Team It has evolved terrifically! Good luck in the next steps.

Photo of Danny Scuderi

Thanks, Bridget! It has been fun working on it and hearing students' and teachers' voices in the process. 

Photo of Dan Ryder

I'm still curious about what actions and experiences students will have this week that meets a need that traditional summer experiences and freshmen orientation experiences fail -- who might be the players involved? the voices? what might a day look like? And just now . . . wondering what it might look like if the week was devoted to these students using the design thinking process -- internalizing a system such as the IDEO process, Ela Ben-Ur's Innovator's Compass, or Mary Cantwell's DEEP design thinking process -- and used those processes over the week to discover and design solutions to the needs they seem coming -- wondering if this might arm them with long term problem solving tools

Photo of Danny Scuderi

I'm thinking that this may be a good aspect to include as part of one of the days of the challenge. For example, amidst tasks 1-5 for Day 3 would be a challenge that requires students to partner/group together to design think solutions for understanding the breadth of the school's student services. I like the idea of balancing the structure of objective challenges with the long-term skill-building of design thinking. What do you think?

Photo of Dan Ryder

I dig that.  I like that you are thinking about balance and balancing the various user needs and balancing the various types of thinking your users will need moving forward.  And I'm also liking it asks students to explore possibilities of what student services schools might offer -- pushes them to investigate and discover what all might be there that they didn't even realize i.e. health clinics, counseling, tutoring, financial literacy, etc.

Photo of Kali Kurdy

Another idea would be to include a financial literacy piece geared to the College and Career standards in Common Core.  Check out Financial Fitness for Life, hands on Banking, etc.

Photo of Danny Scuderi

Kali, great ideas! Building a sense of financial literacy is where this idea was born--from simple grocery budgets to longer term financial skill-building. We're on the same page. What we're working to refine is how to incorporate that tangibly and intangibly into Survival Week. Ideas include an aspect of an app that tracks short-term and long-term budgets, debt repayment plans, etc. 

Also, I would like to require a visit to a Career Center but am struggling to figure out how to incorporate that into a high school challenge, as that seems much more feasible on a college campus. Any ideas? Feel free to contribute on the Google Doc:

Photo of Kali Kurdy

My sister just is a career counselor and we have been playing around with developing a rubric for success
in post secondary life. That would be a good addition to the backpack.

Photo of Dan Ryder

I tossed a character on to your shared doc.    I agree with Chris that this could be an interesting recurring experience.  

My big how might we to propel further ideating on this is "How might we structure this survival experience in a way that meets the needs of all transitioning college students?"   I can't help but feel like the narrative right now seems very much in the "typical" college experience -- how might a young single parent survive the college transition?  how might a student completely supporting themselves completely survive the college transition?   how might a student from another country completely survive the college transition?     Trying to keep those empathy interviews in mind as we keep pushing this idea forward.

Photo of Chris Good

Very cool. There is so much that can be learned through the "Trial to Survive!"
What if this were a reoccurring event where students come back every quarter?
Maybe the experience deepens or takes different directions each time?

Photo of Danny Scuderi

I hadn't thought about it as a recurring experience, but I like that idea--especially as I think reflecting on the process is valuable, and doing it again would enable one to use what was learned. Jump in on the collaboration! Link to the dgoc is at the bottom of the post.

Photo of Dan Ryder

+11  I love this idea so much I cranked up the plusses right past ten.  

One, I really like the idea of a physical and digital kit: an interactive tangible experience as well as tools that can be accessed always.  An app perhaps?  

And of course it is all about the content and actually meeting the needs as well -- not just cool packaging.

I'm very keen on this idea of starting in their senior year and wondering how that support can carry through the summer as well right through the first year of college.

Lots to consider and mull and grow upon here . . . 

Photo of Danny Scuderi

Hi Dan, 

Thanks for the enthusiasm! An app--for sure! What a good idea, especially in terms of itemization and/or goal-setting. I'm intrigued by how we could keep that experience and learning going through the summer. Feel free to jump in on the gdoc! Any help is greatly appreciated.

Photo of Michael Schurr

+1 to Paula! This idea is so cool. We would love to "see" a prototype of the kit! Could you build a prototype to share with the community? Could be a drawing or a physical prototype. I wonder if a high school would be willing to take a week in the fall of senior year to run survival week. Have you ever tried this idea? What would the weekly schedule look like? Excited to see where this idea goes, happy to help in anyway I can!  

Photo of Paula Marra

Yes!!! Would be awesome to "see" a prototype as  Michael Schurr  said! Let us know if we can help in anyway!
We can also work with you on a gdrive doc.

Photo of Danny Scuderi


I've never tried the idea, but I wish my high school had this, especially to learn grocery ed. I imagine that the week would be bookended by setup/instructions and reflections. In the middle students would be given daily and continuous goals to guide their decision-making and to record their processes. 

I'll get to building a prototype soon. Until then, I've started a gdoc to get ideas out. I'm new to this phase of things, so feel free to guide/contribute/suggest best formatting along with Paula Marra and anyone else! Link below:

Photo of Paula Marra

I love this idea! I want to hear more!!! When would the students receive the kit? How would you make the sale for this to happen with the HS admin? How can we scale this? 

Photo of Danny Scuderi

Hi Paula,

I was thinking that students would receive the kit toward the end of the year, which is where the sale to admin comes in. As many seniors check out during the last few months, this would be a great way to keep them engaged, engaged in a different type of learning, and continue on the trajectory of being prepared for the next level. I imagine around May, and there could be a share-out/reflection as part of a school's end-of-year bonding activities, if they have them. I'm open to suggestions, though. I started a rough gdoc below. Jump in!

Photo of Xin Ai

Totally agree survival skills are as important as academic capabilities. If you have this project set up, would love to sign up my kids. They will start high school soon.  

Photo of Paula Marra

Hi Danny Scuderi , are you working on a doc on this idea?
If you are post the link on you post.
Would be awesome to collaborate with you on this. RIght? Dan Ryder , Michael Schurr .

Photo of Lori Corcoran

Danny Scuderi 
Love this idea! What a valuable learning experience this would be. Having students learn to do these things independently may be a big step for them.
When do you see this happening? At the beginning of Senior year? End of the year? Over the summer?

Photo of Danny Scuderi

Lori Corcoran , 
My thought is that it would be a great use of the latter part of senior year, especially as those last two months have students checking out more than checking in; it would be a great way to keep them engaged while also keeping an important eye on the next steps.

I could also see a before-and-after aspect to it that includes the beginning of that year or even earlier in high school in order to show skill growth and to keep college and this type of skill development in students' minds--a type of mini PR for college life, if you will. As is, I imagine it makes the most sense as a one-off at the end of senior year.