back-to-school list

Pencils, paper, notebook, erasers—you probably remember the back-to-school shopping you did every year before your first day of class.

Now that you’re going to college, that back-to-school list will look a little different. You still have to get all the regular school supplies, but now you have the added bonus of living on your own. Whether it’s in a dorm or an apartment, you’ll need to remember a few essentials before the semester starts:

Office Supplies for Your Backpack

Just like elementary, middle, and high school, you’ll need office supplies for college. Even if you don’t like to take notes from textbooks and prefer to study in a digital world and take notes on your computer, you’ll need pencils and paper at the very least for paper tests and in-class essays.

Depending on how you like to organize yourself for school, your backpack should always have the following items:

🗒️Loose leaf paper

You can adjust the number of notebooks, folders, and binders you carry so that it makes sense with your class schedule. For example, you don’t need to lug around your calculus and English notebooks if you don’t have either of those classes that day.

Office Supplies for Your Room

While you’re at college, there will be certain items you’ll need that either won’t fit in your backpack or you won’t need often enough to constantly carry around.

Other blogs (like this one) list dozens of items that fit in this category, but you’ll only need these basics to keep in your room:

buy your books at the best price
🕳️Three-hole punch
🩹Scotch tape
🧷Mini stapler
🃏Flash cards
📝Post-it notes
📎Paper clips
🖨️Printer *

Whether or not you need a printer depends on your preferences. Usually, colleges offer a certain amount of printing for free on campus. If you don’t think you’ll need to print that often, investing in a personal printer isn’t necessary. If you and your roommates want to split a printer for easy access, maybe it is worth the investment after all.

Otherwise, everything else on the list is a must-have for college.


Textbooks are notoriously expensive but essential for college. As such, they belong on the college back-to-school list.

There are a few options for where, when, and how you go about getting your textbooks for the semester. First, you can purchase or rent textbooks. They come in printed, e-book, and loose-leaf formats. Some classes may require one format or another. Otherwise, it’s your preference.

Second, if you have access to your classes’ syllabi before the semester starts, you can see which textbooks you’ll need for the year and start getting them early. This has its pros and cons. Pro—you don’t have to worry about textbook copies running out because you’re buying early. Con—you may not actually need the textbook, depending on the class. In that case, it’s better to wait until after the first day of class to get your books.

Lastly, you can get your textbooks from the campus bookstore, online, or from other students. Usually, colleges have online marketplaces where students can sell old textbooks. Do your research early, and you can get a good deal.


No matter how you got by in high school, in college you need a planner or agenda to survive. Your workload will be larger and harder than what you saw in high school. A planner is critical to staying on top of deadlines for assignments, exam dates, and other obligations.

One of the most difficult parts of college is time management. Start the year off right by using this tool that will set you up for success.

Water Bottle

Public, private, large, small—whatever kind of university you attend, you’ll need a water bottle. There will be times where you’re spending all day on campus. Having no access to water will leave you less alert, more tired, and generally uncomfortable.

In fact, according to Harvard’s School of Public Health, staying well-hydrated improves your sleep quality, mood, and cognition. As you can see, simply getting a water bottle can significantly improve your performance and college experience.


Nowadays, colleges revolve around their online platforms. Their school-specific platforms are where you’ll access class information, assignments, financial aid information, and everything else you need to be successful.

Going into your college school year, you’ll need a personal laptop. If you already have one, take the time to clear out clutter, organize documents, and make sure it’s working properly so you don’t have hang-ups during the school year.

Power Strips

In college, you can’t underestimate the benefits of power strips. If you’re in a dorm or apartment, you’ll need multiple power strips for the year.

Think about all the electronics you own like your laptop, phone, maybe a smartwatch, or headphones. These all need to be charged. Also, any table lamps or other appliances in your room will need a power source.

If you buy a set of power trips going into the year, you’ll prevent a ton of unnecessary stress.


Once you’re in college and away from home, it’s easy to forget the little things. For example, where you get your water.

That’s why you’ll need a small water filter and a portable kettle. You shouldn’t have to stress about refilling your water bottle or making tea. Having these in your dorm or apartments will take care of that!

Food Containers

Even if you have a meal plan on campus, you’ll need food containers for snacks and leftovers in your dorm or apartment. You can never be too prepared when it comes to food.

When you’re hungry on campus between classes, you’ll be glad you bought those extra containers for snacks on-the-go!

First-Aid Kit

You know all those random scratches, blisters, and burns that have popped up throughout your life? Yeah, those don’t go away when you start college. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a personal first-aid kit on hand when you get to campus.

This blog has an excellent list of first aid supplies you should include, like:

🥃Rubbing alcohol

These are only the highlights. Feel free to pack a kit of what you think you’ll need.


At the end of the day, you won’t know what you actually need for college until you’re already there. If you only take a few tips from this list, go ahead. You can always adapt and buy more once the semester starts.

However, sticking to the basics will pay off. You know you’ll need a laptop, textbooks, and office supplies at the very least. Once you secure those, you’ll feel prepared for the year and ready to take on whatever college has to throw at you.