Starting off your first semester of college is so exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. The step from high school to college is huge and learning to make adjustments to your life isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. When I got to college, I was unsure of what to expect and what I’d need to survive. Having some guidance on what to purchase to prepare for the next four years would’ve helped me so much in those first few months. I saw so many posts online that had huge shopping lists for college students, and so many of the items on there were completely unnecessary. I wanted to make a bare essentials post for any incoming college freshman, so that you’re not left with boxes filled with unnecessary supplies like I was! The truth is, although being prepared is important, having too much supplies can weigh you down and add too much clutter to what will already be a hectic several months. Below I listed some things that I have found absolutely essential for my college life!
In high school I managed to get away with a fairly inexpensive Jansport to lug all my stuff in. When you get to college, especially if you have back issues, I highly recommend shelling out some extra cash and investing in a quality backpack. I love my North Face Jester, but there are tons of other backpacks on the market that offer similar support. When you’re looking for a backpack, you want to look for wide straps with an “s” curve. These offer the most support for your back and shoulders, and are a life saver when it comes to hiking across campus to get from class to class. Also, when it comes to backpacks, bigger doesn’t always mean better. Backpacks with more support tend to be slightly heavier, and the weight goes up exponentially the bigger they get. When you’re going to class, you don’t need to lug around everything you own. Personally, I tend to use every bit of space in my bags–even if I’m filling them with things I don’t actually need. When you buy a smaller backpack, you’re limiting yourself to the essentials, and therefore saving yourself from carrying around things you don’t actually need. What I love about my backpack is that it has great support for my back, it’s the perfect size, it’s light, and it has tons of pockets for everything I need.
In my apartment, I have an entire cabinet reserved just for reusable bottles, mugs, and tumblers. This is certainly not necessary, but I’d recommend having at least one of each! Not only are plastic bottles bad for the environment, but you will save money in the long-run by using reusable bottles. I take my water bottle with me everywhere I go. There should be a water fountain for you to fill up your bottle in pretty much every building (although you may have to search to find it). Carrying around a water bottle at all times ensures that you’ll never be dehydrated. This is especially important when you go to a college with a big campus and hot weather like I do. I also find it hard to choose water over soda or juice when I’m thirsty, and I’ve found that carrying around a bottle really incentivizes me to drink water throughout the day.
When it comes to buying textbooks, you’ll find that there are a lot of options. First, you can rent or buy. Although this decision partially depends on your personal budget, I would recommend always asking your professors their opinion. For some classes, you may only need to use that textbook for one semester, and therefore renting will probably be your best option. For example, during my first semester of college, I took plant biology to fulfill my last science credit. Since I’m an education major, the material didn’t relate to anything else I took or planned on taking for the rest of my college career. This is a good opportunity for textbook rentals–when you know you will not be using the book for any other classes. On the other hand, I had a series of math classes for education majors that all relied on the same textbook. In this case, it made much more sense to just purchase the book. Also, this textbook happens to be extremely relevant to my career, and therefore I plan on keeping it for future use anyways. It’s not weird to want to keep a textbook for personal use; in fact, I encourage doing so if you think you’ll actually want to use it!
There are three main formats of textbooks: hardcover/paperback, loose-leaf, and digital. In my experience, hardcover/paperback tends to be the least affordable (and practical). However, loose-leaf and digital formats are not always options, so sometimes you will have to buy the hardcover/paperback version. I would highly recommend purchasing the digital versions of textbooks. This allows you to carry all your textbooks with you on your phone or other devices. Not only does this save you from having to lug around multiple textbooks at a time, but it also eliminates the issue of forgetting your book. As long as you have your phone on you (which, let’s face it, you always do), you’ll always have you’re textbooks on hand. I understand that some people love the feeling of a physical book in their hands that can be highlighted and doodled in. However, if you have three classes back to back that all require bringing the book, you will need to make some sacrifices. Most digital versions allow you to highlight and make notes and this can make it even easier for you when you need to refer to something specific. Also, most professors will be willing to adapt their no-tech policies to accommodate students with digital books. If you really need to buy a physical copy, always choose loose-leaf over hardcover/paperback. Not only is this cheaper, but it is significantly more convenient. If you know you’ll only be looking through one specific chapter in class, you can opt to bring only this chapter with you, making your load so much lighter. When I buy loose-leaf, I like to get a binder and dividers or accordion folder to keep my sections organized, but this isn’t necessary.
Another option you’ll have to choose between is used vs. new. This is a tricky one because when it comes to used, there’s a lot of variation. Some used books are practically new, whereas others are filled from cover to cover with highlights and doodles. Most of the time, bookstores will let you exchange used books if they’re excessively worn or written in, but that still doesn’t guarantee you will be able to use your book in the way you like. If you know you’re only going to want to read your textbook and not bother with highlighting or taking notes, there’s not really any reason to buy a book new. However, if you know you’ll want to highly personalize your book, and you’re willing to spend more, I’d recommend going with a new book.
I encourage you to always wait until classes start to buy books. Some professors may reveal that the textbook is optional (AKA don’t buy!!) or share some cheaper/more accessible alternatives. This has happened to me several times after already buying the book, and I’ve regretted not waiting. Also, most professors will understand that most students won’t have the textbook for at least a week into class, and should be understanding if you explain your situation. For example, during my first semester, Amazon had a textbook for one of my classes backordered for weeks, and so most of our class didn’t have the required book until later in the semester. Our professor was very understanding and moved our assignments back to accommodate for this. In the end, it’s always worth it to wait and buy the textbook after your first class meeting,
When I was in high school, I had one binder, one notebook, and one folder for each class and would switch out during breaks. In college, this is not exactly an option. Most likely, you won’t have a chance to go back to your dorm and switch out books between every class (I certainly didn’t!). Also, in high school, it was normal to receive multiple packets of papers every class meeting whereas, in college, this will rarely happen. Most likely, the only thing you’ll need for your classes is your textbook and paper to take notes. What I did last semester (and loved) was get a 5 subject notebook and use one subject for each class. This was perfect because I only needed to bring my notebook, and I had plenty of room to take notes. Another option would be to get a binder, dividers, and loose leaf paper. This way, you don’t have to worry about the limited amount of pages in a notebook and you can move your notes around and take them out if needed. Sometimes, you may choose to take notes on a laptop or tablet instead of with pen and paper. I should note that not every class will allow this, and it may not be necessary or best for all classes. You’ll probably get the best judgement of this in the first week to month of class.
As is the case with textbooks, I recommend waiting until at least the first class meeting to get your specific school supplies. During this first class, your professor will most likely reveal their policy on laptops and answer questions like how many notes (if any) will be taken during class, if you’re expected to quickly type up notes, or if you will be drawing out diagrams that would be tricky to replicate with a computer. If you’re unsure, it’s always good to simply raise your hand and ask. Chances are, if you’re wondering, at least one other person in the room is too. Lastly, don’t be fooled by the syllabus. Some schools release syllabi days in advance of the first class meeting. Most times, these syllabi will outline some policy for technology. However, many professors are given a syllabus to distribute to students that they have no actual input in. Because of this, often a class will have a no-tech policy on the syllabus, but, in actuality, the professor will have no problem with students taking notes on laptops.
Pens and Highlighters
I love having a ton of colorful pens and highlighters to keep my notes fun and organized! Amazon has a ton of cheap options with great quality if you’re just using them for notes and school. My personal favorite pens are the Papermate felt-tip pens. They last forever, write smoothly, and never bleed. When buying generic brand highlighter packs from Amazon, beware that they are prone to bleeding. I got a pack of nearly 50 different colors for fairly cheap, but they bleed through pretty much anything. I have a separate pack of store-bought yellow highlighters I use for my textbooks, but I love to use my colorful ones for organizing my notes (with a scrap sheet of paper underneath, of course). Even if you’re not big on having cute, colorful notes, I would still at least invest in a pack of store-bought highlighters and fresh pens. If you’re looking for note-taking inspiration, I love looking at Studyblr and Pinterest.
For Your Dorm Room…
When it comes to customizing your dorm room, there are so many different options for making it your own. Going to college will be a huge change, and having a space that feels like you can help college feel less foreign. I love coming back from class or work and being able to sink into my sanctuary. Whether it’s just hanging up a few pictures or going all out, personalizing your room (or side, if you have to share) is a must. You’re going to want to buy some organizers to keep your room from getting too cluttered. Since dorm rooms don’t tend to be too spacious, keeping you’re stuff compact with bins and dividers can make a huge difference.
Beginning your college career may be a huge adjustment, and it can certainly be overwhelming at times, but it’s all worth it. Starting off on the right foot will help you focus on what matters rather than being burdened by stress. Whatever your major or study habits, these essentials will not only get you through your first semester, but help you thrive.
If you have any tips that helped you during your transition to college or questions about college life, please share them in the comments and check out the college life section for more articles!