What’s in a College Backpack?

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Summer has ended and you’re no longer a high school student but a college freshman. As the first semester crawls closer and closer, you might be wondering – what should I bring? Here are some items that will serve you well during your first semester and for many more to come.

#1 – Water Bottle

Staying hydrated keeps your blood moving and brain functioning. Just because it’s heavy, that doesn’t mean you should skip out on bringing a bottle. Drinking water can be the difference between having a headache and feeling like you can tackle your homework with energy.

Save money by buying a water bottle from the drug store, but if you want to show off your school spirit, your school bookstore is bound to have half a dozen different varieties for different uses and purposes.

#2 – Hilroy Coil Notebook

Got a fancy journal that you got for Christmas? Save it. Why use a specialty notebook to take notes when you can use a generic less-than-a-dollar notebook and recycle without a care once it’s filled? If you’re thinking about how you can take notes with your laptop, be warned that some professors don’t allow them because taking notes by hand helps you remember information better.

It doesn’t have to be Hilroy – any generic brand is fine. I recommend a coil notebook though, because they often contain more pages, don’t need to be folded awkwardly to write on the back, and they come in a variety of colours. Many of them boast to be snag-free, but we know that’s not always the case.

#3 – Power Bank

In this day and age, electrical outlets are everywhere, but what if your phone is dying during your commute and you’re in the middle of cramming for an exam? Bring out the laptop! Well, you can’t, if you’re standing. That’s where the power bank comes in handy. Make sure you know how much battery your phone has before selecting a power bank because you’ll want it to provide at least one full charge and then some.

Anything over $20 is bound to get you somewhere, so just choose the one that works best for you.

#4 – Agenda/Planner

If you’re old-fashioned, having a small notebook containing your schedules, deadlines, contact information, and day-to-day notes will help keep you organized. Apps like My Study Life and Todoist are helpful as well, but in the event your phone runs out of battery, at least you have a paper copy to fall back on.

There are different styles of planners out there, so visit the bookstore and see which style you prefer. There are day-to-day planners, academic planners, calendar planners, and lots more. Majority of them have motivational quotes to keep you going as well.

#5 – A Snack

More often than not, you’ll be on the go – heading between classes, running errands, chilling with friends, studying in the library – so if you don’t have time to stop for a full lunch, whip out a small snack to keep you going. Campus snacks are usually overpriced, so go to Costco beforehand and buy snacks in bulk or head to the grocery store and stock up on apples or bananas. Choose healthy snacks, but if not, pick snacks that are small and can be consumed quickly and quietly.

Some suggestions: granola bars, crackers, apples, bananas, carrot sticks, cookies, chocolate, nuts, or anything bite-sized and small.

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#6 – Pencil Case

There are two types of note takers in the world – those who write everything in one color and those who summon the rainbow. If you’re the latter, I wish you luck. Just bring enough spares so in case you run out of a color, you’ll have a back-up. Same to those if you write in monochrome – two black pens are better than one because if you run out during an exam, your conclusion won’t be written in a different color (not that it happened to me. Nope.)

Tip: Don’t cheap out on pens, especially if you write a lot! Cheap pens often run out of ink faster, so settle for a $20 pack of bulk pens from Staples. It’ll probably last you until the end of your university career.

#7 – Folder

Don’t fold your loose leafs and stash them somewhere – you might need them again! That’s what a folder is for and you can buy them cheaply at the bookstore. Depending on the type of course you’re taking, you might not even receive any, but most professors print out the syllabus for your reference. Even though you recycle your papers once the semester is over, the folder can be used over and over again.

#8 – USB

If you have a laptop or online storage, don’t feel pressured to buy a USB, but as a friend once told me: “If it’s not backed up three times, it’s not backed up at all.” USBs are great for accessing files without wifi and if your laptop explodes, at least all your files are backed up. The only downside is if you lose it, the files can’t be recovered, so keep updating them on multiple platforms to ensure you won’t lose anything important.

#9 – Laptop

Finally, we’ve reached the laptop. Great for taking notes in class, checking social media while the professor is rambling, studying while huddled in the corner of a coffee shop, or having a laptop party with your friends. I’ve survived university without having a laptop because most of my classes don’t require it and I prefer traditional methods. I acknowledge their use and functionality, so if you need it, bring it with you. Don’t leave it unattended though because not everyone in university is trustworthy enough to watch your stuff while you grab coffee.

Not too sure what laptop to get? Here is a blog post about the top laptops of 2019. You should also check out this post to get an overview of the different specs you should look for in a laptop to make sure you get the right one just for you!

#10 – Anything That You Need

That’s right – everyone’s college experience is different, so be sure you pack whatever else essential for you. That includes tissues, Tylenol, stomach medicine, headphones, duct tape, pepper spray, dorm room key, student ID, textbooks, course work, a photo of your dog, and so on. If you forget anything, don’t sweat it and ask for a spare from your neighbor. If you’re too shy, remember the golden rule: bring spares!

I hope you’ve found this post to be of use for when you head to college, and if not you, someone close to you. If post-secondary isn’t where you’re headed, we also have a post dedicated to preparing for high school. Post-secondary can be a big deal to many, so being prepared beforehand will serve you well in the first semester. Good luck and have fun!

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