#1 Check your professors’ equipment/supply requirements.
#2 Shop your house before you hit the store.
#4 Find your own system.
The Ultimate Back-to-College School Supplies List
On the Go School Supplies
As a cafe scholar, I do most of my best work away from home and my own desk. That means my backpack pretty much has to be my mobile office. There is nothing like getting all set up at Starbucks and realizing you don’t have headphones to listen to that lecture! (And yes, I have walked across to buy a pair from Target when I forgot mine!) You want to have everything you need for a great study session in your backpack already, so that you don’t waste time repacking the bag every time or going back for things you left at home. This is true whether your favorite place to study is Starbucks or the library. The only items I move back and forth between my backpack and home are required textbooks (and I try to get the Kindle versions to make this easier) and devices such as my laptop or Kindle. So I emptied out my bag so you can check out what items I keep with me, wherever I take my backpack!My backpack is pretty much my mobile office. Click To Tweet
Backpack or Messenger Bag
Pro Tip: If you’re shopping for bags at a physical store, bring your laptop with you and make sure it fits – with room for the other things you will need to bring.
Reusable Shopping Bag
I’m going to spend a little more time here, because this is obviously a Cafe Scholar essential! When buying a computer for college, make sure to check any requirements for your major (sometimes technical majors have certain equipment requirements). Come up with a list of the features that are important to you, such as speed, size, battery life. etc. When I had to replace my old netbook a few years ago, I picked the MacBook Air 11 inch because, studying on the go, I wanted something fast, powerful enough to handle the heavy duty Bible software (which doesn’t seem heavy duty until you run it on an old netbook for a few years!), lightweight, and with long battery life. Of course, my MacBook has a lot more to offer than just that, but first I had to narrow down the most important features for me, and then find the best deal with those features. I love my MacBook Air!
More laptop notes:
- Buy a cover! You are making a financial investment that will hopefully last a long time after school. It is worth spending a little money to make sure you don’t have to replace your computer too soon!
- Get the protection/service plan, and learn what is and isn’t covered, and where you will have to go to get repairs/service done. I never had to use my AppleCare plan for the MacBook, but I used my service plan for my first laptop at least twice in undergrad. Way cheaper than a new computer, and they gave me a loaner while mine was “in the shop.”
- Already have a desktop computer at home, but still want to study on the go? Get a (good) tablet and a cover with a bluetooth keyboard. If you go this route, make sure to invest in a good tablet with enough memory to save your work and the apps you will need!
iPad or Tablet
Speaking of tablets, if the tooth fairy leaves an Apple gift certificate under your pillow, an iPad makes a great study tool as well! I keep my iPad in my purse so I have it even when I don’t bring my backpack. There are many, many things an iPad or other quality tablet can do, but I use mine to scan notes (and everything else!) into Evernote, take handwritten notes or mark up documents with my stylus, read longer PDF documents (more comfortable than reading from your computer!), and I even use it as a second monitor to extend my laptop display! Like with the laptop, make sure you get a good cover.
My Kindle is one of my hands-down favorite study tools. It reads like regular paper, so none of that blue-light business and way easier on the eyes than reading from a computer. Books are heavy, and they take up a lot of physical space, so if having a book in your grimy little hands (!) isn’t a deal breaker for you, a Kindle can be a great way to carry all those resources with you! Unfortunately, my favorite Kindle feature (text-to-speech) isn’t available on the current models, but there is a tool designed for the vision impaired that you can add to your newer model Kindle so that it can read your textbooks to you. (Or, find a used Kindle Touch, the older model which does text-to-speech. That's the one I've been carrying around since 2011!) Also, Kindle books are available immediately after purchasing, don’t have any shipping costs, and are often priced cheaper than the physical books. I like the models with a touchscreen (all but the most basic version) because it is easier to highlight and take notes. And…you guessed it…get a cover! Mine is just a plain black one, but these ones look so cool! My Kindle has lasted 5 years so far. Take care of your gear and your gear will take care of you.
Pro Tip: If you have a data plan for your iPhone, don’t buy a data plan for your tablet or Kindle. Instead, use your phone as a hotspot if you are somewhere that doesn’t have wifi.
Get an extra one of each and leave it in your backpack so you don’t have to worry about leaving it behind by mistake.
If you study on the bus or train, a book light is essential; you don’t have to stop reading when the lights go down!
I couldn't find the one I have, but this one looks way better than what I've been carrying around! Get one that is rechargeable so that you don't have to deal with replacing batteries, and look for one with long battery life.
Because, yes, there are still places without wifi. Keep a flash drive with you for when you need to present on your professor’s computer or print in the school library. If you didn’t get a free one during welcome week, look for ones with a little more space on them like this one, just in case.
Book Stand or Clip
You’re trying to write or type while holding a book open to the right page. If you let go, it keeps closing. So you hold it with one hand, and hunt-and-peck type with the other, and it takes forever. No more. Invest in one of these book clips or book stands to hold your books open while you work. I have both: The stands get your book up at a good angle to read more easily, but the clips are awesome to use at the gym! I studied many minutes away on the stationary bike :).
- Staples Optiflow Rollerball Pens: I love these because they flow so smoothly! But, they can bleed on thin pages, and you do need to make sure the ink is dry or they can smear.
- Pilot G2 05 Gel Ink Pens: These are also great for smooth writing, but the gel ink seems less likely to smear. I use these every day at work.
- Bic Atlantis 1.6: This may be my new favorite pen. I found some purple ones in the checkout aisle at Staples, and I was hooked! The writing experience is incredibly smooth and a bit bigger/bolder than other pens. I use mine every day.
- Bic Clic Stic Medium: These are usually cheap, reliable, pretty smooth writing, and no bleed. The super smooth pens I like typically have at least a little tendency to smear or bleed…not these!
I’m kind of funny. I like to type my notes – cleaner and faster – but there are some things you just have to scribble out. I keep one of these legal pads in my backpack and another at my desk for those scribbles, or if I am taking lecture notes on a video lecture (hard to type notes when your monitor is filled with video!). If there is something I want to keep later, I just scan it with my iPad into Evernote and now it is searchable and paperless! Best of both the digital and paper world!
White – Out
Get the tape kind so you don’t make a mess.
Portable 3 Hole Punch
Composition Book or Journal
No matter your level of experience and knowledge, a study guide is a great tool for studying God’s word! A study guide will help you ask questions you didn’t think to ask, and take a different approach. Here are a few of my favorite study guide series’:
- NLT Study Series (includes the NLT Study Bible for that book of the Bible)
- Journal and Doodle Bible Studies (The Ephesians study is available for free!)
- NT Wright for Everyone Studies
- LifeChange Studies
Amazon Prime Student
Association in your Discipline
For the Desk
Label Maker and Label Tape
A printer is a great investment if you are going to have to turn in a lot of hard copy assignments. Or, if you are like me, you like to print out a copy of something to edit, even if it will be turned in online; we see things differently and catch different errors on paper. There are a host of printers out there at different price points, depending on how “heavy duty” you plan to be with your printing. When buying your printer, make sure to buy a few backup cartridges, especially extra black ink! Also, check to see if Costco or Fry’s refills your ink cartridges. You can save up to 70% off depending on the cartridge, and keep your old cartridges out of the landfill too! (Disclosure: at my “day job” I work for the company that partners with Costco and Fry’s to provide this service. So I pretty much live and breathe inkjet refill for most of my day!)
Word to the Wise: Don’t turn off/unplug your printer unless you need to. Many printers go through some ink getting “primed” every time you turn them back on.
Keyboard & Mouse
Another challenge of using laptop computers is that the keyboards are smaller, so they often don’t have 10-key numbers. And, of course, if you put your laptop up on a stand (see above), it will be hard to type! Get a full size keyboard for when you are working at home. This is especially important if you are working with numbers a lot, as you will be able to type much faster if you can use the 10-key for numbers. (Another option, by the way, is this 10-key extension if you don’t want to buy a full keyboard). If you type quite a bit at home and are ready to invest in something that will let you type faster, try a mechanical keyboard like this one. These are louder, but I can type so fast with mine that my coworkers threaten speeding tickets. (Note: You'll still have to learn how to type fast :)).
Note for Mac Users:
Get a Mac keyboard. It matters. Mac has some different shortcuts like the Command key, and it will be confusing to try to use a PC keyboard with a Mac laptop. Don’t forget a mouse if it doesn’t come with the keyboard! (By the way, a PC mouse seems to work fine with my Mac. It’s just the keyboard that doesn’t work out so well).
External DVD Drive
Power Strip or Power Squid
Whiteboard, Markers, Eraser
3 x 5 Cards
Ready to start your back to college school supply shopping? Get the Ultimate Back-to-College School Supplies Checklist below!
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