Back to school shopping can be especially difficult for an incoming college Freshman – they aren’t going back to school so much as starting a whole new educational experience, often far away from the comforts of home. This makes shopping for first-year college supplies both especially important and particularly difficult; it’s tough to know exactly what you’ll need for college until you get there. That said, as someone who’s survived it, here’s a basic idea of what you’re going to need to face your first day of higher education.
The age old tradition of starting a new year with a new book bag doesn’t go away once you hit college, I’m sorry to say. While some freshmen show up too cool for school and schlep their books and notebooks across campus under one arm, in college you’re lockerless, and if you have more than one class in a row and are any kind of trek from campus, having a good, solid bag like this Eagle Creek Messenger Bag can make your life a heck of a lot easier. Bonus points if it’s built to carry a laptop, too; most college campuses have WiFi access so you can make better use of your down time on campus, and even type out notes in your classes. That said, in college you really do need…
Take it from me, if you can help it, you really don’t want to lug a desktop to your dorm – let alone a monitor to go with it. But while most campuses have computer access and often even rentable laptops in certain areas, it will legitimately make your life much more difficult if you don’t have a computer of your own to write and email papers on, or do your online assignments from home. Fancy or basic, it doesn’t really matter whether you pick an HP Pavilion or an Alienware gaming monster. Portability is key – you want to be able to take your laptop wherever you need it, and not have it be a huge burden to move in or out, or take up a lot of space. If you’re worried that “portable” might also mean “easy to steal,” get yourself a laptop lock and keep the device password protected, too.
A Thumb Drive
Whether you have a laptop, desktop, or no computer at all – especially if you don’t have a computer of your own – you’re going to want a USB Key. A thumb drive is the best way to transfer data from one machine to another, whether you have to write a paper in multiple places, save some data from your lab, or just get a presentation printed out at the library, a thumb drive is faster and more reliable than email or even inter-network transfers, especially if you’re uncomfortable logging in to public computers. Maybe more important, a flash drive can keep all your important files backed up in case something gets lost along the way.
This one is really 50/50. Printers are big, bulky, expensive to maintain, and to be honest, a pain in the butt – and the ones that aren’t big and bulky tend not to last very long or work very well. BUT, especially if you’re in the Humanities, you’re going to be doing a lot of printing. So what’s a freshman to do? First, find out what your school’s printing policy is – if they have computer labs, where, and what, if anything, it costs you to print there. Most schools have a semester page limit, some are unlimited, and some you have to pay by the page. Once you know your school’s policy, think about how much printing you’re going to do relative to how much they’ll let you do for free.
If you can get away with it, I’d recommend not getting a printer at all, but if your school is especially strict with it’s printing policy, opt for an ink jet printer like this Canon Ink Jet if you’re going to be doing consistent, small amounts of printing (if you let them sit too long, the printer heads can get clogged, and trust me, you DON’T want to deal with that!)
For you Humanities kids, I feel your pain – if your college isn’t going to supplement your printing needs, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you invest in a laser printer like this less expensive Samsung model. They’re bigger and heavier (and more expensive) but they last much, much longer, print faster and clearer, and replacement toner (rather than ink cartridges) won’t cost three times more than the printer itself. You’ll be the envy of your dorm! Just don’t forget the printer paper.
The Boring Stuff
Yep, you know the drill – just because you’re in college doesn’t mean you get to ditch the basics – though, if you have some left over from high school, there’s no reason not to reuse!
Pens and Pencils
As far as pens go, you want both blue and black – college profs can be picky about the color – and maybe red if you’re planning on doing any editing, but whether you get a luxurious inky ball point or a dime-a-dozen Bic is up to you. With pencils, I opt for the mechanical variety (with plenty of spare lead!) but if you like your traditional #2′s, just make sure you have a sharpener to go with.
This is another one that leans a little to personal preference, though you definitely want college ruled. I like Five Star, one for each class, but you can get any notebook for one or all of your classes.
This one is for you math and science kids – but you probably already have your TI from high school…don’t you?
The Most Important Thing
An alarm clock! It’s the one thing you might not think to put on your back to school list, but nothing else you buy would be much use without it! What else would you consider a college supply essential? Now I’m not talking stuff for dorm rooms – other than the alarm! – but what kind of stuff do all you college-age readers find yourself using on a daily basis? Anything I left off the list? Let me know in the comments!