Back to School Essentials
A word to the wise:
It’s that time of year again! Whether you are heading off to your first year of college or finishing off your last semester, here are some back to school essentials which will help you succeed. Staying focused, scheduling your semester, having the right tools at your disposal and being prepared for anything will help you become a super successful student.
If you’ve already been to college or university, you will already know that high school and college are much different. For first years it may come as a shock that the lifestyle is much different.
Responsibility rest on your shoulders, and your shoulders alone!
Highschool is a full day of classes Monday to Friday. The teacher will likely take attendance and your parents will be called if you miss class.
When you are working a part-time or full-time job and you don’t show up, there are immediate consequences that could lead to you losing your job.
In contrast, college and university are much different. No one will follow up with you if you don’t show up to class, there will be no immediate consequences if you miss a class, and there will be no one holding your hand to make sure you pass.
The reason I bring this up is because it’s easy to miss class in college. You may feel that because there are no immediate consequences it will be easy to play hooky once in awhile and no one will care.
And you aren’t wrong, no one will care! But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Get in the habit of taking responsibility and make sure you start the school year with good habits. Attend all your classes. If you don’t you will miss important information, and develop poor habits that will lead into the future. Think of college as a practice run for real life.
Okay, okay. Enough of the lecture. Let’s move on to something more fun, back to school essentials for starting a new year!
College Word to the Wise’s back to school essentials:
#1 – A daily planner
If I could go back in-time and get myself to start one habit in school, it would be to have a daily planner. It’s kind of silly because, at the start of every school year, my school provided me with free daily planners. Once I went to college, the planners were full of coupons for school stores and restaurants as well as local businesses. Of course, I snag those coupons and tossed out the book.
Here’s why I wished I had used one during school.
Right before the end of class, the teacher would yell out “don’t forget to bring in your assignment next week!” and I would think to myself, what assignment? I would rush and cram as much as I could over the next week to try and finish some big assignment I had totally forgotten about. What a pain!
Now that I am out of school and working, I found it super beneficial to have a daily planner to keep track of project deadlines, personal dates, and etc. I cannot believe I didn’t do this in school, it is a total life saver now!
The reality is teachers are actually pretty good at making sure you have all the information you need to succeed. Unfortunately, students are pretty good at forgetting the information immediately after hearing it.
My suggestion is a Moleskin daily planner. I use this almost every day. Whenever a project or assignment is given, I immediately right down the deadline in my planner. I often write a little reminder roughly a week before hand to remind myself to get started, if I haven’t already. This is important when it comes to assignments that aren’t due for a couple months and are easily forgotten.
Moleskin daily planners typically have the days of the week on the left page and the right page is blank. This is great for me because I love to jot down ideas that come to me or give myself some little reminders/to-do-lists to follow.
If you prefer technology over pen and paper, there are many great options for scheduling on your phone and computer.
Awesome tool if you use Google on your computer and have a Google Calendar on your phone that is synced up with it. I use this in addition to my daily planner. With Google Calendar, you can schedule your classes to repeat weekly so that you always know where to be. It also has the added bonus of notifications on your phone and computer. This is what I use for personal scheduling.
Similar to google calendar, this is a good option if you use outlook email on your computer and phone. That way you can sync up your devices and always stay on top of your schedule. This is what I use at work.
Honestly, some people just don’t like the idea of having a daily planner. I totally get that because it was not something I did while in school. Instead I used OneNote. It not as efficient as a planner. But because I was using OneNote for taking my class notes, I simply set up a page that had project deadlines. It’s not the best option, but it’s better than nothing!
#2 – A great backpack
Your backpack will quickly become an extension of your body. It will be something you carry around every day for years. Because of that, it’s super important to make sure you have a good quality and comfortable bag.
If you’ve ever watched 21 jump street, you will know the struggle between choosing to hold your backpack on one shoulder like the cool kids, or on both shoulders like the nerds. Well, my advice is to rock the nerd look! Both shoulders will feel better and won’t kill your back with the weight of your laptop and book.
What to look for in a backpack:
- Something you like. There’s no point buying a backpack you don’t think looks good.
- Good shoulder straps and stitching. When I started college, we had to buy an architectural kit. It was a backpack that came with all the tools inside we would need. The straps and stitching were so cheap that more than half the classes bags broke after only a few weeks.
- Make sur you have a lap top sleeve. It’s always nice to have a padded sleeve for your laptop so it doesn’t get damaged or scratched. Extra padding at the bottom is even better, you will be constantly putting your bag down on the floor beside you.
- Back support. Your bag will be full a lot of the time, make sure its comfortable with weight inside it before you buy it.
Here is an example backpack I found online, keep in mind I do not use this bag. I just want to provide an example bag that has features for function, comfort and security (if that’s a concern for something like travel) Make sure to consider everything on the list above before buying a backpack. If you are comfortable buying online, make sure you check the reviews and ratings of a product before buying. If you have the time it would be better to go try on a backpack before buying it!
Being out of school has some benefits. One of those benefits is not having to carry a backpack everyday. Regardless, I enjoy going to coffee shops with my laptop and notebooks to work on College Word to the Wise and other things. I decided that for me a shoulder bag is the best option. I absolutely love this bag and it works perfectly for my needs!
#3 – A laptop
A laptop is not technically essential, however, in this world it will make your life significantly easier. My suggestion would be to get a good quality laptop that is also fairly light. You will be carrying it around all day, so you don’t want to break your back. Unfortunately, because I was an architectural student, I needed a big laptop screen for drafting. It sucked to carry around! It also didn’t fit in the laptop slot in my backpack.
I won’t get in-depth with this point because I am no tech expert. But here is my advice anyways.
- Make sure it meets the requirements for any computer programs you will be using. If you need to do design work, make sure it can handle the design programs. If you are doing architecture, make sure it can handle the drafting programs. But if all you need to do is use Microsoft Office and surf the web, don’t waste a ton of money on a high-powered computer when all you need is a basic slim laptop!
I saw far too many “broke” students with the newest MacBook’s. If having a Mac is important to you and you have the money, go for it. But I cannot stress enough that if you are tight on funds, take this opportunity to be financially savvy and buy only what you need. People get excited about new tech and often over spend!
#4 – A good pen, pencil, red pen and highlighter
Honestly, this is what I consider the only “essentials” you need for working and taking notes. Anything else is just fluff. By taking excellent class notes, you could even go through school without owning a laptop by using the school computer for projects. You could probably also use things like a calculator, or something similar but that will be class specific and may not be needed for everyone.
Even if you plan to use your computer for all your class notes, I still suggest having a nice pen for your daily planner and for using whenever you need to jot something down. As an architectural student, I quickly learned to appreciate a good quality pen. Be careful not to lend your pen to the class pen thief!
A black pen:A good quality felt tip pen or fountain pen are my preference. These are the best all around pens, great for writing and drawing. The bonus of a fountain pen is that you can always buy refill ink whenever it dries up. This is my favourite affordable fountain pen and refillable ink packs, I use it every day and love it.
A pencil: Great for those of us who make mistakes. I prefer to just use pen and scratch out any mistakes. But there are definite benefits to using a pencil if you choose to take your class notes on paper.
A red pen: Editing your work is so important! Have a red pen handy for whenever you are reviewing your rough drafts of work. If you prefer a different colour, try out green. One of my friends once told me he doesn’t like red because it makes it look like he did something wrong. Instead he used green because it felt more positive. He’s a positive guy!
A highlighter: Similar to the red pen, a highlighter can be used for editing. I like to mark up my drawings with red pen and when I fix the mark-up, I highlight it so I know it’s done. This technique can also be used for writing assignments. Highlighters are great for highlighting important notes in a textbook.
#5 – An external hard drive
Backups, backups, and more backups! I cannot express the importance of having multiple backups. It’s happened to me and a lot of people I’ve known. There’s nothing worse than putting your time and effort into a project, and a few days before your project is due your USB breaks or your computer dies.
Fortunately for you, online storage is becoming a very common thing. Google Drive, Dropbox and many other options are at your disposal for free. For me I always liked using an external hard drive so that I could just plug it into any computer I had access to and start working immediately. In addition, I would save a second file on a USB and a third copy on my google drive.
#6 – A positive attitude
You heard me, have a great time! Take your studies seriously, but make sure to enjoy yourself as well.
#7 – A gym pass or a kettlebell for your dorm room.
Gotta stay fit and fight off that freshman 15! It’s a common joke that when you go to college you gain the “freshman 15”, which mean you gain 15lbs in the first year. This is an unfortunate side effect of partying and drinking to much, microwaving easy meals because your parents don’t cook for you anymore, and sitting for long periods of time. But that doesn’t have to happen to you!
Look into what your school offers students for physical activity. A lot of schools will either provide an affordable gym pass, or better yet, a free gym pass to full-time students. If lifting weights isn’t your thing, try joining a sports club or school team to keep yourself active and healthy.
If finances are an issue or you don’t like a crowded gym, consider purchasing a kettlebell for your dorm room. They are small so they can fit anywhere in your room, but they pack a punch and will provide you with an awesome workout!