Best School Supplies for College

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best school supplies for collegeWhen it comes to the best school supplies for college students in 2020, the list looks very different from when I went to college. For starters there weren’t any online classes let alone digital textbooks. In addition, we bought all of our textbooks–and then sold them back to the bookstore at the end of the semester. Finally, we took all of our notes by hand.

Yeah, I know, I’m making myself sound ancient. But buying school supplies for college really was different just a few years ago. In 2020 there are extra challenges, what with so many colleges and universities likely offering classes online.

So, even though I’m ancient, lol, I can help you figure out the best school supplies for college. Thankfully, I have two college-aged daughters who continue to need school supplies for their classes. This is relevant whether one of my daughters is going to a science lab on campus or her sister is taking her metadata class at night online.

Best school supplies for college

Think of this blog post as a simple college school supplies checklist. I think it’s the perfect complement to my dorm must haves 2020 blog post. These are the 16 products you should add to your college school supplies list.

These are definitely college must haves for 2020 that you can trust. Why? Because the information about the best school supplies for college students is coming from college students themselves. These are, legit, the items my daughters have used in college and continue to do so now that they’re in graduate school.

Finally, I promise that this post on the best school supplies for college will answer some of the most common questions, including:

  • What school supplies should I buy for college?
  • What do college students need the most?
  • How many notebooks should I buy for college?

Now, onto the list!

1. Post-It Notes

Remember how I mentioned how we used to buy textbooks? Well, we also used to buy tons of highlighters, too. That was so we could take notes in those textbooks using the highlighters to, well, highlight important information.

Both of my daughters made it through four years of undergraduate with buying just a few textbooks. Instead they rented their textbooks through Amazon or borrowed them from the library. Now that both are in graduate school, they’re taking the same approach.

So how are Post-It Notes relevant on this best school supplies for college list? Well, both use Post-It Notes to mark important pages in their textbooks, just like I would use a highlighter. In addition, they use transparent or clear sticky notes when they want to highlight text without writing on the page. FYI, the Post-It brand of these transparent sticky pads is called Post-It Flags. There is even an entire Post-It Notes stores over on Amazon. 

At the end of the semester, after finals are over, it’s easy to clean up their textbooks. Remove all the sticky notes and send the textbook back to the rental place. 

Best School Supplies for College: Post-It Notes

2. Daily Planner

Even though both of my daughters have iPhones–and calendar apps on those phones–both swore by a daily planner. Or rather a physical planner that they could write in and bring with them to class.

One daughter preferred a planner that was daily. That is, each page was a day. My other daughter liked her planner that was a week at a glance or weekly. She is more of a long-term planner and that worked for her.

Best School Supplies for College: Daily Planner

3. Mechanical pencils

When you invest in mechanical pencils, you’ll never need a pencil sharpener. My engineering student daughter lived and died (metaphorically) by these mechanical pencils.

Of course, with the mechanical pencils comes the need for refills. Otherwise you can’t write with them.

Best School Supplies for College: Mechanical Pencils

4. Erasers

You may not need a pencil sharpener when you use a mechanical pencil. However, you will need an eraser.

Some mechanical pencils come with an eraser attached. I say invest in a traditional pink eraser or white eraser. It can’t hurt to have them on hand.

Best School Supplies for College: Erasers

5. Pens

It’s a good idea to get yourself a new pack of pens, even if your house is like ours. That is, there are tons of freebies pens floating around. We likely got them at the bank, supermarket or some other place with a giveaway.

These freebie pens are great for being frugal, but you do get what you pay for. And if you paid nothing for the pens, don’t expect much for their longevity. The worst thing would be showing up for class on the first day, grabbing one of these freebie pens, and the ink is dried up.

While it’s fun to get pens in a variety of colors, like red and green, in reality blue or black will serve you the best. For example, if you get an on-campus job and receive a paycheck that you need to do a mobile deposit for, you must sign in blue or black ink. Banks are really particular about this.

Same thing with a multiple-choice test that might have a Scantron sheet. You remember those from the SAT and ACT, right? Again, blue or black ink is a must.

I prefer the retractable kind of pen, you know the one you “click” the top to get the point to come out. That way you never have to worry about losing a top. Because once that top is gone, then the pens start to dry out.

Best School Supplies for College: Pens

6. Sharpies

Whether you’re working on a group project, making a sign for your sorority or just need a really good marker, you can’t go wrong with Sharpie markers. Yes, I know that Sharpies can be expensive. But they last for years.

Best School Supplies for College: Sharpie Markers

7. Highlighters

I know I’d said earlier that today’s college student likely isn’t using highlighters the same way I did in college. And that would be in textbooks. But that doesn’t mean that highlighters are obsolete.

There are going to be plenty of things that you print out in college that you may want to highlight. I know that when I’m working in a printed version of a spreadsheet, I’ve always got highlighters at the ready.

I would recommend investing in the Sharpie Highlighter 24 count. I’ve bought these for myself. They’re smear proof, have a narrow chisel tip for precise highlighting, and they come in a range of colors.

There are mostly fluorescent yellow, but then you get a good amount of purple, orange, green and blue highlighters as well. As I said there are 24 in all. That should easily last an entire school year.

Best School Supplies for College: Highlighters

8. Five-subject spiral notebook 

Both of my daughter loved using five-subject spiral notebooks–college lined. That means there are more lines per page, which means you can take more notes before running out of room.

If they could find them, they always chose the five-subject spiral notebooks that also had dividers and pocket folders. Most college students are taking four or five classes a semester. So this kind of spiral notebook is super convenient for keeping all of your class notes in one place. Plus, if you’re running later to class, you only have one notebook to worry about grabbing.

Best School Supplies for College: Five-Subject Notebook

9. Binder and loose-leaf paper

If you’re not a big fan of the spiral notebook, then a binder and loose-leaf paper are a must. I’ve written a lot about products with lifetime guarantees and surprise: there is a manufacturer that warrants its binders. In fact, there are two.

Staples Better Binders

The Better Binders brand from Staples comes with a lifetime guarantee. Yes, the store stands behind it.

Mead Five Star Plastic Binder

Mead’s plastic binder has a one-year guarantee. So if you buy one as part of your college school supplies–and it falls apart before the school year is over–you can contact the parent company’s customer service. My guess is they’ll send you a replacement for free.

Best School Supplies for College: Loose Leaf Paper

Best School Supplies for College: Binders with Guarantee

There are two brands of binder that come with a warranty or guarantee. They are Staples' Better Binder and the Mead Five Star brand.

10. Three-hole punch

Love your binders? Then you’re going to need a three-hole punch. This way if you get a handout from class that you want to keep with the rest of your notes, you can punch three holes in the paper and add it in.

An alternative to the three-hole punch would be folders with three holes already in them. You can add the folders to the binder and then slip loose papers into the folder pockets.

Best School Supplies for College: 3-Hole Punch

11. Flash drives

When it comes to printing things out at college, you’re going to be printing in computer labs. Sometimes you can hook your own computer up to the printer using a USB. Other times, you’ll need to use the computer on site. And that’s why you need flash drives aka a thumb drive aka a jump drive aka that stick thingy. Truth is during orientation you might get these as freebie handouts, thus saving you from having to buy them.

12. Laptop and charger

You may already have a laptop from high school so you should bring that to college for sure. Most campuses are both Mac and PC friendly. However, certain programs require certain kinds of computers.

Take the engineering program my younger daughter is in. We are a Mac family and so she she’s been using her MacBook and iPad for taking notes. However, last semester she took a class that required her to use CAD for 3D printing. Unfortunately, CAD only runs on a PC. So this summer, during the sales, we’re looking for a cool PC laptop or Surface notebook for her.

If you’re in the market for a new computer, I would strongly suggest signing up for Rakuten, the cash back app. Or you can try Honey, the browser extension, that finds promo codes for you. Both are designed to save you money by giving cash back on your purchases or finding coupons that you can apply at checkout.

Not familiar with Rakuten? Here is my blog post that answers the question, “What is Rakuten?”

13. Headphones with a microphone

Chances are there is going to be at least one online class this semester. That means taking class via Zoom. University classes will fall into two categories. One, synchronous, which means happening at the same time you might have been in the lecture hall. Or, two, asynchronus, which means recorded ahead of time and can be taken at your convenience.

With synchronus classes there is going to be interaction. That means that not only do you need a good pair of headphones to hear but also headphones with a good microphone.

Here are some highly rated headphones or earbuds with excellent quality microphones built right in. At least one is also noise cancelling. That can help keep things quiet during study time. The Sony headphones are even designed to work with Alexa.

Best School Supplies for College: Headphones

14. Basic desk supplies

What are basic desk supplies? Scotch tape, scissors, a ruler or measuring tape (you never know), a stapler and staples. You might not need these daily but they’re good to have with you. Of course, if you’re living at home and attending college, like a community college, you can always steal these from mom and dad!

15. Refillable water bottle

A refillable water bottle is less about school supplies in the classroom and more about staying hydrated on campus. You’ll discover that dorms, cafeterias and classroom buildings likely have refilling stations. Yes, that’s free filtered water for you.

Since you likely won’t have a dishwasher in a dorm (unless you’re living in an on-campus apartment), get a refillable water bottle that’s easy to hand wash. Normally, I prefer Tervis Tumblers with a straw. But I know if I put one in my backpack and bent over, I’d be soaked. So, look for a refillable water bottle with a secure top. Stainless steel without sweating is the best.

One of the reasons I would recommend looking at the Cambelbak stainless steel bottle? It comes with a lifetime warranty. Here is my article about 32 brands on Amazon with a lifetime warranty.

16. Best school bags for college

I would be remiss in writing about the best school supplies for college if I didn’t mention school bags or backpacks. You’re going to practically live out of your backpacks in college.

My own daughters have done well with Jansport. Jansport is one of the brands that offer a lifetime guarantee. So if you’re looking for best school bags or backpacks for college, I would strongly recommend the Jansport brand.

Tons of stores sell them. You can buy Jansport online for pick up in store at Staples or online through Amazon.com or Jansport on Zappos.com.

Jansport on Amazon

Final thoughts on the best school supplies for college

So many of these school supplies are available on Amazon. To make your shopping more convenient and easier, I’ve created a shopping list of the best school supplies for college over on Amazon.

Additionally, if you have not yet signed up for Amazon Prime Student, you should: you get the first six months for free. All you’ll need is a college email address with the “dot edu” ending. Once you get that, go sign up for Prime Student

Another thing: at some point your school is going to send you a shopping list for your college dorm. I offer advice over on this dorm shopping post about how to use it so you’re not overbuying.

However, that college-shopping list can help you figure out what’s necessary for basic school supplies for the classroom, too. Like I mentioned earlier, you might discover that your engineering program needs to run PC-driven software. So buying all Mac peripherals would be a waste of money.

If I’ve missed anything on this best school supplies for college list, let me know by posting a comment. As I do with all of my posts, if there is a glaring omission, I will update the post accordingly.

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