After 12 years of mindless back-to-school shopping guided by lists sent out courtesy of your school district, being tossed into the unknown of compiling your own supplies can be daunting. Throw in the added cost of notoriously expensive textbooks — no longer paid for by taxes and readily stocked in your classroom — and the prospect of next month’s credit card bill is enough to warrant a panic attack.

But never fear. As always there is a silver lining.

In college, no one’s breathing down your neck about labeling folders and keeping notes stapled. What you bring to class is entirely up to you. So enjoy this freedom to cut out all the things your teachers required of you but always went unused. For me, this subtracted about half of the traditional shopping list.

Binders and dividers achieve the same purpose as a 5-subject notebook. Paperclips are nothing more than shoddy staples. These are some of the invaluable lessons I learned in high school, and which I will impart upon you here.

1. So let’s knock out the biggest elephant in the shopping cart: textbooks. My first semester of college I was blind and naive and spent between 300-500 dollars just on books — the specific sum eludes me, mainly because I still cringe at the thought of the price, unjustified by the disproportionate number of times I actually opened them (read: 5). Thankfully I smartened up immediately, and by spring semester was buying books online, and buying them in older editions. Some professors will say this is a big no-no because texts change with each edition, but the majority of these revisions are minimal if at all noticeable. If you want to be safe, email your professors and ask if a prior edition would be appropriate.

2. As much as it pains me to admit, planners are a must — especially freshman year. I’ve since been able to adopt a new system which involves writing myself calendar notes in my phone, but the objective remains essentially the same: keep your affairs in order or you will forget.

3. While some prefer to keep all courses separate from one another, I tend to favor a good old-fashioned 5-subject notebook. Five parts note-taking space and five parts folder for handouts, these are my most trusted school supply. By the end of the semester it’ll be in tatters, but in the meantime you can rest easy knowing that everything you need is in one place as opposed to twenty — a huge plus for those messy like yours truly.

So skip the rulers, the binders, the fancy mechanical pencils (they’re going to get stolen anyway). This year keep it simple, only buy what you need, and be wary of who you lend your pencils to.

(1) comment


Great article. As far as textbooks go, I've done a combination of used (from Amazon and other sites,) renting and ebooks. After selling back at the end of the semester, most of the time it's not too bad. There's a gathers prices from a bunch of sites to find the cheapest textbook deal. They do BuyBacks too, so it's a great deal. Book Squad even searches smaller sites, so I don't have to spend hours finding them.

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