Back to School: Preparing for College

We’re only a short time away from starting the fall semester of school. Whether you’re an incoming college freshman or a returning to a university as a seasoned veteran, we have some tips to help you make the first days back to school more productive and relaxed. We want to help you get your brain in gear and your feet on solid ground to enable you to get your best grades with less stress!


Showing up for class on the first day is daunting. Prepare yourself physically and mentally before that day and you’ll ease your transition from the summer doldrums to the brisk pace of college life. Start now (early August) rather than waiting until the day of.


Rather than exhaust you or repeat what others have said better, we suggest you review the checklists for college students who live on campus or off campus at Bed Bath & Beyond. No, you don’t have to buy from them, but their lists are a great foundation.


We love gadgets, perhaps too much. If you’re just starting college, it’s a good idea to check with other students (preferably not freshmen) as to what the most common tools are at your school.


A mobile phone is clearly a must, not only for staying in touch with friends & family, but also for a variety of apps that can help your college journey (some listed below, and others here).


If you want less than a laptop and more than a phone, nothing beats a tablet. You can even get a mini to optimize space. Make sure to get plenty of storage – don’t scrimp on space. Consider adding an external keyboard if you’re foregoing a laptop.


PC or Mac? Find out what is more suitable for your budget and preferences (and perhaps your major/department at school). We don’t recommend the laptop as a note-taking tool, but it’s indispensable for research, homework, term papers, socializing and more.


If you are an Eagle Scout, you are always prepared. If not, you should be prepared for your battery dying at the worst possible time with an extra charger. At present, we like this one from Anker (which will probably be a dinosaur in 3 months, but it’s a lifesaver today).

Surge Protector

Do. Not. Pass. Go. It’s way cheaper to buy a power strip with surge protection than new electronic devices. And it lets you plug in more stuff anyway!


You probably want your own printer. They’re cheap and convenient. The trade-off is space – consider waiting to see how much room you have for one.

Flash Drives

Yes, please. Having portable storage, plenty of it, will help you with your study groups and friends. No doubt you will share documents, files and data with others, so have ample portable storage in a few flash drives. And back them up if they have something important (because they get abused in your backpack, they can fail…).


Whether you need a respite from your annoying roommate or you want some good music playing the background while you study, keep some comfortable headphones in your backpack. They’re always great at the library to help you focus on your schoolwork too.

Ethernet Cables

Wifi isn’t always on… So keep an ethernet cable or two in your room for those inconvenient times when wireless doesn’t work. We recommend 10-12 feet and 25 feet lengths for your desk or bed – that way you can sit where you prefer and still be productive.


We have written about apps before, but a few must-haves for college are Dropbox (for storage), Mini Scanner (for scanning notes) and CaptureNotes and/or CaptureAudio (for taking notes). Get familiar with how they work now and you’ll hit the ground running in school.


Learn Note-Taking

Not all notes are created equal. Even as a senior in college, you may not take great notes – and it’s never too late to improve. We recently wrote about note-taking basics, which can make you better today.

Improve Listening

You can’t take notes or learn effectively if you aren’t listening. Learn the best practices for listening and do your best to employ them – you’ll undoubtedly make better grades!

Master Study Habits

We nearly flunked out of college ourselves – no one taught us these great study habits. Don’t make the same mistake. 🙂



No doubt you’ve been resting more during the summer – you probably needed the break. BUT…adjust your body clock soon. Like with international travel, you can set your body rhythm ahead of time and be more in tune when you arrive. Many college classes start early – don’t sleep through them!


Is there something you know you’re going to take this semester? Do some light background reading so you’re not making a cold start. Watch some YouTube videos too. For example, if you’re taking physics for the first time, you can probably find free online materials to spark your understanding.


We saved the most important for last. Get your brain in gear. If you show up to school oversleeping, underprepared or exhausted, you’ll have challenges. The best jump start will be to start using your brain now. Prime the pump with a little fun research (a topic you enjoy). Take a free online course. Start learning a new language. You have more options available to feed your mind than any time in history. Especially if you can find something that’s personally important or interesting, you’re leveraging the investment!



We hope these ideas help set your stage for a great fall start at school. Cherry-pick a couple of easy ones first, then do ’em all – you won’t regret it when you’re sitting in your seat on the first day ready for a strong college semester.



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