8 Back to School Tips for College Students

What do you need to know before going back to school this year?

From new clothes, clever school supplies, and discount laptops to study tips, safety advice, and a recommended viewing of Rodney Dangerfield’s educational 1986 comedy classic, “Back to School,” we’ve got you covered.

Follow our helpful hints, get back in your groove, and grab this fall semester by the gourds.

1. Set Your Alarm Across the Room

You definitely don’t want to oversleep on the first day of school, so if you’re prone to hitting the snooze button without missing a beat in your awesome dream about how it’s actually still the middle of summer, put your alarm across the room. We’re guessing you set your alarm on your phone, so there’s an added benefit here. Staring at the screen before bed can negatively impact your sleep, so putting your phone across the room is a great way to resist the urge to post, purchase or idly scroll before closing your eyes.

Learn more about the negative impact of sleep deprivation on learning.

2. Get Discount Tech

Not sure if you’ve heard, but a lot of people are using computers these days. Whether you’re going to school on-campus or online, you’ll almost certainly need a laptop. That old-timey typewriter may make you feel like a super-cool beat writer, but it’s not very practical to email your professor or download sources. Fortunately, there are all kinds of laptop discounts for college students, especially this time of year. You just have to know where to look.

Check out our Savvy Student’s Guide to Computers for College to learn more.

And click here if you’re curious whether or not any online colleges offer free laptops.

3. Visit Your Campus

This could be a challenge if your campus is far away from home, and an even bigger challenge if your campus exists only online. But if you do have a chance to visit your new campus before the semester starts, you absolutely should. This is a great time to walk around with an unfolded map in your hands, since there aren’t too many people around yet. I mean, they won’t necessarily mock you, but it’s basically like wearing a stamp on your head that says freshman. Get the map-reading part of school out of the way right up front. Find your classes, see where students hang out, and get a sense of campus life.

And speaking of campus life…

Did you know… that Rodney Dangerfield’s 1986 film “Back to School,” though set at the fictional Grand Lakes University, was actually filmed at the University of Wisconsin? Oh… you did know that? Ok, well how about how the University of Arizona played the part of Adams College in “Revenge of the Nerds”?


4. Safety First

Your college campus is a haven for education, learning, enrichment, and all that good stuff. But some messed up stuff also goes down on college campuses. Some schools struggle with issues like binge-drinking, drug abuse, hazing, bullying, and sexual assault. Some urban campuses may be situated in neighborhoods prone to crime. Some campuses may struggle with creepy clown hauntings. This is the kind of stuff you should know about before showing up for your first day. It’s not that you should be afraid, but so you can properly arm yourself, be it with information, access to on-campus hotlines and resources, or even just pepper spray.

Tip from personal experience: I used to walk through the rough neighborhood around my campus with my key poking out of a clenched fist, just in case I ever had to go all Wolverine on the jugular of an attacker. Fortunately, it never came up.

5. Go Shopping

Like you need us to tell you. Shopping is the best part of going back to school, even if you’re doing it on a budget. Preparing for another school year is as much a psychological game as a practical one. Get some new clothes, a new bag, a few cool gadgets, or maybe one of those vintage trapper keepers with rainbows, unicorns and Lamborghinis on it (no judgement here). A few well-chosen new items can be energizing, a reminder that you’re about to make another fresh start. Also — and this is important — pretty much every single retailer from Amazon to your Aunt Ina’s Yarn Store is having a back-to-school sale right about now. Clip coupons, dig for discounts, and have a little fun.

For more on gearing up and packing, check out 10 Underrated Dorm Room Essentials.

6. Master Your Schedule

I used to start every school year with the same recurring dream. I would show up at a mystery classroom without a book only to realize that I’d somehow missed the first two months. I had no idea what anybody was talking about, and of course, in some variations, I had forgotten to wear pants. Uncertainty breeds anxiety. Get to know your schedule in advance, lock your classes into a calendar (there are tons of great apps), and if you have the time, maybe even spend one of your first days on campus actually walking the path to each class.

Cool schedule hack: Take a picture of your schedule and turn it into the featured image on your cell phone’s “lock” screen. Your class-time commitments will be staring you in the face every time you go to check your Instagram.

7. Calendarize Your Syllabi

Obviously, it’s not just class time that will occupy your schedule. You’ll have reading assignments, study commitments and exams. Fortunately, the syllabus that each of your instructors distributes to start the semester is a treasure trove of information. Take that information and plug it into your personal calendar and to-do list. If you’re using the right application, these functions should be integrated. There’s also nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned desk-calendar and some hand-written to-do lists. I actually prefer both methods. It’s a good way to cross-check the completion of important tasks. And, if you lay out a calendar of academic commitments in advance, you’ll also be better able to schedule time for intramural sports, club-related activities, work, family life, and whatever else you hope to do in your spare time.

For some pointers on good organizational tools, check out our Savvy Student’s Guide to iPad and Tablet Apps and The Best iPhone Apps for Students in 2018.

8.Study Anywhere

It’s nice to have a quiet study space, a personal sanctuary where your thoughts can blossom, a peaceful respite from the chattering throng, an intellectual oasis where your most delicate inklings have the serenity and space to solidify into fully-flowered ideas. It’s nice to have a space like that. You just may never find it. Student centers are a flurry of non-academic activity. Coffee shops hiss, clatter, and play wordy folk rock. Your dorm is a shared space and you can’t control others, no matter how loudly they eat, or play video games, or Facetime with that dude who lives right down the hallway. (I mean, just go talk to him in person. He’s right down the freakin’ hallway!) And if you’re a parent balancing online classes while raising kids, I don’t have to tell you how rare a quiet space is. Point is, get good at studying in the face of constant distraction, and maybe get a good set of headphones.

For a whole lot more study tips, including homework help and writing advice, check out our Study Lounge, and bookmark us for handy hints and hacks all year long!