I’m always way over-prepared. It’s completely and utterly ridiculous. I used to be that weird kid who carries around a big bag stocked at all times with snacks, lotion, band-aids, and three different activities just in case. I’ve gotten better since those days, but I still feel like they should make a special episode of Hoarders about me titled “The Mobile Packrat.” Having pretty much anything I could possibly need has saved my butt once or twice in the past, but more often than not, carrying around way too much stuff just makes life more difficult.
College classes are tricky. Especially if you’re going to be heading off to your very first one, it’s hard to know what you should bring. On one hand, you don’t want to be the over-prepared nerd (which I totally am
not), but on the other, you don’t want to be Elle Woods on her first day at Harvard.
Never fear! I’ve got you covered. You’re not in high school anymore, but it doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, it’s not. Here’s what you should bring to your first college class:
1. Your planner
You thought your roommate was your new best friend? Forget her. Your planner is your BFF from now on. Most colleges will hand out ad-filled student planners for free, but I highly recommend getting a cheap $15 little thing like this. My personal favorites are the MAMBI Happy Planners, if you feel like spending an extra $10 (I think they’re totally worth it).
Either way, having a planner with you at all times will help you stay on top of homework assignments, tests, projects, meetings … basically, it helps you keep your life in order. Yes, there are apps that can do the same thing, but I’ve always been a paper-and-pens kind of girl.
2. A multi-subject notebook
Depending on the class, you’ll have to take notes a couple different ways. Some professors give you slides to print out ahead of time, others only allow paper, and some just talk at you. I’ve found it’s best to always have a notebook on hand, just in case. I’ve been there before on the first day of class, pulling out my laptop only to hear the professor announce they don’t allow any electronics … I made friends with my neighbor and borrowed a couple sheets of paper right away.
The nice thing about a multi-subject notebook instead of multiple single-subject ones is that you’ll never have to worry about not having your notes with you (or grabbing the wrong one by mistake!). Keeping everything in one place will help you stay organized.
3. A small pencil bag
Don’t go crazy and whip out a rainbow of gel pens, but it’s a good idea to at least have:
- 2 black pens (these are by far my favorite, and I can’t find them in stores anymore)
- 1 red pen
- 2 mechanical pencils
- 2 different color highlighters
- White-out tape
I like to have more colors of highlighters and several different colored pens, but start out with this, and you’ll be fine.
4. A kick-butt note-taking strategy
Taking notes is going to take some practice. Don’t worry, but go in with a strategy. You can read all about several note-taking methods as well as what I personally do in my blog post about note-taking. I highly recommend checking it out, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have!
5. The syllabus
Most profs will email the class syllabi out a week or two before it starts, and most will take the first class to go over it. Make sure you have a printed copy on which to make notes, highlight duedates, etc. Just tuck that right into the pockets of your multi-subject notebook, and it’ll be handy whenever you need to reference it! Which will be often, by the way. Profs love to say, “It’s in the syllabus,” instead of answering questions.
6. Your laptop
As clunky as they are at times, having your laptop on your is always a good idea when you’re in college. Having it handy to take notes just in case your prof dives right in on the first day of class will help you so much. Plus, you never know when you’ll get a few minutes between classes to work on a homework assignment, update your calendar, or even catch up on the shows you’ve missed. My first laptop weighed about 5 pounds and was a pain to lug around, but the one I have now is less than 2 pounds and is super convenient. I highly suggest getting a lightweight laptop.
7. Water and a snack
Having water with you will 1. help you drink more water over all, 2. keep you from being unable to focus from thirst, and 3. (maybe most importantly) quickly calm down any frantic coughing fits. I’ve been there: middle of an organic chemistry quiz, the room is dead silent, and I’m hacking up a lung. I forgot my water bottle that day, so I was dying until my professor finally yelled in her thick, Jamaican accent, “FOR PETE’S SAKE, GO GET A DRINK OF WATAH.” Don’t be like me.
As for snacks, you never know when hanger will strike, so keeping something healthy and compact in your bag (like a small bag of almonds) is a great idea. Nothing is worse than counting down the minutes until lunch, only to realize you heard literally nothing your prof just said.
8. A cute, functional bag
This is essential. Obviously all your stuff needs to go in something, but choosing the right bag is more important than you’d think. You need to find a happy medium between stylish and convenient. You don’t want to have to squeeze everything into a tiny designer purse, but you also don’t want to be that kid with the rolling back pack (at my college, you can always pick out the early-college-program kids because they’re playing Pokemon before class and carting their stuff around in what’s basically a suitcase).
I’ve had success with both using a large purse and actually buying a backpack. The bag I’m using now for school is a cute little tribal print knapsack I got from Target, but I currently have my eye on this one. Find something you like!
Relax. I promise, everyone else is just as nervous as you are, and no one will think you’re an idiot for not knowing what you’re doing. Even those kids who realize they’re in the wrong class and get up halfway through lecture … no one remembers it after 5 minutes. No one will judge you for asking obvious questions (I promise, half the class will be relieved someone had the guts to ask because they were confused, too!). Walk in with confidence. Sit in the first row. Exchange numbers with your neighbor in case one of you misses a class. Introduce yourself to the prof after class. You can do this!
What are you non-negotiables when you’re packing your bag for class?