By Brian Witte / Varsity Tutors
September 18, 2015

As you may already realize, there is an endless list of items that you can conceivably bring to college. Few of these items are strictly necessary – in fact, just these four objects can help you start the semester right:

Backpack

College is a very mobile experience. During your four years on campus, you will need to transport a laptop or tablet, its charging cable, one or more notebooks, pens and pencils, and other items like hand sanitizer, drinks, and snacks.

For many students, a backpack becomes an extension of their body. It is with them at all times, and it carries the essence of their academic and extracurricular life. For this reason, consider investing in a well made, water-resistant backpack that fits you well. Purchase your backpack in person so you can test its fit and comfort, and choose a retailer who accepts returns long after purchase. If your backpack falls apart after a month, or if it is more uncomfortable than you first thought, do not hesitate to exchange it for another model.

The ideal backpack has wide, padded straps attached to a semi-rigid back in order to support the weight of your textbooks. A cross-body messenger bag can also be a great choice. However, carrying any amount of weight over a single shoulder can cause chronic back pain, so avoid any backpack or bag that forces you to do so.

The ideal backpack will also have a padded inner compartment for your laptop or tablet – remember that the protection and transportation of this item is a critical function of your bag. Check each zipper to make sure that it is durable and moves freely without catching stray threads. Ideally, small flaps of fabric will cover the zippers when closed, to prevent rain from seeping inside your backpack.

Planner

Your smartphone and your preferred calendar app can serve as a respectable day planner. You can arrange to receive email reminders of deadlines and due dates a day or a week in advance, but what this calendar lacks is long-term perspective. It is simply too difficult to view weeks or months of time on a smartphone or laptop screen. However, many college classes assign semester-long projects, and receiving a reminder that your 6,000-word essay is due tomorrow will be too little, too late.

A wall-mounted semester planner can help you solve this problem. Yes, it is expensive. But it is well worth the investment if you use it. Seeing the whole semester on one page enables you to gauge your time in a way that typical calendars prevent. As soon as you receive the syllabi for your classes, write in the due dates for major projects and tests. Then note any extracurricular or personal obligations, and devise a strategy to manage your responsibilities.

Electric kettle

Whether you are living in the dorms or in an off-campus apartment, there are few appliances more useful than the electric kettle. If you can heat water, you can make coffee, instant noodles, and tea. You may argue that a microwave can do the same, but a microwave is also bulkier, more expensive, and louder. Worse still, it heats food and drinks unevenly.

Although there is no one best brand of kettle, there are several features to keep in mind. The most important feature is an automatic shutoff that turns the heating element off once the water has boiled. This can literally be the difference between life and death. Another great feature is a stainless steel body and heating element. Hot water can leach chemicals from plastic, and glass can shatter if you drop it. Finally, a model that fully separates from its base can remove the problems associated with dragging an electric cable behind your kettle.

Data backup

This last item is more a service more than a physical object. Far too many students – and professors – have lost weeks or months of work when their laptops were stolen. A portable hard drive that never leaves your apartment or dorm room is one possible, imperfect solution. Student neighborhoods can be targets for thieves, however, and if your apartment or dorm is burglarized, your backup drive could disappear along with your computer. A better solution is arranging backup in the cloud.

Two possible storage providers are Google Drive and Dropbox. Both offer free storage for a small amount of data (2 GB for Dropbox and 15 GB for Google), as well as 1 TB of storage for about $10.00 a month. Whichever service you choose, be sure that your directories (or the locations where your work and photographs are stored) are continuously and automatically backed up. As an added bonus, your cloud storage is available from any Internet-connected computer, and you can share selected files with classmates and friends. In other words, you no longer need a flash drive just to print a paper at the computer center.

Brian Witte is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, the leading curated marketplace for the top private tutors in the U.S. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University

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