By the time this blog post has gone up, A-Level Results day would have been and gone, and hundreds of thousands of people will be beginning their ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to university!’ panic. I remember that nervousness-meets-excitement very well, even though I experienced it five years ago, and graduated two years ago! (Oh, where has the time gone? Seriously, the thought of that is making me nervous). But, it’s my time again, and I will once again be joining the ranks of Freshers! I won’t be joining them in the ‘welcome to university panic’, and I certainly will not be as full of joy and youthfulness as they are (dissertation year changes a woman…), but I am returning to University to study a Masters! On a technicality, that makes me a Fresher. And as a Fresher, I simply must require new back to school items. After completing my undergraduate degree over three years, and working in the Higher Education sector for another two years, I know my stuff when it comes to studying at university. I know what you’ll need to buy, what not to avoid spending money on, what the fads are, and what the really useful items are.
So, let me give you my Starting University Kit, based on my years as a student, and what I have personally picked up for my Masters!
First up, you need a good bag. I’m going straight in and will tell you that the only bag worth getting is a backpack. Look, I know a lot of people have those day-dreams of walking around campus with their faux leather satchel, coffee in hand, notebooks cradled in your arms. I used to have that same day-dream. That’s until my satchel strap broke from the weight of the library books in the bag, spilling my coffee down my shirt, and ruining my notebooks. Satchels and side bags are all well and good and aesthetically pleasing until it gets to mid-semester, and you have the grooves of the strap permanently bored into the skin of your shoulder. By getting a rucksack or backpack, it ensures the weight is distributed evenly across your back (saving you a lot of back pain), and you are free to sprint across campus when you are late, without the satchel bashing you across the legs. Plus, there are so many gorgeous rucksacks out there! I’m using this one from Primark (which I bought last year). It’s small enough to fit under a desk, but big enough to fit everything else on this list. Plus, it’s waterproof, with extra pockets inside, and simple enough to go with every outfit.
Now, I know that every course is different, and every person is different. In my undergraduate years, I had lectures, seminars, and practicals, meaning that some days I wrote non-stop, and other days, I left my notebook to one side and ran around doing contact improv. I knew people who wrote notes exclusively on their laptop, and others who scrawled everything down on scraps of paper. It’s all about finding out what works for you. For me, I am a traditional ‘notebook in a lecture’ kind of gal, so will be basing my recommendations on that.
When I started university, I chose a different coloured notebook for each of my modules. By Semester 2, that meant I had eight different coloured notebooks floating around. Boy, was that as mistake. I ended up picking up the wrong notebooks for a class, losing them in various places, and generally became a disorganised mess. For my second year, I discovered the joys of Project Books; a big notebook, separated into various sections. This meant I had just one notebook to carry around with me, and I would always be covered for each lecture and library session. This year, I’ve moved from having four modules a semester as a full-time undergrad, to only having one module as a part-time Masters student. So, I’ve only got one notebook. But, when things get busier in my second year, I’m definitely going to be returning to using a Project Book. Now, for some people, having their lectures notes stored in a notebook is enough. But, during lectures and seminars, I am scrawling down notes left, right, and centre, which makes it hard to look back on with ease (I’ve got big, messy, loopy handwriting that I can barely read on a good day). So, I enjoy writing up my notes after the lecture, all neat and tidy, safe and sound in a folder. I found this helped me with revision if I had any exams, and meant I could put all information related to a topic in one place, as opposed to having quotes thrown across various pages.
You’ve got your bag, you’ve got your notebooks, so it’s about time we got to pens! For pens, just get what you like; easy, eh? I’m a stationery fiend; if I have money, it’s going to go on pens and notebooks. I know what I like, I know what I want; it might seem picky to some people, but I don’t care. For my studies this year, I picked up this Parker gel pen; it writes easily, it doesn’t smudge, and it doesn’t catch on the roller ball. It looks great on the page, and doesn’t run when used with other pens. Sorted. When it comes to pens, just get some that write easily, and won’t give you that awkward and painful dent in your hand after writing for an hour.
I’m a very visual learner, so whenever and wherever I’m writing my notes, I’ve gotta use colour. I fell in love with these Mildliners back in my third year at University, and had to pick up some more for my Masters. They are really gorgeous, pastel highlighter pens, and come with a thinner tip on the other end of the pen too. Whether you want some normal, neon highlighters, or a whole array of artist’s pens, I’d recommend trying out some colour in your notes. It really helps me out with organisation, revision, and essay planning. After that, get yourself a good pencil case. Avoid gigantic and chunky ones; you’re gonna have to fit this on a desk, after all. All I recommend is that you go for something you like. After all, you’ll be using this every single day. I’ve chosen this striped one from WHSmith; it’s small enough to fit in my bag, but big enough to hold my ever increasing pen hoarding habit.
I’m nearing the end of my university kit list, and I’m at probably the most important point. You don’t have to buy all of the books on your reading list. Man, I wish I knew this in my first year; I would have an awful lot of money. My advice? Notice the books that look like they’ll be used the most, or the ones that take your fancy, and buy those ones. All other books can be taken out from the University library. That’s what it’s there for! University libraries will have physical, audio, and online copies of thousands of texts, including journals, academia, fiction etc. Realise you need your own copy of a book midway through semester? You can always order it online.
To round off this post, I thought I’d let you know a few of my favourite extra bits and bobs, that may not seem like back to school essentials or may have slipped your mind. First up, get an academic diary. Yes, everything will be on your phone already, but it’s so useful to just flip through a book and have all your exam dates in once place; especially as some lecturers don’t allow phones in class. Secondly, get a good, reusable coffee cup. I won’t lie, I didn’t have a lot of caffeine before I went to university, but I certainly started needing it during a 9am lecture. Treat yo’ self to that caramel latte, and do it via a reusable cup; boost your energy and save the environment! For similar reasons, get yourself a water bottle. Top tip; don’t get one with a weird straw/lid combo. If anything gets broken on that, the lid starts to make a slurping noise, and it will start just as the room falls silent, and the whole lecture hall will turn around and look at you, and you’ll go redder than a beetroot in heat. And that would be bad. To make sure that doesn’t happen to me again – I mean, to make sure that never happens, I use a lovely looking Chilly’s bottle.
So, that’s my Starting University Kit! I hope this manages to help you out somewhat if you are headed to University, or makes some of you just think ‘damn, she’s got a stationary problem’. Either way, thanks for reading!
Any current students or graduates out there and have any top tips to share? Leave them in the comments below!