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  • College Life
Freshman Year: What to Pack in Your Backpack

Don't carry the weight of the world on your back…and don't be the student who forgets a pencil. The heavy preparation before freshman year is conquered one step at a time. Let's start with your backpack! Unlike previous school years, your college will not provide a comprehensive school supply list, as every student's needs and class requirements are far too unique. The first few weeks of school will reveal what you actually need, but it's smart to include these must-haves until you find your routine. Pack like a pro with our back-to-school backpack kit.


Everywhere Essentials

These personal belongings include your phone, wallet, keys and student ID. A savvy student never leaves the house without these items, and you’re a savvy student.

Make it an early habit to ensure these items are in their safe, accessible, designated backpack pocket everywhere you go.

Your student ID (used for exams, building access and other services) may be securely tucked into your wallet, phone card holder or strung on a lanyard. 


Perhaps unsurprisingly, school is undergoing a digital transformation. Online learning involves a range of electronics necessary for note-taking, homework and research.

Always have your laptop, earbuds, laptop charger and phone charger stored securely with cables/wires wrapped appropriately. Like your personal essentials, these electronics and chargers go with you everywhere on campus so you can take advantage of awkward times between classes at your study spots.

Snacks and more snacks

Working hard works up an appetite. Keep a stash of nutritious snacks to fuel your body and brain on the go.

Nonperishables are ideal if you're not likely to clean out your backpack, so the snacks you toss in week 1 won't create a backpack biohazard weeks later. Think protein bars, dried fruit, peanut butter and trail mix—the same stuff you would take camping.

Don't forget your insulated reusable water bottle!


Organization is a powerful skill when life feels out of control.

Purchasing a paper planner or creating a deadline spreadsheet is basic personal responsibility to organize events, celebrations, errands, appointments, tasks, deadlines, etc.

Purdue Mortar Board calendar planners—containing important events and academic dates—may be purchased at various campus markets and book stores.

Your planner should be closely monitored and frequently updated. Notice your planner is not only for school.

You deserve a work-life balance and plans outside of homework. Write them down. 


School supplies (the boring stuff)

Check each course syllabus for hints at what you could need, and then bulk up with binders, notebooks, folders and paper (notebook, blank, graphing and engineering, if applicable).

This category is most subject to change the first few weeks of school as you learn what supplies are expected.

You'll also be exploring your own learning style. Though handwritten notes are better for memory retention, you may prefer only using your laptop for everything.

Extra supplies might include white out, extra pencil lead, a tiny stapler, scissors and your course-recommended calculator.

Writing utensils (more boring stuff)

Your pencil pouch from last year is perfectly suitable for next year! We applaud the sustainable efforts of using the writing utensils you may already have.

If you're starting from scratch or updating your current supply, you'll want a few No. 2 pencils, black or blue pens, highlighters, permanent markers and colorful pens if you enjoy beautifying your work. Keep any extras on your desk at home.

Look good feel good

In a toiletry bag, include lotion, glasses or contacts, gum, lip balm, personal care products, a travel hairbrush, hair ties, hair pins, cosmetics, deodorant, floss and a nail file.

Back-to-back classes mean you may not be home until late afternoon or evening. Personal care items earn a space in your backpack for touch-ups and to prevent future frustrations.

Uh oh emergencies

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Returning back to school is normally followed by the back-to-school plague of sicknesses.

Prioritize your health with medications, hand sanitizer, tissues, cough drop and bandages.

You may become familiar with digital wallets and mobile payments, but always have extra cash for restaurant tipping, cash-only services or emergency use. Check out our campus ATM locations to find a convenient cash-grabbing spot nearest you.

Rain and snow and sweat, oh my! 

Hoosier residents know the unpredictability of Midwestern weather.

Purdue's campus is very pedestrian-friendly, but your walking commute leaves you exposed to the elements. Be prepared for anything!

If your backpack has two exterior water bottle pockets, use the other for a compact travel umbrella.

If there's so much as a chance of cooler weather, consider a hat, gloves and hand warmers.

Warm weather is your indication to pack sunglasses and a mini sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

A book. Yes, a book.

Despite the digital transformation of modern learning, books will never go out of style.

If your backpack space allows, a book purely for recreation is great for downtime and study breaks. Your eyes will thank you for a much needed rest from screens.

And who knows—books open conversation with strangers, and strangers may become friends.

Not much of a reader? Freshman year is an awesome opportunity to adopt new or rekindle old hobbies.


You know yourself best, but we're here to help. Remember; it's better to have, and not need, than to need, and not have. In other words, set yourself up for success with a thoroughly packed backpack with school supplies and personal items.

But also be kind to your back and shoulders by packing reasonably and leaving non-necessities at home. Your backpack contents will continuously change as you find your groove.

Be on the lookout this August during Boiler Gold Rush (BGR) events for Purdue Federal backpack buttons. Our swag will make you the coolest kid on campus. Happy packing, and Boiler Up®!

The information and topics featured are for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax or financial advice. All financial situations and circumstances are different and may not apply to the specific information provided. Seek the advice of a financial professional, tax consultant, or legal counsel to obtain guidance specific to your needs.