What Every University Student Needs in their Backpack
03 Feb, 2017

One big difference from high school to university, especially for Arts students, is that you’re probably not going to be packing your backpack for a full day of school. You’ll more than likely have time to go back to your room and unpack your bag from your last class, and then repack your bag for your next class. Heck, I didn’t even take a backpack to my SJ classes in first year – I just grabbed my laptop and a pen and I was usually good to go. (Please don’t follow my example; I often left behind some important things for these classes because they were – surprise, surprise – in my backpack.)


With that being said there are definitely some items you shouldn’t leave your room without, regardless of where your class is. Let’s start with some general tips.


  1. Most textbooks for your first year courses will probably be heavy. There isn’t really any need to take your textbook to class unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your back will thank you.
  2. Keep a copy of your course syllabus near your course notes (paper or electronic), and bring both to class. When in doubt, check the syllabus.
  3. If you’re someone who likes using binders, invest in a quality clipboard and bring that to class with note paper instead. Notebooks with perforated paper work well too.
  4. If you’re the forgetful type, make a checklist for the first couple of weeks so you don’t forget anything important (and then packing your bag will become second nature).
  5. On that note, try to pack your bag more than 5 minutes before you have to leave for class. You’ll always forget something important in that last-minute rush to get ready for class. Always.


The following is a list of items that I have found are essential – or in some cases, just helpful – to have in your bag.


Note-Taking Device

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Whether you like using a laptop, tablet, or good ol’ fashioned pen and paper to take notes, you shouldn’t go to class without one. WriteStuff on main campus sells 1, 3, and 5-subject notebooks, as well as clipboards, folders, and binders, that aren’t super heavy but are very sturdy.


#2 Pencil and Eraser

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One of the harsh realities of first year: you’ll probably have a lot of multiple choice tests, which means you’ll probably have to fill in a lot of scantron sheets. Having a dependable pencil and eraser (along with a sharpener or lead refills, depending on your style) in your bag is a must.



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Please don’t mistake this as me telling you to be anti-social. If there are other SJ students in your class, walk to class with them! Never underestimate the power of rolling into a lecture or lab with your SJ squad. However - there are going to be late nights studying at the library, bus trips to Uptown Waterloo and Conestoga Mall, and lots of walks around campus that are so much better with music. Certain songs and albums take me right back to both late night walks around campus and GRT rides through K-W in my first year – so if for nothing else, pack headphones for the future nostalgia.


Your Planner

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If you don’t use a planner, the best time to start using one was yesterday. The next best time is right now. You’ll get a free one in your o-week kit – this is your new best friend. I use my planner to keep track of assignment due dates, midterms, finals, readings, events, and pretty much anything else that I’ll need to remember - I would be a scattered mess without one. If you’re the electronic type, I’ve found that Google Calendar works very well. Either way, use one and keep it on you at all times.



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Almost every lecture hall and library has a multitude of outlets for charging your devices. (Except Arts Lecture Hall, for some reason. If your schedule is AL-heavy, invest in a portable charger. You’ll thank me later.) Plus, you never know when someone else is in dire need of a charger and forgot theirs at home or in res. As Dr. Derek Sheppard says on Grey’s Anatomy: It’s a beautiful day to save lives.


Lip Balm

lip balm
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The temperature here changes faster than the number of engineering buildings on campus, especially during the fall and winter terms. I don’t know about you but I can’t focus if I have dry or chapped lips. Lip balm is something you never think about until you need it. Throw some in your bag just in case.


Emergency Snacks

Granola Bar
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At some point during the day while you’re on campus, you’ll probably get hangry. (For those who don’t know what hangry means, it’s an anger one gets when hungry). It could be during a three-hour lecture, or during a cram session at one of the libraries on campus, or in-between classes when you don’t have time to get back to SJ for a meal. My point is, you could get hangry at any time. Do yourself a favour and keep a granola bar or two in your bag. You’re not you when you’re hangry.


Reuseable Waterbottle

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I’ve got 99 problems and about 90 of them could probably be solved just by drinking more water. Drinking water helps you think and focus better, reduces hunger, flushes out toxins, improves the complexion of your skin, boosts your immune system, and keeps you functioning at your best. Every single building on campus has at least one water fountain in it (not fact, just personal experience). Waterloo’s retail store in South Campus Hall sells UW Camelbak bottles, which are so durable they might just be the only waterbottle you’ll need to buy for the next four or five years. Keep one in your bag and enjoy the chug life.


Your WatCard

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You can use your WatCard to:


  1. Ride the GRT (city bus system)
  2. Identify yourself at midterms and finals
  3. Sign out equipment at PAC or CIF
  4. Take out library books anywhere on campus (or at Guelph or Laurier!)
  5. Access library resources online when off-campus
  6. Get discounts at stores and restaurants off-campus
  7. Get access to student events


If you don’t keep your WatCard in your wallet, keep it in your bag.


There’s my list. Stick to it and you’ll have no regrets. I’m sure there are some things that I’ve forgotten (especially those that are gender specific – sorry girls), but this list here has gotten me through my first two years in university just fine. Happy packing!



Adapted from