Not sure what to carry in a college backpack? Here a student breaks it down for you: the top 9 things you can't leave without! Don't worry, you won't be bringing your entire life with you.

So, I’m definitely the “mom” of my friend group. From waiting up for the “home” text from my commuter friends late at night and driving my neighbor to the pharmacy to get a prescription filled, to baking cupcakes for a classmate who had a rough week and video calling my best friend overseas to tell her bad jokes when her roommates are being jerks. Lately, I’ve even become the kind of “mom” who carries my entire life in my purse.

Yep. It’s a black hole.

My purse is also usually my backpack as well, since it is large enough to fit a couple of books and my laptop.. though sometimes I do switch back to my favorite old green floral backpack for a comfier fit.

Is it super windy out and you need lotion? Sunglasses? A snack? You know who to ask. I’ve got you.

All jokes aside, I’ve recently gotten a couple of e-mails from incoming college Freshmen (congrats btw!) with some questions about college life. One of which being, what should I keep in my backpack and carry to class?

So, I took a look in my bag… removed everything in it that was even slightly ridiculous (seriously, there’s 3 different containers of breath mints, a package of skittles, 2 cough drops, a package of advil, and gummy bears…) and narrowed it down to the top 9 things that you should carry in your college backpack.

And hey, it was also a great excuse to make me clean out my bag. Here goes:

Backpack Numbered

1. Wallet

I believe that it is always good to keep a little money on you at all times in case of an emergency.

By emergency I of course mean those mid-afternoon Starbucks cravings… just kidding.

But really, it is a pretty good idea to either have a small amount of cash or a credit/debit card with you in case something comes up. Especially if you are commuting, you need to have your drivers license on you.

I personally am not a big fan of carrying around a large wallet with me at all times so I have a super handy phone case that keeps 3 cards in the back, readily accessible to slide out at any time. I keep my debit card, driver’s license, and my school ID in the case. This is seriously helpful since I live on campus so I use my school ID for everything from getting into my dorm to paying for meals.

2. Keys

This is pretty self explanatory. Car keys, dorm room keys, house keys… all things you shouldn’t forget.

3. Headphones

I get random urges to go take study breaks in the library or Starbucks, and I know I’m not the only one who focuses better while listening to music. Whether you use them to focus on work, to block out the world around you, or even just to make yourself look busy so people don’t bother you those are all valid reasons to carrying headphones or earbuds around.

4. Laptop

If you have a laptop or tablet, I highly recommend bringing them with you to class. Even if you don’t take notes the same way I do, there will definitely be times when you will want to use your electronic devices during class.

Doing a group research project? Need to send an e-mail to an adviser? Have to download a handout from your professor’s website? Prefer to have the PowerPoint downloaded in front of you instead of all the way in front of the class? Exactly why having a laptop or tablet is handy.

Related Post: How to Start a Successful Blog

5. Flashdrive / USB Drive

We’ve all been there. Forgot to print an assignment in the library but the Wi-Fi is down? Stick it on your flashdrive and run to print it before class.

I run a radio show at my university so I constantly have a flashdrive in my bag to transfer my music around as well.

Overall having a flashdrive with you is just a good backup just in case something goes wrong.

6. Notebook

Even though I take notes primarily on my laptop, I still make it a priority to carry a notebook to class with me. There are so many assignments where the professor asks you to “take out a scratch piece of paper..” that I just can’t risk not being prepared.

7. Pens & pencils

Gotta be prepared. If you like to color code or highlight make sure you have a handful of your favorite markers or highlighters with you at all times, but besides that just make sure you have at least one pen and pencil in your bag.

Some people don’t like writing with pencils, and I totally understand that, but if you’re given a pop quiz you don’t want to be the one person begging everyone around you to borrow and extra pencil for the scantron…

8. Planner

I’ve shared before how I use two planners, one big one and one small one, to keep my life together. My bigger one has much more room to write, so I combine my jobs, clubs, classes, personal life, homework, appointments, and so much more all in one place.

However, when I’m going from class to class, I don’t want to have to lug that big thing around so I have a smaller lightweight simple planner that I use to jot down class assignments only in. Then when I get back to my room I quickly copy it over into my bigger planner and get on with my day!

Related Post: Read more here about how I use two planners.


9. Trail Mix

I have hypoglycemia so I know that when I start feeling bad throughout the day its because my blood sugar is low and I need to eat something to kick it back up. Trail mix is the perfect snack for this for me. The protein from the nuts in it also helps to keep me going throughout the day.

Other on-the-go snacks that I recommend: Luna bars (or any protein bar that you like!), M&M’s Crispy, a mandarin, candied pecans.

Download the Checklist

Want to make sure you don’t forget to toss anything in your backpack? I’ve created a simple and perfect checklist to take care of exactly that.

college backpack checklist

Get Organized for the Year Ahead

I’ve created a free 5 day e-mail course to help you prepare for a new year, semester, or quarter of classes. Everything that you need to do to get organized, in 5 simple days. Check it out:

What is one thing you can’t leave behind?



What to Carry in a College Backpack

18 thoughts on “What to Carry in a College Backpack

  • April 22, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Hey! I was looking through Pinterest to find ways in order to start a blog! And I got very interested into your blog and starting reading more! Then to find out, you attend Cal Lutheran, where I attend as well as a freshman! It’s such a small world! Haha, well thank you for your tips!

    Have a great Senior year next year as well!

    • May 6, 2016 at 11:01 am

      Hey Alyna! No way, that’s awesome! What a small world!
      If you ever want to meet up and talk about blogging feel free to shoot me an e-mail and we can work something out. One of my best friends at school is also a blogger and I’m sure she’d be down to hangout as well. Also, if you ever see Her Campus tabling on campus you should stop by and ask for Dani, I’m the President!
      Hope to see you around 🙂

  • May 31, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    Just read this to make sure I wasn’t missing anything in mine and wanted to share my thoughts on some other things that have proved useful in my backpack and may be useful in other college backpacks (especially for girls)
    -feminine products (tampons, pads, etc.)
    -Kleenex and/or napkins (I’ll usually take a bunch from Starbucks to put in my car too)
    -hand sanitizer
    -Tide to Go pen
    -clicker (for attendance and in class quizzes, I always carry mine)
    -umbrella and/or rain jacket (Oklahoma weather is so unpredictable)
    -laptop and phone chargers (I usually carry my FitBit charger too)
    -hair ties, bobby pins, headbands, etc.
    -calculator (four function or scientific, heck even both)
    -Nalgene full of water
    -flannel or light jacket (for colder lecture halls)

    All this and more fit into my typically sized TNF backpack and it doesn’t really weigh me down or take up too much space. Hope this helps y’all!

    • June 4, 2016 at 7:05 pm

      Those are great ideas, Madison!! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • June 8, 2016 at 7:52 am

    That’s a good list (not only because I carry those items too)! I also carry
    – sunglasses with case
    – binder clips for the powerpoints that I use for my class notes
    – powerpoints if needed (depends on the class)
    – a ziplock bag with a clean tshirt (on lab days and in case something icky gets on me)
    – 4-5 index cards

    • June 13, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      Good ideas Patrice! I never would have thought of some of those, because they don’t apply so much to me, but those are great tips for those students who they might apply to. 🙂

  • June 8, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    I would add one of those mini staplers too! They are super useful when turning in papers and the computer lab stapler is out of staples. I once let my entire English class use my mini stapler.

  • June 26, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    Hi Dani, I was brought to your blog through pinterest and it was extremely helpful. I attended orientation this past week and I am very pumped. Anyway I just wanted to say I read your short bio and we have a lot of similarities in just a few short words. I went to Disney World for my senior trip and I am probably going to be the only student with Mickey, Minnie and Belle keychains hanging from my backpack. I love when I find other girls my age who love Disney!! I will defiantly follow your blog through my college years!

    • July 3, 2016 at 3:04 pm

      Hi Kaylan! I’m glad you found my blog and that you find it helpful 🙂
      That’s so great! Disney is so fun, embrace it. I have a Disneyland annual pass and I am there constantly.. it’s my happy place. I hope you stick around and I can’t wait to hear from you again soon.


  • July 24, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Hello Dani,
    Awesome post with the awesome idea to pack a college backpack. All things always carry through my college backpack except Trail Mix. It seems new for me.

  • July 25, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    🙈 I can so relate!! I’m definitely the mom of my group and my purse weighs at least 100 pounds lol. This was super helpful and I’ll definitely be reading more of your posts!

  • August 10, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Could you post a link to the wallet phone case you have? I’m looking to get one and i’m curious as to which one you use! thank you!

    • August 12, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      Hey Ali! Absolutely 🙂
      Here’s the one that I used to use I had it in blue and I liked it a lot, it was smooth and pretty and very protective (I drop my phone a LOT) and carries 3 cards that are super easy to slide in and out.

      I recently got really into gold things so I got this one in gold which is a little bit prettier, still very protective but softer, and carries 3 cards (4 if I want to stretch it a tiny bit) with a nice ribbon to pull them in and out.

      Hope those help!

      (Please note that the links in this comment are affiliate links which means that if you purchase the phone cases after clicking on these links then I get a small amount of money, but don’t worry that doesn’t effect the cost of the product at all.)

  • November 23, 2016 at 8:44 am

    Good advice! It seems that I am always hungry. If I have band practice in the morning it makes me even hungrier. I like to keep granola bars in my backpack for a light snack. When I get hungry they usually tied me over until lunch.

  • July 8, 2017 at 10:53 pm

    I had all these things with me in school. I also carried a portable battery charger. My phone was always going dead between classes!

    There are some really cute backpacks at Polka Dotted All The Things Boutique. You should check them out.

    Great list!

  • February 21, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    These are awesome tips! I recently started a blog and created a version of this post as well! Your advice on hypoglycemia really hit home with me because I am someone how has it as well! I never thought of trying trail mix as a “pick-me-up”, and will love to incorporate it in my wanna-be “healthy” diet!

    Thank you so much and great post!
    -BreAnna Yvonne


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