Back to College Checklist and Preparation Tips

With all of the applications, deadlines, and emails you’re trying to keep track of, it may seem like you’re not getting any closer to creating that list of college supplies and tools. Fortunately, we’ve come up with a back to college checklist to help you get started crossing off items.

Back to College Checklist: Supplies and Essentials

Unlike elementary or high school, you’ll need considerably more than pen and paper. To help you plan for going back to college, we’ve created a list of college supplies and tools, as well as a few additional suggestions to consider. This list of essentials is aimed to help you succeed both in your research and planning as you seek out your options, as well as provide you with the tools for success once you are enrolled and in the classroom.

Mature student in the library at the university
  • Computer
    • MacBook Air by Apple
      • Lasts 12 hours between charges
      • Has 0.68-inch unibody design that weighs only 2.96 pounds
      • Wireless performance up to 3x faster than the previous Wi-Fi generation
    • Surface Pro by Microsoft
      • Has 13.5 hours of battery life
      • Converts between laptop, studio, and tablet mode
      • Up to 16 GB RAM
    • Spectre x360 by HP
      • Available in 15.6” and 13.3”
      • 13.5 hours battery life for 15.6” or 16.75 hours battery life for 13.3”
      • 8.2 million pixels with gorilla glass
      • Weighs 4.6 pounds and 19.45mm in thickness
    • Chromebook 13 by HP
      • Lasts 11.5 hours between charges
      • 5.76 million pixels
      • Up to 16GB memory
  • Cloud Storage/Backup
    • Dropbox
      • Basic account offers 2 GB of space for free
      • Available on apps and desktop
    • Google Drive
      • Basic account offers 15 GB of free storage across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos
      • Available on desktop, Android, iPhone, and iPad
  • Books
  • Amazon Prime Student
    • Enjoy access to:
      • Free two-day shipping
      • Exclusive deals and savings
      • Unlimited streaming of prime movies and TV shows
      • Unlimited photo storage
    • Priced with a 50% discount off Amazon Prime after six-month trial
  • Calculators
    • To figure out which graphic calculator you’ll need, check out this chart by Texas Instruments
    • Consider the following budgeting calculators:
        • With the Student Budget Calculator, you can track income and expenses as a full-time student
        • Track annual expenses and annual income with the Student Budget Calculator
  • Music Streaming Subscriptions
    • Listening to calming music can help reduce pre-exam anxiety and stress as well as drown out background noise; note that many services offer “free” subscriptions as well, supported by advertisements
      • Spotify
        • With a student discount, only $4.99/month
      • Apple Music
        • With a student discount, only $4.99/month
      • Pandora
        • Subscription options: free, $4.99/month, and $9.99/month
  • Time-saving Apps
    • iStudiezPro
      • Track your schedule, homework deadlines, and grades
      • Integrate with Mac OS Calendar app
      • Share your schedule with family members
      • Available on iOS, MacOS, Windows, and Android
    • Wunderlist
      • Manage personal and professional to-do lists
      • Receive reminders
      • Share lists and collaborate on projects with family, friends, and colleagues
      • Available for free on iPad, Mac, Android, iPhone, Windows, Kindle Fire, and web
    • Tiny Scanner
      • Scan documents, photos, and receipts
      • Scan in color, grayscale, or black and white
      • Protect documents with a password  
      • Available on Google Play Store and App Store for $4.99
    • Cite This For Me  
      • Supports over 7,500 reference styles from colleges across the globe
      • Offers a plagiarism checker feature
      • Collects research by scanning book or journal barcodes
      • Available integration with Word
    • Tinycards
      • Create your own set of flashcards or search existing decks
      • Entirely free, available on the App Store and Google Play Store
    • Venmo
      • Send money and make purchases with no fees when using your Venmo balance, bank account, debit card, or prepaid card
      • Available on the App Store and Google Play Store

Preparing for School Checklist

Getting supplies is only one part of the preparation checklist. You’re also ready to tackle a tougher to-do list:

1. Set Education and Career Goals

If you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree but choose to start at the community college level, begin researching four-year institutions to get an idea of the transfer requirements. Requirements can include the classes you’ll need to take to qualify for transfer, the minimum GPA, and possible references or letters of recommendation.

If you’d like to start at a four-year institution, think about where you’d like to go after graduation. Research the education and training requirements for the type(s) of job to which you’d like to apply. Keep this in mind when searching for a degree program.

If you only want to take a few classes to brush up on your technology skills, for example, look through the course catalog and the class descriptions to make sure you’ll be learning the skills and concepts required in the workplace.

2. Choose a Career and Degree Program

If flexibility is important to you, then an online program could be the ideal route. An online program can deliver a quality education in a truly flexible format. Before applying to an online program, make sure to check the institution’s accreditation, graduation rates, and job placements of recent graduates.

If you like the classroom environment but can only take night or weekend classes, contact a school counselor to find out how long it will take for you to complete a program. Check out the school’s social media profiles to get a sense of the campus culture. Find out about campus organizations, and ask about the alumni network and the school’s industry connections. Try to get a comprehensive understanding of all the resources the school offers to see how they can help you achieve your education and career goals.

Research the program’s internship requirements and expected learning outcomes. Check the school’s website to see what businesses and organizations past students have interned for and what their experiences were like.

3. Complete the FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is necessary to be considered for federal grants, loans, and work study funds. Every year, over 13 million students receive more than $120 billion in financial aid to pay for college or professional programs. Visit websites to find out the deadlines for the different programs and make sure to complete the FAFSA every year you are in school.

4. Apply to Colleges of Your Choice

Watch videos, read brochures, and speak to an admissions representative before applying. If possible, visit the school before starting the application process to get a feel for the campus and faculty. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and direction throughout the application process.

5. Budget for Tuition and Other College Expenses

You can use a budgeting calculator to help you see what expenses and sources of income you’ll need to track. As an adult college student, you’ll have to account for a lower monthly income if you decide to take time off work for classes. Visit to use the following calculators:

  • Student Budget Calculator – With this calculator, you can enter your annual expenses and income to help you recognize when you are spending beyond your means.
  • Expected Family Contribution and Financial Aid Calculator – Whether you live with parents or with a spouse and children, this calculator will help you understand how much financial support you’ll be receiving from family and how much you’ll need to borrow or secure through grants or scholarships.
  • Loan Calculator – If scholarships, grants, and savings won’t cover the full cost of your tuition and college expenses, this calculator will help you decide how much you’ll need to borrow.
  • College Cost Projector – One of the simpler calculators, the only data you will need to enter is the college type, current one-year costs, and years until enrollment to understand how much college will cost once you are ready to enroll.

6. Apply for Scholarships and Grants

Prospective adult college students should take advantage of the variety of scholarship and grants offered by various nonprofit organizations, government departments, and businesses. Fastweb is a scholarship matching service that narrows your search based on your strengths, skills, and interests. The College Board offers scholarships and other financial aid and internships from more than 2,200 programs, totaling nearly $6 billion, according to their website. lets you search by major, state, and categories of scholarship, such as sports, military, minority, disability, religion, and gender.

7. Take Required Assessment Exams

Last but not least on the back to college checklist are assessment exams. Since you’ve been out of school for a while, you may need to take assessment exams for subjects like English and math. These assessments are designed to put you in the class that fits your knowledge level. The scores you receive on these exams will not be reflected in your GPA and will not disqualify you from a degree program.

6 Tips for Going Back to School

Now that you know what supplies you’ll need and the steps to take to apply, it’s time to look at a few tips to prepare yourself mentally to start—and excel— in your studies.

1. Learn to study with distractions

Kids, work responsibilities, and class projects are all important, but when you’re studying, you need to focus on the assignment. Designate a study area where you won’t be distracted. If that’s not a possibility, consider using headphones and music to block out noise and distractions.

2. Establish a daily routine

Deadlines and tight schedules are stressful. However, if you have a routine, you’ll feel less stressed because you’ll have your study time blocked out and won’t worry about running errands or cooking.

3. Build connections and friends

Everyone needs a support system—adult college students are no exception. Friends who are also going back to school as well as peers can relate to your daily struggles and you can encourage each other during crunch times.

4. Limit aimless scrolling on social media

This advice should apply to every individual, but especially to adult college students. Think about how often you click on that social media icon and realize that you could be spending that time studying or reading course material. The minutes can really add up to hours over the course of a few weeks.

5. Take advantage of every free moment

If you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, or to pick up your child from soccer practice, keep your textbook and notes nearby. Digital access to curriculum makes this even easier these days. Come time for exams, you’ll be grateful for every moment of waiting spent studying.

6. Download applications that increase your productivity

Modern technology really has made significant strides in helping us manage our time and remain productive. Today, adult college students have a wide range apps to choose from:

  • Remember the Milk – Sync your to-do lists across all of your devices and get your errands done on time.
  • myHomework – This student planner app helps you track your assignments, classes, and due dates across multiple devices.
  • Offtime – Block calls and texts, games, apps, social networks, and browsers while you’re studying and increase your productivity

As you read over these tips for going back to school, keep in mind that the more effort you make to prepare ahead of time—before you actually start your first day—the more confident you may feel as an adult college student.

Tips for Going Back to School: Move on to That Next Step

You’ve read our tips for going back to school, you’ve got the list of supplies, and now you’re ready to start putting all the pieces in place. Learn more about how you can start the process of going back to school for a bachelor’smaster’s, or doctorate degree. Now is the time to turn your ambition into action.

Here are some other resources to consider when taking the next step toward going back to school:
Going Back to School at 30
FAQs for Adult Students
Going Back to School for Working Adults
Maryville Online

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