The Best Back-to-School Stuff on the Strategist


As days get shorter and temperatures cool, it’s also time (eek) to start thinking about going back to school. To help you get a jump on the best school (and school-related) supplies to buy for fall, we’re running a series called Cool School Stuff, in which we’ll sniff out the best backpacks, best dorm décor, and best bento boxes, among many, many other things. Below, all the best cool school stuff we’ve already found.

The Best Notebooks on Amazon

Notebooks aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all, so we went and found a dozen of the best-reviewed versions on Amazon (according to very opinionated users).

The Best Notebook for Everyday Use

Rollbahn Memo Notebook
$13, Amazon

Writer Hannah Morrill found the perfect notebook in the spiral-bound Rollbahn: “Its strong coated-cardboard front won’t crease or crinkle. It can even be sponge-cleaned if, strictly hypothetically, a smoothie bowl were to leak in your bag. (A tight elastic band also ensures the pages remain sealed and protected.) The paper stock is thick enough that felt-tip pens don’t bleed through, but not so luxe to feel precious, like you’re jotting your Time Warner account number onto the Magna Carta.”

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The Best Roller-Ball Pen

Uni-ball Vision Rollerball Pens
$16 for 12 Amazon

Illustrator Joana Avillez hordes these Uni-ball pens: “One of its finest attributes is its waterproofness. And its fadeproofness. It is reliable. It is disposable. It is trustworthy. It creates a line that is buoyant. It is as free as you can possibly let your mind be. It is also roughly two bucks at a stationery store, $16 for a pack of 12 on Amazon.”

The Best Ballpoint Pen

Midori Brass Ballpoint Pen
$32, Amazon

Writer Mark Byrne fell in love with the collapsible Midori pen: “Within a couple of weeks, back home in New York, I had new, intense feelings about the pen. I was using it constantly. Within a month, I had found on Amazon, then bought in bulk, what I reasoned was a lifetime’s supply of the pen’s very specific ink cartridges. This was a transformative pen. I needed it to be with me forever.”

The Best Pencil

Palomino Blackwing Pencils
$25 for 12 Amazon

Christopher Bonanos swears by this soft-leaded pencil, which was used by Chuck Jones to draw Bugs Bunny: “What makes the Blackwing a life-changer is a little hard to explain, at least until you try one. The lead is extremely soft — that’s why I switch among four of them, because they get dull after half a page. That softness comes with an upside: smoothness. You get nice black marks while barely touching the paper, which means you can write faster.”

The Best Pens

The best pens — comfortable and affordable, with smooth ink that doesn’t bleed — aren’t that hard to find; we rounded up the best-reviewed.

The Best High School Cheerleader Status Objects

We talked to a high school cheerleader about the ultimate status symbols among her squad.

The Best Stapler

Kokuyo Harinacs Japanese Stapleless Stapler
$15, Amazon

According to Maxine Builder, the best stapler is one that actually doesn’t use any staples at all — this Japanese version secures paper with an origami-like hold that’s shockingly secure.

The Best Art School Status Objects

We spoke to a Pratt student to find out what the ultimate status symbols for art school are, from Doc Martens to Moleskine notebooks.

The Best Posters for Dorm Rooms

Posters should be a reflection of your personality, so why go for something as clichéd as Albert Einstein or John Belushi? We went and found 18 of the best alternatives to played-out wall art.

The Best Dorm Décor

The best décor for your dorm room all in one centralized guide.

The Best Laptops

We found the five best laptops for every kind of college student.

The Best Freshman Dorm Stuff

To find out what the real college essentials are, we talked to six college sophomores about what freshmen should bring.

The Best Study-Abroad Essentials

Not sure what to bring for your semester abroad? We’ve got you covered with the essentials as recommended by someone who’s been there.

The Best Lunch Boxes

The lunch boxes are Japanese bento boxes, which come with compartments to keep all your food separate. We’ve rounded up the seven best you can buy, according to an expert.

The Best Portable Speakers

The best speakers to put on studying music — or throw a third-floor rager.

The Best Daily Planner

Smythson 2017 Soho Diary
$199, Stylebop

This pricey (but worth it) planner by Smythson was enough to get writer Leah Bhabha’s life in order: “Larger than a pocket calendar, which affords little writing space, and smaller than a desk diary, which is like lugging around a textbook, the Soho is the ideal size. The weekly agenda devotes a sizable square to each day, and there’s a weekly to-do list on the opposite page. There’s a healthy amount of lined notepaper, essential for an inveterate doodler and list-maker such as myself. And the paper. I could wax rhapsodic about the classic light-blue Smythson ‘featherweight pages,’ which are half the thickness and weight of normal pages, but suffice it to say, they make for easy writing with no ink bleeding through.”

The Best Notes

Post-it Super Sticky Notes
$10 for five pads Amazon

For taking notes, writer Elizabeth Gumport thinks nothing beats white Post-its: “Sketch pads, index cards, stacks of printer paper: I’ve tried them all, and for the most part, they’ve served me well. But none so well as the white Post-it, which I first discovered two years ago and have used nearly every day since. Like my old envelopes, they are the blankest of slates, as their white background never competes with the color of your ink for attention. Whatever you write, that’s what you see: The medium highlights the message by basically effacing itself. I stick reminders around my laptop’s screen, and a daily to-do list next to its track pad.”

The Best Backpacks

To find the best backpacks, we went straight to 13 college students who’ve been lugging around books and accessories for nearly all their lives.

The Best Backpacks for Your Posture

We talked to a chiropractor to discover the best backpacks for growing spines and proper alignment, too.

The Best Fashion-Statement Backpack

There was a time when the Fjällräven backpack was a ubiquitous style signifier — but Eastpak may be dethroning it as the fashion-statement backpack.

The Best Desk Chair

Office Star Ergonomically Designed Knee Chair With Casters
$70, Amazon

The best desk chair (seconded by Strategist senior editor Jason Chen) is this ergonomic chair praised by Alice Gregory.

The Best Ergonomic Chair Accessory

Easy Posture Lumbar Support
$17, Amazon

Flimsy dorm-room chairs aren’t anywhere near comfortable — upgrade them using Maureen O’Connor’s $20 accessory: “Much like the Aeron chair, the Easy Posture sports a bouncy nylon mesh stretched over a light wire frame, and, as opposed to a shapeless pillow, it comfortably curves into the lower back near the base of the spine. It’s a gentle nudge to sit up straight and can be strapped onto the chair of your choice — and, most critically, removed whenever you want.”

The Best Water Bottles

Students old and young alike will appreciate staying hydrated; these are the best-reviewed water bottles of all types on Amazon.

The Best Ice-cold Water Bottle

Zojirushi SM-KHE36AG Stainless Steel Mug
$23, Amazon

For students who need chilled beverages, the unbelievable Zojirushi water bottle kept a vodka-soda ice-cold even after a day at the beach.

The Best Shoe Rack

Whitmor Over the Door Shoe Rack
$23, Amazon

The best over-the-door shoe rack for apartment or dorm is the Whitmor: “The rare hanging option that doesn’t involve any pockets. While that means this requires a bit of assembly (though not more than ten minutes; no tools required), the benefit is that it comfortably carries both heels and flats, and it won’t suffocate shoe leather, a material that requires sufficient breathing room to stay fresh.”

The Best Extra Closet

Yamazaki Ladder Rack
$50, Amazon

Dorms aren’t the best for closet space, so supplement your storage area with a wall ladder that doubles as décor.

The Best Sheets on Amazon

You’ll need sheets for that dorm-room bed, won’t you? Almost all of the best sheets on Amazon come in full and twin sizes.

The Best Comforters on Amazon

And don’t forget the comforter, too. These are the best we found on Amazon.

The Best Mattress Toppers

Resting won’t be easy without a comfortable mattress — try a plush mattress topper for upgrading a rusty, old bed.

The Best Pillows for Side Sleepers

Just outfit the whole bed — we tested and found the best side-sleeper pillows you can rest your head on.

The Best Coffee Machines

If our undergrad years are anything to go by, college students drink a lot of coffee. Here, the best-reviewed machines, according to experts.

The Best Bath Towels on Amazon

College and boarding-school students don’t know bath towels. Get them some super-plush versions (or something hammam-style) from our spate of best-reviewed towels on Amazon.

The Best Printers

Remember the torment of realizing you needed to print out an assignment at the library — only to find it snowing outside? Spare your college student the agony with an in-room printer. We rounded up Amazon’s best.

The Best Desk Décor

Just in case you want to upgrade your dorm desk, we found some high-design accessories (be sure to check out our collection of the best home décor for inspiration, too).

The Best Cheap and Colorful Décor

Cheap (but expensive-looking) colorful décor was made for the dorm room.

The Best Cheap Dorm Accents

We thought of this as a collection of great affordable apartment stuff, but there’s no reason it wouldn’t work for a dorm room.

The Best Desk Lamp

Light Accents Iris Table Lamp Natural Wooden Base
$30, Amazon

A great vaguely Danish lamp that would make a great desk lamp.

The Best On-sale Desk Lamp

Gumball Desk Lamp

A gumball desk lamp with a useful electrical outlet at its base. It’s on sale for half off, too.

The Best Knickknack Holder

Fish Bubble — Wall Mounted Acrylic Fish Bowl
$14, Amazon

Writer Molly Young came with up an ingenious hack — turning this clear fishbowl into a catchall bowl: “Thanks to its combination of utility and weird visual appeal, the fishbowl has remained a constant through many household-redecorating sprees. Its transparency makes it an ideal storage unit. The shape makes it look cool. The portability means that I can easily relocate it when I move my furniture around. And for some reason I get a ton of compliments on it. Why? Who knows! People love a shiny, round, floating object filled with smaller objects, it turns out.”

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The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

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The Best Back-to-School Stuff on the Strategist