cool school stuff

The Best Back-to-School Stuff on the Strategist

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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 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 Planners

An obsessive calendar-keeper shares seven of her favorite planners.

The Best Pens on Amazon

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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 ones.

The Best Pencils for Students

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Pencil experts recommend the 16 best pencils for everyone from pre-K kids learning their letters to college students tackling high-level mathematics.

The Best Laptops

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

The Best Dorm-Room Chairs

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A comfortable and inviting dorm-room chair will set up any college student for social success. Here are 12 picks from design experts.

The Best Dorm-Room Storage Solutions

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Professional organizers share their 19 favorite storage solutions for an organized and efficient dorm room.

The Best Lap Desks

If working at a traditional desk all day long doesn’t appeal to you, try a lap desk. Here, we’ve rounded up 15 of the best picks on Amazon, including ones that are adjustable and can double as breakfast trays.

The Best School Supplies for Ninth-Graders

Four high-school teachers spill on the essentials for getting through your freshman year.

The Best Backpacks for Girls

Here are 18 backpacks for girls, starting with the earlier years, all the way to high school.

The Best Backpacks for Boys

And 16 highly reviewed picks for boys, according to Amazon.

The Best Rolling Backpacks, According to Chiropractors

Backpacks can get heavy — and can cause serious issues — so here are ones that roll, as recommended by chiropractors.

The Best Notebook for Everyday Use


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.”

The Best Roller-Ball Pen

$20 for 12
Photo: SvetaVo/Getty Images/iStockphoto

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

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

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 High School Cheerleader Status Objects

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

The Best Stapler

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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

Photo: United Artists

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 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 Notes


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

Photo: Getty

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

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

The Best Ergonomic Chair Accessory


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

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

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

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

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

The Best Knickknack Holder

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.”

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.

Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

The Best Back-to-School Stuff on the Strategist