College Supply List for Commuting Students

Students commuting to college don't live on campus, but they still need a back-to-school college supply list.

The life of a commuting student goes a little something like this: Checking traffic, traveling to school, finding parking, spending long days at school taking multiple classes — and finding the perfect study and lunch spots in between. Who has time for a college supply list?

But a little organization can go a long way in helping stressed college-bound kids. While commuting to college doesn’t require a college dorm checklist, it does require a lot of preparation. When students planning to commute to a local college or university are compiling their college supply list — sometimes for the first time — there are some items they must add to that back-to-school shopping list.

School supplies for college

Once you’ve figured out how you’re getting to school (that’s pretty important for commuters), it’s time to load up on class necessities.

Matthew Myers, a former student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, commuted during his time in school. In regards to a college checklist of supplies, Myers says it’s comparable to shopping for supplies for high school.

Shop an office supply store, like Office Max or Staples, to pick up your basics: No. 2 pencils, ink pens, folders, highlighters, notebooks.

“I tend to go for the five-subject notebooks so I don’t have to have five notebooks that I need,” he says. Plus, these notebook typically have folder-style pockets and dividers, which come in handy and cut down on extras.

Time your shopping so you can snag the best prices on school supplies. Other items to consider, via

  • Backpack
  • Planner/calendar book
  • Laptop
  • Sticky notes and page markers
  • Calculator
  • Flash drive
  • Hole punch
  • Index cards
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Stapler

Myers says at one point, he did have to bring computer paper to print off projects while at school, so be mindful of stocking up on that, too.

“Have plenty of writing utensils and things to write on,” adds Yoel Joa, the former assistant director of resident life — at Oakland University in Rochester. Writing physically not your thing? A tablet can be especially helpful, he says.

Speaking of electronic devices, don’t get stuck with a dead laptop, phone or tablet. Joa advises students to bring along extra chargers.

Storage and organization

Also important: the right gear for toting around all of your supplies for class. “I like having a really good bag, like a sturdy backpack (or) laptop case,” Myers says. It can hold all the essentials and keep students organized.

As Myers points out, commuters don’t have a dorm room in which to stash their textbooks after class. Try using your car as a “locker” of sorts. He recommends keeping a small tub or basket in the trunk of your car where you can leave your textbooks between classes.

Parking and food

There are some extra costs associated with commuting. There’s no dining plan, and students have to have a place to leave their car for the day if they drive themselves.

Figure out if parking is included in your tuition, if you have to pay by day or at a meter, or if it’s more cost efficient to buy a parking pass for a school lot. Scope out the areas you plan to park. Have change in case you have to park at a meter, Joa says.

A tip from Myers: factor the time it might take to search for parking into your daily commute and schedule.

Food costs can add up quickly when spending entire days on campus. The good news is you don’t have to mess with the vending machines and the food court lines every day. Add a lunch box or even paper lunch bags to your college supply list, Myers suggests, and pack food for the day – including small snacks you can grab to refuel on the go.

Staying hydrated should be a priority, too. Joa suggests purchasing a sturdy, reusable water bottle to refill throughout the day.

Be prepared

Don’t get stuck driving all the way home for a headache, or embarrassed in class due to a booger issue. Joa recommends putting together an emergency kit that has some medical necessities — things like tissues, cough drops and Advil.

We live in Michigan, after all, and the weather can be unpredictable. Keep a spare pair of shoes, rain boots and/or winter boots in your car, along with an extra pair of socks and an umbrella, Joa adds.

Passing the time

There could be a 20-minute break before your next class, or a two-hour break. What to do?

“I do recommend music to kind of pass the time along,” Myers says. It’s something he couldn’t do without on his commute to and from school, and it’s great while studying or taking a break. Tack an iPod on to your school shopping list or stream music on your phone and bring earbuds along.

Those breaks get a whole lot easier if you have a designated place to go. Even if you don’t live on campus, you can create the ultimate college experience by doing something simple: “I am a big proponent for getting involved in student life,” Myers says.

As a member of a fraternity, former president of the Student Activities Board and former student employee in the university’s Office of Student Engagement, Myers says it was a great way to meet friends for lunch and studying.

This post was originally published in 2015 and is updated regularly. 

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