Every calendar has two New Year's. The first comes on December 31 with an over-hyped night of long cab rides, middle-shelf booze and questionable choices. It virtually always ends in disappointment.
Then there's August 31, the night before school starts again.
Let's be honest here, you don't have to be a student or a parent to feel the thrill of a new school year. It's almost an ingrained tic, a muscle memory. No matter how many years ago you graduated, each fall still feels like a chance to start anew.
Of course, if you are in school, then there's no "almost" about it. The new semester is here and it's time to start gearing up for campus life again.
Marketers haven't missed this opportunity. Every store seems to run a back-to-school sale in late summer, recognizing the obvious academic need for secondhand kayaks and lessons on the banjolin. You can do without most of the stuff that ads and on-campus kiosks hawk (and absolutely should do without the credit card offers), but there are a few tech offerings that will make the coming school year a lot easier.
Here are five:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single college student in possession of a syllabus must be in want of a textbook. And it is a truth also universally acknowledged that those textbooks will cost a bloody fortune.
The price of college textbooks has soared over the past few decades, far outpacing inflation or even the rising costs of tuition. According to one study by the American Enterprise Institute, between 1978 and 2013 the price of textbooks went up by 812%. By now, the College Board estimates that a student will spend over $1,200 per year for textbooks and supplies and, let's be honest, $600 per semester is fairly conservative when individual books can cost several hundred dollars apiece.
This is where the rise of the e-book comes in.
While e-books have numerous drawbacks, such as the fact that you can't take notes in them, they do come with one whopping advantage: they're cheap. Or, at least, they can be. Many digital textbooks cut costs way down, saving students potentially hundreds of dollars per semester.
And, as an added bonus, you won't have to carry 40 pounds of paper anymore. Goodbye, scoliosis.
Gone are the days when one charge could give you a day's worth of cell phone life. Of course, gone too are the days when your cell phone only operated for phone calls. Today's smart phone is an all-in-one data and media center with battery life that reflects that.
That's no big problem when you're sweating it out in an office, if the phone starts to run low there's always an outlet on hand. When humping it across campus on your back-to-back day, though? If you're lucky maybe you can duck into a Starbucks and find that one table near the outlet, grabbing as much charge as you can while downing a five minute latte.
Realistically, though, your phone will probably die before you get to find out who made Tay-Swift do what. (Full disclosure: this will remain unclear regardless of battery life.)
So solve the problem before it starts. Portable batteries are now commonplace, from the inexpensive keychain models to bricks that will hold their charges for weeks. Grab one, throw it in your bag and be glad you've got it the next time you're between classes and with a phone flashing that angry "10%."
One Cup Coffee Maker
For most college students, one of two things will be true. You will either live in the dorms, dependent on the whims of the cafeteria for all food and beverage, or you will live on your own, dependent on the whims of your own skill for all food and beverage.
Rarely in college does this end well. You see, campus cafeterias tend to drop the ball when it comes to providing round-the-clock access. And the less said about the diet a college student provides for himself, the better.
Here, admittedly, this writer may be showing his own experience, which includes spending undergraduate winters hanging a bucket from the dormitory window as a form of makeshift refrigeration. (Michigan can deliver in a big way.) This, while possibly less than ideal, was certainly an evolution over Plan A, which was to cram hot pockets between the screen and window during heat waves in hopes of discovering a free convection oven.
Nevertheless, as a college student it's generally best not to overestimate your own skills in the kitchen, just as it's best never to underestimate your own need for caffeine.
Enter the solution: the one cup coffee maker.
You will never want for coffee again and never have to worry about fiddling with things like a French press or pour-over. Simply grab a tub of Folgers and a couple of Ikea mugs and you'll have a functionally endless supply of coffee. Perfect for all-nighters.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Dorms are noisy. This is a fact of nature and no force on heaven or Earth can change that. Cheap student apartments are noisy. This is a fact of campus landlords and only graduating and getting a decent job can get you out of that.
Roommates and neighbors alike can make a terrible racket.
Now, roommates are one of the best parts of school. Wandering into the dorm living room, flopping on the couch and watching bad TV, you'll never have that many friends around again. After all, it's easy to grab a window-cooked hot pocket and watch Most Extreme Challenge with someone just because they're there and it's on.
But once everyone lives in his own apartments scattered across the city? No one takes the subway for 45 minutes just to watch a dubbed Japanese game show.
So, yes, roommates are great… but sometimes you really do need to get back to work. That's where noise cancelling headphones will come in. Avoid picking a fight or getting chased out of your own home by your roommate's X-Box. Just throw these on and get back to work.
It's the best of all worlds.
Enjoy these moments, youth of today, because rarely will you ever again hand something in on printed paper. The world is going paperless, and by and large, it's a good thing.
That's not to say everything should switch to pixels. Books and notebooks deserve pages to turn, electronic textbooks notwithstanding. Some pictures belong on your wall in the real world. And there'll always be something about the feel of a printed newspaper in your hands.
All of those reams and reams of paper that get wasted on memos, notes and other at-the-moment communications though? They rarely have a shelf life of more than fifteen minutes and the world is better off putting them in digital form.
Most of your professors will not have caught up with this however. Many, if not most, will want you to turn work in on printed hard copy and not entirely out of affectation either. Work is generally easier to mark up and comment in printed form, and right now all of your work is intended for markup and comment.
So grab a printer. It will make life far easier than trying to sprint across campus to the computer lab before class. Then, honestly, sell it on Craigslist for a six pack of domestic beer at graduation.
The Pilot G2 Gel Pen, Blue Ink, .05 mm
This is the finest pen in the world: .05 mm is the ideal size and writing in blue ink will make your notes pop over black. Trust us. This is exactly the pen you want. No more, no less. (Look hard, though… the.05 mm can be tough to find in blue.)
Now, why do you want a really good pen?
Because laptops are a terrible way to take notes.
One of the most common debates in modern higher education is whether laptops help or hurt student performance, and early evidence is that they substantially harm to student performance. One small study from Northwestern University found that students who take notes by hand outperform their laptop-carrying colleagues by a full four percentage points.
It's not just time spent on Facebook or playing Tetris (although that certainly doesn't help). Transcribing notes by hand requires you to slow down and think about the words as they happen. The slower, more physical act of handwriting requires mental energy that transcribing notes by keyboard does not. A fully engaged student on a keyboard may capture more the professor's words, but he will miss most of the meaning.
Don't do that. Buy a stack of notebooks with your school's emblem on the cover and get as many Pilot G2 .05's as you can carry. It's the best study tip you'll find online.