Choosing the right back to school supplies is incredibly important, and as it's been just over a year since I threw my graduation cap in the air, it got me thinking. There are probably a lot of new students that will be stressed about back-to-school tech or preparing to make hefty purchases for study essentials. My advice: buy secondhand tech wherever possible. The best back to school supplies needn't cost a fortune and can last you; I should know, I'm still making use of mine.
Since leaving University, I haven't felt the need to upgrade most of the tech I used for my studies, despite now being in a better financial position to do so, and thought I'd share some of the super reliable (and affordable) tech that I bought as a student but still use every day, even as part of my day job at Creative Bloq.
As a music journalism (undergrad) and photography (postgrad) student, a lot of the resources I needed for my studies were online, which meant I required a student laptop that could handle multitasking and web browsing, as well as the ability to run software such as Adobe Creative Cloud apps and Capture One for photo editing.
How did I choose which student tech I needed for University? I'll break it down into sections as we go, but ultimately it's about being budget-conscious and only buying what you really need to see you through your studies, and nothing more.
Back to school supplies: Asus Laptops
It's likely that your education provider will give you a list of equipment needed to complete your course, with exact system requirements and specifications that your personal laptop will need to meet in order to keep up.
For my Music Journalism course, this meant I needed a laptop that could run Adobe Audition and Premiere Pro for editing interviews, and a fast processing speed to run multiple tabs for blogging and essay writing. Being a music photographer, I also wanted an affordable laptop that could be used for photo editing and content creation – so I chose to opt for a budget gaming laptop.
Let me explain, gaming laptops are usually equipped with amazing graphics cards and generous amounts of RAM to handle gaming, plus large-scale products and multitasking. And the best part? Gaming laptops are usually more affordable than equivalent Apple MacBooks or even Microsoft Surface laptops.
I purchased a second-hand Asus ROG Strix (GL504M) from CeX as my main laptop for my undergrad degree, and it was exceptional in every way for what I needed at the time. Unfortunately, a motherboard failure three years down the line meant I needed a laptop upgrade, so I have recently splurged out on an Asus Vivobook Pro 15 laptop which I would highly recommend for those who aren't a fan of Apple laptops. (It's also £200 off at Amazon right now!)
Take a look at our guides to the best Asus laptops if you need a reasonably priced machine that can do it all. With that said, there's nothing wrong with Apple at all - it's just personal preference on what sort of operating system and device you're comfortable using.
Back to school supplies: photography gear
To be honest, I could go on all day about the photography equipment that I shoot with and camera accessories. That's a whole other article in itself. So to keep things simple, I'll keep this one short and introduce you to my "main" camera body which is a Sony A7III, and in my opinion, the best camera for photography students.
Mirrorless cameras aren't for everyone, and that's totally fine. But personally, I love the Sony A7III for its ease of use, plus its low-light capabilities, amazing image quality, how incredibly lightweight it is even with a lens fitted, but most importantly - the A7III's affordability for students at a second-hand price.
If the Sony A7III mirrorless camera is still a little bit out of your budget, you can't go wrong with a Canon DSLR which I've also been using for around 10 years now. I currently have a Canon 5DS, but during my time at uni, I had a Canon 5D Mark III. If you pick one up secondhand from a retailer such as MPB, a trusty Canon DSLR can be had for under £300/$300.
Instant cameras are also a great thing to have at uni parties for documenting the student culture, and I'd definitely recommend the Instax Mini 40 if you're looking for an affordable instant camera. Just be aware that Instax film can be expensive!
Back to school supplies: gaming hardware
It's important to give yourself some downtime to relax while at university, as there's a chance your evenings might be busy socialising and you have some early morning seminars to attend.
The Nintendo Switch console is without a doubt the best portable gaming console for commuting, and I always found myself playing Pokemon on the train, on the bus to and from different campus buildings, and turning Mario Kart into a drinking game with my uni housemates.
It's hard not to ignore PlayStation 5 when it comes to a good console that will last you. As our PS5 review shows, Sony's gaming console is as good as when it launched and has a fantastic library of games. It's now mid-way into its lifespan which means we're finally seeing some deals on PS5 consoles, so good hunting.
Finally, if you're on a budget but want a high-spec gaming console I'd take a look at Xbox Series X. It's not as fashionable as PS5 but Microsoft's Game Pass subscription is a real money-saver, offering hundreds of games to play, including day one exclusives for $11 / £12 a month (there's a $1 a month deal for newcomers). You can extend your Game Pass to PC and cloud gaming too.
Back to school supplies: essential accessories
There are other forms of tech that you might want to consider grabbing when you go back to school if there's enough left in your budget. I couldn't be without my Sony over-ear Bluetooth headphones (the MDR-ZX330BT model to be exact), for wireless audio and listening to podcasts on the commute to uni each morning.
Another must-have was my Samsung Galaxy Watch Active (SM-R500) for keeping on schedule with deadlines and assignments. It also allowed me to check my watch for notifications in class without looking at my phone and getting distracted.
This particular Watch Active model is now discontinued, but you can still get a used one for a great price on Amazon. I got my watch at a bargain price secondhand from Cex at just £50! Take a look at our guide to the best Apple Watch alternatives for some amazing deals on smartwatches.
Don't want to use your laptop for streaming or watching movies? Watch Netflix on a budget monitor instead, and have the benefit of a bigger screen while you can work on essays using your laptop at the same time. The best Monitors can sometimes be much cheaper than buying a TV for your Uni room, especially if you don't need an aerial, or aren't interested in watching channels that can require a TV license.
Back to school supplies: blue-light blocking glasses
The final thing you might want to think about when going back to school is your eye health. No, I'm not kidding. As a university graduate who now stares at screens for a living, I've found that eye strain is very real and it also causes me headaches from time to time. Being a photographer who stays up all night editing photos and a gamer probably also contributes to this too.
Blue light is an invisible light that we absorb from technology and from staring at screens for too long, and it can be harmful. Some people are sceptical that blue-light-blocking glasses work, and I can only speak from my own experiences but it does seem to really help in being less squinty with sore eyes by the end of the day.
If you wear prescription glasses, then you'll need to get them coated with blue light protective filters when ordering online or by speaking to an optician. But if you're one of the lucky ones who can see normally without glass, then these options from Amazon should do the trick just fine.
• In need of some more affordable buying suggestions? Take a look at our guides to the best student discounts, especially the Apple Student Discount scheme, as well as the best student printers, and not forgetting the best MacBook for students.