100 Best Back-to-School Hacks

Aug 30th, 2009

Going back to college after your long summer break is sort of like the university student’s opportunity for New Year’s Resolutions. From organization to better study habits to making new friends to preparing for your career, you’ll want to make this year the most fun and the most productive. Check out our list of 100 best back-to-school hacks for more ideas.

Moving In

From redecorating to organizing your closet to cleaning your dorm or apartment, these hacks will turn what little personal space you have into your happy place.

  1. Get door hangers: Door organizers and hanging organizers give you more space to keep shoes, bags and accessories.
  2. Don’t pack so much this year: Especially if you live within driving distance of home, don’t pack clothes for the whole year.
  3. Split up chores: Come up with a chores worksheet and schedule with your roommate.
  4. Get a vacuum: Vacuum at least once a week to cut down on dust, allergens, and crumbs.
  5. Clean little by little: Clean up messes as they happen, and clean more often to avoid turning your apartment into a pigsty.
  6. Get more trash cans: College kids seem to produce lots of extra trash, so get more trash cans for every room.
  7. Pick out new bedding: A new throw pillow or new sheets will add punch to your room and give you a fresh start.
  8. Bunk your beds: Bunked beds give you lots of extra dorm room space.
  9. Set ground rules: Agree with your roommate on how and when your room or apartment should be used for parties, studying, and sleeping.
  10. Embrace DIY projects: Add more style to your room or apartment this year by embracing functional, fashionable DIY projects like making your own memo boards and more.


Start your year off right by being organized with your school work and your personal belongings. These hacks will make you more productive, help you make better grades, and minimize stress.

  1. Keep a master calendar: Take a planner with you wherever you go to record due dates, tests, meetings, study groups and more.
  2. Take better notes: Taking good notes during each class will help you stay on track with your classes and make you better organized when it’s time to study.
  3. Use a Computer Technician: Have a computer tech clean your computer of all extra programs and viruses so you don’t run into any problems once exam time kicks in.
  4. Pack your bag before you go to bed: To avoid leaving assignments and study materials at home, pack your bag at night when you’re less stressed and not as rushed.
  5. Don’t overload your schedule: Taking too many hours will make it that much harder to stay organized.
  6. Get better sleep: All-nighters and week night partying can hinder your performance and your focus the next day.
  7. Plan ahead: Don’t leave everything to the last minute: plan out how much time you need to spend on homework projects, meetings, extracurricular activities, commutes and everything in between.
  8. Use a web or text alert system: A tool like Remember the Milk can send you alerts when you’re late on deadlines or tasks.
  9. Find a job on campus: Campus offices are more willing to work around your schedule, and you’ll be able to save on commute times.
  10. Keep your room clean: It sounds juvenile, but a clean room makes it easier for you to find things and eases stress.

Study Habits

Pledge to become a more organized, productive student this year by taking better notes, staying on top of your homework, choosing the right study group and picking better classes.

  1. Keep in touch with teachers: Take advantage of office hours or just send your professor an email to show that you’re engaged and to clear up any questions you had from the lecture.
  2. Study every day: Review your notes from each class every day so that you’re actually learning the material instead of cramming at the last minute.
  3. Set your own deadlines: To help you stay on schedule and make sure you’re prepared, set your own deadlines before the professor’s due date.
  4. Find a study group that matches your study style: Not all study groups can help you study. Find a group of people who study the same way you do instead of working with students who talk too much, meet at odd hours or don’t take enough breaks.
  5. Use supplemental materials: Even if they’re not required, use the materials the professor hands out or recommends to supplement readings and lectures.
  6. Review before class: Your brain will be more likely to make connections and absorb new knowledge if it can easily recall notes from the last lecture.
  7. Take breaks: Study breaks allow your mind to process the material you just covered and rebuild energy.
  8. Pick interesting classes: The more you’re interested in the class material, the more you’ll be motivated to study and participate.
  9. Create summaries of your notes: By generating summaries, you’ll practice analyzing your notes and review the most important points.
  10. Go to class: Limit the number of times you skip class if you want to learn the material and get updates on tests and due dates.

Career Prep

Even if you’re an incoming freshman, these hacks can help you get a head start on searching for internships, discovering careers and more.

  1. Discover how your major applies to real-world skills: You don’t have to major in business to have a business-related career. Write down all the ways your major prepares you for a job in whatever field you want.
  2. Visit your career counselor: Career counselors can help you explore job options you never considered, so make an appointment, even if you’re an underclassman.
  3. Accept the fact that you’ll be doing the grunt work: Internships lead to exciting opportunities, but they don’t always start out as glamorous jobs. Accept that you’ll be fetching coffee and making copies.
  4. Know your transferable skills: Get help from a career counselor to make a list of transferable skills, or skills you’ve picked up from seemingly unrelated jobs that can help you win an internship or job after college.
  5. Have an objective: Figure out what you want out of your college experience, your part-time job and your internship before it’s too late.
  6. Get your references in order: Before applying for new jobs, and before leaving old ones, get your list of references organized.
  7. Pursue networking opportunities: Internships, career counseling offices and even campus jobs are great for building your professional network.

Campus Life

Get more involved this year by joining service organizations, culture clubs, Greek organizations or professional networking clubs. You’ll feel more connected to your fellow students and the university and will add to your resume and networking goals at the same time.

  1. Take on an officer position: You’ll learn valuable real-world skills that you can add to your resume, like event planning, fundraising or working with the public.
  2. Branch out: Join a club you never considered before to test yourself and find out if you have a hidden talent.
  3. Participate in dorm events: Dorms often organize sports competitions, recycling efforts, study breaks and other events that let you get to know the people in your hall.
  4. Start your own club: Become the president of a club to start out in a leadership position and network with student affairs officers, deans and other student presidents.
  5. Pick an activity that can help your career: Join the newspaper if you’d like to work as a journalist to get tangible experience, or join the school web development team if you want to be in computer forensics.
  6. Participate with your honor society’s activities: Don’t just save the certificate: take advantage of networking events and apply for a leadership position.
  7. Work alongside administrators and professors: This year, take a step beyond attending meetings and actually work alongside college administrators and professors –who will be happy to write you letters of recommendation — at campus events.
  8. Give yourself a break: Extracurricular activities can provide an outlet for you physically, emotionally, and socially while you take a break from your studies.
  9. Stay on campus more: Even if you live off campus, make a point to study at school, eat in the cafeteria, and stay in town on the weekends so that you feel more connected to campus.
  10. Attend all kinds of events: Support your classmates and your college name by attending all kinds of events, including swim meets, softball games, plays, art shows and more.


This year, try to stick to your budget without having to call home every couple of weeks or overdrafting your account.

  1. Find deals on textbooks: Look for used textbooks online or from someone who took the class the year before.
  2. Keep your grades up: Good grades can lower car insurance rates.
  3. Buy a frozen pizza: Spend $5 rather than $15 or $20 for delivery on late night snacking by buying it ahead of time.
  4. Use your student ID: Ask if your student ID will get you a discount at the movies, happy hour, coffee shop, bookstore or anywhere else.
  5. Keep your change: Collect all of your loose change and save it for vending machine purchases and laundry.
  6. Air dry your laundry: If you have the space, air dry laundry to cut your laundry bill in half.
  7. Use your dorm phone: Use your dorm phone for local calls and inter-campus calls to save your cell phone minutes.
  8. Write everything down: Tracking your expenses is a great way to see just how much you’re spending and figure out places you can cut back.
  9. Limit the majority of your spending to the weekends: Stay busy with extracurriculars and studying on campus during the week to cut down on spending.
  10. Avoid credit cards: Use cash when you can, and avoid using credit cards — or even signing up for them altogether.

Food and Health

As a college student, it’s easy to pick up bad eating habits, including late night grazing and fast food. But these healthy living hacks will keep up your energy and focus while helping you maintain a healthy weight.

  1. Cook more: Cooking is healthier and cheaper, so find a usable kitchen on campus to use every once in a while.
  2. Avoid fast food: Make a pledge to cut way back on fast food, especially in the middle of the night. Pack your freezer with healthier munchies instead.
  3. Stick to your meal plan: If your parents have already paid for your meal plan, don’t waste money on eating out. Stock up on snacks from the cafeteria to keep in your room for later.
  4. Use dishes: If you gained a lot of weight last year because you ate out of the box or carton, manage your portions this year by using plates and bowls.
  5. Monitor your stress levels: Take breaks, sleep well, drink a little less, and keep things in perspective to prevent over-stressing.
  6. Visit college counselors: College counselors are prepared to deal with the unique problems and situations facing students, including eating disorders, disorganization, bad grades, drinking, and social issues.
  7. Find healthier options for all foods and snacks: Try low-fat milk instead of whole milk, use whole-grain bread instead of white bread, choose water instead of calorie-packed drinks, and eat foods from every food group each day.
  8. Eat breakfast: Boost your focus, energy and metabolism by eating breakfast every day.
  9. Make time to exercise: Exercise keeps your weight in check, increases your energy, and provides you with a constructive outlet for stress management.
  10. Keep healthy foods available: Stock your fridge and backpack with healthy snacks and avoid buying junk food.

Party Hacks

Since we all know college isn’t just about studying, why not vow to become a better party planner this year, too?

  1. Throw a costume party: If you don’t have money for decorations or lots of extras, throw a random costume party to spice things up.
  2. Ask guests to chip in: Ask each guest to bring a bag of chips or a six-pack to help with cost.
  3. Invite more girls: A party that’s nothing but guys is lame, so invite more girls.
  4. Use your meal plan for snacks: If you’ll never use up all the money on your meal plan anyway, head to the student center for mixers, chips and cookies.
  5. Beer Stain Removal Hints: This recipe will show you how to get beer stains out.
  6. Pre-game: Pre-game before you go out to save money on alcohol.
  7. Make cheap "pretty" snacks: Make fancy looking snacks by simmering tiny weenies, laying out French bread and olive oil, or making your own queso.
  8. Buy a large trash can: Instead of worrying about trash overflow or taking trips out to the dumpster all night, buy a huge trash can to set up inside your kitchen.
  9. Throw a party with friends: Split the cost 10 ways and throw an even bigger, cooler party when you get 9 friends to help you out.
  10. Give your neighbors a heads up: Ask neighbors to call your cell phone instead of the police if things get too noisy.

Time Management

Learn how to schedule in meetings, study groups, sleep, homework and extracurricular activities with these hacks.

  1. Take shorter naps: A catnap is just as effective — if not more so — than a longer one, and you’ll still have time to get everything done.
  2. Do the hardest stuff first: Tackle the hard stuff when you have more energy, and save less important tasks for when you’re in the mood to multitask in front of the TV.
  3. Take your work with you: In case you have off time, you’ll always have something to work on while you wait.
  4. Ask for help: Whether it’s cleaning, trouble with a relationship, or homework problems, getting help from friends is more productive and will help you feel more confident.
  5. Keep meetings on track: When you have study group sessions and planning meetings, keep everyone on track. Otherwise, you’ll waste hours chatting.
  6. Just start working: Instead of worrying so much about doing a perfect job, just jump right into your project. You can always edit later.
  7. Make outlines: Make outlines for test reviews, research papers, and everything else.
  8. Brainstorm: Make a habit out of brainstorming before you start writing a paper or starting new project.
  9. Schedule something fun to do after you finish your work: This strategy keeps you motivated.
  10. Pack a study bag: Bring a sweater, water bottle, music, snacks and anything else that will keep you studying longer.


From dropping classes to saving gas, find even more back-to-school hacks here.

  1. Carpool: Save gas by sharing rides to campus or on errands.
  2. Understand your purpose for being at college: College isn’t just a time to goof off: understand that your time at school is preparing you for a successful, profitable, satisfying life, and you’ll become more efficient and goal-oriented.
  3. Figure out when to drop a class: You can make things easier on yourself by dropping a class if it turns out to be too complicated and you don’t need it to graduate.
  4. Visualize your college experience: Learn how to make better decisions and prepare for mistakes by visualizing things ahead of time.
  5. Set aside time to explore: College is the one time in your life that you have to take advantage of readily available resources and explore your interests, even if they seem a little out there.
  6. Study abroad: This year, make plans to study abroad to learn a new language, test yourself, and make new friends.
  7. Set short-term goals: For constant motivation, set short-term goals for the month, week or day for finishing homework, saving up, or looking for an internship.
  8. Stay in better touch with your parents: Call your parents more often, or at the very least, send them an email every couple of days to update them on your mood, classes and social life.
  9. Take advantage of free resources: Your tuition and boarding covers lots of freebies you won’t get after you graduate, like the pool, rec center and gym.
  10. Use your social media accounts more efficiently: If you’re going to spend half the night on Facebook or Twitter, at least spend some time to network with worthwhile contacts.
  11. Follow the news: It’s easy to get lost in your own bubble of homework, campus gossip and partying, so read the news every once in a while to supplement your formal education.
  12. Explore the city: Whether you live in a major city or a college town, it’s easy to stick too close to campus. Explore the city’s museums, lesser known districts and restaurants for a more fulfilling experience and a break from college life.
  13. Evaluate your goals and your grades mid-semester: Figure out which resolutions you’ve kept up and which you need to focus on again.
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