15 Actually Cool Back to School Essentials for Grown-Ups

Credit: Sarah Madaus

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When I was a kid, I would start pestering my mom about shopping for school supplies in June while everyone else hung out at the community pool. Literally as soon as school let out for summer, I was begging to go to my local Walmart to get prepped for the upcoming year. (She probably had her concerns about my social life.) I found my happy place in the store aisles stuffed to the brim with colorful binders, pens and markers waiting to be uncapped, and planners (oh my god, the planners!!), all housed in that sterile, air conditioned mecca of possibility.

It’ll come as no surprise, then, that I’ve decided to ditch my media career and go back to school for my Masters degree as an adult—like a real adult, not a 22-year-old still learning how to drink alcohol. As soon as I got my acceptance letter from my library science program in March, I felt that familiar buzz of excitement about getting prepared for the fall semester. Except now, with several years as a shopping writer under my belt, I know a thing or two about where to find exceptionally cool, adult learner-friendly school supplies—no Walmart necessary.

Whether you’re heading back to school or you’re just a stationary enthusiast like me, keep reading for 15 of the items I shopped to kick off my Graduate Student Era. From personalized planners to the tote bag to end all tote bags, you’ll find items all of your classmates will be gushing over.

Credit: Papier

High Hopes Spiral Academic Year Planner

$34
$34
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Not your typical agenda. Credit: Papier

I’ve been using Papier planners for the past three years, although this is my first time trying one of the brand’s academic varieties. I love the abstract, playful vibe, and the size is substantial enough that I won’t misplace it. The first chunk of pages is dedicated to class schedules, monthly overviews, plus space for lists and gratitude reminders. The back half has weekly overviews for more day-to-day assignments, tasks, and events; plus a finance tracker; some pages for recipes; and lined pages for musings and note-taking.

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Papier

Art Deco Coin Foiled Finance Planner

$43
$43
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Budgeting just got more stylish. Credit: Papier

I’m a freelancer and fitness instructor, so I need a separate finance planner to keep all of my income and expenses organized to make budgeting (and tax season) easier. I love this one because it makes me feel like a serious businesswoman. The gold foil is an elegant touch, and I got it personalized, so everyone knows this broke b*tch has a name. There are pages for financial goals, a savings and debt record, monthly reviews, weekly finance trackers, and an end of year review. Throughout the planner, there’s advice from money experts and finance journalists.

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StampByMeStudio

Custom Library Stamp

$8
$8
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The best personalized gift for any student or book lover. Credit: Etsy

I received this custom stamp as a gift, and it’s my favorite item on my desk. Every time I get a new book, I stamp it as practice for my future career as a librarian. Not only is it sentimental and sweet, but it helps me keep track of which books are mine and which are borrowed from friends.

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Dagne Dover

Vida Cotton Tote Bag

$155
$155
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No other bag can compare. Credit: Dagne Dover

Behold, I have found the tote bag. I know, I know—the price. But trust me: Never will another canvas bag top this one. It’s made of stiff, hefty cotton with secure straps and a soft liner. The easily-accessible pockets (four external, one internal) are deep and roomy, with ample space for all of my essentials. And as much as I love a whimsical print, I’m down with the plain, natural color. It goes with everything and it’ll stand the test of time.

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Baggu

Puffy Laptop Sleeve

$32
$32
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So plush it could be your pillow when class gets boring. Credit: Baggu

Congratulations to everyone who doesn’t feel the need to anthropomorphize inanimate objects. Life must be fun for you! I, on the other hand, need to give my laptop a sleeping bag so it stays cozy and doesn’t get cold. This one from Baggu has been my go-to for years now. It’s plush and pillowy to protect my cherished tech, and the bright pattern shows all of my classmates that, really, I am cool! I promise. I’m cool. Seriously.

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Poketo

Swell Sticky Tabs in Warm

$8
$8
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Stick ‘em on anything. Credit: Poketo

I keep these handy sticky tabs around for rental textbooks and keeping my place in my library books. Poketo is one of my favorite art brands, and while I could go to Target and pick up a pack for less cash, these are fun and cute.

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Mayday Press

Mark’s Tous les Jours 0.5mm Mechanical Pencil

$5
$5
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The chicest pencils I’ve found. Credit: Mayday Press

I first found these Japanese imported pencils at my favorite stationary shop, Goods for the Study in New York City, a few years ago. I admit, I bought them because I loved the look of them, but they function beautifully as well. They have the satisfying hexagonal handfeel of a Ticonderoga #2, but the mechanical lead insert makes them more permanent additions in my pencil case.

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Alice

Brainstorm Mushrooms Chocolate

$52
$52
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Don’t trip—these will save your study sessions. Credit: Alice Mushrooms

I won’t chastise you for taking a more, erm, pharmaceutical (or caffeinated) approach to late night study sessions, but I will offer you this crash-free alternative. Alice’s functional mushroom chocolates (read: no tripping) are packed with lion's mane and cordyceps ‘shrooms to promote focus and clarity, not to mention they taste delicious. My favorite way to indulge is to melt one into a cup of hot chocolate or a latte.

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New York Or Nowhere

Guest Check Notepad

$10
$10
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Not just for New Yorkers. Credit: New York Or Nowhere

For quick scrawls and urgent reminders, you’ll want a traditional peel-off notepad. That doesn’t mean it needs to look traditional, though. I like New York Or Nowhere’s, which is designed to look like a nostalgic restaurant guest check. It comes with enough pages that I’ll be set for the next four years without needing to buy a replacement.

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Barner

Recoleta Gold Matte Blue Light Glasses

$77
$77
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Just as Gatsby foretold. Credit: Barner

Whether I’m writing a story, planning a workout class, or focusing on an assignment, I spend countless hours looking at my computer screen. Blue light glasses aren’t new, and the science about their benefits is still a little foggy, but whether placebo or real, they’ve helped me out. Barner’s Recoleta frames are my favorite because they look expensive, make staring at a screen bearable, and also transform me into the hot librarian I’ve always dreamt of being.

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Fellow

Peace in Between Carter Wide Mug

$35
$35
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Who needs latte art when your mug itself is a work of art? Credit: Fellow

Close your eyes and imagine walking through campus on a crisp, fall day: You’ve got your bag, water bottle, and of course, a hot beverage. I have a handful of travel mugs, but this one from Fellow is easily the most impressive—even better than YETI. The squat, wide mug is easy to hold and it’s double-insulated. The internal lining is ceramic, so I don’t get a metallic aftertaste, and it legitimately keeps my drinks hot all day long. I purchased a now sold-out Artist Series version, but this one by digital watercolor illustrator Melissa Koby is equally beautiful.

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Papier

Rising 20 Notecard Set

$54
$54
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From thank you notes to the most beautiful flash cards, these versatile notecards can be anything you want. Credit: Papier

I always make sure to have a set of elegant notecards to write letters to friends, thank you notes, birthday cards, and more. Papier’s new collection in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art includes these swoon-worthy notecards that anyone would be delighted to receive. As with all of my Papier products, I got it personalized with my name.

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MochiThings

On The Table Checkerboard Pen Pouch

$39
$39
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A chic carryall for your writing tools and tchotchkes. Credit: MochiThings

Frankly, I don’t care if the checkerboard trend is waning; I’m still into it. This pencil case fits a whopping 30 pencils, or an amalgamation of other supplies like scissors, highlighters, lip gloss, and more. There’s a zippered mesh section for small items so I don’t need to spend extra time rifling to find what I need.

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Anthropologie

Le BonBon Patisserie Scented Pastel Highlighters (Set of 5)

$6
$6
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Smells like childhood. Credit: Anthropologie

On her recent trip to Paris, my roommate picked up a set of miniature scented highlighters as a gift for my return to school. While I can’t find a link to buy them online (damn those offline French people), these are the next best thing. Scented with strawberries, they’re functional, playful, and remind me of the fun parts of my middle school years.

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Pentel

Twist-Erase GT 0.5mm Mechanical Pencil (Set of 3)

$9
$9
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The best affordable pencils money can buy—and that’s coming from a writer. Credit: Amazon

Look, I’m as much of an Amazon hater as the next guy, so just know that I’m passionate enough about these Pentel mechanical pencils that I’m including a link to buy them on the platform. (Though you might be able to find them at your local CVS or Target.) These were my grandmother’s staple pencils, and I would always draw with them when I visited her. In fact, I still use one of the ones she owned. Sentimental value aside, they feel so good in my hand, and they write smoothly. I like the twist-up eraser, too.

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