25 College Hacks for Back to School

Who’s ready for back-to-school?! Not me because I graduated this Spring and won’t be heading back to school this fall for the first time in forever. I’ve been sick the past few days with some horrible post-birthday flu situation, and I’m finally feeling well enough to put this post together! After three years of college (plus several years of prep school!) I’m ready to share 25 college hacks to make college easier! These will cover things like organization, dorm/apartment living, money saving, and studying!

Want more college and post-grad tips? Be sure to sign up for my newsletter to get more college hacks like this right in your inbox! 

This post contains affiliate links meaning I might receive a small commission on any purchases at no additional cost to you. Read my privacy policy to learn more about affiliate links on Samanthability. 


1. 5-Subject Notebook

I ALWAYS scheduled all my classes on the same days so that I only had to commute a few times a week to campus. If I had to carry several different notebooks around, I would have developed horrible back pains. Instead of buying multiple notebooks, I just bought a 5 or 3 subject notebook which I use for all my classes! This majorly cuts down on the amount of clutter I have to carry around all the time, and I always had everything I needed.

2. Google Scholar

I didn’t learn about Google Scholar until my senior year and it’s such a shame because it could have saved me a lot of time! If you need to write an essay or research paper, Google Scholar is like the academic version of Google so you won’t have to weed through any weird, sketchy websites that aren’t worth your time. Google Scholar also lets you create a list of citations which is extra handy.

3. Easy Bibliography

As a writing tutor, I saw a lot of students struggling to create accurate bibliographies. Let’s be real, works cited pages are the worth part of the paper. They’re confusing with all the different academic styles, and they can be messy. As a tutor, I always recommended students use a free bibliography creator like Easy Bib or Bib Me. These are super easy and you can manually enter your citation information or search book titles.

4. Quizlet App

If you’re a college student, odds are you already use something like Quizlet to create digital flashcards. However, fewer people have tried the Quizlet App and that’s really what I’m here for. The app lets you take your note cards and study guides on the go which is amazing for studying in between classes and during your commute without carrying around your notebook.

5. Write or Die

I’ve raved about Write or Die before like in my recent post on battling writer’s block, but I’ll rant about it again for the people in the back. If you’re struggling to get the words on the page and your deadline is coming up fast, Write or Die will scare you into getting it done. Try it for free on the website! (Pro tip: I highly recommend enabling kamikaze mode or startle mode to really get “inspired”)

6. Speed Read

Because my major in college literally was to read book, I’m naturally a fast skimmer. However, it’s 2017 and now we have apps that can help train you to become a faster reader. The Spreeder app lets you read your required material like articles and blogs in a fraction of the time! Before you know it, speed reading will be second nature!

7. Store your Documents Online

I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories from students who lost their laptop during the year and with it all of their important papers, schoolwork, and projects. Don’t be a statistic! Always save your documents, projects, powerpoints, whatever online to a service like Google Drive or Microsoft Onedrive. These are free services that are included with a Gmail account or an Outlook account and they SAVE LIVES. This is also a great way to edit your stuff from anywhere, so you won’t need to bring a flash-drive or your own computer to school. Just get in the habit of editing and saving all your documents on one of these sites to streamline your life!

8. Grammarly Grammar Editor

Grammarly is a must for everyone! You can install it into your browser in Google Chrome and forget about it. It’s free, and it’ll help you from sounding incompetent when emailing your professors, writing papers, or posting Facebook status updates about your cat. Just download it.

9. Printable Calendar

I think it’s so helpful to own a physical calendar. Whether you print a free one online to add to your binder or you buy one it’s super valuable to be able to visualize all your assignments and due dates. I’m out of college and I still use a physical calendar! You can also use your planner if you’re old-school like me. I use these free calendar printables in my binders.

10. Take Notes on Your Tablet in Class

I have a giant laptop. It’s like a small TV. Lugging it to classes was miserable, but I love typing my class notes. When I finally bought a keyboard for my iPad, my life changed! They’re actually surprisingly affordable (I got mine for $30) and you can use them to type notes into Google Docs or something similar.

11. Scan Documents on your Phone

Fun fact: I own an actual scanner. Another fun fact: I never use it. Using a physical scanner is so 2010. Now, I use free scanner apps on my phone that get the job done in no time. This is actually easier because I can then email the document right from my phone so it’s super simple.

Money Tips

12. Use Cash-Back Apps like Ibotta

I’ve talked about how much I love Ibotta in some of my other posts, but it’s such a simple way to get some side cash for purchases you already make. Basically, it shows you all your local cash-back rebate deals and you can redeem any of your applicable purchases for anywhere between $0.25 or $3 which adds up quickly. If you download Ibotta using this link, you get $10 when you scan your first rebate! 

College hacks to help make college easier!

13. Split your Bill/Rent with Paypal or Venmo

In my first-apartment survival guide, I explained how Venmo is perfect for roommates who split utility bills and rent. I use it all the time when I eat out with friends to cover my portion of the bill or for drinks. I recently discovered Paypal.Me links which make it even easier to send/request money from your phone!

14. DIY Printer Ink

One of the things I refuse to buy full price is printer ink. It’s outrageously expensive, right? In high school, I learned how to DIY my own printer ink. Stay with me for a second, it’s pretty wild, I know. On Amazon, you can purchase refillable ink cartridge kits which come with all the supplies you need to keep your ink cartridge going for the long haul. It looks sorta scary since you use these syringes to essentially inject the ink into the sponge in the cartridge. It makes you feel like a mad scientist and the ink gets everywhere, but you can’t beat the cost!

15. Always Look for a Coupon

Never purchase anything online without first checking for coupons on sites like RetailMeNot. There are deals on here for local eating, groceries, stores, electronics, and literally everything under the sun! I always use RetailMeNot to get deals on delivery (aka pizza).

16. Use a Cheaper Edition of Textbooks

College professors usually recommend the newest editions of textbooks for required class readings, but that doesn’t mean that an older edition doesn’t work just as well! Always ask first, but in most cases, it’s just as possible to do well with an older edition which can save you major cash!

17. Get Free Ebooks with Overdrive

If you have a local library card, you can get free ebooks online at Overdrive! These are updated super regularly and include popular best sellers as well as some books that might be on your college reading list! For some recommendations, click here to see my must-read!

Dorm/Apartment Living

18. Order Groceries

If you don’t have a car on campus or you have a busy schedule, you can use an online service to deliver groceries to your dorm/apartment! PrimeNow is free for Amazon Prime Members, and you can get an Amazon Prime Student membership for free for 6-months here using your student email. With PrimeNow, you can get same day delivery at no extra cost on fresh produce, snacks, and more. This service is starting to be available in more and more places so for sure check out your zip code to see if you’re eligible! I swear by this!

College Hacks to streamline your college experience!

19. Microwave Recipes

I have my own apartment now and I have for a while, but I still prefer to use my microwave to cook whenever possible. Call my lazy or crafty, whatever. You can cook essentially everything in a microwave, and I’ve already created a post with three easy dorm-friendly recipes. I recently learned you can make pizza in a mug in the microwave, so yeah my life is changed.

20. Store Out-of-Season Clothes Under Your Bed

Once, I lived in a dorm that was the size of a closet. Honestly, most closets were bigger than that room. I had to get really crafty about how I stored my clothes since I only had a wardrobe and two drawers. If you live in a place that has a lot of different seasons (read: not Florida), you should consider storing your out-of-season clothes under your bed in storage bins when you don’t need them to save valuable closet and dresser space. I still do this now to save space even though I no longer live in a dorm.

21. Sleep Mask and Earplugs

Living with people is hard, but even if you have your own room you might want to consider purchasing a sleep mask and some ear plugs. I’m a bonafide light sleeper. I wake up when the air conditioning turns on. Knowing this, I was always prepared with ear plugs and an eye mask for when my roommate was being loud or there was noise in the hallway. Definitely consider getting a bulk pack of earplugs since, if you’re like me, you’ll lose them quickly.

22. Sleepytime Calculator

Sleep is important and college students suck at it. All-nighters might happen, and you might find yourself struggling to get to bed at a reasonable time on the regular. Sleepytime is a free online calculator that helps you determine the best time to go to sleep at night to wake up at a specific time feeling the most rested!

23. Get a Makeup Organizer

When I moved into a dorm, I quickly learned that I needed a makeup organizer. There isn’t really a designated cosmetic area in dorms, and most don’t have their own bathroom. Getting a simple mirror and makeup organizer or a makeup tote is a good way to keep your makeup organized in a limited space. I still use my makeup organizer from college now that I live on my own!

24. Use Sticky Tack + Binder Clip or Clothes Hanger to Hang Art

Hanging art or posters in dorms or apartments is super hard with all the different rules. I also can never decide on just one image, and I like to switch things up a lot. If you use sticky tack, poster putty, or removable adhesive on a binder clip or clothes hanger, you can create an easy DIY hanger for art, prints, and posters! This is easy, inexpensive, and dorm friendly!

25. Order Food Online

I love eating out more than I should, but I also love being able to eat while I work on on the go. I hate long lines and eating in super crowded places, so I’m really glad a lot of popular eating places like Chipotle and Panera have rapid online ordering so you can order online and just run in and grab your ready-to-go order without having to wait in line.

College Hacks to Make Life Easier

College can be challenging, but these easy, inexpensive hacks should help streamline your experience so it’s the best it can possibly be! I’ve learned a thing or two in my three years at college (and my three years in boarding school!) so I hope my ideas help you! For more dorm decorating tips and hacks from me and other great bloggers, check out my feature on Wayfair! Let me know your favorite dorm and college life hacks in the comments!