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How to Prepare for Your First Day of School as an Adult Student

An adult male student doing homework.
fizkes/Shutterstock.com

When kids head off for their first day of school, they often have a battery of adults helping them prepare. From summer reading to new school clothes, they usually arrive with everything they need for the new school year. But who’s there to help adult students prepare for their first day?

Whether you’re heading off to grad school or just starting your undergrad a bit later than most, your first day of school as an adult can be daunting. Perhaps it’s been years since you’ve thought about lectures, homework, and grades. While resources abound for children heading back to school, your college probably didn’t send you a detailed list of things you’ll need.

That’s where we can help! Your first day of school as an adult student should be a cause for celebration, not anxiety. These tips will help ensure you’re totally prepared for this exciting new chapter, no matter how old you are.

Talk to Your Friends and Family

Going back to school as an adult is kind of a big deal. When you’re in the throes of exam time or a challenging course load, you might be less available to help with household chores or meet up with your friends and family.

That’s why it’s important to talk to the people you care about ahead of time. Let them know that you’re schedule is about to change, so they’ll know what to expect, and how they can best support you.

For example, you might tell your family that you need to turn the spare bedroom into a quiet office so you can study. Or, you might have to tell your friends that you’ll likely be missing a few happy hours this fall, but you’ll make up for it over the holiday break.

Get the Right Supplies

An open Maalbok Academic 2021-22 Planner showing a two-page spread in September.
Maalbok

While it may be tempting to hit up the back-to-school sales for notebooks, highlighters, and pens, the supplies you’ll need for school are a little more high-tech.

Going to college today is less about notebooks and papers, and more about laptops and smartphones. Of course, you can still take notes by hand, if you prefer, but you’ll definitely need the right tech tools, as well.

Make sure you have a capable laptop for your coursework. If a laptop is outside your budget, a high-quality tablet with a keyboard attachment can work, too.

Depending on the program, you might also want to pick up some other techy supplies. For example, if you’ll have to print out papers often and don’t live near the school llbrary, it might be worthwhile to buy a basic printer.

You don’t have to break the bank buying every gadget on the market, but make sure you have the basics covered. And it doesn’t hurt to pick up some analog supplies, too. For example, writing things down helps you remember them better, so consider grabbing a day planner to help you keep track of your assignments.

We like this Academic Planner from Maalbok because each day has enough room for you to write down each day’s assignments and still have room for other activities.

Grab Some Snacks and a Water Bottle

A woman blowing on a dandelion flower in a field while carrying a yellow Hydro Flask.
Hydro Flask

Snacks aren’t just for kids. Healthy snacks can help you keep your energy up throughout a long day of labs and lectures. Plus, if you bring your own, you can avoid the overpriced fare at the on-campus store.

Pick up some quick, healthy, easy snacks and meals you can make at home, too. When you’re in the middle of a big assignment, you won’t have much time to cook, so make sure you have some other options besides ordering takeout.

And while you’re at it, buy yourself a nice water bottle. We all know the importance of hydration, and a high-quality, reusable bottle will save you money and reduce plastic waste. We like Hydro Flask bottles because they keep your cold drinks cold, and your hot drinks hot for hours.

Set Up Your School Email Account

After you’ve been accepted into a program, the school should send you instructions for setting up your school email address. Be sure to do this as soon as possible and check it often, so you don’t miss anything important.

Your professors might send you important information via email, such as what to bring on your first day of class, or suggested preclass reading. They’ll also probably send you the list of textbooks you need to buy. If you’re already using your school email regularly, you won’t miss anything important.

Learn the Websites and Apps You’ll Need

You won’t need your laptop or tablet just for writing papers and emailing your professors. Schools today often use websites and apps to supplement in-class assignments.

For example, you might need to submit assignments, participate in discussions, or read your classmates’ work on a specific online platform. And some courses might be entirely online.

Some professors might send you information on which sites or apps you’ll be using prior to the first day of school so you can get comfortable with them. If so, take advantage of this opportunity and browse the site.

If your professor doesn’t send you this info early, you can also ask someone in the same program who’s taken that particular course which sites they used.

Some platforms tend to have a bit of a learning curve, which can slow you down once class begins. If you can check them out a bit earlier, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Plan Your Commute

A young woman wearing a face mask on a college campus and looking at a map app on her phone.
Zigres/Shutterstock.com

Reduce your first-day stress by having a plan in place to get to class on time.

When you return to school as an adult, chances are you won’t be living in a dorm, from which you can just walk to class. Instead, you’ll have to explore your options for public transportation or driving.

Find out where the bus will drop you off or where student parking is located on campus. Keep in mind that campuses tend to be extremely busy on the first day, so traffic will likely be heavier and parking spots might be few and far between.

Also, find the locations of the buildings your classes are in on the campus map. If you can, visit the campus a few days early and locate your classrooms. College campuses and buildings can be labyrinthian, so don’t assume it will be easy to find the correct buildings and rooms on your first day.

Pack Your Bag

Two people using the Modoker Vintage Rucksack Backpack in Gray.
Modoker

Of course, you’re going to need something to carry your laptop and charger, day planner and/or notebooks, snacks, water bottle, textbooks, and other supplies to class. If you pack your tote bag or backpack ahead of time, you’ll feel far more relaxed on the first day of school.

Pick a durable school bag that suits your style and has room for everything you need. Your semester will be easier if you can use the same bag the whole time. We like the Modoker Vintage Rucksack Backpack because it has lots of pockets and dedicated compartments, which makes it easier to keep your supplies organized.

Also, make sure you pack a folder for loose papers. Even though most of your class communications will probably happen online, some professors still hand out an old-fashioned syllabus on the first day of class. Make sure to keep those loose papers organized so you don’t lose anything you need.

Pick the Right Outfit

What you wear on the first day of school matters, especially when it comes to how you feel. Choose something that makes you feel confident, happy, and comfortable.

You can go with a nice business-casual look or something more colorful and full of personality. While you don’t want to wear anything too revealing or offensive, colleges generally don’t have dress codes, so take the opportunity to express yourself.

Remember Why You’re Doing This

Once your coursework gets underway, it can quickly get tough. You’ll have to always remember why you’re there, so you can push through those hard times. As the first day of school approaches, make sure to check in with yourself and your reasons for going back to school.

You might be hoping to get a better-paying job, make a career transition, or simply invest in yourself. It doesn’t matter what your “why” is, as long as it motivates you. Just make sure to keep it close to your heart as you embark on this new journey.

In some ways, going back to school as an adult is easier than starting right after high school. You likely have a stronger sense of self than you did when you were younger, and you’re probably also a bit more responsible.

You likely also have a clearer sense of your professional goals after spending some years in the workforce. In short, adult college students are often more poised for success, so get ready to take charge of your future.


Heading back to school as an adult can be daunting, especially as there’s not as much support. Armed with these tips, though, you can ensure that you’re properly prepped and get your first semester off to a great start. By the way, did you know you can probably rent some of those textbooks instead of buying them?

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »

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