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A Mead Five Star notebook — a true school supply staple for note-takers everywhere. These babies are sturdy, reliable, and haven't changed a bit since the time we were students. It only feels right that a classic won the bracket.
"The one notebook that ruled them all, college-ruled to be exact! Yes, the Five Star costs more than regular notebooks but if it was a three-subject or five-subject you were also getting some built-in folders too. But the real reason to make the investment was that the plastic front cover would never tear off no matter how savagely it was shoved into your Jansport multiple times a day for an entire school year. Pretty sure I still have one or two lying around that are 20+ years old and still look like they did in high school. Fortunately, the same can't be said for me!" —John Mihaly
Get it from Target for $3.39.
The RUNNER UP:
Pilot G2 Pens — it was a close vote (like 50 votes close) and we know why; these pens have a cult-following. They write smooth, the ink is gorgine, and they're inexpensive. What more can you ask for in a writing utensil?!
"Pilot G2 Bolds are the kinds of pens that make you excited to write something down. That make you want to take gorgeous notes and fill your planner with deets. The ink is LUSCIOUS. I feel like things will start getting NSFW if I talk too much about that jet black ink flowing onto paper and how it makes me feel....
Anyway, my mom and I both do a lot of list-making and planning the old-fashioned, ink-and-paper way, and we are both huge fans of these pens. I personally prefer the bold style to the fine version, but they're all great pens. I feel like my (not great) handwriting just looks better when I use these, and they're just so satisfying to write with. Ugh, I love them more than is reasonable to love a pen." —Katy Herman
Get a pack of two from Amazon for $2.98 (available in larger packs).
The HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Midliner highlighters — these aren't just regular highlighters, they're ~cool~ highlighters people love because on one side you get a highlighter and on the other you get a marker. Double-sided FTW, baby.
"I LOVE MILDLINER HIGHLIGHTERS. These highlighters are double-ended so you can use them as a highlighter or a marker! I'm a memory planner so I like to use the highlighter part for when I've finished a task (I'll highlight it out), and then use the marker part to take note of anything exciting that happened in my planner. Plus, the colors are super cute!" —Brittney Trinh
Get a set of 15 from Amazon for $15.36.
A Staedtler Mars vinyl eraser you might be familiar with if you were 1) an art student or 2) someone who just had a LOT of pencil marks to erase. These reliable little guys put on a stellar performance when it comes to erasing, but they also last a LONGGG time. 🙏
"The Staedtler Mars eraser is my ride-or-die, and helped me survive two years of AP Calculus (it was a very rough two years that required a lot of erasing). Not only does it erase incredibly well, it lasts a really long time. Despite erasing a lot of pencil work, it lasted me about a year and a half, if not longer. If I had to use one eraser for the rest of my life, I would choose the Staedtler Mars eraser hands down." —Maci Garcia
Get a pack of four from Amazon for $3.
A 64-pack of Crayola crayons OF COURSE for the students who valued the elite status whipping out a shade like "orchid" or "burnt orange" gave them. Uh oh, point dulled from lending out to friends? Not to fret! There's a SHARPENER in the back. (Can you tell we feel passionate about this?)
"Few feelings compete with the pure ecstasy of opening a new, unmarked box of crayons for the coming school year. So many colors, so many untainted possibilities. Now imagine you could retain that freshness instead of suffering through flat nubs after a couple of uses like the rest of your classmates. This is the enduring promise of the 64-pack of Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener.
And this isn’t even to mention the color economics of the classroom. With such an expansive pack one could maintain a monopoly over certain non-standard colors, doling them out to fellow students as they wish (or not). At one time, this 64-pack of crayons wasn’t just a source of more colorful art but one of the highest status symbols an elementary school student could hope to own!" —Danielle Healy
Get it from Target for $3.19.
Sharpie S-Gel pens because who doesn't stan Sharpie here?! These awesome pens boast bold color, a contoured grip to make writing more comfy, and unlike other Sharpie products, these don't bleed. Phew!
"May I present to some and introduce to others, the Sharpie S-Gel (0.7 mm). Sharpies have come a long way from just being our go-to for class projects that require making a presentation on a poster board. The Sharpie S-Gel is a smooth write that literally glides across the paper. Every year I buy a planner, well multiple planners because productivity is a journey. I digress. I've tried a variety of different pens in various colors and after a few pages, I go right back to my S-Gel. Nothing quite compares. It's a pen that actually makes you want to write. The ink is bold and black and doesn't smear all over the page after you write. And, if you're really into ballpoint pens, go for the S-Gel 1.0mm. Once you go S-Gel, you'll never look BIC. See what I did there?" —Kit Stone
Get a pack of four from Amazon for $4.99 (available in larger packs).
A four-piece Noted by Post-it set complete with a round note pad, a list note pad, a square note pad, and five felt-tip pens the "everything needs to be pretty and coordinated" students will always hold close to their hearts. 🙋♀️🙋♂️
"Is there anything more satisfying than peeling a Post-it from the pack and sticking it in your notebook? I think not! Whether you use them to doodle, make to-do lists, notate facts to study later on, or use them to pass notes to your friends, Post-its are an iconic Back to School item. The Noted by Post-it collection specifically is a 10/10 with stylish options that’ll have you using those boring yellow Post-its for tiny paper airplanes while you use the others to jazz up your note-taking. Aesthetically pleasing school supplies? Always a winner." —Heather Braga
Get it from Amazon for $15.
A Casio scientific calculator math haters and lovers alike could probably agree was the best part of all those years of geometry, calculus, algebra, and any other type of class involving confusing combinations of letters, numbers, degrees, and shapes.
Paper Mate Clearpoint mechanical pencils for those who know clicking a button to get more lead will always reign supreme over cranking a device over a garbage can while wooden pencil shavings inevitably end up on your new light up sneakers.
"At my school, this was the Rolls Royce of mechanical pencils. Whether you were a football player, one of the 'popular kids,' student council president, or an average student skating by, you used this pencil. It was quite literally the only thing anyone at my high school could universally rally behind, and I think that's beautiful.
You may wonder, 'What's so special about it, it's just a pencil?' For starters, it features a long retractable eraser that quickly removes pencil markings without ripping your sheet of paper apart (with absolutely NO residue left behind, FYI.) The mechanism that pushes more lead to the tip of the pencil rests conveniently on the side of the pencil base where your pointer finger sits. So, not a moment was wasted clicking new life into your lead-less pencil as your poor, cramped fingers rushed to crank out 1,000 words on The Economic Impact of The Civil War before fifth period ended. This pencil will fit in your hand so comfortably, like slipping on your favorite pair of old jeans. It simply makes your handwriting better. To this day, it is the only pencil I will use. If we ever live in a world where handwriting is deemed completely obsolete, I will still break out this bad boy solely to unwind and experience the immediate bliss of dragging a Papermate Clear Point across a clean sheet of loose leaf paper. In fact, I just opened a tab on Amazon to order another pack while writing this." —Abbey Meyer
Get a pack of four from Amazon for $5.67 (available in larger packs and in a variety of colors).
A Trapper Keeper binder — the ultimate nostalgia-inducing school supply that held everything together so beautifully — a lifesaver if you were the kind of student who dropped everything or always had a messy backpack or desk less than a week into the new school year.
"Step into the way-back machine for a trip to the 1980s and discover the most must-have school supply that dared to combine a loose-leaf binder with folders and pockets but also required a Velcro closure to contain all the radness held within. However, when it comes to the Trapper Keepers, it's not what's inside that counts; it was all about what was on the outside cover. Rainbows. Kittens. Geometric patterns. Lamborghinis. Neon. Tropical sunsets. Basically, Trapper Keepers were a visual distillation of the decade of decadence placed in the palms of school children's hands...and they were amazing. And yes, I had the Lambo one." —John Mihaly
Get it from Amazon for $10.87+ (available in three styles).
A Moleskine classic notebook you owned if you were a kid with exquisite taste, plain and simple. You know those prompts like, "If you used to do this, then you're now this?" If you used these when you were in school, you're probably someone who meal preps every Sunday, has a strict cleaning regimen, and can actually explain stocks to people in a way that makes sense.
"While others daydream about stocking up on colorful pens and highlighters, for me, back to school shopping is all about the product I'll be doing my writing on — namely, my beloved Moleskine Classic Notebook. Where do I begin? For starters, its sturdy hard cover feels like an immediate upgrade from those floppy, spiral-bound notebooks — which, if you're prone to haphazardly throwing everything into your backpack (like me), instantly get smooshed and wrinkled. Not fun when you're trying to decipher your chicken scratch while cramming for a test a week later! I'm not a particularly neat person, but when I'm jotting down notes in my Moleskine, I find myself putting much more care into my writing. Maybe it's because it feels a little ~fancy~ with its handy closure band and quality paper — which even my inkiest pens don't bleed through! Or maybe it's because its compact size makes it feel more like a special little journal, rather than a lecture notes-filled behemoth. It might sound silly, but since switching over to Moleskine, I've found that writing by hand is so much more enjoyable. The thicker pages are satisfying to press my pen to, and when I'm finished writing, I just slip the band over the cover to keep everything nice and neat — even if the rest of my bag is total chaos. A+, 10/10, no notes (except the ones I keep inside of it!)." —Brittany Ross
Get it from Amazon for $16.20+ (available in a variety of colors and paper styles).
A 6-in-1 retractable pen because having various pen colors in one pen >>> having numerous pens in different colors. Period. Case closed. Onto the next one.
"I was always the kid who would write her notes in different colors, so my Britney Spears pencil case was consistently filled to the brim with an unnecessarily vast (and noisy) collection of colorful pens — until I found a 6-in-1 retractable pen at the school store. I remember feeling like the coolest kid in class with something so unique and 'high tech.' I used it for *everything* and color coordinated my notes (and doodles) according to classes without ever needing to pull out another pen. So much nostalgia and convenience packed into one little gadget!" —Brittany Gibson
Get a pack of six from Amazon for $5.99 (available in other pack sizes).
A three-ring hole punch — was there anything more irritating than receiving a handout from your teacher just to find *gasp* you couldn't put it in your binder? Or were you a smart cookie who already owned one of these so you simply never knew that struggle?! 💅
"In high school (and college for that matter), I was a no-nonsense, turn-in-the-assignment-early, give-me-those-straight-As, has-the-syllabus-handy, yes-Mrs. Jenkins-I-did-bring-the-textbook-to-class-and-I-did-underline-the-important-sections kind of student (I'm sure much to my classmates chagrin). And that meant I loved (and desperately needed) to be organized. You don't get to be Hermione Granger after all with a backpack full of crumpled notes. And so I very quickly became a lover of the three-ring binder in which I would file notes, hand-outs, papers (with As on them), tests (with As on them), etc. There is only one problem: sometimes teachers provide materials that have not been three-hole punched and therefore do not fit in the binder. ENTER the in-binder three-hole punch, for all your on the go three-hole punching needs. Mr. Abernathy decides to hand out a map of Civil War battlefields? Just punch that sucker, and it's ready to be filed neatly away. Organizers may speak endlessly about color coded tabs and dividers, but it is the three-hole-punch that really got me all those As, and I stand by that." —Matt Huff
Get it from Amazon for $7.99 (available in two colors).
A set of pom-pom pens for those who knew the best way to make school more exciting was with a writing utensil resembling a party favor. And you know what? If that was you, you are SO valid for that.
""Fluffy pom-pom pens are the best pen, because first of all, they're super nostalgic. I still use them because they're cute and still cheap, so I'm never spending more than $1 on a pen. Plus, how many other pens do you know that are instantly recognizable from movies like Clueless and Legally Blonde — it's basically a movie star. Anytime I whip one out in a meeting, it catches everyone's attention, and rightfully so." —Sara Thompson
Get a pack of six from Target for $5.
Stretchy book covers that serve two VERY important purposes: 1) they keep textbooks nice and protected. You were the kind of student who was determined to give the textbook back in the same condition you received it in at the start of the year and you're so very considerate for that. 2) Most importantly though, they showed off your personality.
"Looking for book covers was always my favorite part of the back-to-school shopping trip because they'd either make or break your entire school year. Of course, they're stretchy and sleek and keep your books protected, but they can tell your peers literally everything about who you are this year just by one simple pattern. Are you a teal and brown chevron girly? Or are you sticking to a Star Wars theme? There was absolutely nothing more rewarding than realizing your science textbook had THE coveted cover of the year. Fabric book covers meant status, they meant style, and above all, they meant taste!" —Lauren Garafano
Get a set of seven from Amazon for $24.99 (available in two other styles).
And last, but certainly not least, mini binder clips — a simple way to keep everything together without needing a mini stapler or flimsy paper clips or rubber bands. You really can't go wrong with these.
"Riddle me this: Your math teacher just assigned another calc problem set, you have approximately 72,000 history and English notes floating around your bag, your theater teacher flung an entire ream of printer paper's worth of scripts at you, and you have at least two permission slips floating around your bag somewhere; how do you organize it all? Certainly not with staples or folders, and a binder is just too chaotic. Give up? Mini binder clips! They're the perfect solution to all your loose paper needs. 'But Alice,' you protest, 'what about regular sized binder clips?' Oh, I'm sorry, Your Majesty — I didn't realize we were wealthy aristocrats floating by on a river of greed and blood money! No, Bezos, mini binder clips will do just fine. In fact, they'll do better than fine; they'll change your entire life for the better. With a pack of mini binder clips in your bag, back to school season suddenly looks pretty darn exciting!" —Alice Lahoda
Get a set of 100 from Amazon for $7.66+ (available in two colors).