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Upgrade your back-to-school experience with our must-have picks

Our amazing interns have put together this list of the things that made their college experience better.

If you're headed back to school this year after taking classes from home last year, you'll probably need to do some prep work. Maybe you've been thinking about buying a new computer. Or perhaps you should sign up for a student credit card. And, if you're going to be living on campus, you're going to want a few extra things to make your dorm room truly livable. And who better to help recommend some things for you to add to your dorm than people who've just lived that life? I asked CNET's interns to list their best picks for surviving your next semester. You might consider adding these to your shopping cart before the first day of class. 

Read more: Best deals, discounts and freebies for college students in 2021

Jerry & Maggie

Not only does this small, easy-to-put-together shelf make your desk look HGTV-worthy, it helps you organize your knick-knacks and supplies to keep the clutter away. It comes in several different colors to fit the theme of your dorm or room, and it's easy to pack for move-in at the beginning and move-out at the end of the year. 


Even though in-person classes sound promising nowadays, don't forget about your eyes. Some professors swear by online textbooks, PDF scans of hard-to-find literature and online homework. And reading, typing and researching online isn't going away any time soon. Your eyes will be in front of the screen the entire time, so let's limit the headaches before they begin with a great pair of blue light blockers

Brian Bennett/CNET

OK, bear with me. You won't believe the amount you'll want to spend at the campus Starbucks every week. What people don't realize is that you can make the best cold brew coffee overnight with tap water, your favorite grounds (get them from Starbucks if you can't live without that signature blend) and a French press -- it's truly that easy. They come in sizes small enough to fit the mini fridge below your dorm room bed or large enough for three servings that fit on a full-size shelf. Take your coffee black or splash some creamer in there, but save your dollars for other campus fancies. 


Regardless of your bathroom setup, you don't want to lug an armful of toiletries from your dorm room each time you hit the showers. Smart students consolidate their bottles and brushes into a portable caddy that can sit on a ledge or hang on a hook. This option is mesh, so it dries quickly and drains naturally -- and you won't have to worry about nasty water collecting in its crevices.


There are just some things that college makes you appreciate -- and room outlets are definitely one of them. Mini fridge, microwave, phone charger, laptop, desk lamp… you name it, it needs to plug in. But how? In a dorm room with minimal outlets there's just no feasible way to plug in everything at once. Well, have no fear, the power strip is here. This power strip turns your two-outlet socket into an eight-outlet, four-USB charging extravaganza. Imagine having one of these babies in all of your door room outlets! With various colors and designs, every student needs this block of sanity in their dorm room. 


College time management can be a real challenge. Staying in-tune with classwork, a social life, group projects, extra-curricular activities and internships can feel like a daunting quest. The only way to stay afloat in college is through an uneven balance of caffeine and sleep. Some days, one will outweigh the other. On the days when sleep is the outweigher? Make sure it's the best possible sleep. If you're lucky, you have a full size mattress at college. And if not, it can feel like you waited all your life to be demoted back to a twin bed. Either way, you need a mattress topper to make your sleep most comfortable. Since college "mattresses" seem to be the thinnest piece of cushion ever, make sure you grab a mattress topper to adjust for backaches we are too young to endure. I promise, your back will thank you later.


Growing up in a quiet suburb, I never had to stuff in earplugs or shove my head into a pillow for a good night's rest. But that all changed when I moved into an off-campus apartment in college. Suddenly, I could hear every acceleration, horn honk and brake squeal outside my window. I eventually caved and ordered this white noise machine by Adaptive Sound Technologies, and let me just say, this little gadget got the job done. There are 20 different sounds and the option to turn the volume up and down. Even if there's not much activity going on outside your window, the machine can provide some much needed background noise -- and we all know solid hours of sleep are a valuable thing in college. If you're a light snoozer, let the Lectrofan lull you to sleep.