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6 back-to-school picks from an actual college student

We asked a grad student to choose a few products to make dorm life easier.

For most students in the US, school started sometime in the past few weeks. But it's in the first few days and weeks that those missing must-haves come into focus. To that end, we asked Dhara Singh, a graduate student who interned with CNET over the summer, to choose some key gadgets she'd like to have on hand as she returns to her studies this fall.

Her picks follow -- they're a mix of products she tried out at CNET's New York office, along with a couple that have been previously recommended by CNET editors. 

Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.  

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are dozens of portable power banks and battery packs for charging your phone on the go, but the $27 MyCharge Adventure Mini hit the sweet spot for me because it's tough and lightweight. The included carabiner on this 3350 mAh charger makes it easy to add to your keychain, and the fact that it's splashproof and durable enough to withstand the occasional falls makes it makes a great companion for camping trips, too. 

Anker

Why settle for one port when you can have 4? The Pro tip: Keep it on top of your desk instead of down on the floor for easy access.  houses 2 USB ports as well as 2 full-sized outlets. The 2 USB ports deliver 24 watts of power, which means they'll charge phones and portable devices a lot faster than many portable chargers. For $24, it is a steal for the multitasking student who needs to charge their phones, laptops and other gadgets at the same time.  

RAVPower

Since I'm always on the go, even saving a few minutes charging can go a long way. That's why upgrading to a USB-C charger was a must. I got similarly strong results from the Anker PowerPort Atom III Slim and RAVPower PD Charger, each boosting a recent model iPhone from totally dead to about 45% capacity in just 30 minutes. They both travel well -- they-re superthin with fold-up prongs -- but the RAVPower offers more power (45 watts versus 30) and is a bit cheaper. It should work fine for tablets and iPads, too -- just be sure you have a compatible cable

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bring the party wherever you go with the lightweight JBL Clip 3 Bluetooth speaker. While wireless speakers are commodities these days, this one's great sound (for its size) puts it at the head of the pack. Its small, flat, circular design and integrated carabiner make it a perfect travel companion, whether it's at your desk or in your travel bag. And it's fully waterproof, so it's fine in the bathroom or by the pool. The built-in rechargeable battery will get you about 10 hours of listening time at moderate volume between charges. And it's available in a range of fun colors, too. It retails for $60, but can sometimes be found on sale for closer to $45. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

College students generally aren't known as early risers, but this Philips sunrise alarm clock could change that. It gradually increases the light in the room in the morning, simulating the sun peeking over the horizon. For those short, gray winter semester days after late-night study sessions, it may be more sunlight than some college students will see from the actual sky. 

Walmart

If dining hall food disgusts you and you're not a natural-born chef, an Instant Pot may be just the ticket. With the megapopular pressure cooker, you can cook rice, saute vegetables, make yogurt or even just boil your ramen all in one device. The company makes countless models, and they often seem to be on sale for $50 to $60, but if you're not cooking for a houseful of people, the 3-quart mini version may be the way to go.