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Our Favorite Back-to-School Picks for 2024

Set your student up for success with these back-to-school must-haves, from the best laptop for students to a heavy-duty backpack and more.

Desiree DeNunzio Editor
Desiree DeNunzio is the gift guide editor for CNET's Commerce team. When she's not writing and editing, she's either hiking through the redwoods or curled up with a good book and a lazy dog.
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Justin Jaffe is the Managing Editor for CNET Money. He has more than 20 years of experience publishing books, articles and research on finance and technology for Wired, IDC and others. He is the coauthor of Uninvested (Random House, 2015), which reveals how financial services companies take advantage of customers -- and how to protect yourself. He graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in English Literature, spent 10 years in San Francisco and now lives in Portland, Maine.
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Desiree DeNunzio
Justin Jaffe
7 min read

The season for back-to-school shopping can be stressful. Whether your student is heading to a classroom or they're in a new dorm, having the right supplies can make all the difference in their academic success. With that in mind, we've put together a list of the top back-to-school products that will help students feel ready to tackle a new school year. 

From the best laptops and water bottles to everything in between, we've compiled a list of our top back-to-school picks for the gear, gadgets and services that will help students stay productive and engaged in the classroom, study lounge, library and anywhere else their education takes them this year. Have a look and keep checking back since we'll update this list periodically.

David Carnoy/CNET

Most students can't go one second without their phones, whether they're texting friends or looking up homework assignments. If you want to make sure their phone never runs out of juice, get them a power bank for easy charging on the go. The InstantGo 1000 is CNET's favorite power bank. It's fast-charging, easy to slip into a pocket or backpack, and it comes with an integrated Lightning cable.

The North Face

A good backpack not only should be able to hold all your student's supplies, but it also needs to withstand the wear and tear of daily use. That's what you'll find here with North Face's Recon Backpack It's durable, with ample space for a laptop, books, water bottle and more. Bonus: It has a padded laptop compartment to protect your device from bumps and falls.

Read CNET's list of best back-to-school backpacks and bags.


A tote bag is a great option for students who lug their notebooks or laptops to school every day but don't want to use a backpack. Accessory brand Baggu is highly coveted for its distinctive prints. The company's Duck Bag is made from recycled cotton canvas and is available in 11 colorful patterns. Bonus: It's machine-washable.

Battery Life Rated up to 6 hoursNoise Canceling Yes (ANC)Multipoint NoHeadphone Type Wireless earbudsWater-Resistant Yes (IPX4 -- splash-proof)

The Apple AirPods Pro remain a top choice among students. That's largely due to their winning design and fit, good sound, effective noise canceling and spatial audio for watching movies and TV shows. They're also excellent for making voice calls and have a top-notch transparency mode. Also worth noting: They are IPX4 splash-proof so they're suitable for sporting activities (for a more secure fit you may want to invest in third-party foam ear tips, which are grippier than the tips Apple includes). 

Yes, they're expensive at $249 from the Apple Store, but they tend to sell for $200 or less on Amazon. The updated version adds MagSafe compatibility, so these stick to magnetic wireless chargers.

Read our AirPods Pro 2 review.

Hydro Flask

Staying hydrated is a key component of keeping your mind sharp and getting you through the school day. Hydro Flask bottles exploded in popularity a few years ago, and it's still a top choice among students. Thanks to its double wall vacuum insulation, it keeps liquids cool for up to 24 hours and hot drinks warm up to 12 hours. Plus, it's tough enough to survive the rigors of campus life and being shoved into a backpack. While the bigger, wide-mouth version was popular a few years ago, now more students go for the standard-mouth version since it's easier to fit into backpacks and cup holders.

See more of the best water bottles of 2024.

The best way for a student to stay productive is to get a good night's rest. Heavier than a regular blanket, this weighted blanket provides a calming effect that will help students get some good shut eye. Bonus points: The fuzzy texture makes it extra-snuggly. This blanket normally retails for $66, but you can get it for $62 when you apply a 5% coupon at checkout.


No matter which grade they're in, students go through a lot of pencils -- so it's important to have at least a 12-pack of them on hand before school starts. While Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils are a classic, if you want to make your student feel special, get them an upgrade with these Palomino Blackwings. Yes, they're much pricier than Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, but the quality of these pencils can't be beat. Once you try them, you'll never want to go back.


Even if you buy pre-sharpened pencils, you'll need a pencil sharpener on hand for when they start going dull. PowerMe's electric pencil sharpener does the job and comes in a variety of colors. We like that it's battery-operated and compact so it doesn't take up much desk space.

Stephen Shankland/CNET
Battery Life/Runtime 1,026 minutesWeight 2.8 poundsDisplay size/type 13-inch, 2560 x 1600 IPS LCDProcessor tested Apple M1 8‑coreGraphics tested Apple M1 7-core

Apple's 2022 M2-powered MacBook Air is our favorite MacBook and comes with a ton of upgrades -- but Apple also bumped up the price from its predecessor. So if you're a student, it's hard to go wrong with the older 2020 M1 Apple MacBook Air, which still remains available. Right now, it costs just $750 on Amazon. It's $899 at Apple, but if you're a student or teacher, you can shave off an additional $100, thanks to Apple's educational discount. The base model features Apple's M1 processor with an eight‑core CPU, seven‑core GPU and 16‑core Neural Engine. It also has Touch ID, Apple's Magic Keyboard, a Force Touch trackpad and a 13.3-inch Retina display. 

Read our MacBook Air M1 review.

If you don't want to plunk down a ton of cash for a new Apple laptop, a Chromebook is the way to go. They're almost always less expensive and simpler to use than a laptop running Windows or MacOS. This Acer Chromebook Spin 714 is durable, portable and does everything it needs to do to get your schoolwork done, which is partly why it landed our Editors' Choice award. The two-in-one design means you can use it as a tablet, or you can connect an external keyboard and mouse and use it as a small all-in-one computer. 

CNET's Joshua Goldman notes that the Spin 714 is currently "one of the best productivity Chromebooks available," offering "great performance and battery life, a good display, a dockable stylus and strong connectivity."

Read our Acer Chromebook Spin 714 review.


As anyone who's survived final exams knows, coffee is an essential ingredient for academic success. This jack-of-all-trades Ninja makes regular coffee as well as cold brew and even tea, with separate settings and baskets for beans and leaves (loose or bagged). It has a foldaway frothing arm for latte-style drinks -- so not only will it save money on Starbucks runs, it'll make the dorm the most popular spot to study. It includes size settings too, so you can brew a full carafe or a single cup.

Read our Ninja Hot and Cold Brewed System review.

James Martin/CNET

If the dorm allows it, an Instant Pot is a no brainer for college students. It can do almost anything: make morning yogurt, boil perfect eggs, cook big batches of protein to stretch into meals all week long and even pull off easy desserts. The smaller 3-quart mini Instant Pot might be better for dorm-bound students, but the larger 6-quart model pictured above is occasionally on sale for $90 or less, making it a tough deal to turn down.

See more of the best Instant Pots of 2023.


Not everything requires a Chromebook or MacBook. Sometimes you just want to jot something down with a good old-fashioned pencil and paper. The timeless Decomposition Notebook is a classic and comes in a variety of patterns, starting at $6 on Amazon. It's lightweight and perfect for tossing into a backpack for your next brainstorming session.


Getting up for school in the morning is hard, especially once the days start getting darker. Make those morning a little more peaceful with a sunrise alarm clock. According to a study in the journal Behavioral Brain Research, exposure to simulating light in the mornings can improve cognitive performance throughout the day. This Jall Wake Up Light is our favorite budget pick for the best sunrise alarm. For less than $40, you get seven colors and 20 brightness levels, along with seven natural sounds to accompany the light.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For students, the TV is central to many forms of modern entertainment. This particular model comes with a Roku built in, making streaming apps effortlessly accessible. It has a decent picture quality and is ridiculously affordable -- perfect for a student on a budget.


For the lucky student who already has a TV, the Roku Express 4K Plus will transform it into a full-featured streaming device. This model is our favorite streaming device, with the most streaming apps, the simplest interface and the best search. (If your smart TV is missing any key apps, this will plug all those pesky content holes.)

Stitch Fix

Many students will need a wardrobe upgrade this fall. Stitch Fix makes it easy with a monthly delivery of curated clothes, shoes and accessories delivered right to your student's door. They can try them on, keep what they like and send back the rest in a prepaid United States Postal Service envelope. Stitch Fix gift cards, which can be printed, emailed or snail mailed, are available in denominations from $20 to $1,000.

See more of the best clothing subscription boxes for 2024.

Hello Fresh

Cut down on visits to the dining hall with a meal kit delivery service. HelloFresh provides perfectly portioned ingredients and detailed recipe instructions, helping even novice cooks pull off impressive meals. There are plenty of other meal kit delivery companies to choose from, and many offer plans for special diets including vegan and gluten-free selections. And right now, students can get 55% off on their first order.

Read more: Best meal kit subscription services

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