Being a student takes a surprising amount of finesse. Picture: Estée Janssens / Unsplash

Tools and tips for the academic year that I wish I knew as a freshman

Studying is hard work, but the right equipment will make it a lot easier. In this article, Anca M. Catana shares her experiences and gives tips for successful student life.

There are things that will make studying a lot easier. Some of them might be obvious, but others not so much. Here is a list of things to consider, heading into the new academic year as a student. 

A planner

Coming straight from being a high school student, or from a job with a regular schedule, or from a parental leave with a very irregular schedule, the need for a planner might not be so obvious to you at this point. But once the courses get rescheduled, the assignments pile up and your free time gets crowded, you will definitely feel the immediate necessity of such an item. Luckily, there are several options regarding planners and I have tried them all. 

Online calendars. They are ok, but not great. I’ve been using online calendars as a back-up/complementary calendar to my paper planners, but never exclusively. The biggest advantage is that it’s always there, so you can easily book a date. The downside is I feel it easily gets more crowded than it actually is, and you might just “lose the track of time” if you ran out of battery.

Standard planners from supermarkets or book stores are for you if you just want to keep up with your lectures, assignments and student events, but are not the most hyper-busy type of student. Inexpensive (compared to other paper counterparts), ready to fill-in, with tons of design options to choose from, you just couldn’t ask more from a basic planner.

A personalized planner made-to-order. This is the option I chose for the upcoming year. If you can’t find your soulmate amongst the tons of ready-made planners, you can definitely create one fit for your taste and needs. The biggest downside: it is much more expensive than the standard one. Of course the production and shipment also take extra time. But if this doesn’t stop you from ordering one, you can finally become the organizing freak you were always meant to be!

Bullet journals. Some fall utterly in love with them. I love the time and money I save by not using one as my planner. If you have the time and inspiration to fill in a layout every single month/week/day and the money to spend on all the fancy accessories, go for it! After having a horrible time with a bujo last spring, I decided to opt out from using it as a planner this year, but I still bought a basic one (and the most basic accessories) for, well.. journaling. So I can keep all my 100 year-plans and 1,000,000 euro-worth ideas neatly in one place.

Writing tools

It’s a no-brainer. You’ve been buying writing tools since pre-school. But if you are one of those who fancy using a fountain pen, you might reconsider your choice, since the ink is very difficult to come across in the Finnish bookstores. 

Pencil and eraser. They never fail. I’ve seen people going through their uni years with only just that. So if minimalism is your way, just get your pencil and eraser (borrow the sharpener from your classmates when needed).

Erasable pens. If there’s something that I totally loved from my bujo adventure, that’s the erasable pens. When I first discovered them, I had a Eureka moment. How did I manage to survive some 15 years of education without ever using one is a mystery for me. But now, I can’t go anywhere without them. You need them in your life, too!

A laptop

This is another one worthy of “duh”. The point I wanted to make is that, when choosing your laptop, especially as a freshman, it is not a good time to get stingy. Do yourself a favor and go for a proper one. You will need it like air, because you need a tool that can keep up with you as well as your Zoom lectures.

A bag that fits your new laptop, if you are a minimalist. If not, you probably need a bag that is sporty, a bag that is more fancy, a bag that can resist a winter storm… and the list can go on and on. But really, you need some reliable ways of carrying your laptop around (or just go for a desktop instead), so the rain, snow and cold of Finnish weather won’t ruin your precious.


Get all the discount apps/cards/coupons you can get your hands on (Tuudo app, Pivo app, student sticker). Now life in Oulu ain’t cheap, but over time, with a bit of diligence, you can save a fair amount of money by paying a close eye at all the offers available. There are student discounts for meals in university’s restaurants, bus card discounts, drinks, pizzas, movies, hairdresser, you name it, so you can spend the money on things that really matter (that laptop, I’m telling you).

A thermos

A reusable cup and/or a thermos and a water bottle. The winters are dark and cold, and coffee is your best ally ( we welcome tea-drinkers in our club as well). Do yourself (and the world around you) a favor and buy a reusable cup for when you need to run with your coffee from one place to another. A thermos will save you some nice money in the long run if you choose to bring your coffee from home. (It might not work that well if you like your coffee milk. As I learned, it starts tasting funny after using it for a few weeks). 

If you are going to follow your studies exclusively from home, nothing compares to a sip of hot coffee (yes, or tea) enjoyed outside by the fire on a freezing day!

A plan

While a planner will help you deal with day-by-day stuff, it is important that while in the midst of stress and rush, or the enthusiasm of a new academic year, you don’t let the big picture get completely out of sight. 

The beginning of a new academic year is a good moment to draw the big lines regarding the following semester and year. Think about your academic objectives and work life related objectives. 

If I learned something after four years of studies, is that you simply don’t have time to do everything you would like to do. You can’t take all the courses with catchy names, visit every event and fare, be involved in all the societies and organizations, while keeping healthy relationships and having a balanced lifestyle which includes lots of rest.

As an example, during my first semester as a freshman, I focused on the compulsory studies, and on the second one, I focused on studying Finnish. During my second year I decided to focus on my personal life and family, while during my third year I focused on catching up with all the school work. Last year it was all about gathering different experiences and networking.

Bonus tips

While this is not directly related to the studies, what I personally think works wonders for your well-being and time management is a fitness tracker. 

For example, if you decide to study using the Pomodoro technique (look it up if you don’t know it), you can set the countdown right from your wrist, so you won’t have to pick up the phone every time (and get tempted to check the notifications). 

A fitness tracker will let you know how little you moved around if you studied remotely, so it will motivate you to go for an evening walk or jog. It will also track your sleep, so when you will feel exhausted, you will know if you just need extra sleep, or it’s another culprit (lack of D vitamin for example). 

Finally, you should be able to set different alarms/notifications on your wrist, For meal times, or breaks or what not. The only one I don’t recommend is the morning alarm, it doesn’t work for me. And I am the one who never snoozes a morning alarm. 

An app and notifications blocker. The smartphone is a great tool for every student and an absolute must. But if you tend to get too distracted by it, particularly during lectures or study times, an app and notifications blocker might save you from lots of headaches and stress, and will make the study time significantly shorter and more efficient.

A multi subject notebook. You can go through your university years without touching a single notebook if you like. But if you are like me and remember stuff better when you write it, or get distracted by the laptop (aye for both!), a multi subject notebook might be great for you. Even if you do take notes during classes, there won’t be that much to write that you can fill-in a whole notebook for each course, and we don’t want to waste no paper, do we? Plus, it will be easier to prepare your bag if you just need to use one notebook everyday, instead of digging amongst ten different ones.

And finally, as your student career progresses I wish you good luck!

Anca M. Catana

Education student, theater enthusiast, nature lover. Curious, spontaneous and ambitious, open for new challenges.

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