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Students Sound Off: The 20 BTS Items They Can’t Live Without

We surveyed high school and college students to find out their top back-to-school must haves in clothing and tech…

Every year, we track students’ back-to-school spending, surveying to find out how much they spend, what they buy, where they’re shopping, the marketing they notice, and more. (The full results of our 2015 BTS survey were made available to our Gold subscribers today.) Though students are of course shopping year-round, back-to-school is still seen as an opportunity to stock up on the clothing and tech items that they need…and some that they just want. We asked students to tell us their back-to-school “must have” items in clothing and tech* to find the 20 items they can’t live without when the bell rings.

By the beginning of October, 84% of students have already done all or most of their back-to-school shopping, and 91% of students say they bought some kind of clothing item for the upcoming school year. Here are their top responses when we asked them to tell us the clothing, shoes, or accessory item was their “must have” back-to-school item this year: 

Though leggings/yoga pants did make the top ten list, athleisure hasn’t yet dethroned denim as back-to-school’s must have clothing. Jeans, new shoes, and t-shirts were their top three responses, showing that the classics are still considered needed wardrobe items for students. Comfortable clothing was a theme we saw in the responses, with one student telling us, “When you buy clothes that you’re comfortable in, then you feel good and its a better experience.”

Some students named items by brand, with Nike, Jordans, and American Eagle getting the most mentions. 

Of course, clothing is big for BTS, but at this point tech items might be an even bigger spending category: 64% of students told us they purchased some sort of tech item for BTS, with 68% of those saying they bought a bigger-ticket item like a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Here are the top items they named as their back-to-school tech “must haves”:



The laptop was their top named must have tech item, with smartphones as a close second. Laptops, phones, and tablets dominated their list of tech items, taking the clear lead. The rest of the tech top ten recieved fewer responses, but one surprise item did make the list: some students did name the smartwatch as their BTS must have…could that mean it will be on more of their holiday wishlists this year as well?


*This was an open-end response question to allow us to capture the full range of back-to-school items they consider musts. As with any qualitative question, the responses include those that are top of mind, and those that were actually most needed.