Even though it’s been a solid decade since I went off to college, this time of year makes me nostalgic for back-to-school shopping, no matter how many grey hairs I’ve recently started producing. (Spoiler alert: a significant number of grey hairs.) As you might expect, I have some thoughts on how to pick exactly the right bag for all your college needs, as well as some suggestions of what’s out there right now that fits the bill.

Your (or your daughters’) experiences may vary, but my college career required a ton of walking on a very large, hilly campus, so the first thing to think about when picking a bag for a new or returning college student is its weight; coated canvas or lighter-weight leathers are ideal, and forgo bags with lots of extra pockets unless you really need them, because the extra material adds up quickly.

Second, the bag has to be big enough to hold the requisite college student stuff–I only chose bags that I thought would fit a notebook, a textbook and a slim laptop or tablet. If you’re going to be hauling around two giant organic chemistry books, your problems are bigger than any solutions I can provide. On, like, several levels.

I’ve also only selected bags that can serve a young woman (or man–carry what you want!) well in the event of an internship or job interview; those sometimes pop up last-minute in school, and making a solid impression on someone that early in your career can quite literally change your entire life.

Lastly, I’m not trying get all Marie Antoinette up in here. Although we are primarily an emporium of information on stupefyingly expensive handbags, I know that college is a time of tight budgets for most people, and even most fashion lovers. While most of the bags below cannot be accurately described as inexpensive, I’ve kept them all below $550, with many options far under that price.


Alice.D Leather Tote Bag
$495 via ShopBop

Alice D Leather Tote Bag

Clare V. Simple Tote
$450 via ShopBop

Clare V Simple Tote

Danielle Nicole Simone Geo Print Tote
$88 via Neiman Marcus

Danielle Nicole Simone Geo-Print Tote

Elizabeth and James James Calf Hair Tote
$545 via Neiman Marcus

Elizabeth and James James Calf Hair Tote

Jonathan Adler Duchess Medium East-West Tote
$178 via ShopBop

Jonathan Adler Duchess Medium East-West Tote

Madewell Transport Tote
$168 via ShopBop

Madewell Transport Tote

Marc by Marc Jacobs What’s the T Tote
$298 via Zappos

Marc by Marc Jacobs What's the T Tote

MICHAEL Michael Kors Channing Shoulder Tote
$448 via Neiman Marcus

MICHAEL Michael Kors Channing Shoulder Tote

ONE by Ampersand as Apostrophe Large East-West Tote
$413 via ShopBop

ONE by Ampersand as Apostrophe Large East-West Tote

Rebecca Minkoff Bowery Tote
$325 via Bloomingdale’s

Rebecca Minkoff Bowery Tote

Tory Burch York Buckle Tote
$295 via Bloomingdale’s

Tory Burch York Buckle Tote

ZAC Zac Posen Eartha Saffiano Shopper Tote
$395 via Nordstrom

ZAC Zac Posen Eartha Saffiano Shopper Tote
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Samantha
Samantha
8 years ago

i would worry the straps would break on all but the ONE tote bag. They are all lovely choices but thin straps on bags that are meant to carry books always worry me.

louch
louch
8 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

Agreed. Other problem is with such narrow straps, they dig in if the bag is full of heavy stuff like books.

Amanda Mull
8 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

If multiple books or something particularly heavy needs to be carried, it’s probably best to forgo designer options entirely and opt for a good ol’ nylon backpack on those days. These are for lighter use, or for majors that are less book-heavy. (For example, I didn’t carry any textbooks at all my last 3 semesters of college because I was in journalism and comparative lit.)

kindled
kindled
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda Mull

Cute (even designer) canvas totes + longchamps are probably a better option. Or messenger bags, which I feel are usually made of sturdier stuff.

C
C
8 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

I was thinking the same thing. But maybe they’re sewn on more securely than it looks, and hopefully the straps are reinforced on the backside. The Longchamp tote I’ve used for the last three years of undergrad has held up wonderfully, even through schlepping around heavy stuff like my macbook, water bottle, textbooks, and whatnot on the daily.

Sofia
Sofia
8 years ago

That Jonathan Adler tote looks so much like a goyard

Remi
Remi
8 years ago

I bought the MK Channing tote for this exact use a few weeks ago when it was on sale. I carried it to school for the first time yesterday. I love it but I think I’m going to have to order a base shaper I feel I’ll be able to keep everything a lot more organized with one.

ewwdyibvf
8 years ago

Headed Off to College? Here’s What to Carry for Under $550 – PurseBlog
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Marcy697
8 years ago

I just bought a great vegan tote from Free People for $68 bucks and I consider that a steal. A lot of these bags are too pretty to be filled up with books…looking at you Marc Jacobs!

lazeny
lazeny
8 years ago

These bags are too pretty I agree. When I was in college I only carry a pen/pencil, a few pieces of paper, a very slim notebook and my calculator (Engineering student, I don’t have books, I borrow everything from the library or take notes, that was in the early 2000’s when life was much simpler) . All tucked in a small green leather type bag made locally. If I need to carry a lot (for class projects and thesis) I use my trusted Jansport.

Mkay
Mkay
8 years ago

Should have put Annabel Ingall on here

Year Of The Rabbit