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10 Items To Get You Started In Fish Keeping In College

Forget the 24-hour long lo-fi study music or the weekly office hours, the ultimate cheat code to studying for your Stats II final is a fishy friend. There's nothing better than having your aquatic study buddy keep you company as you pull your 4th all-nighter of the week. If you plan on bringing a fish tank on campus, here is your starter guide to set you up for the essentials needed to do so. The lucky thing is that if you are a college student, you're entitled to 6 months of free Amazon prime.


1. A 5, 10 or 20 Gallon Fish tank

The first thing to always think about is the fish tank. I personally recommend the MarineLand 5 Gallon Portrait tank for a few reasons:

  • 5 gallons is the perfect sized tank for a number of different fish, including betta fish

  • The footprint is smaller relative to other 5 gallon tanks given its vertical nature, making it perfect for desks with limited space

  • It comes out of the box with a number of things you need to get started (check this article for a full review on the tank)

Other alternatives include the Fluval Spec, The Fluval Chi the Fluval Edge or the Fluval Flex

2. silk plants

College students are busy, have hectic schedules and need the lowest possible maintenance on a tank possible. Given these reason, I believe silk plants are the better alternative over real plants. They decrease the risk of algae, make light timing and/or light strength no longer a factor, and provide the enrichment necessary for many fish.

3. siphon + 5 gallon buckets

Water changes are a necessary evil in all fish keeping. Get a siphon and multiple 5 gallon buckets (one for your dirty water, one for your clean water) to make your life easier. You can find 5 gallon buckets for dirt cheap at Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe's or any other hardware stores.

4. heater + thermometer

This is more relative to what fish you decide to stock your tank with. But, when you look at it from a college campus lens, a lot of these dorms may have thermostats in each room. Given that, temperatures may fluctuate based on you or your roommate. It'll be in your best interest to get a heater that ensures the tank doesn't drop below a certain temperature.

5. substrate

Honestly, you can keep a bare bottom tank for maximum ease of maintenance because the fish waste and detritus won't be hidden in the gravel or sand. BUT, substrate serves a number of purposes:

  1. Provides surface area for beneficial bacteria to colonize on

  2. Serves as an anchor for plants (real or fake)

  3. Brings aesthetic/visual value to your aquascape

Specifically for college students, I would recommend gravel substrate over sand substrate, because it is much easier to gravel vacuum bigger gravel granules compared to smaller sand granules. Sand granules are more likely to be sucked up the siphon with the detritus. Nonetheless, it is all personal preference!

6. water conditioner

This is obvious but, I would like to emphasize that NOT all water conditioners are created equally. I recommend Seachem Prime because not only does it de-chlorinate the water, it also:

  1. Removes harmful chloramines

  2. Detoxifies ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and heavy metals

7. fish net

There's actually more to a fish net than meets the eye. Make sure you get one that is adequately sized for your tank and for your fish. If you're keeping an expensive betta fish, make sure the net is soft enough not to tear or damage the precious fins. These are the two fish nets I prefer to use:

8. high quality food

This is also dependent on what you decide to stock your tank with, but a general rule for carnivorous or omnivorous fish is to always make sure a majority the food composition is high quality protein. Another best practice is to provide your fish with a variety of different foods such as flakes, pellets and frozen blood worms. Flakes get a bad wrap in the fish keeping industry but bad experiences are usually due to inappropriate usage. People say flakes can cause bloat, but bloat is more likely due to poor quality flake and/or over feeding. I like flakes because I can crumble them up to the size necessary for whatever fish I'm feeding. Here are the foods I recommend:

9. filter media + pillow fill/quilt batting

This is more applicable to those of you who chose the MarineLand tank, a Fluval tank or any hang-on-back filter. Filter media provides more surface for beneficial bacteria to colonize on. Pillow fill/quilt batting serves as a cheaper alternative to the proprietary filter floss you see in big box stores. These two provide as a strong combination for clean and clear water.

10. Beneficial bacteria in a bottle

The most ideal situation would be to set up your tank 2 months in advance and to let a cycle establish with the filter running. But let's face it, a lot of people are impatient and skip this step. Nonetheless, an established nitrogen cycle is essential for the longevity and health of your tank's ecosystem. If you're impatient, beneficial bacteria can be bought in a bottle that you dose your tank with. This can reduce that 2 month cycling period to 1 week (or even instantaneously, but that's a topic for debate). Here are the two I recommend:


In Conclusion...

Fish keeping in college is completely doable and provides a number of benefits for fish keepers: it fosters better habits, it fortifies accountability, it provides mental health benefits and fish make the best study buddy money can buy. Hopefully with this list, you can get started with fish keeping on campus!

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Hi! If you're looking for a place of informational integrity, you're at the right place! My name is Harry, I'm a Pharmacist with a love for fish keeping and the aquarium hobby. I'm not the most experienced fishtuber/fish keeper out there, but if there is one thing pharmacy school taught me, it's how to learn, diligently and efficiently. My mission is to address the misinformation and lack of accessibility of accurate information in the fish keeping hobby through tips, tricks, reviews and research-based best practices.

to THE youtube channel!

-Harry, PharmD

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