Last fall, I offered some advice for parents and students on where to get a quality student-level violin. But in addition to the violin, one must consider the other "half" of the instrument: the bow. Most folks would argue that a good sounding violin is more important than a quality bow, and I would agree, but only to a certain point. That is, once a student reaches a certain playing level, say after a year or two of solid work on the violin, he or she will really notice that their bow might be holding him back. As a student learns new types of bow strokes and attempts to do various nuanced things with their sound, a junky bow can really get in the way. The fiberglass (read: junky) bows that come with today's rental instruments can feel like you are trying to play the violin with a wooden club: they feel heavy, unwielding, and dead in your bow hand. Richard Ward offers a nice summary of the various types of violin bows and what to look for when upgrading your bow.
Students with a bit of experience will really notice the improved sound of an upgraded bow. A new bow, if one is not ready for a new fiddle, would be a great way to start off the new school year. Again, you can try any of the local violin shops mentioned in previous posts (Brobst or Potters), or Shar offers trial periods on bows as well.