One of my favorite quotes is, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” College organization and planning is the major way that I’ve kept my head above water in school. Being organized has been my saving grace when it comes to grades, and today, I’m showing you my process. It may be a little much, but I hope you can pick and choose to see what works for you!
1. First things first: Getting a Planner
Using a planner is so important for staying organized in college! Everybody is different, so the agenda that works best for me may not be the one that works best for you. Pick one that works well for you and stick to it! Here’s how I organize mine at the start of the semester.
Setting up your monthly view
I start setting up the monthly view in my planner by filling in important information. I begin with dates like holidays, birthdays, and travel, in red.
Link to: Planner, Pens, Washi Tape, Heart Post Its (Similar), Star Post Its (Similar)
Then I add start adding important things from other areas in my life, like faith obligations. I pick a different color for each category. In this case, I used green for religious events. Next, I begin to add important due dates for school, with a different color to represent each class. I don’t write down my classes or readings in the monthly view – that would get too crowded. Instead, I save that for the weekly view.
Link to: Planner, Pens, Washi Tape, Heart Post Its (Similar), Star Post Its (Similar), Post It Tabs
Link to: Planner, Pens, Washi Tape, Post It Tabs
Now I have a month-at-a-glance guide to my semester. This is great for figuring out how much time I have left before a paper is due, or seeing if I have any big events coming up (which is really handy towards the end of the semester, when things are getting more hectic!). Next, I set up my weekly view, which I use to organize classes, due dates, exercise, and other activities.
Setting up your weekly view
In my weekly set up, I block out meetings and routines in different colors using my highlighters. I used to use multicolored pens, but I found that my planner easily became too cluttered. Now I use a black pen for my appointments, and a red pen to highlight any due dates or significant reminders.
Link to: Planner, Pens, Washi Tape, Heart Post Its (Similar)
2. Starting the Semester
How to Annotate Your Syllabi
There’s a method to this madness!
The most important thing I can say about your syllabus: DON’T LOSE IT! I’ve done this before, and it’s a huge pain (not to mention embarrassing) to request a new one from your professor. If you can download a digital copy of your syllabus, great! That way, you can have a printed one, and one on your computer to keep on-hand so you never forget when readings and assignments are due.
The first thing I do when I get my syllabus is annotate it. Here is a sample I drafted up. When you receive your syllabus, it will look something like this:
I immediately take a pen and a highlighter to it. I underline the days and times of the class and the professor’s office hours. Then I highlight the location of both so that I can find it at a glance if I’m rushing to class and need to remember the room number.
Next, I go through the required reading and find the cheapest versions of the books I can online (they really add up!). After I order them, I write the date they will arrive next to the book, so that if one of the readings is due before the arrival date, I can borrow it from the library or a friend.
After that, I start to go chronologically through the syllabus, highlighting all the readings. I highlight readings from the textbook in green and readings I have to print from online in yellow. After that, I draw a check-box next to each reading that I can cross off when I’ve finished it.
I also highlight important assignment dates in red or orange:
I then hole-punch the syllabus and put it first in my binder for that class. Then I get on to transferring the information into my planner by writing the required readings under the class heading of the day they are due.
3. Making Assignment Lists
I made the absurd decision to take five classes last semester, which meant that even with planning things out beforehand, the work tended to pile up and feel impossible. Half-way through the semester, I set up a list of assignments and due dates (from the big to the mundane). I like to complete assignments well ahead of time, and keeping a long list like this made it easier to prioritize. I made each assignment a different color according to which class it was for, and put important assignments in bold. Some people prefer to do this in Excel, but I used Microsoft Notebook.
I printed out the document and tacked it on my wall. To keep track of what I finished and stay motivated when all felt hopeless, I crossed off items with a gold star instead of a check mark.
If you’d like to make your own, I’ve made it easy for you; this post comes with a free printable assignment list in our resource library! You can get the password by subscribing to my mailing list!
You can do this for all your assignments, or make a separate list for each class. I ended up doing both last semester, but during a normal 4-course semester, I think I would choose one or the other.
4. Daily To Do lists
I find daily to-do lists essential for staying organized and on top of my work, so I like to keep notes in my planner or a separate notebook to make lists. My friend bought these cute little notebooks for me from Paper Source for my birthday, and I think they would be perfect.
Link to: Elements of Style, Notebook, Pen
Good luck! It may seem like a lot, but with a little effort at the start of the semester, you can definitely do it!
How do you organize your college life? Let us know in the comments!
This post was originally published SaraLaughed.com. It has been modified and improved for use at College Compass with permission of the author.
I need help and I have a budget can u help me is there possible I can get thing at the dollar store?
Hi Nicole! The Dollar Store will definitely have some school supplies. I have gotten planners there before. You can also print out a planner for free from the internet – I love the Passion Planner (http://www.passionplanner.com/). You can put it in a dollar store binder (:
I absolutely love all you do thank you
This was so helpful! I am going to start my freshman year of college this fall and am so excited I found your blog. Thank you!
Hey Sierra! No problem at all, thank you so much for reading and checking it out! I’m really glad it helps you.
Is there anything different you would recommend for online classes? My first 2 semesters are strictly online classes and I have my planner ready to go but obviously I can’t block out times for classes during the day (and I work during the day as well). Just wondering if there is anything you could recommend that is different for people going to campus v online.
Sarah, thank you so much for creating this blog! I am a “mature” student (almost 30) starting college next week after being out of the game for 8 years. Your articles have been helping me get organized to be a successful mother, wife and student! Please keep being awesome 🙂 I Wish you all the best
The posts are amazing, here and on your personal blog. While I’m not in college, I go to a homeschool co-op that meets once a week, so it sure feels like it. Thank you for making my school life easier!
P.S. Thank you for not being afraid to show your faith out loud. A lot of people don’t do that these days!
I am kind of confused about starting a planner!!!I want to start in a new way.However, I don’t know whether I will use different planners like one for study(what to study today),one for to-do list, one for my blog and writing idea.Or I will just use one big planner for every single thing.Can you please give me some suggestion about it?
I am 48 and going back to school! I dont have any study skills and have been trying to figure it all out and It is a bit overwhelming. Not only have i been strugling to learn new material i have had to learn all the technology to go with it (computer class and calculater class lol.) Thank you for all the helpfull tips!
Thank you so much. I went to the Michealls and bought a beauty planner. (: