Organizing advice for the college freshman

August 13

If you’re heading off to college this fall, you have so much to look forward to: the chance to learn new things, to meet new friends and to live on your own. But you’ve also got some challenges: more-demanding classes, more assignments to keep track of, a small dorm room with a roommate, and no one to clean up after you.

Within a week of your arrival, you’re going to have a mountain of homework and reading to do, so there will be no time to stop and get organized later. Put a few organizational systems in place ahead of time to ensure you get the most out of your college experience.

Time management

Time management is crucial to both academic and social success in college. Unlike in high school, your classes probably will start and end at different times each day. In order to figure out how you are going to spend your time between classes, you need to create and maintain a calendar.

Whether you opt to keep an electronic calendar, paper calendar or both, get started by noting exam dates and important due dates for each of your classes. Set aside regular times for studying, exercise, seeing friends and, oh yeah, don’t forget laundry. Keep your calendar with you as much as possible and update it daily. Establishing a routine in the first weeks will make life feel more predictable and help you plan ahead.

Electronic files

Set up electronic folders on your laptop for each class and think about how you’re going to organize your documents. Are you going to organize them by date, name or subtopic? Whatever you decide, stay consistent and take the time to properly name and file each document. Keeping electronic files organized from the first day of class will save you time and alleviate stress later in the semester.

Make sure to back up electronic files and never leave your laptop unattended — ever. There’s nothing that will cause more stress than having your computer crash or stolen right before a big paper is due.

Paper organization

Even though so much of college life is transacted electronically, you will still accumulate paper. Decide how you’re going to keep papers organized, and be ready on Day One. Will you keep a folder or binder for each class? Where will you keep it when you’re not carrying it around? Empty your backpack every evening and put papers in their proper place. And every week or two, take a few minutes to review the contents of your folders or binders and discard items you no longer need.

To-do lists

If you’re not a listmaker yet, college is likely to convert you. Consider keeping a notebook where you write a to-do list each day. This might mean that you’re repeating things from the day before, but starting the day with a clear idea of what you need to accomplish is important for prioritizing tasks. Daily lists can also be kept on your phone or computer, and there are many apps to help you keep track of all your projects.

A functional workspace

Within the first two weeks of school, you should have a sense about where you can study productively. You’ll want to designate and stock a space in your dorm room with supplies, but if your dorm is too loud or you find yourself distracted, find an alternative location. The place you choose to work should be well lighted and comfortable. If you’ll be studying outside your dorm, make sure your backpack is stocked with supplies so you are prepared and don’t need to leave once you’re settled.

Many students find the increased responsibilities and freedoms of college challenging. If you want an effective way to manage both your academic and social commitments without letting it all stress you out, getting organized should be your first assignment.

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