The updated and expanded ultimate guide to college organization! How to use a planner, make an assignment list, and get your college life in order! Save now and click through to read!
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The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

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

Getting a Planner - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

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.

Planner - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

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.

Planner - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

Next, I begin to add important due dates for school in a bright color, like orange. 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.

Planner - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

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

By now, I should have already written my class times for each day, but if I haven’t done that yet, I fill it in now. I also fill in any weekly activities I have, like Res Staff meetings, church, or P.E. classes. For each different type of event, I use a different color.

Planner - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

Here is my color guide:

Planner - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

The second half of that color guide is a system that I use for preparing my assignments. I got the idea from a pin I saw from the blog Organized Charm. The idea is to mark your planner in the days leading up to your assignment’s due date – yes, even two weeks before! Doing this was really helpful for me in helping me start my assignments early.

2. Starting the Semester

How to Annotate Your Syllabi

Syllabus - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

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:

Syllabus - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

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.

Syllabus - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

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.

Syllabus - The Ultimate Guide to College OrganizationAfter 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.

Syllabus - The Ultimate Guide to College OrganizationI also highlight important assignment dates in red or orange:

Syllabus - The Ultimate Guide to College OrganizationI 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.

Planner - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

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.

Deadlines - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

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.

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.

Notebooks - The Ultimate Guide to College Organization

Good luck! It may seem like a lot, but with a little effort at the start of the semester, you can definitely do it!

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  • Maxime

    Super fijne blogpost!
    Heb er echt veel aan gehad, eindelijk een systeem wat voor mij werkt!
    Het lijkt inderdaad veel werk maar het is zo veel overzichtelijker wanneer alles netjes georgianiseerd is.
    Waar is de agenda van? Ik ben al tijden op zoek naar een agenda met zowel een maand als een week overzicht.

  • You have some great ideas here, and I love the planner! Could you share where you got it?

    • Of course Tessa! Thank you so much for commenting! The planner is from Erin Condren, and it runs for about $50 but it is easy to find a $10 off code online! I added some links for you so it’s easier to find! Good luck!

      • Thanks so much! 🙂

  • This is such a helpful post! Especially love your tip on creating a list of due dates for all your courses. I’m definately going to make one now. Thanks!

    • Thank you for your comment, Marisa! I’m glad you find the assignment lists helpful – it was one of my major lifesavers last semester! (:

  • Sounds like a great way to stay organized! I also live by my syllabi and always write out all major due dates in my agenda the first day of the semester. I then make daily to-do lists also, just to stay on top of which assignments I need to work on each day. College can definitely be overwhelming, but with a method to the madness, as you said, it can be managed!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Colleen! I agree that it can be a hassle to do so many things to stay organized, but in my experience it’s an even bigger hassle to let them get out of control! (;

  • Sara

    Hi Sara! My name is Sara also! 🙂 I found your post on Pintrest while searching for tips on juggling being a full time mom and a full time student. I read thru it twice and then again and took notes. I just bought a bigger planner and am feeling better about surviving!
    Thanks!

    • Hi Sara! Thanks so much for commenting! I am so happy that this post was able to help you – I hope it brings some method to the inevitable madness of being a full-time student and mom! If you’re interested, I also wrote another post you may find helpful, about getting your best grades in college. I hope your new planner takes away from the stress a little bit! You can do this!

  • Janiah Adams

    Hi! I came across this post on Pinterest, and it’s great! I’m going to start my summer semester in a few weeks, so I’m trying to reorganize. This helped a lot 🙂

    • I’m so glad it helped! Good luck with your summer semester!

  • Rebecca Mathew

    Hey Sara, Thank you so much for this post! I’m obsessed with planning too, especially because I’m a psych/pre-med major with a Bible minor. This will be very useful 🙂

    • Thanks Rebecca! I’m glad it helped!

  • Emily

    This post is so useful! I just have a question–do you have any planners that you recommend? I haven’t been able to find one that I’m in love with yet, and I’m wondering if it’s worth it to find one that is hourly.

    • Hi Emily! I have an hourly Emily Ley planner that I love, but I find the paper to be a little thin. If you like to get creative with your planners, I recommend an Erin Condren, which are colorful and have nice thick paper. For a daily or hourly layout, Emily Ley and the Day Designer should work! I have found many cheap alternatives to both at Target, which you can usually get for under $20. Good luck!

  • Camille Thuot

    Hi Sara!
    Great post! Thanks for the tips!
    You talked about using microsoft notebook instead of excel. Do you have a link to download microsoft notebook?
    Thanks!

    • Totally not 100% sure, but I think she means OneNote. If I’m wrong, hopefully she’ll correct me, but the formatting looks similar (I don’t use OneNote so I can’t be certain).

  • Zanya

    Your posts are great! Total Blog-spiration!

  • kptorbs

    Had to come back to your blog and thank you for the awesome tips. I read them shortly after beginning my semester last month. This is my first time back in college after a long hiatus between degrees, and I needed some structure. Your blog is full of it! After reading this post, I immediately went out and bought a planner and colored pens. I do my dates like you show in your planner, using the colors to represent different courses and red for important due dates with a color coordinating dot beside of it for the class it belongs to. As a bonus, when I went to get my supplies they had spiral notebooks that matched the colored pens for 20 cents each… so now even my notebooks coordinate with my planner, and Canvas, the platform my school uses for classes, allows you to color code your courses online so those match too. I FEEL SO PUT TOGETHER. This would’ve saved me years ago when I bombed my freshman year! Thank you!

    • Thank you so much for sharing this! Stories like this make the work I do worth it! It means so much to me that this has helped you and it means so much that you came back to share. Also, yes, color-coding can do so much! (;

  • LavenderElephantGirl

    Where do you recommend getting planners? I tried Plum Paper, but the options were overwhelming and I’m a visual person, so I couldn’t really see how it would all turn out and that stresses me out. I don’t want to spend $30 on something when I don’t even know how it will really look. Do you have any suggestions for REALLY good planners that you love? Thank you!

  • Katherine M

    This post literally just saved my semester. I’m taking nine classes (yup, you read that right..) so your blog has been soooo helpful for helping me get on top of my life for once and prepare for the upcoming semester! I used the planner tips to organize mine! I also decided to color code the type of assignment, which is super helpful! Thank you!

  • um, this was AMAZING! thank you so much!!!!! extremely helpful and i will be using all your tips this semester.