A friend of mine says that going to college is like trying to juggle 13 balls at a time. But with only two hands, how can you do that?
The trick, he says, is getting your methods and timing just right so you don’t drop any of the balls.
Now, I don’t know much about juggling. I’ve never even been to the circus. But I did go to college, and I agree—it can feel like a juggling act. How do successful students do it? They stay organized.
“I think the thing that gets in the way for a lot of people is that they feel overwhelmed,” says Adina Glickman, associate director for academic support at Stanford. “[They think], ‘I am so crunched for time I don’t even have time to get myself organized.’ You have to decide that it’s a priority.” You may be busy, but here are some things you can do to get your academic act together (and keep it that way).
Step 1: Make an all-in-one calendar
One of the best ways to make sure you never forget an assignment is to create an all-in-one calendar. Be sure to add all your assignments, exams, field trips, etc.
“My first semester in college, I felt very disorganized,” said Missy Mitchell, a junior at Utah State University. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
By using an all-in-one calendar, which she’s done since high school, Mitchell was able to get herself organized; she started to feel in control.
Step 2: Use a file folder
Remember: You can’t do your homework if you can’t find it! One useful trick is to use a plastic accordion file folder. Buy one for a couple of bucks at your bookstore or the drugstore.
Get a folder with at least seven pockets so you have enough room for the papers from five or six classes, plus any other things you need to keep track of. Take the time to label each pocket, and never put papers in the wrong pocket.
Keep the accordion file with you whenever you are studying or going to class. If you train yourself to file your papers in the assigned pocket each time, even the most scatterbrained students won’t lose anything.
Step 3: Keep track of your notes
In college, you’ll take pages and pages of notes. Keep them organized, or you’ll be doomed at test time.
One option is to keep your notes in a binder. As you take notes, make sure to file them back into the right section.
You can also use a five-subject notebook. Spiral notebooks are great; they come in any size and they’re sturdy. Designate one section for each class. Don’t use the section for anything but notes for that specific course.
Step 4: Keep your commitments. Go to class. Do your homework. Attend appointments, and don’t flake out!
Max Hunsaker, who is earning a master’s degree at the University of Southern California, wakes up at the crack of dawn, studies, attends his classes, has a job and still manages to catch a few Zs.
“Remember, time is [your] most critical resource, and you don’t have a whole lot of it,” Hunsaker says.
Don’t feel like you have to schedule your life into 15-minute increments, but do make sure you can meet all commitments.
No matter how early, or inconvenient your class may be, remember—you’re paying to go to these classes! Sometimes, it helps to get a group of friends to walk to class together. Meeting up with classmates may be just the motivation you need to get going in the morning.
By taking a little time and using some brainpower to get and stay organized, you can master the tricky juggling act of college life.
Melissa Sirrine, a recent graduate of Brigham Young University, lives in Missouri. She loved college but owes much of her success to trying to stay organized.
How to make your all-in-one calendar
• Set aside a block of several hours at the very beginning of the semester to make your calendar.
• Purchase or print out a calendar to write on, or create one using a program like Excel.
• Lay out the syllabi from each of your classes on the couch, your desk, or on the floor near you.
• Starting with your first class of the week, mark down everything that’s due for the course. It’s helpful to give the class its own color. Mark down exams, papers, quizzes and reading as-signments.
• Go through the calendar until you have added all your classes, field trips, guest lectures and more.
• Make several copies of your calendar. Keep one in your accordion file folder and one at home. It can also be helpful to e-mail your schedule to yourself.
• Check the calendar daily. Notice not only assignments due the following day, but look ahead. Know when exams are coming up and when papers are due.