21 Organizational Tips All College Students Need to Know

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College is a four-year hodge podge of fun and stress. You go from sleep-deprived high school senior to professional juggler faster than a Kanye interjection. You’re juggling classes, extracurriculars, friends and those pesky basic needs like eating and sleeping. Just because your schedule is chaos doesn’t mean you have to be. With these 21 organizational gold mines, you’ll breathe easy (even as you sprint across campus from econ to intramural softball while shoveling a granola bar in your mouth). It can be done.

1. Get your boxes early

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Move in day has organizational disaster written all over it. Don’t let it sneak up on you. Whether you’re schlepping or shipping your room, box it up. Staples even bundles the boxes for you. Start out with an 8 pack of SmoothMove medium sized boxes. Then pick up a wardrobe box to save you the tedium of transferring your entire closet hanger by hanger. For packing ninjas, the Bankers Box SmoothMove Kraft Moving Box doesn’t even need tape—it’s magic.

2. Get label crazy

Your bathroom supplies box and late-night snack box look identical. You think you’ll remember what went where, but let’s face it, you won’t. Cue the labels. And if you’re shipping your boxes, you can label and ship all at once at Staples.

 3. Pack like a champ

Use organization techniques everywhere, even in your boxes and your drawers. “ROLL DEM SHIRTS. Space saver for sure. You also can see what you have and know when your roommate stole your shirt,” said Boston College senior Emma Tucker. You’ll never “lose” another t-shirt or 30 minutes of precious time again.

4. Buy a planner

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Yes, I’m looking at you, the person saying you “don’t need one.” You have way too many assignments to store in the old memory bank. Write everything down, or prepare for some angry emails about that term paper due Monday. Last Monday that is. “On syllabus day, I take out my fresh planner and put in all the big dates for each class. That way, when unscheduled things come up, you know when to plan them,” said Boston College junior Ellie Mancini.

5. Get feng shui with your workspace

When you feel stressed, that Kilimanjaro-sized pile of Snickers wrappers on your desk isn’t going to calm you down. Create storage spaces to keep surfaces uncluttered. Next time you get the urge to buy one of those little desk-organizers (what, not everyone has those urges?) just give in. A clean desk is a game changer, so keep your workspace tidy and your mind will be tidy, too.

6. Create your own paper trail

Keep an eye on everything, not just your class work. You have a lot more “to do” than just assignments. “I write one about everything and anything in my life—school, party planning, volunteering, etc,” said University of Florida senior Rachel Franzek. Nestle “ABC party Friday” right next to “Physics homework due Thursday” because that’s the kind of double life you lead.

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7. Pimp your to-do lists

Yeah, yeah, you know this one already. But do you actually do it well? Organize your to-do lists: have one for class assignments, one for exams and one for long-term goals. You don’t want to have “Read Book 1 of Plato” and “Start to study for GRE’s” on the same list. You’ll go nuts.

8. Visualize your progress

Take a pencil, pen, or very large-point sharpie and cross off completed items from your list. If you use a dry-erase board to plan your life, swipe that item off with Liberace-like flourish. It gives us organization-obsessed kids a huge sense of accomplishment and makes it look like you have less to do. Good job. Now get back to work.

9. Get sticky-note happy

Do whatever you need to get amped about organizing. (If it seems impossible, you’re not thinking creatively enough.) “Whenever I feel like I am falling off the organization train, I go to Staples and buy a new notepad, markers, sticky notes, or pens—something that I am excited to use,” Tucker said. Jotting down a note about your reading due tomorrow will feel much better in glitter ink.

10. Huzzah to the digital 21st century

Set reminders on your phone, computer or other device (Gameboy? Fax machine? Idk.) for all your tasks. That way, you’ll always have your “planner” with you. Boston College senior Julie Orenstein said, “My phone reminders, along with my calendar, sync between my phone and my laptop so I can check things off my list no matter what device I’m using.” Genius.

11. Channel your inner efficient robot

Rome wasn’t built in a day. “I do a lot of my organizing in short bits of down-time—while waiting for water to boil, for my roommate to get out of the shower, before a professor shows up to class—so it really doesn’t take too much time out of my daily life,” said Boston College senior Katie Mears. Do a little every day to plan out your life and those all-nighters will decrease by 50 percent, guaranteed! (*No money back*).

12. Go color crazy

Color-code literally anything that comes your way. In your planner, use different colors based on classes, priority of or types of assignments (readings in blue, tests in red, etc). Make your desk into a veritable rainbow. The pot of gold at the end? A 4.0 GPA.

13. Don’t toss everything in your bag, you animal

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You’ll lose every term paper you ever write. “I use notebooks to take notes and complete assignments and use folders to hold any handouts, separating ones given by the professor from copies of assignments I turned in,” Mears said. Then back everything up with a flash drive. Got it? (Nod yes). With the right notebooks, folders and digital memory, you won’t experience that “OMG where is my Calc homework?!” panic ever again.

14. Don’t sleep yet

Get all those miscellaneous tasks done before your head hits the pillow. Lay out your clothes for the next day, pack snacks for your three-hour once-a-week and print out your assignments. It’ll save you time and a headache when you wake up. You may actually make it to your 8 a.m.

15. Find strength in numbers

Use the memory-power of friends to remember due dates. “We always post questions in a group chat to help each other out with assignments and keep up-to-date on the workload,” Franzek said. With five or six different people all keeping an eye (and an iPhone reminder) on the same midterm, it won’t sneak up on you.

16. Organize those worker bees, too

If you’re popular enough to have 15 of the same named friends in your phone, you may need organizational help. Put an emoji before names so you remember where you know them from—this Ted is from Finance, this one is from the Quiddich team and this one is from that random party on South Street last Friday. You’ll never forget who’s who. It also makes it super easy to toss together a group text of all the right pals.

17. Don’t write notes willy-nilly

Be intentional. “Date and title each set of notes. That way when you go back to find that one random thing that would fit perfectly into your essay, it’s much easier to find,” Mancini said. Take it further and color code your notes based on the topic; discussion points in blue, themes in orange, definitions in green. Scribble your current crush’s name in a nice, romantic red.

18. Make room for dessert (breakfast, lunch and dinner, too)

You’re useless if you pass out from starvation. “I make an hourly schedule, planning out where I need to be and what I need to be doing at every hour of the day. I even plan out breaks for myself in the schedule and allot extra time for meals,” Mears said. It may seem excessive, but when you’re stumbling around during finals with only coffee as your fuel, you’ll be thankful.

19. Don’t be “that kid”

You know, the one who always has to ask the person next to him to borrow a pen. And oh yeah, a piece of paper, too. No one wants to be him. Bring your own class supplies, keep them in an organizational pouch, if they’re going to be swallowed whole by your backpack, and bring extra. Not even your all-star black pen will last forever.

20. Have an arsenal stocked away

You never know when you’ll have an Organization Emergency. (Unfortunately, you can’t call 911.) “I keep a stack of notepads on my desk so I can grab one whenever. I always have a notepad in my purse or backpack at the ready,” Tucker said. You never know when you’ll remember something like that essay you need to write on a famous guest speaker.

21. Stay cool, bro

When you’re simultaneously drowning in tears and thousands of assignments, parties, study groups and chats with your mom on your poster-sized To-do list, don’t forget to take a mini Me-time. After taking a second (or 3600), go back to your planner. Looks like you have an hour tomorrow to relax between history and your group project meeting. Phew. Nap time.

Don’t know where to start? Get organized with Staples, your #1 destination for boxes and shipping your stuff to school. If your parents want to mail you a care package with all the organizational supplies you’ll need this semester, you know where to send them. Now what are you waiting for? Your planner says, “Pick up boxes at Staples” today.

Senior studying English at Boston College. Will always be found wearing cat socks. Still searching in vain for the world's best mac and cheese.

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