7 Strategies that Successful Students use to Stay Organized

College is much different than high school. That may seem obvious, but it’s important to be prepared for what will be expected of you. Students who aren’t prepared for the heavy work load, longer classes, and increased independence can find themselves struggling adjusting to college.

Find a way to organize

The volume and speed of the work that comes in college takes many students by surprise. It’s important to stay organized and on top of readings, assignments, labs, tests and exams. Use a calendar – either electronic or paper-based – to write down due dates and to-do lists.

Journalism student Isabella Krzykala, who graduated from Sheridan College in April, says a day planner “saved my life. I wrote down everything I had to do and checked things off as I did them. It was my brain in one book.”

Maddy Patterson, a special events management student at George Brown College, goes through the course outline for each class and writes down all the due dates for the semester. Each Sunday, she writes a list of what she needs to accomplish for the upcoming week, incorporating her part-time work schedule and laying out a plan for the nights she’s free.

“My visual outline of my work really helps me stay ahead of things.”

Focus on focus

Krzykala says at first it was hard to sit still and concentrate during three-hour college classes. But she forced herself to adjust by answering and asking questions and writing down notes. Both require active listening, enhance learning, and help to build a relationship with instructors. Bring along water and healthy snacks to stay fuelled up.

Limit mobile distractions while studying by leaving your phone in another room, disconnecting your laptop from Wi-Fi, or at least limiting how much you’ll check social media or texts to once an hour or so. “It’s easy to look at it without even thinking about it,” said Krzykala. “It’s just out of habit but it interrupts your concentration.”

Don’t procrastinate

Leaving work until the last minute increases stress and decreases quality. Krzykala always starts assignments as soon as she gets them, even if it’s just 20 minutes. “There were a couple of times I left things too late and I got overwhelmed and stayed up too late and it was terrible. If you start everything on time, get into a good rhythm and use your time right, it shouldn’t happen too much.”

Patterson says it’s important to make good use of breaks between classes because the pace of work in college can be deceiving. “You can feel ahead one week and behind the next.”

The right place

Find the place that allows you to work the most productively – an office at home, a dorm room, a library or a coffee shop. “I know the room in my house where I work best,” said Patterson. “I go in there with the mindset that I will work for this amount of time and not do anything else.”

Find a good group to work with

Seek out relationships with fellow students who share your motivation. You’ll learn from one another and reinforce good habits in each other. “Not everyone has the same initiative or cares as much about their education,” said Patterson. “Group work can be a challenge. Learn who you work well with and who shares your work ethic.”

Set goals

Think about the marks you want to achieve. You may find you have to readjust but it’s always better to have something to shoot for than to just hope for the best. And when you reach your goals, reward yourself. Maybe that’s with a fancy coffee, a dessert with friends or a few hours off from studying.

But Krzykala, who now studies journalism at Ryerson University, warns against being too hard on yourself. “A bad mark should not ruin your day. My mom told me that I’m going to school to learn. I’m not an expert. So I try to learn from it when I get a mark I don’t like.”

Use college resources

Don’t be afraid to ask help from your instructors. College is the time to advocate for yourself and seek what you need. There are plenty of campus academic resources, too, to help with course selection, career path preparation, and study skills. Take advantage of everything available to you to do well in college.

“Going to a guidance counsellor has been so helpful to me in choosing my electives well,” said Patterson. “Most people don’t realize the help they can get with that.”