New Year! New Semester! Let’s Do This!

The start of each semester is an opportunity to collect and reset ourselves on a path towards success. College is tough especially with all the rapid changes in course delivery. Now more so than ever, ORGANIZATION is critical to getting through the semester.  

orange backgroud, white words that say "9 Steps to Getting Organized for a New Semester of College"

Here is a step by step guide of how to organize yourself for the semester. These recommendations and guidance come from my 12 years of experience as a college student working my way through 3 degrees; it really felt like I was getting a Ph.D. in how to be a college student. I also am pulling from my experience as an adjunct instructor and from my therapeutic work with college students. I caution that this is not a one-size fits all approach. You will need to put some time into using the tools you set up and try them out for a few semesters, tweaking things from semester to semester; it can take time to get to know what works for you.

Getting Organized for a New Semester

Step 1: Organizing your email and desktop: Using your school email just for school may help to reduce distracting emails, such as special offers and social media updates. It can be helpful to create subfolders in your email; maybe you make an email folder each academic semester and then put emails in there that you want to save about your courses without having a cluttered Inbox. This way important emails are easier to find in the future. If you are not already using your email’s starred or flagging system, I highly recommend you do. Flagging or starring emails you cannot address immediately is a great way to remember them later. Then when you have responded or addressed the email, you can un-star it and move it to one of your subfolders. Another area to get into order is your computer desktop or whatever drive you tend to dump things in throughout the semester. Set aside from time to organize these files in subfolders, which can help make the larger folder look less overwhelming. If you have not done so already, back up important documents, especially large projects like a thesis.

Step 2: Classes and syllabi: It is important that you are aware of your schools add/ drop deadlines. If you can log into your school’s course management tool; do this early to get comfortable with the interface. Know what courses you are taking for the semester and if available save or print the syllabi if they have been emailed to you or are available on the management tool. Do not wait until the first week of classes, as some courses may have materials to read or books to order before the semester starts. Therefore, check your email before the semester starts.

Step 3: Folders, notes, and files: If you are organizing your course materials and assignments in digital folders, make a folder called “Spring 2021”, then create a folder for each course you are taking (e.g., “PSY 101 Intro to psych”, “STA 201 Intro to stats”). Then save your syllabi in the corresponding folder, you may need them years later. The key is that throughout the semester be sure you are saving your assignments, projects, PowerPoints, and course readings in these folders. Many online course management tools will house almost all this information for you, but not all courses are designed that way and you may not be able to access the materials if the management tool ever is not working. Also, you may want access to the materials one day, long after your access to the course has ended. If you like working with physical papers, then you may want to consider going to a bargain store or office supply store and getting a notebook and folder for each course. Color coordinating them can be a quick way to pair them together when you are in a hurry. You could use a multi-subject notebook and one folder for all your classes, but depending on how many courses you are taking this could become cumbersome.

Step 4: Calendar: Do not rely on reminders from your professors of when assignments are due or even reminders that may be available through the course management tools. You need to have your own system for remembering assignments, exams, and projects. Take the time to invest in a planner or agenda. I find that it needs to be something you can readily take out to check twice a day, morning and night. Also, being able to bring it with you to class if you are going in-person and write down if there is any changes to the course schedule or assignments. This is going to take effort and building of a routine, but it will be worth it.  If you have a hard time remembering to bring your planner with you or forget to look at it, then it may be helpful to use a digital calendar.  Many school emails are Gmail based and offer a calendar, which are awesome because you can set up reminders and alerts for the things you add to your calendar, plus it is easy to make events/ tasks recurring.

Step 5: To-do list: At minimum, you should have a place for important due dates such as a calendar or planner and then a to-do list, which should also go with you. I prefer a physical paper to-do list that is build right into planners, but think of what works for you, maybe it’s a word doc in google docs, or a note app on your phone. When you use it is important to consider: this list can be something you make each day in the morning or a running list of items that you add as you become aware of them. Either way it is important to routinely prioritize the items, which can be done in a few different ways, but one I have found helpful is the Eisenhower matrix. This matrix helps you triage your tasks into Important/Urgent, Important/Not Urgent, Unimportant/Urgent, and Unimportant/Not Urgent.

Bonus step! Tidy up your space: Clean out whatever bag you may have kept things in or clean up the space you were using for remote classes. If you did not have a designated study space, then consider creating one that is comfortable and limits distractions as much as possible.

Clara Kuntz, Ph.D.