It’s getting to be that time of the year again. Summer is almost through and it’s as hot as ever.

You head to the store to grab a bucket of ice cream when you see all the ‘Back to School!’ signs plastered everywhere, and smiling children holding armfuls of school supplies staring up at you.

For most middle and high schoolers, this is the end of a summer of fun and laziness and the beginning of hours filled with boredom and forced education.

Luckily for us, we are college students. Going back to school is one of the things we have been looking forward to all break, even if that’s just mostly to reunite with our friends. With everything starting at the same time, it’s easy to get stressed and allow your schedule to get crazy.

Here’s the ultimate guide to organize your semester so you start the year off right.

pinterest-graphic-1Planner Basics

Put in your schedule.

Put each class date and time in your planner. So far I have my first two weeks of class scheduled in my planner from the start time, to the professor, and most importantly the room it’s in. I do this at different times, so I don’t spend an hour going through all sixteen weeks in my planner at once. I write down my class dates and times for the first half of the semester, and then write down the last half of the semester as it starts to get closer to midterms.

Make class files on your computer.

I keep my computer organized by separating by year, semester, and then class so I never lose an assignment. My school uses Blackboard, a website that my professors use to upload grades, assignments, readings, and just about anything they want us to see or do. Professors rarely hand out grades or copies of readings anymore.
With that being said, you’ll be downloading so much information from the internet to your computer, you’ll want to keep it organized. Create a file on your computer for each of your classes and put those files for that class in the folder after downloading. It will make everything so much easier to find, especially in a few months when you need to reference something from the past.

Print off syllabi.

After your syllabi become available, download a copy to your computer (and put them in the computer files you made from the step above!) and go print it off. Staple the sheets together if there are more than one. That way, you always have a copy, whether printed or electronic, to keep you on task and on schedule.

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Pick a note-taking strategy.

There are several different ways to take notes and some work better than others. You can handwrite them or type them on a word document, or use a tablet to handwrite them down on a word document.

What will you use to take notes? Each one has its benefits.

What you choose will depend on what you like and your classroom policies. Some professors don’t allow computer usage during class and some encourage it. It will say in the syllabus what your professor prefers, and make sure you stick to their policies.

  • Computer

    I personally don’t like to use my computer to take down notes because I feel like I can’t internalize the information as well. On the other hand, typing the information saves paper and therefore the environment. Try to get Microsoft Office Word on your computer, or Openoffice which is extremely similar but free so you don’t lose access to your notes if you don’t have internet.

  • Composition Notebooks

    My freshman year fall semester I used composition notebooks for my class notes. To be honest, I really wanted to like these. I decorated the covers with fancy scrapbooking paper and used special handlettering to write the class name on the front. I left the first page blank to use as a table of contents. That meant I had to number the pages, and each page had 2-3 topics so I could never decide what to put as the title on my table of contents. It rarely helped me when I was studying because I studied what we recently learned about and did not have to go back to past subjects very often. I also did not like the composition notebooks because when I needed to turn something in, I had to rip a page out of the binding.

  • Binder

    My sophomore year fall semester I moved away from notebooks and used one binder for all my classes. I really enjoyed this because I never accidentally grabbed the wrong notebook and I did not have to rip pages out of the binding. It was pretty easy to carry around because the front and back were smooth and did not get caught on anything. Near the end of the semester it did get very heavy and started to overflow. I was going to use this my upcoming spring semester because I liked it a lot when I found some cute journals on sale at a bookstore and had to have the whole collection.

  • Journals

    So because I found those cute journals, my spring semester of my sophomore year I was using notebooks for my classes. I really liked these notebooks. They were about half the size of regular notebooks and the design on the front was really cute, and the paper matched. I enjoyed using them because they looked good. They were a tad expensive though and I felt like I was using double the amount of paper do to their smaller size. The paper quality also wasn’t very good and I write in pencil, so sometimes my writing was smudged making it hard to study from.

Pick a folder system.

The first and most widely known is the folder per class system. This is when you have one folder per class. You put everything for that class in that folder. In high school, this was great. You didn’t lose papers and had everything organized by class. In college, I didn’t like this system so much. I just never received enough papers back for me to need a folder for each class.

The second system is the one-folder system. This is where you have one folder for all your classes-typically an accordion style rather than a 2-pocket folder. You keep everything inside this one folder and carry it all around with you. To me, this is way too disorganized and a lot of work. Why carry around an assignment from the beginning of the semester around with you? That’s why I use the next system.
The two-folder system is my favorite. I carry around one folder that I have all my syllabi and extra loose-leaf paper in, and when I get an assignment handed back to me it goes in this folder. I keep another folder in my room, and this is where I put all my completed assignments. That way they are close by when I need to study and I’m not carry around something I don’t need and might possibly lose.

Online Classes

While some of what I have talked about above can be applied to online classes, you may have to do some special preparations for your online courses.
In order to prep for these kinds of classes, set aside a specific amount of time each week that you will use to work on your assignments and studying. My schedule is constantly changing so I don’t limit myself to days and times, just an amount of time per week. I would go ahead and print the syllabus off as well, just so you have a physical copy of it to reference. Use whatever notetaking strategy you have chosen with this class as well so you stay consistent.


Go through your syllabi and note any attendance policies, grading scales, and highlight assignments that will be due over the semester. Highlight each and every one of the due dates. Make sure you understand the amount of work needed to complete each assignment. A semester project will require a lot more time and work than a one page essay over a chapter in the textbook, so you should plan extra time to complete that assignment. Also make sure to get down each test date for all your online classes.
Once you have all your assignment dates highlighted, open up an Excel document and start writing the information down. When you don’t have class everyday, it’s easy to forget about assignments. The columns should be labeled: 1) Class, 2) Assignment, and 3) Due Date. Once you have gone through all your class syllabi, put the above information in the Excel document. I would also encourage you to put down any readings you’ll need to do in this as well so you don’t forget about them. You can then organize them by due-date and print them out by month so you can see all the assignments you have due in the next thirty days.

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The next step is writing down all this in your planner. I like to be able to see what day of the week an assignment is due that way I don’t forget about an assignment due Monday. This step also helps me create my weekly to-do list that I make at the beginning of each week to make sure I don’t forget to do an assignment and lets me breakdown bigger assignments.

Breakdown larger assignments. One semester I had a twenty-page paper due at the end of the semester. At the beginning of the semester, I thought, no problem, a page or two a week. But I didn’t start this assignment until halfway through the semester, and I was having to write pages at a time. This really hurt my grade for this paper because it wasn’t as well-prepared as it could have been.
When you have a larger assignment, break it down into categories (brainstorm, phase 1, whatever will motivate you to complete smaller pieces at a time) and write down due dates for those categories. For example, when I have a paper due, I have a day I brainstorm and research topics, choose a date that I have to know my topic by, another day when I will have my research completed, and then spread out writing it by paragraph. This helps tremendously because it takes my anxiety about larger assignments away because I am breaking them up and able to spend quality time completing it.


Set days and times – I work on campus, and have since the third week of my freshman year. The two jobs I have had both had set days and hours I was supposed to be working. This is great because I can plan things around my work schedule instead of having to plan my work schedule around my ever-changing weeks. Make sure you put this information down in your planner and have it somewhere visible so you don’t forget one day that you’re supposed to be at work at 1 instead of 2.

Things to Consider:

Travel Time

Walking to class takes time. If you go to a smaller school, then it may only be five minutes. But if you attend a medium or larger university, this could be a ten/twenty minute walk to class. Make sure you add in travel time when you are planning your works hours or meetings.

You overbook yourself.

Overbooking is the bane of every college freshman’s existence. I heard so many times as a freshman that I should join everything, and while it’s good advice for a newbie to get out and about, it is also some of the worst advice as someone trying to adjust to a new phase in their life. Because college freshman have had their lives pretty much planned out for them up until this point, it is harder for them to learn how to balance their time. Pick three clubs or extracurriculars at maximum for your first semester, and see if you need to lighten your load from there.

How else do you like to organize yourself for the school year?

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Courtney is a junior at Ball State University studying Family and Consumer Science Education. When she isn’t using Pinterest or watching Netflix, you can find her scrolling through Instagram and Twitter. On her blog Simply Bumbling Along, she writes about college, mental health, self-love and body positivism, feminism, working and finances in college, as well as sprinkles in a few lifestyle posts. She would love it if you would check out her blog and follow her on social media! Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest


3 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Organizing An Entire Semester

  1. I am really enjoying reading through all of your posts! I will be starting my freshman year of college in August. I am nervous for the new environment and all of your guides are making me feel alot better about it all!


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