New Semester, New Me: Staying Organized and Prepared in School

As the school year is getting started and settled in, I realized that a large concern for many students (including myself) is how to stay organized throughout the school year. Some of us are able to start off the semester organized, but we may find that as the semester goes on, our organization becomes less and less organized. It’s difficult to maintain the habits that we may have started off with, especially with everything else going on. I’ve realized over the years that the more organized I was throughout the semester, the more prepared I was for any exams, assignments, and unexpected events that occurred. In this post, I hope to share some tips I use and find helpful in hopes that it may inspire others to take charge of their own organization and planning.

Organizing Assignments and Due Dates

The most overwhelming part of the semester for me is syllabus week. Going through week-by-week what assignments are due in each class and what expectations professors have of you is very daunting, especially since it all takes place during the same week. After receiving all my syllabi, I like to sit down and compile a list of Class Requirements.

After making my checklist of requirements and due dates, I like to make a class by class breakdown list to know what each class has due. This may be repetitive but I enjoy being able to see both lists and seeing how much I have done so far vs what I still have left to do.

Do:

  • Make a list of assignments due for each class
  • Compile your list of assignments from all classes into a chronological checklist
  • Double-check to make sure everything is on it and nothing is missing
  • Be flexible to changing dates if professors offer extensions or if there’s a change in due date

Don’t:

  • Get overwhelmed by all the assignments due in the next 3-4 months (It is a pretty long time to get things done!)

Taking Notes

In the past, I took notes on Google Drive and Google Docs. There was one occasion where my internet ceased to work and where (somehow) Google deleted my entire notes folder. It was unable to be recovered and since then I have decided to not put my notes at risk. Since then, I have used Evernote (pictured below). It is able to work online and offline, and offline notes will sync the next time you are connected to the internet.

What is cool to me is that on Evernote you can have “notebooks” similar to how you would have a one-subject notebook in real life. I organize my notebooks into folders according to semester.

In each notebook, I have notes corresponding to each lecture date. In these notes, you can type whatever you would like and have the choice of inputting images (Evernote has a handy screenshot and picture editing tool!), graphs, and tables. There is also the choice for audio dictation if you ever are tired of typing. In each note, I have copy and pasted from the syllabi what assignments, readings, etc. are to be done by that date. This way, I can easily access and know what is due by that lecture.

Do:

  • Make notes corresponding to each lecture date
  • Organize notes into corresponding notebooks
  • Paste important readings/assignments from your syllabi onto each note for easy access and tracking
  • Make use of all the features available (desktop app, mobile app, dictation, formatting, pictures, etc.)

Keeping Track of Classes, Events, and Meetings

Many of my peers enjoy using physical planners and calendars. For me, I enjoy using online calendars such as Google Calendar to keep track of my day. I’ve encountered the situation of a meeting being rescheduled too many times and it is just easier for me to shift around other events to accommodate for the changes virtually instead of on paper. It is also great for me to be able to visually see the blocks of time and be able to plan for the rest of my day as well.

Google Calendar allows you to change colors of events, set recurring events, share events with other Google users, and import calendars from other sources (e.g. if your school allows you to export a iCal file of your class schedule, you can import that directly into Google Calendar instead of manually inputting the class times and locations).

Do:

  • Input class/meeting/event times and locations
  • Download calendar apps and set notifications to notify you before events occur
  • Color code your calendar and be creative
  • Invite others to calendar events to keep each other accountable (if applicable)

Don’t:

  • Input everything into your calendar (eating, breathing, sleeping)**
  • Stress yourself out if things don’t go as planned / things run over the allotted time

** For some people, however, it may be helpful to plan things like showering, eating lunch/dinner, laundry, and other tasks that may seem menial. If you feel that you may get too busy or preoccupied and get distracted to the point that you’d forget to do these things, you should definitely input them into your calendar. I tend to skip meals by accident, so I definitely input mealtimes into my calendar on days that this tends to happen.


My first semester of graduate school started recently and I have been busy with reading, adjusting, and staying organized. I had the inspiration to write this post when I shared some of my organization tips with my classmates and I felt that many of you may find this helpful as well.

Cheers to the beginning of a new semester and school year! Leave a comment below if you found these tips useful and if you have any of your own tips to share!

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