best organization tips for college students

100 best organization tips for college students

Katie good habits, organization, routines, study skills, time management

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

The following is a complete list of the 100 best organization tips for college students. Many of the tips apply to students in high school too.  However, college students will need next-level organizational strategies to stay on top of their game.

Table of Contents

  1. College dorm room organization tips
  2. Organization tips for homework and studying
  3. Organization tips for basic life
  4. Digital organization tips for college students

College dorm room organization tips

Use the following organization tips to keep your college dorm or living space neat, functional, and optimized for learning.

1. Keep your workspace clutter-free.

Dorm room desks are notoriously small. This increases the need to stay organized. Tidy your desk every night before bed, wipe down the surface daily, and keep only the basics on the surface.

2. Label your cords and chargers.

Label all cords and chargers with a Sharpie, or write on a piece of tape. Identify what all cords and charges go to. Throw away anything useless or old.

3. Hang a whiteboard and visual calendar above your desk.

Magnetic whiteboards and calendars are great visual organization tools. It’s best if you can find a calendar/whiteboard combo. Write the new dates each month and add important items when they arise.

4. Hang file racks on the walls.

Using sticky Command Strips, hang a multi-tier file rack like this one on your wall to free up desk space. Use it for items you don’t need to carry with you in your backpack each day.

5. Hang a key hook on your wall next to the door.

Hang a simple key hook like this one on the wall right inside your door. When you walk into your dorm room, immediately hang up your keys instead of throwing them on your desk.

6. Use sticky notes for out-the-door reminders.

Don’t want to forget anything in the morning? Slap a sticky-note memo to your door.

7. Set up your desk space according to your learning style.

Even if your college desk is small and minimal, you should set it up according to your learning preferences. Here are resources to set up a study space for each of the three primary learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

8. Avoid storing important items more than 2 touch points away.

You should be able to access important items in two or fewer touches. So, avoid closed folders within drawers and covered boxes behind doors.

9. Empty your trash regularly.

The college organization tip that I hope you never forget is to empty your trash regularly. Leaving for break? Give the can a quick spray of Lysol.

10. Use a large digital clock on your desk or wall.

Yes, you have a clock on your phone and computer, but the key to organizing your time is SEEING the time. Use a large digital clock.

11. Hang glasses, hats, and headbands on hooks.

Keep your college closet organized by hanging simple hooks on the inside of your closet doors. Hang up light items.

12. Store pens in a pen holder on the desk, not in a drawer.

Not all college desks come with drawers, but even if they do, store them in a pen holder. If you have more than can fit in the holder, get rid of some pens.

13. Keep basic school supplies handy in one location.

In a clearly labeled box or drawer, store all your basic supplies like your stapler, elastics, paperclips, binder clips, ruler, scissors, extra staples, etc. Keep all of these in just one spot.

14. Keep writing utensils minimal.

You don’t need 27 pen colors. You don’t need chisel tip and wide tip and pen-tip highlighters. 

15. Use cord clips to keep your phone and AirPods chargers from falling to the ground.

Simple clips like these keep your cords organized, accessible, and off the ground.

16. Keep basic cleaning supplies (wipes) within easy access.

If your cleaning supplies are hard to access, your college dorm room won’t be clean. Use an all-purpose and multi-surface cleaning spray to keep supplies to a minimum.

17. Store books upright instead of in a pile.

Books are easier to access and look neater when you store them upright with the spines out. Use simple bookends to keep books from tipping.

18. Utilize under-the-bed storage space for “extras,” but don’t have a lot of extras.

Store extra paper towels, shampoos, shoes, etc. under your bed, but avoid having a lot of extras in the first place.

19. Tidy the floor every day.

Take two minutes before bed to pick up your floor. Put laundry in the hamper, line up your shoes, and put your gym bag away.

20. Use a laptop stand that gives you space underneath it.

I use this one for my home desktop but it’s also perfect for a laptop. First, it’s ergonomically and anatomically better to raise your screen to eye height. Second, lifting your laptop gives you extra storage space on your desk for pens, sticky notes, and other desk-y items.

21. Label every box clearly, and avoid stacking more than 2 boxes high.

Every box with a cover should have a label on the outside. If you change the contents of the box, change the label. There’s no point in organizing your things if you don’t know where your things are.

22. Keep utility items in a small labeled box.

Use a small labeled box to store small utility items like batteries, bulbs, flashlights, a screwdriver, and command hooks. Store all of these items in just one location.

23. Label all USBs and external hard drives.

Use a Sharpie to write directly on the drive or write on a piece of tape.

24. Store extra trash bag liners under your trash bag.

Storing extra trash bag liners under the bag that’s currently lining your trash bin is a great way to stay organized and clean.

25. Before finding a place to store or organize something, consider if you really need it (don’t organize trash).

Only organize what you need to keep.

26. Organize and reduce materials at the end of each school year.

When you pack up your dorm room at the end of the school year, declutter old course papers, unwanted clothes, and unneeded textbooks. Smartly organize the items you will be bringing back to college in the fall so that you won’t need to re-find and repack them when you return to campus. Here are 7 things you should do before leaving campus for the summer.

27. Add corner shelves near your bed.

Use a cheap corner shelving unit near your bed as a nightstand to free up space and keep sleep items (earplugs, book, chapstick, etc.) nearby. Just be considerate of weight restrictions. Here’s one.

Organization tips for homework and studying

The following is a list of the best organization tips to help college students with homework and studying. They are also for high school students. Related, here are my top 36 ideas for creating a study space. Also related: Here are my top 12 study tips just for college students.

28. Use an analog homework planner.

An assignment notebook should have a monthly calendar and a daily calendar. The daily section is where you write your assignments. Keep it simple, like this one. Also, see the next tip.

29. Don’t rely on your learning management system (Canvas, Google Classroom, etc.) for homework tracking.

Your learning management system (LMS) is for submitting assignments and accessing course materials and links. It is NOT for keeping track of tasks and homework assignments. Use your LMS to fill in your assignment notebook each day, but don’t use it as your assignment notebook.

30. Separate course materials.

Use separate notebooks and folders for each subject. Most students should avoid 5-subject notebooks because you won’t take the same amount of notes for all classes. However, students with ADHD often benefit from 5-subject notebooks because all materials are organized and stored together. (Less chance of bringing the wrong notebook to class.) Here are school supplies tips for students with ADHD. Here is my complete guide on how to set up and organize a school binder.

31. Consider color-matching folders and notebooks for each subject.

Blue folder and blue notebook for English, all green for anatomy, etc. Bonus tip: Clearly label your notebooks and folders in large writing on the front cover.

32. Keep an organized system for hybrid notes.

Stick to one note-taking system: digital or analog. But if you must use a combination, keep your notes organized by using the same naming convention and note-taking format across all your digital and paper files. 

33. Use reading schedules.

A good list of the best organization tips for college must address time management. You will do a ton of reading in college. Reading consumes time. Somehow we forget this mathematical fact. I made you a free reading schedule template (easy pdf download). Use the template and these strategies together in order to figure out how many pages to read per day to meet your deadline.

34. Throw away duplicates.

You don’t need two copies of the syllabus or two of the same graphic organizer. You don’t need two of the same flashlight or two staplers. One and done folks.

35. Only use a 3-ring binder if you plan to hole punch all your papers.

Three-ring binders used to be the organizational holy grail. But they are only useful if you plan to carry around a hole punch. Don’t plan to do that? Then don’t use a 3-ring binder.

36. Carry your planner everywhere.

Never leave your dorm room without your planner/assignment notebook. You can use a half-size (junior-sized) assignment notebook for portability. I do.

37. Organize all papers and files after each semester.

Whenever a class or semester ends, sort through your papers and throw away what you don’t need. Store what you do need. Do the same for your digital files.

38. Use Google Calendar for due dates and test dates.

Google Calendar is not for homework. It’s only for time-sensitive and deadline-based events. This includes due dates and test dates. Get this information from your syllabus. Add due dates as calendar Events and set it for “all day” (not a specific time) to add it to the top of the day like a reminder.

39. Get notebooks with the right type of paper.

You’ll take neater and more organized notes if you like the writing experience. Get good quality notebooks (not the ones you used in high school). Consider the differences between wide-ruled, college-ruled, and narrow-ruled papers. Also, consider weight and smoothness.

40. Always date and title your notes.

Always put the date and title on top of each page of your analog notes.

41. Plan enough time to study and read.

Studying and reading consume tons of time in college. But, because these aren’t “submittable” activities like a worksheet is, we often don’t plan enough time for them. When creating your daily schedule, block off time for reading and studying as well as for your traditional homework.

42. Plan out study sessions: when and what.

Don’t wing your study sessions. Map it all out before you sit down to study. Here is exactly how to make a study schedule.

43. Use a limbo folder for papers you don’t know whether to keep or toss.

Here’s everything you need to know about a limbo folder.

44. Use status notes (digital or sticky notes) whenever you stop in the middle of a project.

Status notes are a simple but amazing tool. Sticky notes work great for this purpose. Every time you stop working on a project before it’s done, write a quick Status Note including what your last step was and what your next step is. Here are more tips for using status notes.

45. Use three sizes of sticky notes.

Keep three sizes of sticky notes handy, and keep them organized in a small container or box on your desk. Use these sizes: 3×3 (reminders, status notes), 1.5x.5 tags (marking book pages) and 1.5×2 (in-book annotations).

46. Consider using discbound notebooks.

I organize my entire life in discbound notebooks. The advantages of a discbound system are that you can move pages around, insert new pages, and remove pages when done – all while keeping your notebook neat and organized. I have used this one for years.

47. Tear junk pages out of notebooks.

Whether you use a discbound notebook or not (see college organization tip #46), tear out messy and unnecessary pages from your notebooks.

48. Leave ample white space in your notes.

Your digital and analog notes should have sufficient white space between ideas. For paper notes, leave at least two lines blank between concepts. Bonus Tip: Keep your notes extra organized by using a pull-out feature like #6 in this tutorial.

note organization tips
Note organization tip: Whether you’re taking digital or analog notes, use pull-out features like boxes, underlines, and highlights to emphasize main headings and concepts.

49. Rewrite your notes for challenging subjects.

College is hard. Hard things require good habits. Rewriting or amping up your notes after class (the same day) is a good habit that – once you do it – you will wish you started in high school.

50. Keep track of your syllabi for every class.

Print it out and glue it on the inside of every folder. Highlight important dates and assignments. Write all over it. Look at it a lot.

51. Schedule the first step of large assignments.

Got an essay due in two weeks? Schedule a time on your calendar to write your outline. Got a test next Friday? Schedule a time on your calendar to go organize your study materials. Figure out the first step of big projects, and put it on your calendar.

52. If you fall behind in assignments, use the 3:2 rule.

If you start falling behind on assignments, you need to get super organized so that you chip away at the late ones while not adding more to your “late” list. Use the 3:2 rule. Do 3 new assignments for every 2 late ones. Repeat until all your late assignments are submitted. Keep your lists current and organized. 

53. Keep all reference papers (formulas, periodic tables, foreign language conjugations, etc.) front and center.

You will have reference guides for many of your classes. These are pages with information that you refer to over and over again, like a periodic table. Glue or tape these reference sheets to the inside of your notebook for easy access.

54. Adopt a library nook or other study location that you regularly go to.

You might wonder how this is on the list of best organization tips for college students, but hear me out. The more we streamline our systems and routines, the more we reduce friction and decision fatigue. If you predetermine which library study nook (or remote corner in a quiet campus building), your schedule and your mind will be more organized. Make a habit out of doing your homework in this study location a few times a week, on the same days. 

55. Clip units together in your notebook and folders.

Once a unit is over, use a binder clip or paper clip to group together all paper materials for that unit. Label the “paper package” with the unit name. Keep the clipped-together papers in your folder until the class is over or until you have your exam.

56. Keep various-sized index cards handy.

Index cards are an essential study tool for active recall. Keep two different sizes handy for different subjects: large (4×6) and regular (3×5). Consider unlined index cards if you will be drawing diagrams or images. 

57. Use click-top pens instead of pens with caps.

You can’t lose the cap to a click-top pen.

58. Minimize your shoes.

Shoes take up a lot of space. (Especially if you have big feet.) Keep your shoe collection minimal, and use a vertical hanging shoe rack on the back of your door.

Organization tips for basic life

College life can get messy, but so can regular life if we don’t stay on top of things. I like to call these tasks “life admin.” The following tips will help you keep your regular life organized, clear, and simple.

59. Do braindumps.

Make this a regular practice for organizing all the thoughts in your head. Here’s how to do a brain dump.

60. Write everything down.

Stop telling yourself you will remember everything. No, you won’t. Write everything down, and write it down as soon as possible.

61. Schedule admin time.

Scheduling admin blocks at least once a week is a life skill that extended beyond college. Set aside at least an hour once a week to knock off basic life admin tasks.

62. Have a Sunday Routine.

A simple Sunday routine can help you organize your schedule and time for the upcoming week. It will also help you transition from weekend to weekday. Here are some ideas for a Sunday routine.

63. Have a shutdown Routine.

Going to bed without closing your open cognitive loops is a recipe for stress. Before shutting down for the day, do a quick run through your task list / assignment notebook to make sure you’re not missing anything. 

64. Return library books on time.

Books take up space and create clutter. Return books on time to free up dorm space. 

65. Update your resume and Linkedin profile every year.

Once a year, update your student resume and Linkedin profile with achievements and milestones from the year. Update your email signature if applicable.

66. Make phone calls instead of sending emails.

Got a simple question for your advisor, dean, or professor? Try calling them. Emails create unnecessary back-and-forth conversations.

67. Pack bags and lay out clothes the night before.

Part of your shutdown and evening routine can include preparing your bad and clothes for the morning. 

68. Get pleasure books from the library; don’t buy them.

Fewer books to organize and store. 

69. Do fewer things.

Robust resumes are impressive. But so are healthy students. If you have too much on your plate, you could become overwhelmed not only with the tasks themselves but with the admin that comes with each activity.

70. Store all your passwords somewhere.

Don’t count on your internet browsers saving your passwords forever. They won’t. Also, you’ll need your passwords if you log into a shared computer in the library or student center.

71. Keep a document of all professors’ names, office hours, late policies, etc.

Keep this list in a Google Doc. Update it every semester.

72. Keep your course plan (for your major and minor) up to date and look at it often.

Your college advisor will create your curriculum plan with you. Keep this document accessible and up to date. 

73. Use a paper inbox.

When you’re studying or doing homework, keep a simple pad of paper next to your desk to jot down thoughts and to-dos as they occur to you. Don’t act on them. When you’re done working, organize these thoughts. 

A simple inbox next to your workstation can help you stay focused.

74. Sort through your mail before leaving the mail room.

Throw away all junk mail before leaving the mailroom. Open your other mail and throw away the envelopes before you leave. If you need the information from a letter, consider taking a picture of the letter and throwing the paper away.

75. Make all appointments at the beginning of the year or semester.

Use the beginning of a semester or school year as a reminder to make all upcoming appointments for the next 3-6 months. This includes doctors, therapists, dentists, school advisors, department heads, mentors, etc. A few hours on the phone upfront will save you time. Bonus organization tip: immediately add all these appointments to your calendar.

76. Make an “accounts” document.

Make a simple Google Sheet with all your financial information. Include account numbers for banks, student loan information, login information for your accounts, credit card info, and car loan financials. Include loan repayment timelines and interest rates. Make sure to keep this document secure with multi-factor authentication.

77. Wake up at the same time each day.

Waking up at the same time each, regardless of when your first class starts, keeps your body rhythms predictable and your sleep better. Also, it’s easier to organize your time and schedule when you know how much time you have each day.

78. Don’t keep packaging containers.

Throw away all shipping and product boxes. The more boxes you keep, the more junk you will find to store in them.

79. Regularly clean your school materials and supplies.

Here is a complete list of what to clean and how to clean it.

80. Sort through paper piles once a week.

Inevitably, a pile of papers will grow on your workspace throughout the week. Organization tip #1 is not to let this pile build up in the first place. Organization tip #2 is to chip away at the paper pile regularly. If that’s too much, then set aside a few minutes on Sundays (see Sunday Routine) to process the pile.

81. Plan commuting time to and from activities.

If your class is from 2:00-4:00, and it takes 15 minutes to get there, then it’s really from 1:45-4:15. When you build out your weekly schedule in Google Calendar, account for how long it takes to walk or drive to each activity.

82. Keep your backpack clear and clean.

Clean your backpack at least once a week. Once a month, take everything out of your backpack, shake it upside down, and wipe the surfaces.

83. Do homework for certain classes on predetermined days.

Automation is the king of simplicity and organization. “Automate” your schedule by creating a routine in which you do certain homework on certain days. For example, do all your statistics homework after stats class in the library on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you routinize your homework schedule, you’ll never wonder “when am I going to get everything done?”

84. Use a functional and comfortable backpack instead of something trendy.

Your backpack should be practical rather than cute. Avoid one-shoulder bags and totes. It should be large enough to carry all your materials and books but not so big that you always do.

85. Keep a document of important numbers for school.

In college and beyond, you will accumulate a lot of important numbers beyond phone numbers. Create a simple document to store these numbers. Include: student ID, mailbox number, gym locker combination, lock codes, etc. This is not for your financial accounts; those are in a different document (Organization Tip #76).

86. Stay productive even on days you don’t have homework.

One of the best ways to stay organized in college is to regularly maintain your systems, workspace, materials, digital files, and tasks a little bit each day. Here are 10 basic things you can do daily to move the needle.

Digital organization tips for college students

So much of our lives are online. That means that a messy digital life often means a messy real life. The following is a list of the best organization tips for college students to manage their digital files and devices.

87. Keep simple and organized google drive folders.

Google Drive can get cluttered quickly in college. Tame the clutter with a folder system that’s easy to use. For high school and college students, I suggest having a folder for each school year, and then a folder for each class within the larger school-year folder. Do not go deeper than one folder within a folder.

88. Name all digital files with a naming convention.

Use a simple and clear naming convention to name all your Google Docs and other digital files. I suggest [name of the class + description of file]. An example is Advances in Biology Neanderthal DNA lab.

89. Use Google Calendar to plan your schedule.

No list of best organization tips for college is complete without a solid Google Calendar shout-out. Here is my complete tutorial for using Google Calendar to make your college schedule and manage your time. This is a critical habit for college success.

90. Delete unused apps on your phone.

Keep your phone organized and clutter-free by deleting all apps you haven’t used in the past month. If you need it in the future, you can always download it again.

91. Download phone apps for Google products.

Make sure you have the mobile apps for regularly used Google products such as Docs, Sheets, Classroom (if you use it), Calendar, Keep, Drives and Slides. 

92. Keep laptop downloads folder and desktop clear.

Regularly clear out your downloads folder and digital desktop. If you need to keep any of the files, move them somewhere more appropriate. Delete the rest.

93. Stay on top of email management.

Almost all college communication comes via email. Therefore, college students must maintain an organized email inbox. Here is my complete guide to email management for students.

94. Bookmark only the most commonly accessed websites.

Bookmark up to 10 of your most commonly used websites. Keep them school-related, like email, Google Classroom, the library website, etc. Avoid bookmarking Amazon, games, and other distracting sites.

95. Get a scanning app on your phone and save files to Google Drive instead of to Photos.

Download Adobe Scan, DocScan, or another scanning app to your phone. Use the app to quickly scan paper docs so you can throw away the physical copy.

96. Delete photos on your phone.

When you have downtime (standing in line, traveling, etc.) go through the photos on your phone and delete junky pics.

97. Use Google Keep to keep lists of important or interesting information.

Reference lists are a great way to stay organized in college and beyond. Here are 10 lists I recommend all students have. Google Keep is an excellent list-keeping app. 

98. Keep a neat and minimal taskbar.

Only keep regularly accessed apps and programs on your computer taskbar. 

99. Keep phone contacts organized.

Maintain an organized contacts list on your phone. Delete duplicates and people you don’t talk to anymore, update addresses and phone numbers, and include details about new people you add. (For example, use the Company field for details, such as “kid from philosophy study group.”

100. Unsubscribe from unwanted promotional emails.

This organization tip is part of a complete email management system (Tip # 93) but it’s worth repeating. When you receive an unwanted promotional email (from school, retail, etc.), unsubscribe from it. Scroll to the bottom to find the teeny tiny unsubscribe button, or do a ctrl+f and search for the word unsubscribe with the email open.

Final college organization advice

The above list of 100 best organization tips for college students includes lots of college-specific advice, such as how to keep your dorm room clutter-free. But, it also contains many strategies that apply to students of all ages and stages (including working professionals). Don’t try to do them all at once. Choose a few to implement at a time, and then come back for more when you’re ready.

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