We have all been there before.

It is 3:00 AM and you are still working on that assignment due the next day. You read over what you have just typed for the last few hours and it is gibberish. Faced with the prospect of entering class empty-handed, you finally admit to yourself that you may have a slight organization problem.

With many colleges conducting classes online it is even harder for students to get, and stay organized. Lectures happen at all times of the day, some professors have trouble updating curriculum and syllabi to cloud based learning systems, and home environments can be rife with distractions. 

We tend to think of ourselves as either an organized person or an unorganized person, but thoughts like “I’ve always been a disorganized person” do not serve you. Even if it is true, you can become better at organization through self-reflection and a couple quick tips. Fortunately, organization is a skill. Like with any other skill, you can improve with good practice and a little effort.

  1. Understand What You Are Up Against and Adjust Your Mindset

College is fundamentally different from high school because you choose to be there. There is no truancy officer that will call you out for skipping lectures. Professors will not hound you for missing assignments. Succeeding in college means taking accountability for your education, your growth, and your future. It is your responsibility to show up to lectures, complete assignments, and manage your time. The sooner you adjust your mindset to college-mode, the sooner you can thrive in this environment.  

However, taking responsibility for your work doesn’t mean you are doomed to go through this experience alone. The most successful college students are the ones who understand when they need assistance and take the initiative to utilize it. This brings me to my next tip.

  1. Take Full Advantage of Available Support

In many college situations, taking responsibility for your success means knowing when to ask for help. Obtaining a degree is designed to be a difficult process to push you to grow, but that also means there will be times when you feel overwhelmed, overworked, and over college in general. This is completely normal. Take a deep breath and relax because no one expects you to do this on your own. 

Fortunately, the vast majority of universities provide their students with a myriad of supports. For the general student population there are generally writing centers, peer tutoring services, and academic planning advisors. These resources are invaluable and can often be the difference between a passing and failing grade. Do not hesitate to reach out. It is their job to help you and they are quite good at it. 

For diverse learners with diagnosed learning disabilities or mental illness the Student Services Office (each campus call this something unique) is obligated to provide specialized support. While incredibly helpful, navigating the offices and the accommodations they offer can be overwhelming.. Fortunately, there are useful guides to these offices.  In his book Taking Flight: College for Students with Disabilities, Diverse Learners and Their Families, Dr. Perry Laroque lists the supports and accommodations in the chart below. 

Common ChallengesAccomodation
Slow processing; anxiety; ADHDExtended time
Slow processing; ADHD; written expression; fine motor skills; oral comprehensionNote taker
Oral comprehension; slow processing; ADHDRecorded Lecture
Deaf/hearing impairments; visual impairmentInterpreter/Braille
Visual impairment; ADHD; sensory processing; hearing impairment; anxietySeating Location
Anxiety; social communication disorders; speech impairment oral expressionLimited Participation
Anxiety/depression; health issuesIntermittent Attendance
Written expression; slow processingWriting Scribe
Reading comprehension visual impairment slow processing;Recorded textbook
Slow processing; anxiety; sensory processing; ADHDAlternative Setting for Exams
Motor skills; anxietyService Animals
Anxiety/depression; health issues; slow processingFlexible Deadlines
Obsessive compulsive disorder; anxiety; autism; vocal tics; health issuesHousing Accommodations

If you have already utilized the available resources from your university and find yourself needing more support or academic coaching, Virtual Hall is an online academic coaching service that provides students with individualized support. We specialize in college students who are diverse learners for which the academic system is not designed. 

  1. Plug Your Syllabi into Google Calendar and Set Reminders

One of the most common phrases you will hear out of the mouth of a professor is the classic, “It’s in the syllabus.” The syllabus is the plan which the entire semester follows, therefore it is well worth your time to transpose that information into a digital calendar. The hour it takes to synthesize your syllabi into Google Calendar can save you from missing assignments, late nights, and that terrible feeling of realizing your work was due yesterday.

With Google Calendar, you can get reminders across your devices about upcoming assignments. You can set your homework to pop up as a notification on your phone, which has pulled me away from Instagram and Snapchat numerous times. 

Many colleges also run on course management systems (CMS) like Canvas or Blackboard. If your professor puts assignments into the CMS calendar, you can quickly add that calendar to your Google Calendar. 

Here is how to integrate the Canvas Calendar into Google Calendar.

 Here is how to integrate the Blackboard Calendar into Google Calendar.

  1. Develop Social Networks within Classes

Often, your peers can be your greatest asset in a difficult class. They understand your struggle, they are doing the same assignments as you, and they usually have the same baseline knowledge. Having a strong social network in a class leads to group chats that help with assignments, study sessions before tests, and the relief of knowing other people are having trouble with the same assignment.

These do not have to be your best friends, or even people you knew before taking the class. However, reaching out and creating these groups can be anxiety-inducing, especially over online Zoom chats where you do not have the ease of one-on-one conversations.

One helpful tool to ease that initial conversation is the templates below. You can use the class template in the chat feature of a class Zoom call. You can use the individual feature over the private chat, or over text.

Template for Class Chat: Hey everyone! I’m looking for a group to study with for the {upcoming assignment}. We can meet over Zoom {X times} a week, or whatever works best for people. If you’re interested, my email is {email}!

Template for Individual Chat: Hey {Name}! I’m looking for a study partner for this class. Would you be interested in studying together sometime? If you’re interested, my email is {email}! 

  1. Use Technology To Get Efficient With Readings and Lectures 

One of the hardest parts of college is managing the onslaught of readings and lectures. There will be many more of these in college than you ever had in high school. Fortunately, in the last couple years, assistive technology has come around that makes this easier. 

One advantage of the shift to online learning is that now recordings of lectures are readily available. One way to save time is to watch lectures at 1.5 speed and slow down at the parts that are confusing. If you have a professor who tends to talk as much about their dogs as the course material, this is an especially useful tool. 

The opposite works as well. If you have a fast-talking professor who zooms through words like “hegemony” and “Jungian,” it can be helpful to pause or slow the lecture. 

Another way to be more effective with your time is to listen to your readings out loud. There are many text-to-speech programs that will read your homework out loud to you. This can be especially helpful to listen to as you exercise, commute, or eat meals. As Dr. LaRoque highlights in Taking Flight, the program Natural Reader will read aloud any text you highlight on your computer. Additionally, Audible has a large catalog of audiobooks read by professional voice actors. 

Remember, you can always improve your organization, even if you consider yourself to be a disorganized person. College is meant to be challenging. Everyone has difficulties in their secondary education, but this experience will help you become a better, and more successful, student. You can do this. 

About the Author:

Declan Johnson‘s interest in educational accessibility stems from personal experience navigating educational institutions as a diverse learner.   When not working for Virtual Hall, he can be found climbing rocks, reading a good book somewhere pleasant, or some combination of the two.