How to Organize an Entire Semester

the-all-inclusive-guide-to-organizing-an-entire-semester-in-two-hoursDearest reader,

I cannot wait to start preparing for my new semester. Back-to-school shopping makes me so happy, it’s no wonder I decided to become a teacher. I love gathering all the supplies and syllabi and writing down due dates and club meetings. This is the first thing I do every semester as soon as the syllabi for my classes becomes available. There’s something so satisfying to me scheduling and preparing for my new semester.

Over my two and a half years at college, I have never used the same system for my classes. Because of this, I have experienced several different ways that preparing for school has helped or hindered me, and I’m excited to share that with you today. The one thing that I have not changed has been using my planner religiously. I recommend always using a planner and making it one of your first college purchases.


Here’s a few basic items you’ll need access to for your classes that I mention below:

  • Planner
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Pencil lead (if using mechanical pencils)
  • Eraser
  • Scissors
  • Loose-leaf paper
  • Laptop/computer system
  • Printer
  • Printer paper
  • To-do list pad
  • Folder(s)
  • Stapler and staples
  • Microsoft Office or similar product


Put each class date and time in your planner

So far I have my first two weeks of class scheduled in my planner. While that sounds pretty difficult, it is very easy. You are given the dates and times of the classes you sign up for when scheduling. Take those and write them down in your planner, as well as the location of the class. I do this at chunks at a time, 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 files on your computer for each class 

The internet has become so important in college. 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. There are a few different systems like Blackboard that other universities use, so make sure you know which one you will be using for your courses and how to access and utilize it.

Now, because 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 (there almost always is more than one). This is super simple and very helpful, so make sure you do this for all you classes!

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. If you choose to handwrite your notes, what kind of notebook will you use? A composition notebook, spiral notebook, binder, or other system? I will go into each of them further below.

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 unless you have permission from the college to do something else. For example, one of my professors would not let students use their laptops to take notes in class, but got in trouble for that from the Office of Disability Services because a student who had trouble handwriting and had permission to use their laptop for all their classes complained.

  • Computer

I personally don’t like to use my computer to take down notes. I have before in one of my classes where the professor spoke too fast for me to handwrite down the information and I felt like I wasn’t able to internalize the information as well. On the other hand, typing the information saves paper and therefore the environment. Some students use Google Docs for their notes, and don’t get me wrong, I love Google Docs, but if the internet is down for any reason and you need those notes then you’re SOL (Student Out of Luck). Try to get Microsoft Office Word on your computer, or Openoffice which is extremely similar but free.

  • 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 which is something I hate to do.

  • Refillable Notebooks

My freshman year spring semester, I bought two refillable notebook that Five Star had at the time. I used one for my MWF classes and the other for my TTh classes. Because I did not have to rip paper out of them like a composition notebook, I thought I would like it better. In actuality, I really hated it. The notebook was very big and chunky and had large binder rings that were always getting caught on things and made it hard to write around them. I feel like I didn’t use them as much because they weren’t user friendly and therefore I did not do very well in my classes that semester. (You can no longer buy these from FiveStar or Mead)

  • 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 

There are a few folder systems I know about and will share with you. 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. 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

So 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. I first discovered the draw of online classes last semester when I took one class online, and now will be taking half my classes online because I liked it so much. It’s great to be able to not have to leave my room to learn. I can stay in my pajamas in bed while doing the work.

In order to prep for these kinds of classes, do 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; don’t type your notes for this class but write all your other notes in a notebook. It can be confusing going back and forth and harm how much information you gain from writing/typing it down if you are switching back and forth.


Go through syllabi 

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 classes.

Put in Excel document 

Once you have all your assignment dates highlighted, open up an Excel document and start writing the information down. 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.

Write down in planner 

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.

Changing days and times

This one is a bit trickier. For the most part, if your work schedule is changing then you probably work off-campus. You may have to cancel meetings or outings with friends if your work schedule changes week to week. See if your supervisor will at least try to schedule you around the same hours. Carry your planner around with you everywhere and make sure to double check before you make any plans that may conflict.


Set dates

I have one organization that I’m apart of that meets every other Thursday at 5:00 in the same room. It’s great because I know when we are having meetings and about how long they will be, and I make sure I don’t schedule anything at the same time. In college, these types of meetings are a saving grace for all of us with our busy ever-changing schedules.

Dates not set 

A club I was apart of my freshman year did not have set days (but they had set hours) when they would hold meetings. They would send out an email about a week before letting the members know when the meeting was and where. This really sucked because sometimes I had work and could only attend for just a short amount of time at the end of the club meeting. Even if you can’t attend for the whole thing because of other priorities, try to go for a small amount of time.

Other Things to Consider

On or off campus 

If you live on or off campus is a factor in deciding many different things. For example, are you really going to want to schedule your on-campus job at night when all you classes are in the morning? That leaves a large chunk of time that you’ll probably use to go home, and it would be a waste of time to head back to campus again. Also, going to any off-campus event when you live on campus can be difficult, especially if you don’t have a vehicle or know the surrounding city or town very well. Make sure to think about these before planning any extracurriculars.

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.


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 til this point, it is very hard for them to learn how to balance their time, which is not helped by telling them to join every club and intramural sport and meditation class. Start off slow and make sure you don’t get in over your head and drown in a new school year.

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Check out these posts also!

How to Prepare for Your First Week of Classes

Mental Health in College

How to Beat First Day of College Nerves


I hope you have found this guide to organizing your entire semester to be useful! How else do you like to prepare for the upcoming school year?


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