This year, in particular, transitioning to or back to college might feel particularly overwhelming for both in-person and online classes. There is a lot that has changed over the past year but keeping organized is a strategy that will help improve study skills, lifestyle habits, and time management. These skills become more important the more we have at stake and college is a time where we are asked to juggle building new relationships, living independently or with new extended families, and building knowledge. Any of these on their own is a considerable undertaking, so approaching this transition should be undertaken with a good dose of strategy, support from people who care about you and want to see you succeed and a large heaping of self-care. If you’re feeling overwhelmed already, break it down into smaller manageable tasks and be mindful of your emotions! It’s a big change in the midst of an already crazy world, so don’t dismiss how you feel!
The intention of this post is to share some helpful strategies for getting and staying organized for both new and returning students. Some of you may have eagerly planned, shopped and packed over the summer and are settling in or getting ready to. There are still lots of folks preparing for the new school year, either in dorms or online. No matter where you are taking classes (in person, online), these Essential Organizing tips will help you get a handle on planning for and transitioning into this experience!
Productivity, Routines, and Schedules
By now you should probably have the school year calendar and have a target date for the start of classes and moving to campus. The following categories as they relate to routines and schedules can help make this a more mindful transition for life schedules and productivity.
- Transportation-Will a car be available or will is it going to be transportation by bus or college shuttle? Is there a metro or other public transportation in their new city? Be sure to understand the best method of transportation and if cars are allowed on campus (not the case for many freshmen). Work out travel transportation arrangements ahead of time for upcoming school drop off, pick up and holidays (through the end of the year). This might include airfare so book ahead and know the rules and download any useful local apps for mass transit.
- Planner or Calendar-Decide how to keep track of calendars so that everything needed is in one place, based on what works. Use either a digital or paper planner (there is a big trend to return to paper!) to keep track of important dates, orientation, move in, class schedule (and locations on campus), appointments, projects, finals, and holidays. Consider something like a whiteboard (in the dorm/room) to track schedules while adjusting to this new way of life. If possible, do this ahead of time before heading off to school where the tendency will be to get caught up in the excitement of new campus life! Planners are only helpful if they are with you so keep it where it’s needed (in a backpack or purse etc).
- Activities, sports, and clubs (most will be transitioned to online or postponed this fall)-If your college planning to get involved in sports, clubs etc…get these activities booked on your master calendar along with the school schedule and decide on any necessary transportation. Cross-reference these activities with the school schedule and keep it all in one place. It’s great to get involved, but be sure there’s a sense of balance between schoolwork, activities, and “play” or free time to be with friends, socialize, relax, etc.
- Productivity, routines, and study time– Think and Talk about to-do lists and schedule planning (daily, weekly, or monthly) to stay on top of important tasks, projects, classes, and dates. Consider what routines and systems have worked in the past and set up systems for successful and focused study time. This will be different from situation to situation but consistency is key, especially simple things like waking up at the same time daily, making your bed, weekly shopping & laundry, etc. When it comes to studying if you are easily distracted by other people being around, have a plan to seek out a quiet place on campus or at home (dorm or with family) that will enable successful focus. Create a few simple rules and rituals, like picking up daily (5 mins/day), keeping your desk clean, empty/repack your bag daily so you have what you need ready the next day. Have a plan for note-taking, setting up binders and folders by class (color code, etc), or other systems that have been successful. Find a routine for self-discipline, this means getting 6-8hrs of sleep a night, eating regularly, taking necessary medications, self-regulating screen time (games, apps, etc), and generally acting like an adult! All the freedom is fun but when things spiral out of control have a plan to get back on track. Most of us thrive with routines and it’s even more important in transitions to implement them for our own success:)
Supplies and Shopping
This is always a big part of school preparation. If you need to order equipment, uniforms, supplies, books, etc you may already be in the process of doing so. If your state (or the one the college is in) has a Tax Free Weekend (usually in August), plan accordingly so you can make major purchases over that weekend.
- Supplies-Create a master list based upon all the supplies needed. “Shop” your house first, gathering anything on the list into one container (box or bag).
- Budget-set a limit (realistic) on what you can and will spend so you don’t get sucked into extras.
- Categorize-Break the shopping items into categories (see below). E.X. categories might include books, school/desk supplies, clothing, dorm room, meals, electronics, etc.
- Shopping-Do a little preliminary research online and either make the purchases online or decide where you will go for what.
A-Z Dorm Essentials for Cleaning and Organizing
These are great resources to have on hand and will be helpful for a variety of uses in the dorm. I’ve created an Amazon Shopping list with suggested items here.
- Backpack or bag
- Bedside Caddy
- Bed Risers (optional)
- Hooks (a variety of sizes & types including command & over the door)
- Hangers (check to see if you need to bring them but probably!)
- Labels (a label maker or write on labels)
- Laundry supplies (basket/bag, detergent)
- Over the door or under bed shoe organizer
- Overnight bag
- Permanent markers
- Poster Putty for hanging decorative things on the walls
- Power Strip-surge protector
- Small rolling Cart (with shelves or drawers)
- Shelf &/or drawer dividers/organizers (assorted sizes)
- Toiletry or shower caddy
- Trash & recycling bins/bags (so many people don’t have them!)
- Under-bed storage bins (will fit with bed risers-wait if you don’t know)
- Zip bags in assorted sizes
- Zip ties (assorted sizes for cables, hanging items, etc)
ABC’s of Dorm Packing Essentials
There are a ton of great resources and lists over on Pinterest, so I won’t recreate them but here are general packing categories. It’s best to wait on things like a mini-fridge, microwave, dishes (other than a cup/mug, plate and one set of silverware), Iron/Board (unless fashion is your thing!), vacuum (maybe a dustbuster and mini broom), TV and Printer. These are all things that others or the school will have. Besides, you might not need it at all or you can get them later.
- Cleaning Supplies (lots of extra or a plan to get more as needed)
- Cooking & Dining Supplies
- Desk Supplies
- Dorm Room
- First Aid Kit
- Furniture & Decorations
- Medications (Supplements, cold & Rx)
- Personal Items
- School Supplies
- Sports Equipment
This is a lot of info in one place! I hope these Off to College Essential Organizing Tips will help prepare for schedule and lifestyle changes, supplies, and shopping, and finally packing before this next adventure begins!