Make the Most of College: A Professional Organizer’s Guide

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A group of multietnic students celebrating their graduation by throwing caps in the air closeup. Education, qualification and gown concept.You’ve spent all senior year preparing for this moment in time … getting ready to go to college. Your essays are done, you’ve left SAT/ACT test prep in the rearview mirror, and you’ve graduated. As a professional organizer, I know that one of the keys to success for students transitioning to college is creating and practicing good time management skills.

If you’re like most college students today, an over-scheduled life is your status quo. However, chances are good that you had other people in your life helping to manage that schedule. Well, those days are over, and you will now be responsible for your own time. This may sound awesome, but it comes with some potential risks.

Here are some suggestions for making the most of your time in college so you can be successful, stay healthy and have fun!

Learn to prioritize. Recognize that you can’t say yes to everything (and, trust me, so many shiny objects will tempt you to do so!). Think of school as your job and your No. 1 priority. You won’t be in class all day, every day, but you have the opportunity to use those daytime hours between classes to get work done, freeing up your late afternoons and evenings for fun.

Get enough sleep. I know … I sound like your mother! But if you aren’t taking care of this fundamental need, your work, your grades and your mental health will suffer. Do your best to create a regular sleep schedule during the week and stick to it.

Recognize your peak learning times and use that to your advantage. If you’re an early bird, use that morning time to take more challenging classes or study for subjects that require the most focus and attention. If you’re more of a night owl, use those later hours for more intense work. Pay attention to your attention span, and use that to your advantage.

Find a place to study that truly works for you. If your roommate loves to play Drake all night long, you’re going to need to find another quiet place to focus. Carve out a spot that is conducive to concentration, is distraction free and signals “I mean business” when you’re there. Maybe keep it a secret from your friends!

Consider how you will juggle the things you need to take care of that were (possibly) taken care of by others while at home: laundry, cleaning your room/bathroom, meal planning, grocery shopping … all of this will require good time-management skills. The more you practice this independent time management over the summer, the better!

Learn how to live with less structure. In high school, you were likely in class from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., and maybe you played a sport after school or held down a part-time job. While this left you with less free time, you had more structure to your day. Now it will be up to you to impose this structure on yourself, and that can be a challenge that requires discipline, self-motivation, and trial and error. Think about the best way to impose your own structure on your day so procrastination doesn’t win.

College is expensive – no doubt about it! Take this financial investment you’re making in yourself seriously, and apply your time wisely. Nobody wants to pay to stick around for an extra semester or two!

If your school offers resources related to time management such as a learning assistance program or a counseling center that teaches study skills, consider attending workshops they offer or get individualized help. Your school wants you to succeed, and it’s totally worth it to take advantage of the resources they offer.

Use a planner … even if you’ve never really needed one before. This can be a simple academic paper planner or your favorite calendar app on your phone. Don’t expect to remember every assignment and deadline … use trusted tools to help you know what is due and when.

Many students leave for college expecting it to be the best time of their lives. And I hope that is true for you! Put the odds in your favor for having a successful academic career, as well as plenty of time for fun and self-care during these next four years. By putting good time management strategies to use now (and perhaps even practicing them this summer before you leave!), you’ll have a much better chance of truly enjoying this time in college and making the most of every second.

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Perri Kersh

Perri Kersh is the neatest, and sometimes freakiest, at Chapel Hill-based Neat Freak Professional Organizing, LLC. She works with individuals, families, small business owners and students to help them get and stay organized. When she’s not organizing for others, she frequently shovels up after her husband and children. In 2019, she was elected president of the North Carolina chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. You can read more about Perri on her website,, or reach her at 919-824-8196.

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