Going to College

Transcript: Getting organized in college

So you’re heading off to college-or maybe you’re already there. Ok, I have a question for you. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Monk from the TV detective show and 1 being Shaggy from Scooby Doo, how organized are you? If your response is anywhere near “Ruh-roh,” then keep listening!

College is a different beast from high school — there are many more tasks we have to complete independently to survive. We have to get to class (which is much more difficult than you would think), get the assignments done, study for tests and quizzes, and coordinate all of the supports that we may need. Doesn’t sound too tough? Great! Sounds really tough? Stick around to explore the kinds of technology supports that might help.

All right, so you’re paying a lot to go to college. If you don’t go to class, the college just charges you to take it again next year! Works out just fine for them. So, you are the only one who is going to get you to go to class. Here’s the down and dirty: you need to know when to leave, what to take, and where you’re going.

College schedules are nothing like high school-you may only have classes from 8:00 AM-11:30 AM on Mondays and Wednesdays, 1:45 PM- 4:45 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a Wednesday night class that runs from 6:00PM to 9:00 PM, with a weekly lab on Friday morning from 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM. To get ready for your morning classes, you might use an alarm system like those many of us relied on in high school. Set an alarm by your bed and another one (or three) out of reach, across the room. You have to get out of bed to turn those alarms off! The midday classes are more difficult. Your internal clock may not easily calibrate to 1:45 PM and 6:00 PM classes. It is not unusual for a kid who has had all morning to hang out with friends, studying or watching TV, then grabbing lunch, to completely lose track of time and miss that 1:45 class! Use alarm watches, task schedules (more on this later), and (if you’re a computer or PDA user) automatic reminder systems. Cell phones usually have an automatic alarm system; just be sure to set the alarm before that 1:45 class to give yourself enough time to get your materials and get there!

Most college students don’t have lockers, so you will carry what you need for the day on your person. As I said before, there are a lot of far more interesting things going on in a dorm room or group house than packing your bag for the day. Arrange yourself in advance so you can grab and go: that might mean using a Monday/Wednesday, Tuesday/Thursday, and Friday backpack or messenger bag system. Lots of college students use multi-colored stacking bins from department stores to throw their gear in and then just swap the pieces in and out of their bags. Ladies – if you carry a purse, you need the same kind of system to make sure that the cell phone that has your alarm is not in the black leather bag when you swapped out for the hello Kitty pink.

Ok, this is going to sound obvious, but I guarantee you that there is more than one “Shaggy” standing on the quad each day who is shaking his head because he doesn’t know where his class is that day-the buildings all have similar names! Know where you’re going the first day of class by doing a “practice run” before the first day-get a campus map and make a sketch of where to park or secure your bike. If you need elevator keys or special key cards for accessible entrances, get those in advance. Do not expect anyone to be available the day you need to get to class. Check out science lab locations before you need to go, ditto with library, language lab or media center days.

I know you probably don’t want to hear this, so take a moment and go to a happy place in your mind. Think palm trees, beaches, strawberry smoothies. Now come back. If you are less like Monk and more like Shaggy (remember Shaggy? He’s still trying to figure out whether his class marked “Smith 102” is in Smith Hall or the Smith Center.) then stay with me to the bitter end. Let’s go…

Task schedules are the checklists of what you have to get done, usually in chronological order or order of importance. They are what most successful college students (and college graduates) use to pull it all together for school, home, work-everything! Don’t believe me? Go ahead and Google the term “task schedule.” I’ll wait.

Got over a million hits, didn’t you? That’s because they’re great-you just have to learn to love them. I know, you swore that the minute you could liberate your high school homework agenda book by flinging it to the four winds, you would and you’d never look back. Guess again-because task schedules are your best friend in college.

Some are as simple as a notebook or sticky notes in a binder, others are more expensive and look like the calendar systems many of us used in high school. Weekly planners, Month-at-a-Glance calendars, and expensive Franklin-Covey systems (ask for that as a graduation gift-they’re pricey!) are all standard tools college kids use. Want to go high-tech? You’re looking at a PDA, smartPhone or iPhone, notebook PC with long-life battery, or UMPC. This alphabet soup of high-tech organization is covered in the next podcast-you’ll have to tune in to hear more about them.

Convinced you can do without a task schedule system? Walk with me, for a moment while we explore the transitions from home to school, 3-day weekends, part-time college work-study jobs with irregular schedules…the list goes on and on. It’s very difficult to get a regular schedule established in college.

Still convinced you can do without a task schedule? OK, fine by me, but you may want to bookmark this site for the first time you miss a rescheduled lab because you were in the middle of a pickup basketball game! You’ll be back…

Whether you establish a task schedule or not, you have to schedule a consistent time for studying. Block out that time and don’t schedule anything else in that space! (Again, if you’re high-tech, check out the next podcast on high-tech organization tools for cool automatic schedulers.) Study time includes completing short-term assignments that are due within a day or a week as well as long-term assignments and ongoing reading that is assigned on the first day of class and tested on the last. For those of us who have been paced throughout the high school semester by a family member or case manager, this vast wasteland of time and uninteresting assignments can be daunting. Pull together study groups to keep you going. Use the study group time to do just that-study; arrange pizza/movie/wii sessions for another time.

Finally, you have to keep everything together: supplies, computer upkeep, other technology upkeep…not to mention testing schedules and writing center appointments, accommodations such as notes from disability support services, and appointments with professors and graduate assistants. Whether you’re a Monk or a Shaggy, setting up your life in college will keep you busy for a while. Now, if you’re a Chuck (and have high hopes of working for the Nerd Herd), we’ll catch up with you in the next podcast-using mid- to high-tech organizational tools.