Organized College Students: Then and Now

Being a college student can be stressful and oftentimes hectic. Between classes, assignments, group projects, studying and internships, there’s a need to prioritize and stay organized.

Organization skills have changed throughout the years. Throw it back to your grandparents’ generation when to-do lists were either written down or kept in the noggin. In the “olden” days, there were no smartphones that come with “personal assistants” named Siri or Cortana.

Today, there are Student Services Departments and study resources to help you stay on top of your college experience, along with an endless list of organizational tech tools. So let’s take a walk down memory lane and compare how college students stay organized then and now.


the homework app

Source: The Homework App

For Time Management:

Then: Weekly Planner and To-Do Lists
This is strictly pen and paper planners. Busy college students plan schedules out by writing everything down in a planner or on a notepad, which can be time consuming. A planner can be used to track assignments, appointments, classes and other activities for the day, week or entire month. There is some satisfaction in being able to physically cross off an item from a to-do list.

Now: The Homework App
We’re going paperless. With the world of technology at the palm of our hands, it’s no wonder apps are taking over the paper to-do list. The Homework App allows students to schedule tasks that are color-coded by course subject. Tasks can be prioritized by low, medium or high and the due date even has a reminder option. Students can also snap a photo on their smartphone and attach it to a task. Everything can be viewed on a daily, monthly or even a yearly calendar.


For Taking Notes:

Then: Loose-leaf Paper
It started with clay, papyrus, wood and parchment. Eventually, humans figured out how to make paper and then came loose-leaf paper. Loose leaf is preferred because of its availability, flexibility and affordability. Loose-leaf paper can be separated neatly into binders by subject and don’t have ragged edges like notebook paper. Notes can be pulled out of binders and placed next to the pages of a textbook that coincide with those notes.

Now: Speech-to-Text Notes
For students who take a lot of notes when studying, the speech-to-text or voice recognition technology is a godsend. Among the most popular speech-to-text apps is Dragon, available on both iOS and Android platforms. Students can speak right into their phones and the app will transcribe what’s being said. Dragon uses its Dragon® NaturallySpeaking® software to turn speech into text at a rate that’s up to five times faster than regular typing. It also supports a wide range of languages. Notes can be emailed or simply saved on the Notes app for iOS. However, it will likely be an inconvenience to your instructor and classmates if you want to use this note-taking tool during class.

For Waking Up on Time:alarm clock

Then: Knocker-Upper, Bladder and Natural Sunlight
The early bird catches the worm. As college students, it’s important to use your hours efficiently and effectively. But getting up early is never easy. In the 1920s, before alarm clocks were readily available, there used to be knocker-uppers. Their job was to wake people up by using a stick to knock on their doors. Longer sticks would be used to tap on windows. In the days of pre-alarm clocks, there was the bladder. Some people drank a lot of before they went to bed so that their bladders were full. Although it can’t be 100 percent accurate, it got people up and out of bed to relieve themselves. And finally, the sun. Early humans relied on the brightness of the sun to wake up. As the sun rise, the day started. As the sun went down, the day would end.

Now: Wake-up Lights and Cellphone Alarm Clock
If you sleep with black-out curtains to avoid any sort of natural sunlight in the hours that you sleep, you likely have a harder time waking up. Sunrise was natural stimulation for waking up. Today, there are wake-up lights. The Philips Wake-Up light gradually turns its light on 30 minutes before your alarm. The Withings Aura Smart Sleep System is a similar idea, but combines light effects with sound. Sunset lighting relaxes you as you drift on to dreamland. When it’s time to wake up, the Aura gradually lights up with blue wavelengths that inhibit secretion of melatonin. Very scientific. You can track your sleep habits through your iPhone®. Speaking of iPhone, it’s almost shameful to see the alarm settings on smartphones these days, but we’ve all done it. Smartphones come with snooze buttons, customized sounds and the ability to have an alarm set at 6:55, 6:57, 6:59, 7:00, etc.


google calendarFor Keeping Track of Important Days:

Then: Calendars
Calendars have existed for thousands and thousands of years. The oldest of the calendars is the Lunar, developed in 8,000 BCE. The Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582. Calendars have been changed and updated many times but each time, it’s been used to organize and identify days. There are religious, civil and social holidays. There are days set for the spring equinox and winter solstice to help identify seasons. It also helps people manage their schedules for upcoming events, birthdays, family commitments, etc. For students, it’s a great way to mark down when final exams are or when the quarter ends.

Now: Google Calendar
A physical calendar almost seems primitive. That’s why today, your Google Calendar is synced with everything from your email to your phone, tablet, etc. With Google Calendar, you can type in plain language appointments, like “group meeting at 4 p.m. in library next Tuesday” and it will know how to translate and put that into your calendar. Want your own personal assistant? You can also get an automated email every day of your Daily Agenda, based on your Google Calendar. Want to keep track of your significant other’s calendar too? You can simply add their Google Calendar, with their permission, into your calendar. This way, you can schedule an event for a time that works for everyone. There’s also the flexibility of scheduling interesting events, such as the US release schedule for Xbox 360 games. For the film fanatic,  movie release schedules can be imported into the calendar.


For Studying:


Source: Quizlet

Then: Flashcards
Flashcards are a standard study tool for any age and they’re easy to make. On one side of an index card, write down a question. On the other side, write an answer. Students can use flashcards to test themselves repeatedly and memorize the information. It’s a great study tool if you are visual learner.

Now: Quizlet
There’s an app for just about everything. Quizlet is a free app that allows students to compile flashcards to help study. Cards can be set to appear in a specific order or it can be randomized. It’s convenient because it’s on your phone and studying can be done on-the-go. There are pre-made flashcards so students can look up study material or create their own flashcards. Studying can also be fun with Quizlet by turning flashcards into games. According to its website, Quizlet is the #3 free education iPhone app with more than 8.3 million study sessions.


drop box

Source: Dropbox

For Data Storage:

Then: USB Flash Drives
It’s hard to believe USB flash drives are nearly a thing of the past. We can’t forget about floppy disks and CDs of course. In the same way, USB flash drives are used to store and transfer files to other computers, hence its name universal series bus. Unlike floppy disks and CDs, USB Flash Drives come in a variety of sizes with the largest holding 1TB. That’s a lot of data in such a tiny thumb drive. It also doesn’t require internet connection for uploading or downloading documents. If you’re concerned about privacy, the flash drive is the way to go. The down side? After heavy use, flash drives will inevitably fail. They don’t last forever and your files won’t either if your flash drive is the only backup.

Now: Cloud Storage
What did college students before “the cloud?” If you have decent internet, cloud storage options like Dropbox and Google Drive are incredibly convenient. It gives you the ability to share files between multiple devices without having to plug anything in. Google offers 15GB of free storage while Dropbox offers 2 GB. More storage is offered for a price. Dropbox is as simple as placing a file in a folder on your computer and seeing it pop up on your phone’s Dropbox app almost instantly. It’s also great for sharing large files with classmates. You can send them a direct link to the file rather than sending an actual file. Google Drive is a lot like a computer hard drive. Like Dropbox, you’ll have access to your files no matter where you are (with internet) on Google Drive. Because cloud storage goes through a third party online, your files are not 100 percent secure. Make sure to only save documents that you need for school or work on the cloud.


For Citing Sources:

Then: Following a template
In the days before auto-cite, students had to handwrite their bibliographies for citation. There’s a format for print books, newspapers, online articles and even Amazon Kindle books. Students used to flip through the pages of a book, look for the authors last and first name, title of the book, the city and publisher, year published, etc. Basically, it’s following either an MLA, APA or Chicago template and filling out each category.

Now: EasyBib
Forget templates. With the EasyBib app, students can cite their sources in MLA, APA and Chicago format in just seconds. Create citations by either typing the title of the book or scanning the ISBN barcode with your smartphone’s camera. Your bibliography will be automatically alphabetized. Once the list is complete, email your bibliography to yourself. Now that’s easy.



In the end, it’s all about preference. Some people like to physically cross off their to-do list on a notepad. Others like to have everything organized and synced electronically through a mobile device. There’s no right or wrong way to be an organized college student as long as it helps you stay on top of your schedule, deadlines and goals.