Managing collegiate paperwork

Reader Cody wrote to us a few weeks ago asking if we had any back-to-school advice for college students. Matt started our response to this question by addressing ways to organize a dorm room. Now, I’m going to discuss managing the constant flow of paperwork associated with college life.

My first piece of advice is to get your hands on Captio’s CollegeCase or a similar product. I wish I would have had something like this back in my undergraduate days. In times of emergencies, being this organized would have really helped. If you’re ever burglarized, in a car wreck, curious as to which cafeterias your meal plan includes, you can find all of these answers in one well-designed notebook.


My second piece of advice is to read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and implement his system. Instead of dragging a large filing cabinet around with you, though, I suggest using a portable file case. A concise review of the system and how it can be applied to a college student’s needs can be found on the Colorado College website here.

My final piece of advice is to review my previous post on which papers to keep and which to shred. You’ll want to additionally keep all handouts and assignments for the duration of a class. After the class is completed and you have your grade, based on the course’s relevance to your major and the likelihood that you’ll have the instructor again, you’ll need to evaluate all of the papers from the class. You may choose to keep nothing but the course syllabus. You will want to keep syllabi until after you graduate and land your first job. If you transfer schools or if your first employer asks about the content of a class, the information contained in syllabi is invaluable.

Good luck to Cody and all of our other readers who are heading back to school in the next few weeks. Also, if any of our readers have suggestions for ways to handle collegiate paperwork, please feel welcome to add them in the comments section.

21 Comments for “Managing collegiate paperwork”

  1. posted by beth on

    All you really need is a good, heavy duty folder ;)

  2. posted by Anonymous on

    Why not do an article next on how to stay organized in the corporate world? Most of us who have moved beyond college also want to get organized, but it is hard to find good solutions to keeping your work life on track.

  3. posted by Stephanie on

    Hmm… I just landed my first post-college job and I never kept a single syllabus, nor was I asked about one in an interview. It’s good advice, though – just not necessarily universal.

  4. posted by Tom on

    I used a hard, 1 1/2 inch, three ring binder for each class. Then I had paper to take notes in the rings and handouts in the pockets in the front and back. This worked out great for the last three years of college, even if it was a bit bulky.

    Having just read Getting Things Done, I highly recommend using that to help keep things under control.

  5. posted by st on

    two words. fujitsu scansnap.

  6. posted by Holly on

    too bad this thing has “CollegeCase” emblazoned on it. sehr häßlich.

  7. posted by JW on

    I suggest a single 2-3″ D-ring binder for all classes. Put each syllabus in a tabbed sheet protector, and you have an automatically divided section for notes/handouts/etc. for each class, which you can cull after each semester. Throw in looseleaf or a single notebook for your notes (to be sorted to the correct section after every class). That way, you have less junk to haul around (one binder, not 4-6), never lose track of assignments, never forget or pick up the wrong binder, and wherever you are, you’ve got your basics with you. This and a simple week-by-week calendar have gotten me through many years as a student from HS through college–and I’m at the end of degree #3.

  8. posted by Ericka on

    If you have access to a scanner I’d suggest scanning completed course materials if it’s on the fence between keeping or throwing it out.

    Maybe this contributes to digital clutter, but it reduces anxiety, and moving boxes.

  9. posted by John Ratcliffe-Lee on

    Great advice. I kept all my papers, school-related & personal in a portable file keeper. Although, since things are becoming increasingly digital while I was still in school I figured out a great way to utilize Campfire to keep track of all your notes. Theoretically this same system could be applied to Google Notebook or Docs but Campfire is no slouch:

    http://jratlee.newsvine.com/_n.....hings-done

  10. posted by Robin on

    That’s funny- I’ve been using JW’s exact method, right down to the plastic page protectors for syllabi, for the three years I’ve been in college and a few high school years as well. One big binder is great, because then I know I have all my class information with me.

  11. posted by Michele Lessirard on

    I put together my own binder for our daughter in June, simular to this.

    Florida college students have a mandatory summer session here in Florida. Freshman are opting to start in summer, so this post would have been great in May while I was getting dear daughter ready.

    Great information.

  12. posted by Anonymous on

    Fujitsu Scansnap looks great, but it’s very expensive. How are college students supposed to afford this? Or those in the corporate world without unlimited budgets? We need something cheap!

  13. posted by PJ Doland on

    I’m a happy Fujitsu ScanSnap owner. But I would be hard-pressed to recommend one to a college student. It seems a little like overkill.

    They might, however, be a good tool for students in academic programs that require a large amount of printed hand-outs. Especially when you take into account the searchable nature of PDFs once you run text-capture on them.

  14. posted by Jess on

    Do you have any advice for students who are heavily involved with extracurriculars and/or work with a lot of take-home material for both?

    I followed the last post on organizing the dorm room and then this one and I feel like I’ve been doing quite a few things already – making right-now decisions on papers (and not keeping things for old times’ sake), sorting laundry, using underbed storage. I suppose my intention is to encourage Unclutterer to post more about college! I understand that many readers are removed to some extent from their college years but for those of us in small spaces…it’s fantastic information.

  15. posted by Jason on

    That ScanSnap would be great for me and my cookbook collection, if it didn’t entail ripping the pages out. Anyone know of anything that’d be as fast, or at least an inexpensive pen scanner?

  16. posted by Anonymous on

    I have read that the Plustek Opticbook 3600 is good for scanning books without removing the pages.

    http://www.plustek.com/product/book3600.asp

  17. posted by Bryan on

    I’m another Scansnap owner. I thought it was expensive too … and so I killed the scanners on 3 successivve print/scan/copy/fax devices … by simply using them regularly.

    But that won’t happen with the Scansnap; it’s very solid and well built. Pictures make it look larger than it is; folded up it is the size of a football. And it does a much better and faster job of scanning than any all-in-one I have ever seen.

    I wish I had bought the ScanSnap *first*. I would have saved a fair amount of money and aggravation. Awesome device. Like all quality things, it costs more – and if you use it much, that will save you money in the long run!

  18. posted by catherine on

    “If you’re ever burglarized”? – No, no, no, no, no! The verb is “to burgle” so your sentence should read “if you’re ever burgled”.

  19. posted by Anonymous on

    @catherine–According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “burglarized” is the appropriate past tense verb form for Erin’s sentence. (See the entry for the verb “burglarize.”)

  20. posted by Daniel on

    Yet another Scansnap owner here, using it on a Powerbook. Although it was expensive, I really wish I got it years ago. I’ve scanned 3,600 pages (it has a counter built in) and never looked the other way. Just remember to be responsible and recycle those papers when you are done.

  21. posted by Penelope on

    I managed to figure out the college organization thing (one of those folder/binder things for loose papers, and a spiral notebook for each class–I rarely had instructors who gave handouts) fine, but now I’m a teacher. Teachers have about 100x as much to keep organized as students? Any recommendations for keeping grade sheets, attendance records, seating charts, textbook records and graded/ungraded work organized AND portable? I seem to be able to do one or the other, but not both.

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