Time Management for College Students

By Lisa L. Lewis

University life means more flexibility and freedom. But it also makes managing your time in college even more important, which can be challenging—especially if you haven’t been in charge of your own schedule before. If balancing it all seems tricky, the following tips can help you feel more organized and stay on top of it all.

This resource is to support all students, but we know that different people experience different demands and time pressures because of their circumstances. We hope this resource can benefit everyone wherever they’re at, but we also acknowledge these very real challenges and differences.

Here are effective ways to manage your time in college.

Plan Your Days

You’re probably spending a lot less time in class compared to when you were in high school. You may not even have scheduled classes every day. So, it can be really helpful to come up with a general plan for how you’ll spend your time, both on the days when you have class and the days you don’t. 

This includes blocking out time for studying and getting assignments done. You may want to build in chunks of time for this, which might include going to the library to work on your homework or studying with friends.

Or consider blocking out a specific period of time to study before getting together with friends. If you socialize first, it can be easy to delay or avoid getting your work done. Figure out an approach that works for you.

Stay Organized at College

If it will be helpful for you, come up with a system for tracking what’s due and when. Many free apps can help: 

  • Google Calendar is a calendar app where you can mark down due dates, block out time to do your work, and keep your general class and extracurricular schedule.
  • Reclaim.ai is a tool you can add to Google Calendar that helps you find time for tasks, habits, and more.
  • Todoist allows you to make lists and organize projects.
  • Notion enables you to take and organize notes, track projects and goals, and more.

If you prefer an analog approach, you could mark due dates on a paper calendar, create a to-do list on a notepad, or use an academic planner. And if you find that tracking your to-dos adds stress or makes you feel as if you’re not keeping up, let go of that approach and be compassionate with yourself. 

Determine which method works best for you to help you track your work and deadlines. 

Prioritize Your Assignments

Some assignments and activities are more important than others, and some may seem more exciting or compelling than others. It’s natural to want to put off doing an assignment that seems harder or less fun. 

Breaking a daunting or boring assignment into chunks can help you get started in a way that seems less overwhelming. For example, you might break up a 10-page essay by:

  • Working on one page per day
  • Working on it two hours per day

Learn more about how to reduce stress by prioritizing and getting organized

Figure Out How to Handle Free Time

Having free time gives you a chance to relax, catch up with friends, think, play, or take a nap. If you’re not sure what to do when you don’t have set activities, jot down some ideas ahead of time. For example:

  • If you’ve been skimping on sleep, taking a brief nap can be a great way to recharge. (But don’t overdo it: Napping more than about 45 minutes may make it harder to fall asleep that night.) 
  • If you’re fatigued or drained but not actually sleepy, going for a walk or getting some other exercise can provide an energy boost. 
  • Or maybe you just want some time to veg out and unwind before deciding what you’d like to do.

Doing a mental check-in to figure out how you’re feeling can help you figure out which options make the most sense. 

Find more tips on balancing academics, extracurricular activities, and your social life in college

Carve Out Time to Recharge

Not having to wake early for class every day (and not having a curfew) can make it easy to stay up late. But if you’re not getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night, you probably won’t feel your best. If you’re regularly falling short of this amount, try to figure out what’s getting in the way and make some adjustments.

Check out this guide to actually getting sleep in college

Ask for Help If You're Feeling Overwhelmed

Here are some places to find it:

  • If you’re living in a dorm, your resident adviser may be a good first step.
  • Your school may have an academic resource center that offers homework help or tutoring. Find tips on managing academic stress in college.
  • Your professors may offer office hours. If you’re feeling stumped or have questions, take the opportunity to reach out for guidance. Learn more about asking for help in college.
  • Mental health resources are likely available through your school’s health center. In addition to offering in-person appointments, many also have additional resources listed on their websites. Learn more about taking care of your mental health in college and getting mental health care on campus when you need it. 
  • If your workload feels too heavy, consider reaching out to your academic adviser to talk about whether it might make sense to drop a class or adjust your schedule. 

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.