A young college student plans out her weekly schedule

Back-to-School Planners: College Edition

It’s back-to-school season, and for college students, that means back to busy days filled with classes, study groups, extra-curricular activities, part-time jobs, and attempts at being adults.

I know this because not too long ago, I was one of those college students running from one activity to the next with a ridiculously heavy backpack on. I’ve always been a believer in the power of the right planner to make my days more productive and stress-free, but I realized in college that not all students feel the same way I do—so I made it my personal mission to convert all non-planners into planners.

If you’re in college (and even if you’re not), then I promise having a good planner can completely transform the way you feel and go through your days. I’ve tested several planners, both expensive and affordable, and I found some that are ideal for the college lifestyle. And if these college-focused suggestions are too niche for you, my list of best 2016 planners is sure to have something that meets your needs.

College is crazy. Planners can make it easier.

College doesn’t operate on the same timetable as the rest of the world. Every night is a late night. Students aren’t in one place all day long. Classes don’t start every hour on the hour. Instead, classes typically start at times like 2:40, or 9:10, and some will last for 50 minutes while others last for three hours. Extracurriculars aren’t just two nights a week. Some of them, like Greek life events, are every night of the week. Is there a worse feeling than walking into class only to realize you forgot to do your homework, didn’t remember there was a quiz, or totally spaced on the test? In my opinion, not really.

This kind of random, all-over-the-place schedule demands a different kind of planner than the traditional 8-5 hourly layout. It also means that it’s easy for you to forget something, like a deadline or an intramural game, if you don’t write it down in a secure place. Having a planner, whether paper or electronic, is the best way to avoid forgetting these events and due dates.

Erin Condren Life Planners change lives.

I discovered the Erin Condren Life Planner system when I was in my junior year of college, and it completely changed the game for me. It comes in either a vertical weekly or a horizontal weekly layout. Personally, I’m a fan of the vertical layout. It’s divided into mornings, afternoons, and evenings (the horizontal layout is not), and there are no hour times written in it, so there’s freedom to write those wonky class times, to jot down to-do lists for each day, and put reminders for due dates. I personally like having the day divided for me so I can see just how jam-packed the different chunks of time will be. Plus, it gives you the option to just block off the entire afternoon to study or enjoy Netflix for however long you want to.

There’s also a long to-do list on the left-hand side of every week, where you can write down the assignments for the week, any errands you want to run, or just jot down a quote you like. Additional space is left underneath the night section of each day for you jot down notes and to-do lists as well. Having space to write down those little things that need to be remembered was a huge deal for me when I was in college, and I’m willing to bet it will be nice for you too.

There's one thing keeping the EC Life Planner from being perfect.

The only downside, in my opinion, to the EC Life Planner is the price. I was lucky enough to be able to afford the planner with the money I made as a babysitter, but I know $50 is a lot of money for college students, and not everyone thinks a planner is worth that much money. Planners are my life, so it was worth it to me, but most people are shocked when I say that. If that’s too much money for you to spend on a planner, then there are other, similar options out there for you.

If you want more affordable options…

I also dearly love the Day Designer planner system, and have switched to that in the professional world because it works better with my new schedule. Recently, Day Designer collaborated with BlueSky Planners to design a July 2015-June 2016 collection of (more affordable) planners for Target. There are all sorts of layouts and types of planners, but I was most excited about the weekly layout they released. It also comes in a vertical layout, much like the Erin Condren Life Planner. It has a to-do list on the left-hand side and space for notes below each day, but it also has room on the far right-hand side for you to jot down notes, things for the next week, and write down what you were grateful for that week.

The main difference between the two is that Day Designer for BlueSky’s weekly layout has hourly slots from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. There isn’t empty space to write crazy hours, but the planner only costs around $20 (or less if you get a smaller size), so the hourly slots might be livable. The Day Designer for BlueSky collection could be the right planner for you and your budget.

Please, just pick a planner, any planner.

Of course, if none of these are quite your speed, or if you prefer a much simpler planner to get you through the days, Target, Walmart, and most bookstores offer several options for weekly planners that are incredibly affordable. BlueSky has a plethora of options on their website from collaborations with other companies as well, and they are all reasonably priced. Honestly, I don’t care if you purchase Erin Condren or Day Designer; I just want all college students to have a planner. They can make all the difference between an enjoyable, successful college experience and one that’s riddled with stress and missed assignments.

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