Academic Planner: Must-Have Tool for College

By Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED

AT A GLANCE

Time-management is challenging for many college students, but for those with learning difficulties or executive function issues it’s often the difference between success and failure • There is no better tool than the academic planner to help students manage their time effectively and bring order out of chaos


For college students that struggle with organization and time-management, the academic planner is an indispensable tool. Why? Because planning and preparation are the keys to college success.

Many professors give long-term assignments such as papers, projects, and presentations. Even an exam is considered long-term since most tests generally cover multiple weeks’ worth of information.

Advanced planning is essential for all students, but it’s especially important for those who lack strong time-management skills or have other executive function issues.

Planner Options

The most effective planner is organized for monthly and weekly views. The monthly calendar shows the big picture, allowing students to see looming deadlines. The weekly calendar offers the near view, or day-to-day responsibilities.

There are print versions and electronic versions. Both work well, but students often do better with a print version as tasks are easier to see. Also, the simple act of writing down assignments and due dates helps some students reinforce them.

Either way, choose a planner format that has writing spaces large enough to record all the details. If you’re buying a print academic planner, look for one that says “Academic Monthly/Weekly” which encompasses both fall and spring semesters. Most planners run the calendar year from January to December, making them less suitable for students than the versions that run from July to July. But as long as they have the monthly/weekly feature, they are useful tools.

Using Your Planner

Here are some guidelines to help you get the most out of your planner:

  1. For each course highlight all long-term due dates on the syllabus. These include papers, presentations, and tests, as well as conferences with the professor, last day to withdraw from the class, etc.
  2. Take the highlighted dates from all your syllabi and enter them into the monthly calendar in your planner. Make sure to include the classes they’re for. Example: TEST, chapters 1-4, ENG 101. You can even color code for each course, making the assignments even more noticeable.
  3. On separate paper, take each task on the monthly calendar, break it down into individual pieces, and make a list. For example, if you have a history paper due on Oct. 21st your list might look like this:
    • Select topic and write thesis statement
    • Do research
    • Organize research on index cards and place in proper order
    • Write rough draft
    • Proofread/ask someone to look over the paper
    • Write final draft
    • Hand in paper
  1. Next, work backwards on the weekly calendar, starting from the due date, using the monthly calendar to view your other responsibilities. On the weekly calendar, enter “Hand in history paper” on Oct. 21st. You might enter “Write final History draft” on Oct. 18th, assuming that date works for you. Then, for example, “Proofread history paper” on Oct. 16th, etc. until you work your way back to the first item on the list. Always allow more time for a task than you think it will take because we all know unanticipated problems arise.
    Again, you can color code this for easier recognition.
  1. Now that you know how to create a GPS system for each course, you need to know two basic rules for using it:
    • While this is an academic planner, it’s also for personal planning. Imagine scheduling a meeting with your professor only to realize you have a dental appointment at the same time. Record all personal responsibilities (medical appointments, dates with friends, work hours, etc.) on monthly and/or weekly calendars—whichever you decide works best. No more worries about double-booking!
    • Never leave the house without your planner, even on days you don’t have school.

Joan M. Azarva is a college learning specialist who focuses on the transition from high school to college for students with LD and ADHD.

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