Using OneNote to organize a college student

It’s that time of year when we’re in the final stages of getting our new college students ready to head to their school of choice (hopefully) in the fall. Forms, emails, schedules, and reminders all come flooding in with many of them not due for weeks.  How do you keep the firehose of information organized so both your student and you are confident nothing is falling through the cracks? My recommendation…turn to OneNote. As the father of one graduated college student and one starting in the fall, I’d like to share some insights and ideas around how you can put OneNote to use in keeping everything organized and removing one stress point from the life of a new college student.

Create a college notebook

To begin, create a OneNote notebook dedicated to just college information.  I don’t recommend integrating into another notebook due to the sheer volume of information you’re going to be managing combined with the fact you will be sharing this notebook between two or more people. Once you have the notebook created, share it to everyone who will need access (usually the student and parents/guardians/adult roles of choice). This structure will also work if you are managing only your own information, as you just eliminate the sharing step.

Create sections in the notebook

You will need sections for each major area of college life in the notebook. I recommend at a minimum:

  • Housing
  • Financial
  • Transportation
  • Schedule
  • Enrollment
  • Scholarships
  • Forms
  • Action Items
  • Quick Reference

You may be wondering how you handle the overlap between sections such as Forms and Financial.  That’s one of the strengths of OneNote. If it is easiest for you to have a section of all the Forms you have submitted to the school, you can use the linking capability of OneNote to create links in the other sections back to those original forms.  If it is easier for you to keep the forms in the sections where they apply, such as Scholarships, you can create a page in the Forms section with links to the forms spread out in the other sections.  The objective is to make sure information is at your fingertips when you need it.

The Quick Reference section is typically only one page in the section.  On that page put everything you might need frequently and quickly. Student ID, office numbers, professor email addresses, emergency contact numbers, pizza delivery numbers, whatever you find yourself looking up more than twice is worth putting in the Quick Reference section.

Install the mobile OneNote client

Make sure you have OneNote installed on your smartphone so you have access to your information at all times. Once you have installed the mobile client (iOS or Android) open your new notebook to make sure you have access and everything is syncing. Here’s a pro tip…press and hold on the name of the notebook and then add the notebook to your home screen for quick access. Now that you have the mobile client set up you can use it to capture information whenever you need to and best yet take pictures of important things for later recall.  Any text in pictures you take becomes searchable so finding that course syllabus again after two weeks is a simple matter.

Capture everything

Make it a habit to capture everything into your OneNote notebook.  It is far easier to delete something later when you don’t need it than to go searching for it when you do. Notes, photos, illustrations, whatever you need to keep on hand is best stored in OneNote rather than taking up that valuable brain space you need for your classes.


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