How To Organize Your Files In College The RIGHT WAY

There are certain phrases I have heard far too many times for my liking. Some of phrases need only be uttered once to join this category. This is one of them:

“Shit, where did I save that file?”

College is full of classes. Classes are full of projects and assignments. And those things are usually done on computers.

Add in resumes, cover letters, notes, applications, and other random things, and you arrive at a single, inescapable conclusion: you’re going to be saving lots of files throughout your college career.

Unfortunately, not every student knows how to properly organize those files. Either that, or they’re just lazy and short-sighted. Regardless, you don’t want to be one of these students.

Nothing sucks more than frantically searching through your pictures folder for EnglishPaperFinalVersion6-ActuallyFinalThisTime.docx right before it’s due, only to realize a moment too late that you lazily put it in your Borderlands 2 game saves folder.

Today I’ll show you how I’ve organized my computer files since I started college. The benefits should parallel my own experience:

  • I’ve never lost an important file since starting college
  • I’ve never been in a situation where I didn’t have access to an important file (thanks to Dropbox)
  • It takes me almost no time at all to locate any file I need

Contrast this to my high school experience, in which I lost several flash drives and had probably the most convoluted and unorganized computer ever (it didn’t help that I shared it with my brother).

The benefits come at a small price, though. Firstly, you have to take the time to properly set up your file system. This might take longer if you’ve already got a ton of files, but it’s worth it in the end.

The other price you have to pay is…

Constant Vigilance!

Once you’re system’s set up, you’ve got to make sure you save your files in the right place, and you’ve also got to stop yourself from creating new folders in the wrong places. Yeah, it’s a bit of work, but again, it’s worth it.

So, if you’ve ever struggled to find a file, or feel that your computer’s a mess, read on and then do the work.

The Foundation

First and foremost, download and install Dropbox. You’ve probably heard of Dropbox before, but I’ll refresh your memory about its features real quick:

  • Dropbox creates a folder on each computer you’ve installed it on
  • Files in this folder are synced to the cloud and kept updated on all your computers
  • All your files are also available to download from your profile on the Dropbox website, and from their mobile apps
  • It’s got other cool features you may or may not care about

The upshot of all this is that you’ll always have access to your files wherever you are, as long as you’ve got a computer with an internet connection (or your smartphone), and you know your Dropbox login info.

No more mental breakdowns caused by leaving your English final on your computer at home. No more carrying around a flash drive.

You have no idea how much easier Dropbox makes your life in college until you use it. It’s saved my ass countless times. Simply put, use it. Put your school files in it and never look back.

Dropbox gives you 2 GB of space for free, so you won’t be able to put your music or a ton of raw, unedited pictures in it. But it’s great for documents, regular-sized pictures, and whatnot.

If you’re a design student, or somebody who needs a lot more space for some other reason, there are ways you can earn more space. I’ve used my referral link to earn about 19.5 GB of free space over the last few years (and a good portion came before this blog was ever well-known).

Folder Structure

On each of my computers, I put my Dropbox folder in a pretty high level place, like my Documents folder. It doesn’t really matter, but since it forms the foundation of my file system, it feels better to have it there.

From there, I break my life down into components and create folders for each of them. The photo below shows several levels of my Dropbox. The main folder has folders for college, this blog, my freelance web design (Radiant), learning projects, etc.

I’ve also got a place for folders I share with others, as well as a folder for Notepad++ portable, just in case I find myself using a random computer and need access to a better text editor.

File Organization

The main thing you should pay attention to here is my “College” folder, which I’ve drilled into a bit more so you can see how it’s organized. My method to organizing the madness that is college goes like this:

  • School year (I moved my Freshman folder to long-term storage to save space at one point)
  • Class (all non-project files for each class go here)
  • Specific project folders

I’ve also got a Clubs folder for things pertaining to clubs and organizations, as well as an Admissions folder that holds copies of admissions documents and the like.

Once you’ve got a structure like this, you simply have to keep it organized, save things in the right place, and be disciplined enough not to deviate from it when creating new folders. Organization FTW!

Redundancy

Sometime last year, I was sitting in the library waiting for a partner to show up for project work. While waiting, I overheard a girl talking about how her Macbook’s hard drive crashed and couldn’t be fixed. She had no backups, so she lost everything.

Don’t let this happen to you. Even though Dropbox does technically back up your files, it’s a platform you don’t control. So don’t depend 100% on it.

Here’s what I do: Once a month, I copy my entire Dropbox folder over to an external hard drive. This way, I’ve got my files backed up both in the cloud and also on a device I control.

Related: Check out this podcast episode on keeping yourself safe on the internet!

Hopefully this post has given you the motivation you need to start organizing and keeping your files safe. It might seem mundane, but it can save you a lot of time and headaches.

One last note; if you haven’t already, get a file box for all your important papers that you don’t want to lose as well. That way your messy room won’t claim them.

Boom.

photos: booksMad Eye Moody

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

Hey there! Please note that some links in the article may be referral links, meaning that if you buy something through them, I'll earn a commission (at no extra cost to you). This helps to support CIG, but please don't buy anything unless you truly believe it'll benefit you! You can learn more here. Thank you :)

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9 Comments:
  1. Hi Thomas,
    Thanks for a great post. I’m a little confused how you use Evernote whilst still using the regular filing system (that you back up to Dropbox). What files/classes/projects go into Evernote? What don’t? How do you decide?

    Would love some tips as I am currently struggling deciding what to include in Evernote, especially because there is a maximum file limit for some videos AND you can’t create multiple layers of files

    Thanks!

  2. It’s so hard to find actually useful information about college nowadays. I chose to discover some good details to cheer her up and include up to her self-confidence a little bit.

    Anyhow thanks for the details, appreciate it 😉

  3. For those that don’t have the money for an external hard-drive, another alternative is to root your Google Drive into Dropbox and have it saved there as well. You can even go further and have it sync to SkyDrive as well. But just a 8GB flash drive should work as well (probably for all 4 years of usage, but one per year would be good too).

    • I haven’t actually heart about merging Google Drive with Dropbox – can you link me an article? I’m intrigued. I agree with the flash drive idea though; for most students, 8gb will easily hold everything college throws at you. The only problem is that they’re so freaking easy to lose. If you’re going to go that route, it’s essentially to hook it to a big lanyard or something. I can’t even count how many drives I’ve lost…

  4. Thanks for the article Tom! This motivated me to finally start making use of Dropbox. I had signed up half a year ago, and gotten 50GB free storage with a promotion involving my new Samsung phone (this might apply to some people: https://www.dropbox.com/help/297/en ), but never found much use for it.
    Have started organizing my files the way you recommended and my desktop has become super-tidy. Cheers!

    • Awesome! I’m super-jealous that you got 50gb free – that’s just insane. I’ve been working at getting those referrals for years and just have 20gb, though that’s still pretty good 🙂

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