You just got out of a two-hour lecture and you’ve got all kinds of papers thrown about in your bag. Seven handouts, five pages of handwritten notes, not to mention the textbook and any folders or anything you might have. But how are you going to organize all of this so that you can worry about your grades, instead of where the notes from last week went?

You know you need some kind of note-taking tool for college. But you have no idea what tool is going to give you the best organization. With all of the options available, it’s not surprising that it’s a difficult decision. There’s binders, notebooks, folders, and so much more. Which do you choose?

This post does contain affiliate links. You will not be charged any extra, but I do earn a small commission. You can read my disclosure policy here.

I get it. You've got a boatload of coursework to do. Readings, notes, assignments, papers and so much more. But can I just ask, how are you organizing all of that? Are you a notebooks kind of student, or do you prefer binders? Here's the one thing I do to guarantee organization and A's all semester, every semester.

A lot of this depends on your personal style. But speaking from personal experience, you’re going to want something that allows you to move things around here and there without tearing up a notebook or having paper lying around all over the place.

Lucky for you, I’ve tried them all. I have been taking college courses for about the past eight years.

I’ve learned a lot.

College Note-Taking: Notebooks VS Binders

There is one method that I’ve found to be my go-to. Although sometimes it isn’t feasible for one or two of my courses. My first choice is always, always, always going to be one binder.

I know this sounds like a huge hassle to have to carry around every day (or however often you go to school) but I promise you it is so worth it.

Keeping your class notes and handouts organized is one of the major keys to college success, especially when you’re a high-achiever like me and need that 4.0. If you sit down to study and struggle to find a set of notes, either because they’ve been misplaced or your notes are in no particular order, you’re going to struggle to get any real studying done.

But just to be sure I give you all of the info, I’m going to give you the pros and cons of using each tool. So keep on reading and decide for yourself which really is the best for college organization.

Note-Taking in Notebooks

Notebooks are great. For some things. But not everything. I have notebooks all over the place. But I never use them for my college needs. You wanna know why?

Because they’re flimsy, fill up too fast (or you end up with a half-empty notebook lying around), and have zero pockets for handouts.

I’m not a fan of having to carry around multiple essentials for each class. But there can be some benefit to using single notebooks or one big multi-subject notebook for each class.

So let’s break it down:

Pros of notebooks
  • Lightweight
  • Come in multiple shapes, sizes, and designs
  • Allow all of your notes to be stored in one place

Okay, so I really struggled just coming up with those three pros of using notebooks for note-taking. I think it’s because I’m so set in my ways and preferences. But there are still a couple benefits of using notebooks.

Just remember, college is nothing like high school. Notebooks were great in high school, but they just don’t benefit me in college.

Cons of Notebooks
  • Notebooks quickly fall apart (although if you opt for notebooks, I highly recommend the Five Star Brand because they are by far the sturdiest)
  • Don’t contain pockets for storing your lecture handouts, assignments, etc.
  • Don’t allow the flexibility to move notes to different parts of your notebook.
  • You either run out of pages long before the end of the semester, or you finish the semester with a ton of empty pages left.
  • You’ll still need a folder or binder to hold handouts, study guides, and everything else.

I know that it sounds much easier to have separate notebooks for each class. But you’ll quickly ditch that though when you bring the wrong notebook to class.

I’ve done this many times and it’s one of the reasons I began searching for a better option.

1st exam next week. Just tackled my study guide #eriecommunitycollege #substanceabuse

A post shared by Andolina (@andolinaz90) on

This was a post from the beginning of my degree program. I wanted to study for a big exam and constantly had to pull a whole bunch of things out just to do this.

That’s not the case anymore. This was way too stressful and frustrating. Not to mention distracting. I’d get lost in the lack of organization of my notebook and binder that I couldn’t focus on studying.

I was definitely fed up with this organization system. But it didn’t want to switch organization methods in the middle of a semester so I stuck with it through the whole semester.

It sucked. But it gave me time to brainstorm better methods of organization for my note-taking. Binders were my next thought. I just didn’t know if one big binder for all classes was best, or if I should carry around separate binders.

So I tried both.

More College Survival Tips: 6 Life-Saving Tips for Managing Mental Illness in College

Note-Taking in Binders

Because I tried note-taking and course organization using separate binders as well as one binder, I want to outline the benefits of both for you. Some of you may decide to use different methods for your organization, but it’s always good to know the pros and cons from someone who has tried it all.

Separate Binders for Note-Taking and Organization

I’m the type of student who has no problem splurging on higher quality essentials for college. I have a tendency to use Five Star products because they are super durable and they aren’t extremely expensive. Especially when you consider the value. These products will not let you down, like ever.

I’m going to tell you right now, within a week of the semester I switched to binders my stress-levels dropped at least 60%. After losing notes last semester, and ending up with textbook notes and lecture notes out of order and all over the place, I was ready for the change.

Pros of Separate Binders

While this method was way better than using notebooks, it still had its pitfalls. And trust me, I ran into those a few times.

Cons of Separate Notebooks
  • You run the risk of grabbing the wrong binder for class.
  • Binders take up quite a bit of space, so if you have a small living area you’re going to get frustrated with where the heck you’re going to put all of them.
  • It’s easy to accidentally put notes into the wrong binder if you’re studying for multiple classes at one time.

That first one, I did that about six times. And given the fact that my classes meet one evening a week for three hours, I struggled quite a bit.

By the time exams rolled around, I often had to search through all of my binders for notes that didn’t end up in the right binder.

This led me to my final option for organizing my coursework.

College Essentials: 5 College School Supplies Every Mom in College Needs

One Binder for Note-Taking and Organization

If you’re going with this method I recommend getting at least a 1.5″ binder. And a sturdy one. A couple times I bought a cheap one from Walmart and I had to replace it halfway through the semester. Again, I wholly recommend using Five Star. Their NoteBinder Flex is incredible! And it comes in a couple of different sizes and color options.

The price tag seems a little high, yes. But if you actually do the math you aren’t spending any more than you would be if you were using multiple binders. You actually probably end up saving a couple bucks.

One low-price Walmart binder is about $3.00. You’re taking four classes (usually for full-time). That’s $12 for a few binders that will likely fall apart on you through the semester.

Don’t forget though, you’re also buying dividers for those binders. Yeah, they’re about $1, but if you’re using a single binder, you can separate it by course and then use Post-It tabs to divide your course sections. I printed out section divider pages on my computer and then just used a Post-It tab so I knew where my syllabus was, my unit sections were, and where any big assignment instructions were.

I also suggest purchasing a hole-puncher so that if your professor doesn’t hole-punch, you’ll be able to organize those handouts.

Pros of One Binder
  • You’ll never grab the wrong notebook, binder, folder, etc.
  • If you miss class and have to copy notes from yesterday’s class, you can immediately put them in their proper place.
  • Studying at exam time requires no extra effort to find the right materials.
  • If you have noncumulative exams, you can separate your course section using your exams! (This is one of my favorite pros.)
  • Organization is a breeze

As if all of that wasn’t enough to convince you, I’ve been using this method for the past two semesters and have gotten the grades I want in a less stressful way. I no longer have to scramble for things I need and I am always prepared for class (the right class).

But just to wrap up, I wanted to give you the minimal cons I found with using this method.

Cons of One Binder
  • This is the heaviest choice of them all.
  • You may have to invest in those hole reinforcing stickers (yeah, not a big deal but worth mentioning)
  • You will have to buy a larger binder


Want more where this came from? Fill out that adorable box and I’ll send you weekly blog updates, super secret info that I only send to my list, and bonus freebies on occasion!

P.S. When you sign up you get complete access to my free resource library which contains my 3-page Semester Planner that I created to keep track of important dates and assignments for the semester

I get it. You've got a boatload of coursework to do. Readings, notes, assignments, papers and so much more. But can I just ask, how are you organizing all of that? Are you a notebooks kind of student, or do you prefer binders? Here's the one thing I do to guarantee organization and A's all semester, every semester.

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.

Positive SSL
%d bloggers like this:
Read previous post:
There are plenty of scholarship opportunities for everything. These scholarships are just for women.
8 of the Top Scholarships Just for Women

I am surprised at how much I found in support of women in terms of scholarships. Wow, why hadn't I...

Close