99 Powerful College Hacks to Help You Master Student Life
By Luke Redd
| Last Updated March 18, 2020
Are you trying to figure out how to get through school without jeopardizing your health, finances, social life, or academic success? Don't worry. You've got this. All kinds of great college hacks exist for maximizing your effectiveness and well-being. You don't have to choose between enjoying your time and getting good grades. You can do both—and plenty more.
It's true. Over many decades, an almost endless number of useful school hacks have been invented by students like you. From techniques for studying smarter to strategies for making friends and thriving in a college or university dorm setting, students have come up with plenty of fun and practical ways to better manage their time and activities. So, why reinvent the wheel when you can benefit from the solutions of countless students who've come before you?
This article details several of the best academic and general life hacks for school. You'll learn how to succeed as a college student, both inside and outside the classroom. And you'll discover ways to maximize your social, physical, emotional, and intellectual wellness during your time in college, university, or vocational school.
- Top 8 college life hacks: The most helpful habits
- 19 planning and organization hacks
- 16 class and study hacks
- 20 college dorm hacks
- 11 networking and social life hacks
- 16 hacks for physical, emotional, and intellectual wellness
- 9 money-saving hacks
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Top 8 College Life Hacks: The Most Helpful Habits
The Internet is teeming with both practical and hilarious ways to make life as a college student easier and more enjoyable. But when it comes to achieving greater success and overall effectiveness, some strategies have much more impact than others. Here are eight of the best tips you should always follow:
1. Prioritize your nightly sleep.
College and university students are notorious for having bad sleep habits. You may even be someone who thinks that college is the perfect time for following the popular saying "I'll sleep when I'm dead." But sticking to a consistent sleep schedule is one of the most beneficial life hacks for students. By getting at least eight hours of quality sleep every night, you can maximize your health, memory, ability to learn, and much more. By not getting enough sleep, you potentially damage all of your most important faculties.
That's why you should always go to bed each night and wake up each morning at the same times—even on the weekend. Also, ensure that your dorm room is cool and dark when it's time for bed. And if you still don't believe that prioritizing your sleep is all that necessary, be sure to watch the following video (and share it with your friends). You'll learn why sleep may be your ultimate superpower.
2. Plan almost everything.
Many college students feel overwhelmed as they try to keep up with all of their commitments and responsibilities. It can feel like trying to control things within a swirling vortex of chaos. But college life doesn't have to be that way. Successful students understand that planning and organization form the foundation of effective time management, which leads to a genuine sense of control.
So use a daily and monthly planner (paper or digital) and schedule all of the activities you need and want to get done. It will set you apart from most other students. Every activity in your college life should be accounted for, hour by hour. That includes class time, study time, social activities, work, eating, sleeping, and anything else you do.
Get everything out of your head and into a planner or calendar. Then, follow your plan, revising as it necessary (but as little as possible). It's a simple, common-sense hack that's too often overlooked. (The alternative—"winging it"—can result in procrastination, late nights, wasted time, stress, anxiety, and missed deadlines and opportunities.)
3. Sit at the front in every class.
Is your instinct to sit in the back row or hide yourself from your professor? If so, it's time to make a change. This is one of the easiest hacks to do, but few students realize just how powerful it can be. It's especially helpful if you're easily distracted or find it tempting to catch a snooze during class. By sitting in the first row, you'll force yourself to pay attention and learn the material, lest you look stupid or get called out by your professor for not being focused or prepared.
Also, many professors develop a positive bias toward students who sit up front. So if you're one of those students, you may be given slightly higher grades when your professors are deciding between, for example, giving you a B+ or an A- on papers or exams.
4. Quiz yourself regularly.
Taking practice tests is one of the most effective ways to learn and retain information. According to research published by Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI), it's better than many of the most commonly used study techniques. Plus, there's no stress involved in quizzing yourself this way because the stakes are so low. If you get an answer wrong, you merely focus a little more time on learning the correct information. You don't have to worry about being graded.
It's easy to find practice tests online on a wide variety of topics. Many colleges and universities make them available on their websites. Simply type "site:.edu" into a Google search, followed by the topic you're learning, followed by the word "exam." The more practice tests you take, the more knowledge you'll retain—as long as you always make an effort to learn why you answer certain questions incorrectly.
You can also use flashcards, which are convenient and just as effective. They enable you to practice retrieving the information you've studied and, bit by bit, master the material. You can even take them with you wherever you go, whether you're out on long walks or waiting in line somewhere. The key is to shuffle the deck frequently and keep the cards you've mastered in the deck until you've correctly retrieved their information at least three times. You can even use an app like Quizlet to make your own flashcards or use the cards of other users.
5. Space out your studying.
Put another way: Stop cramming. You might feel heroic when you complete an all-night or last-minute study session, but you aren't really helping yourself. Cramming may work sometimes, for short-term retention of information, but it doesn't help you remember what you've learned over the long term. So it can come back to haunt you when you take more advanced classes in the same subjects, which require you to have a certain foundation of knowledge to build on.
Even for short-term results, cramming is generally less effective than beginning your studies as early as possible and studying at regular, spread out intervals over longer amounts of time. And for long-term retention of what you're studying, spaced learning is far and away the better option, according to PSPI research. Combined with taking practice tests, this strategy can be incredibly effective. And it allows you to schedule short bursts of study time as opposed to lengthy all-nighters that are best avoided.
6. Keep your dorm room open (as often as possible).
Do you want to make new friends and gain a reputation for being friendly and approachable? If so, you need an easy way to achieve those outcomes. When it comes to school life hacks, this one tends to have some of the most positive benefits. And it's super simple—as long as your roommate(s) are on board with the idea (if you share the room).
When you're in your dorm room (and not sleeping or getting dressed), leaving your door open communicates your willingness to meet new people and establish good college relationships. Other students can easily stop in for a quick chat, and your room may even become a social hub—giving you a reputation for facilitating connections.
Besides, as you'll learn later in this article, studying in your dorm room isn't such a great idea. When you don't need privacy, make your room a social space. (Just keep your valuable items tucked away, and don't be afraid to ask people to leave if you ever start to feel threatened or uncomfortable.)
7. Spend more time with your professors.
Outside of school environments, it's rare to have such easy access to expert mentors. But relatively few college students take advantage of the opportunities to engage with their professors beyond the classroom. That means you probably have the chance to stand apart from other students, gain a much deeper understanding of what you're studying, and establish connections that can greatly impact your future success.
In fact, even though many professors actively encourage their students to visit them during their office hours, it's often the case that only a few students—and sometimes no students—ever show up. By visiting your professors outside of class, you'll send a clear message that you're interested in what they are teaching and willing to make the effort to learn everything you can from them. That can pay off with higher grades as well as letters of recommendation and referrals to potential employers and other mentors.
8. Read truly useful books—and dip back into them often.
Yes, there are way too many self-help books. Relatively few of them are actually worth reading. However, many time-honored classics and soon-to-be-classics are available that you should definitely own. You can gain a lot more than you probably realize by reading them at least once, applying what you learn to your life, and then dipping back into them every now and again. Here are some of the best books to start with:
- Hack College Like an Entrepreneur by Antonia Liu
- How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport
- How To College by Brian Robben
- How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie
- How to Win at College by Cal Newport
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
- The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns
19 Planning and Organization Hacks
As already mentioned, you should plan as much as possible. After all, structure and efficiency are king. You need to develop your own system and strategies for staying prepared and methodically making your way through school. Here are some hacks that can help:
1. Visualize what you want to achieve.
Starting each day, week, month, and year with a clear vision of what you hope to accomplish makes it easier to stay moving in the right direction, especially when things get stressful.
2. Make a vision board.
Being able to see your biggest goals visually represented in one place can help you stay inspired and motivated, particularly in those moments when you question why you're making so much effort.
3. Sign up for classes on the first day of registration.
Any popular courses you want to take will quickly become unavailable if you wait too long.
4. Try to get a three-day class schedule.
For example, see if you can have all of your classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or from Tuesday to Thursday. That way, you can dedicate entire non-class days to work, study, recreation, and other activities.
5. Choose some classes that allow you to learn practical skills.
True career readiness requires having a plan for how you'll gain both hard and soft employer-valued skills.
6. Pick one day a week to do nothing but class assignments.
If you run out of current assignments, look ahead in your syllabi and start studying for upcoming exams, presentations, or other assignments. Doing this will give you more time and mental space for the rest of your week.
7. Always read the syllabus.
This allows you to know what to expect in each class in terms of assignments, exam dates, presentations, and attendance requirements. If you know what's coming, you can plan for it.
8. Mark the top edges of all your notebooks with a different color.
By color-coding them with markers, you'll be able to more quickly identify the one you need at any given moment.
9. Take advantage of great mobile apps.
10. Utilize your phone's lock screen.
For example, set it up each morning to display an image of your checklist or schedule of classes and activities.
11. Place physical reminders of what you need to do wherever you're likely to look.
Post-it notes are great for this.
12. Designate a space for studying that isn't your bedroom or dorm room.
Plan to always study away from where you sleep so that you train your brain not to associate studying with resting. The library is a good option.
13. Put together a dedicated bag for studying.
Keeping all of your study supplies in one backpack means you're always prepared to grab it and go to a favorite study group or location.
14. Start with your most essential task.
Doing the big stuff first allows you to feel more confident and at ease while going through the rest of your daily checklist. And it helps prevent procrastination.
15. Focus on just one or a few small chunks at a time.
This hack is particularly helpful for any self-directed online courses you take. (Worrying about a whole course can make you feel overwhelmed and lower your productivity. Instead, break each course down into smaller pieces that feel easy to handle.)
16. Clean and organize your room and backpack once a week.
Removing messes and clutter can make you feel less stressed and prevent things from "falling through the cracks."
17. Put blue or black ink cartridges in red pens.
You'll discourage potential pen stealers.
18. Begin your job search early.
The best time to start researching potential employers is while you're still in school. Act as if you're looking for work in your field as you move through your studies.
19. Recruit an accountability buddy.
Sometimes it takes the help of someone else to keep you disciplined and on track with your plan.
16 Class and Study Hacks
Do you care about getting good grades? Do you actually want to learn and remember the things you study? If so, these are some of the hacks you should start using:
1. Create alliances with people in each of your classes.
That way, when you can't attend a particular class, you know other students who may be willing to share their notes with you. You can also recruit them to ask questions you know the answers to when you have to give class presentations.
2. Skim ahead before each class.
By checking out what may be covered in class, you'll prime your brain to remember more of it.
3. Get permission to record your professors' lectures.
After all, you don't want to overlook anything or have to focus so much on how quickly you can take notes. You'll be able to let your mind get deeply immersed in the subject matter, writing things down that jump out at you as being extra significant.
4. Ask questions whenever necessary.
Don't let yourself remain confused when you have the opportunity to gain clarity. Other students probably have the same questions but are afraid to speak up. And asking questions can help you earn a positive reputation with your professors.
5. Read—for real.
If you only skim the material, don't expect to remember it later. Reading everything with curiosity will go a long way toward helping you actually learn what you're in school to study.
6. Use a variety of colors when taking notes.
By using several of your favorite colors, you'll engage your visual memory better than if you just stick to one boring color.
7. Turn off the distractions.
When you have easy access to the Web, it's always tempting to waste time checking social media or surfing your favorite sites. Use an app like Freedom to block yourself from such websites for a chosen amount of time while you're studying or attending class.
8. Get active before (or while) studying.
Exercising can help your brain retain information. Even something as simple as taking a long walk while listening to a recorded lecture or quizzing yourself with flashcards may help you hang on to what you need to remember.
9. Take frequent breaks when you study.
Don't spend any longer than 30 to 90 minutes at a time studying. That way, you don't exhaust your mind or body. Just keep your breaks under 20 minutes each so that you don't kill your momentum.
10. Join study groups if you have trouble studying alone.
Sometimes, being part of a group forces your mind to concentrate in order to help you avoid being seen as the weak link. Plus, you can reinforce what you've already learned (or learn new material better) by mentoring other people or trying to teach them the subject matter at hand.
11. Use a distinctive scent or flavor of gum when you study.
Later on, when you take an exam on the same subject matter, chew the same gum or sniff the same scent. You'll have an easier time recalling what you studied.
12. Take advantage of lulls in campus activity.
You'll be able to find more quiet areas for studying during times when most students are sleeping in or going off campus, such as weekend mornings or holidays.
13. If you're falling behind, tell your professor.
The sooner you do this, the better. Your professor can probably help you get up to speed during his or her office hours.
14. Take advantage of Google Scholar.
Since it filters out a lot of untrustworthy sources, this tool makes it much easier to find credible academic studies and papers when you're researching a particular topic online.
15. Use Google Translate to discover mistakes in your college essays and reports.
Simply copy and paste what you've written into this valuable online tool. Then, hit the audio button to have it all read back to you. Listen for any errors or problems with the flow, rhythm, or clarity of your words. It's a great complement to traditional proofing methods.
16. Do "brain dumps."
Before each exam, write down everything you can remember about the relevant subject matter (without looking at anything else). This will help reinforce the information, and if you check it all against your notes and books, you may discover gaps and errors in your knowledge that you still have time to fill and correct.
20 College Dorm Hacks
Living in a college or university dorm is seen by many students as a rite of passage. But although it can be a lot of fun, it can also come with a lot of challenges. You need ways to deal with some of the inherent limitations of dorm living. For example, it's useful to start by learning what to pack for college and exploring a bunch of easy meals you can make. Here are some other practical dorm room hacks:
1. Raise the height of your bed with a loft kit.
If your school allows it, this will give you a lot more space below your bed for storage or other uses.
2. Get a memory foam mattress topper.
The beds in a lot of college dorm rooms are pretty basic, so they aren't always comfortable.
3. Utilize lightweight rolling drawers or low-height storage containers.
This will give you more flexibility when it comes to arranging your dorm room and saving space.
4. Stash a few folding chairs under your bed.
Bring them out whenever you need additional seating.
5. Save space and time by storing your clothes like books.
Fold your clothes and stack them together on their edges (i.e., at 90 degrees) so that you can easily see everything you have and pack more into your drawers. This works especially well for T-shirts.
6. Create cascading hangers by linking them with pull tabs from drink cans.
You'll be able to hang up more clothes and other items in a small closet. Simply loop one side of a pull tab over the top of one hanger, allowing it to fall all the way down. Then loop the other side of the pull tab over the top of a different hanger, keeping it at the top.
7. Put shower curtain rings on the bottom of at least one hanger.
This will allow you to hang up ties, belts, scarves, and similar items for easier access.
8. Save space with hanging shoe organizers.
You can hang them on the backs of doors or off the side of a raised bed and use them to store all kinds of different items.
9. Use bread tabs or washi tapes to distinguish between different cords and cables.
Label the tabs with markers or use different colors or patterns of tape so that you can easily identify everything and stay better organized.
10. Organize your cords and cables with binder clips.
Fasten the clips to the edge of a desk or table, then put each cord or cable through the handles of its own clip.
11. Use 3M Command Picture Hanging Strips to avoid wall damage.
Another fun way to display printed photos is by clipping them to a string with clothespins.
12. Get a clip-on reading light.
That way, you won't disturb your sleeping roommate if you feel like perusing a book after dark.
13. Use a glass to amplify the volume of your phone's alarm.
If you tend to be a deep sleeper, you'll be much more likely to hear the alarm with your phone inside the glass.
14. Wear shower shoes.
This is a must if you want to protect yourself from potential foot infections when using shared shower facilities, which can be pretty gross.
15. Use water when microwaving leftover pizza.
Just put a little water in a mug beside your pizza in order to prevent chewy crust.
16. Eat your food on tortillas.
You won't have to worry about washing as many dishes.
17. Put all of your favorite takeout menus into one binder.
That way, you can quickly order what you want without having to track down each menu.
18. Mask odors by taping scented dryer sheets to the front of a fan.
19. Make your dorm room feel less stuffy with a cool, damp towel.
Open your window and place the towel over it for a refreshing cooling effect. Alternatively, you can turn on a fan and place a frozen bottle of water in front of it.
20. Keep a first aid kit handy.
You never know when you may need quick access to supplies like bandages or meds for pain, colds, allergies, or an upset stomach.
11 Networking and Social Life Hacks
Making friends in college is essential for your social well-being. But it can also be important for your present and future success as a student and career seeker. Here are some tips for thriving at this aspect of college life:
1. Get your timing right.
The first few weeks of a school year tend to be the best time for making new friends. After all, a lot of students don't know anyone yet. You can also introduce yourself to new people by arriving to each class early. Make an effort to learn and remember the name of everyone you meet.
2. Be nice to everyone.
It's a bad idea to make enemies in college. The fewer bridges you burn now, the more options you'll have later. So smile often, walk away from fights, don't sweat the small stuff, avoid engaging in heated arguments whenever possible, and stay humble and chill. Even if you aren't to blame for something, it may not hurt to say, "I'm sorry."
3. Avoid talking about how awesome you were in high school.
Few, if any, people will care. College is about starting fresh and moving forward. Clinging to your past identity or achievements will only serve to turn people off.
4. Be curious about each person you meet.
You can learn something from just about anybody. Plus, showing genuine interest in people makes them feel valued while making you seem interesting.
5. Befriend the smartest, hardest-working, and most enthusiastic students.
Basically, make friends with the kind of people you actually admire and can learn from. Their good habits may rub off on you, and they may have different skill sets that complement your own. Plus, they probably stand a higher chance of achieving great success, which could make them super valuable members of your network down the line.
6. Don't restrict yourself to a particular "tribe."
Explore social opportunities beyond the college setting, outside of your age group, and unrelated to the other things you currently identify with. New avenues of personal growth may only reveal themselves if you make a conscious effort to expand your horizons. Adopt the mindset of an adventurer.
7. Attend a variety of social and networking events.
You don't need to attend rowdy parties (especially if you're an introvert), but it's still a good idea to get out and mingle. Like anything else, developing good social skills takes practice.
8. Stay open, but focus on the people you trust most.
The bonds you form in college can last your lifetime if you invest in the people who are truly supportive and reliable. Don't overlook people who seem like they want to have that kind of friendship with you.
9. Offer to assist your professors with their research.
You can gain valuable experiences and new connections that greatly boost your chances of getting future opportunities, both in college and in your career. (After all, success often hinges on the people you know.)
10. Ask for help when you need it.
You might feel embarrassed, but the people you ask may feel flattered by it. Plus, it gives them a chance to feel good by doing good. Remember that plenty of people have been through the same challenges, so don't hesitate to approach older peers such as your resident advisor or your professors' teaching assistants.
11. Allow your friendships to evolve.
We all deserve the chance to change, grow, and expand our horizons. So if you want to be supported in your own journey, support the journeys of others.
16 Hacks for Physical, Emotional, and Intellectual Wellness
Succeeding at the other areas of college life won't mean anything if you don't take care of yourself. In order to enjoy your achievements, you need good physical and mental health. And, of course, you'll have a harder time succeeding if you feel cruddy. So you always need to pay attention to your well-being, regardless of whether you're on a break, in the middle of your studies, or going back to school. Life hacks like the ones below often seem like common sense, but many of us still need the reminders.
1. Stay physically active.
By developing your own fitness routine, you'll improve your health, energy, memory, and overall disposition. Plus, regular exercise helps you look your best, which makes you feel more confident. (Having a sedentary lifestyle tends to do the opposite.) If you don't like exercising alone, look into joining an intramural sports team.
2. Adopt good eating habits.
That means avoiding too much salt, sugar, and heavily processed food. Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is essential for optimal health.
3. Stay well-hydrated.
Regular water is crucial. By drinking it throughout the day, you'll boost your brain power, mental clarity, immune system, and a lot more. Plus, drinking a whole glass of water before each meal can help you avoid eating too much.
4. Avoid smoking, vaping, and using "uppers."
Nicotine is addictive, regardless of the form in which you consume it. And abusing stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin can have serious mental, behavioral, and health-related consequences.
5. Minimize your consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
College alcoholism is an especially serious problem on many campuses. But even consuming too much caffeine can lead to negative outcomes, particularly when combined with alcohol.
6 Keep up with basic housekeeping and personal hygiene.
Don't let yourself—or your living quarters—become breeding grounds for harmful germs. You'll stay healthier if you clean your dorm room at least once every week or two. Be sure to wash your towels and bed linens. And wipe down all the objects and surfaces you use.
7. Set a separate alarm for bedtime.
That way, you'll train yourself to stop staying up too late. Prioritizing your sleep is, after all, the number one life hack. Sleep (or lack of it) affects everything.
8. Minimize the time you spend watching TV or playing video games.
When these activities become a major habit, it becomes more likely that you'll procrastinate on the important stuff (or ignore it altogether). And that can lead to serious regret later in your college career. That's why some students choose not to own a TV at all, especially early on.
9. Put time and effort into your own ideas and projects.
You don't necessarily have to become an entrepreneur, but working on the things you're most passionate about (as much as possible) will keep you more engaged in life. Not everything has to be about work or school.
10. Read and study for personal enjoyment.
Whether it's fiction or non-fiction, reading for pleasure (even just half an hour a day) can make you feel more grounded. And it's OK to take classes in some of your favorite subjects, even if they aren't related to your major.
11. Choose the most enthusiastic professors when given the chance.
Their passion will inspire you to reach for more of your potential and may even change your outlook in positive yet surprising ways.
12. Keep in touch with the people you love.
Calling them at least once a week will help you combat feelings of being lonely or homesick.
13. Avoid being a hermit for long stretches of time.
Humans are social animals. We all need contact with other people, not to mention sunshine and fresh air.
14. Study overseas if you get the opportunity.
Few things stimulate the mind like immersing yourself in a foreign culture. It can do wonders for the way you perceive the world and your place in it.
15. Take advantage of your school's support system.
Many schools offer counseling and other mental health services for those times when you're having a hard time coping with stress or certain challenges on your own.
16. Protect yourself.
Crimes like sexual assault occur on college and university campuses more often than many people realize. Even established college relationships come with risks. So it's important to adopt a safety mindset. For example, remember that your school may offer police escorts if you have to walk on campus late at night.
9 Money-Saving Hacks
Reducing the cost of college is a major goal for many students. But aside from applying for financial aid, a lot of college students aren't quite sure how to proceed. Here are some tips to save you some cash:
1. Take as many online courses as possible.
You'll likely pay less in tuition and have fewer commuting costs.
2. Don't pay full price for your textbooks.
Most of the books you need can be rented or bought used for much less money. Many publishers also sell less expensive digital versions that you can download. Check out websites like Amazon, Chegg, BookFinder, Student2Student, Campus Book Rentals, and BIGWORDS to find the textbooks you need. In many cases, you can then sell your used textbooks and put the money you receive toward the purchase of books for your next academic term.
3. Get a flexible part-time job.
The best jobs for students make it possible to make money in college while still keeping up with the academic and social aspects of college life. Plus, they can help you develop transferable skills for your post-college career. Research shows that being gainfully employed also tends to make college students feel more confident in their abilities to achieve their goals.
4. Share the living costs.
Having roommates is an obvious way to do this. But a lot of college students save money by living at home or moving in with members of their extended families in the regions where they go to school.
5. Take advantage of your student ID.
All kinds of great student discounts are available. But they aren't always promoted. Be sure to ask about possible discounts for college students before paying full price for anything.
6. Inquire about free or low-cost computers.
Some colleges offer programs that include free or discounted laptops or tablets. And at many schools, it's possible to purchase used, formerly high-end computers for very little money. So it's worth seeing if your school has a salvage department or offers surplus sales. In some cases, the only thing you may need to purchase is a new hard drive.
7. Avoid owning a car (if possible).
Walking, bicycling, and using public transit are all much cheaper options than paying for gas, insurance, and ongoing vehicle maintenance.
8. Say no to credit cards.
Unless you're financially savvy and very disciplined with your budget, you can get into credit trouble very quickly. If you want a credit card for stuff like free online trials, get something like a pre-paid Visa gift card instead.
9. Grab free swag.
By attending various campus events (like career fairs and student orientations), you may be able to load up on complimentary items like T-shirts and school supplies.
Become the Best Version of You
Some college hacks will work for you; others won't. But that's OK. You get to choose your own strategies. As you move forward, you'll find out what works best. Just keep in mind that you can always get extra training. And you don't have to stay on a path you no longer enjoy. There are countless educational options to explore. Check out some of the possibilities near you by entering your zip code in the school finder below!