The Top Three Microsoft Tools to Organize and Elevate the Life of a College Student

Makayla Mota

The mornings are crisper, and the excitement and possibility in the air are palpable. The leaves are starting to slightly shift colors, and there are glimpses of school buses and new backpacks at every turn. Ahhh, September and back-to-school season are upon us. Students these days have traded in their number two pencils for styluses and their three-ring binders for devices, but the sense of hope and new beginnings remains the same.

In 2022 over 183,000 educational institutions are using Teams to enable collaboration among students and faculty. Among them is the Teaching Fellows program at UNC Chapel Hill. When student Katelyn Rhyne started college, she found herself struggling to stay organized and on top of everything within her unfamiliar environment.

“I was questioning how I went from straight-A high school student to a college student that’s struggling to get an A/B,” she says. “And I see that a lot when I talk to my peers and classmates.”

When she began the Teaching Fellows program at UNC under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Diliberto, she was introduced to a variety of Microsoft tools. Katelyn had a familiarity with programs like Microsoft Word and Excel, but it wasn’t until she was given the opportunity to attend a Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Training Academy with Cindy Daniels, a Professional Learning Consultant at Connection, that she began to gain some insight into programs such as Teams, OneNote, and To Do.

1. Teams—For Optimal Collaboration

“I started using Teams at the same time I was learning Google Meet and Google Classroom,” Katelyn says. “I quickly found that I preferred Teams for scheduling meetings and video calls, because there were more specification options when scheduling. The layout of Teams in general was also easier to follow since everything from meetings, files, and messages were all connected and easily accessible without having to open new tabs.” 

Cindy explains that one of the major factors for Microsoft in the classroom over other programs is because of the alignment of their organizational tools, whereas other platforms feature programs that all have a separate purpose. Microsoft can communicate, collaborate, and provide accessibility in all their arenas. 

During her undergraduate years, Katelyn worked on campus at UNC Carolina Performing Arts, and they were using Teams to communicate as well. Katelyn was impressed with the level of organization; their Team was set up with Channels focused on different events and projects, which made it easy to seek out information or ask questions in the designated channel, so you were not disturbing everyone to get the information you needed. 

“Teams has helped me stay connected to my superiors, share project ideas, and collaborate with my peers and colleagues,” she says. “For work and school especially, Teams was useful since there is an app for it. So, no need to sign into an account online, I have access to all I need just with a touch of a button on my phone or laptop.”

2. OneNote—For Organizational Greatness

For me, OneNote has always been the shining star, the not-too-well known, little organizational gem of the Microsoft Suite. I trained teachers on using OneNote both in the classroom and for lesson planning for years. Talking to Katelyn, I could tell she felt the same affection for it.

“OneNote has been beneficial for me throughout my college experience. I created digital notebooks and organized my class notes on my laptop so that I wouldn’t have to carry as many books around campus. I also used it for personal tasks like planning my class schedule and college goals and timeline. The nice thing about OneNote is that it has three levels of organization (notebooks, sections, and pages), so there are endless possibilities for organizing school as well as hobbies or life.”

She also praises the physical feel of OneNote, which is something I absolutely agree with. The layout of a OneNote notebook mimics a traditional binder with tabs and pages, so if you’re also a fan of doing things on paper, OneNote truly feels like flipping through a notebook.

“It just makes sense with how my brain works and how I would organize physically, so I think that is a nice transition for people learning it,” she says. It also reduces some of the cognitive load of keeping track of everything for a college student. “I open the OneNote app and it’s not like I am searching through files—they’re all right there—it is just the tabs I click between to find what I need.”

Katelyn also found a great studying tool in OneNote, creating guides with several types of content and sharing them out with her peers. “OneNote was most useful for me when I needed to study for tests because I could create my own study guides full of mind maps, pictures, words, etc., and then I could share it with others to add their thoughts. It made group studying more accessible, in case we didn’t have common availability to meet to study.”

3. To Do—To Get It All Done, On Time

Cindy recently introduced Katelyn to the To Do app, and Katelyn has become a quick supporter. Because the app works across platforms and can be utilized through the Microsoft desktop and mobile app, it is ideal for a college student.

“I just recently started using the Tasks and To Do app. It has helped me create reminders for myself. Up until this point, I’ve written all the things I need to do or remember in a planner. That works well unless I forget to open and check my planner. I know I will always check my phone multiple times a day, so having the reminders show up there was a good choice for me.” 

In the “My Tasks” section Katelyn can manage her academic, professional, and personal tasks, knowing that nothing will be forgotten.

“I like that as an app, Tasks and To Do will give me various types of reminders, like banners and notifications on my home screen, and then make a bell noise once I’ve checked off a task. It’s satisfying and motivates me to keep completing tasks.”  

Katelyn experienced what happens to many first-year students in college: the realization of being on their own, coupled with the responsibility of managing their class loads, jobs, and social responsibilities as adults. It can be very overwhelming, and even if academics was something that came easily for you as a high school student, college can be a completely different situation. Microsoft for Education tools have the power to connect the dots by including collaboration, communication, and accessibility tools across every platform. And because everything is aligned, it limits distractibility and eases the cognitive load—making the transition and journey through college a little easier while also preparing students for the professional world. It’s an A+ all around. Please see Connection’s Academies and Workshops for Educators for more information about planning a Microsoft training session, just in time for back-to-school season.

Makayla Mota is a Partner Marketing Specialist at Connection with a background in educational technology training on Microsoft solutions in the classroom. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, spending time with her family, antiquing, hiking, and watching movies.