Ditch the Dorm: Ways to Create a Well-Organized Off-Campus Study Space

By Francine Fluetsch on March 1, 2017

This article is brought to you by Kaplan, the leader in test prep for over 90 standardized tests, including the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT.

Are you having a hard time getting work done in your dorm room? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Dorms can definitely get distracting, especially when people in your hall don’t have to study and you do.

Instead of pulling your hair out trying to concentrate in your cramped space, why not take your studying off campus to get some work done? Here are some alternatives for when your dorm room just isn’t working out, and how to stay organized to maximize your time.

Coffee shop

Cafés and coffee shops are prime off-campus study locations because they are equipped with free internet, caffeine, and plenty of seats with power outlets. When you are organizing your space, make sure that you pick a seat that has enough table space for you to lay out all of your materials in front of you.

When I work, I always need my laptop and my planner out, as well as all of my color-coding pens. Keep your syllabus handy as well so you can keep track of what you are working on, and keep distracting things like phones out of sight and not in front of you on your workspace.


If you were getting distracted in your dorm by going on the internet and browsing Facebook or watching Netflix, try to do all the work you can without having to enable the internet. Of course, some of our homework requires us to first log on to an application like Blackboard, but instead of staying on the page, download what you have to read or work on and then get out of the Internet. This will help you focus on what you need to get done and won’t let your mind wander towards liking random memes on Facebook.


Whether you want to grab a blanket and sit on the ground or find a nice little bench in your local park, finding an outdoor study space can be really beneficial to helping you stay focused. Being outside, especially on a nice day, will make you feel more relaxed, and will provide enough stimulation without distracting you. To stay organized outside, make sure that you are in an area that doesn’t cause too much glare on your screen so you can work, and make sure that you powered up your computer before you left so you’ll be able to sit for a while and get everything done for the day.

You can bring a friend or two to make the outing feel more fun than studying, but make sure they are bringing stuff to work on as well so you will all end up being productive.

If having people around is the problem, then use this outdoor time to be one with yourself and your thoughts, and bust out your homework so you can have a relaxing evening that is stress-free.

Local library

A local library can be a great off-campus study location because it gives you a change of scenery from your dorm room and campus life in general but still provides the study atmosphere that you need if you prefer a quiet setting. To get yourself situated, pick out an area where you can snuggle into an overstuffed chair, or nestle yourself at a long table surrounded by books and get to work.

If your brain is still frazzled from the chaos of your dorm room, pull out a notepad and start collecting your thoughts and creating a to-do list. Write down everything that should get done before you leave the library, what future things (if any) that you should start on or look into, and what things can be saved for later. This will give you a clear idea of what you will accomplish with your time at the library, and with a quiet place to think, you should be able to get a good chunk of your list done.

I’m a huge fan of paper lists instead of ones on the computer because it feels so satisfying to scratch off an item once you have completed it. Use these little victories to show yourself that some time away from the dorm was worth the trek.

Study group at a friend’s house

While studying off campus at someone’s house can be tempting, it can also be worrisome in the sense that it might be too distracting and you won’t get enough done. If you are stressing to the point where you don’t want socializing to be the main goal of studying at a friend’s house, make sure you let them know up front.

If they too are in hyper study mode, studying at their place in a new but relaxed setting might give you the friendly competition/motivation you need to kick your butt into gear. Whenever I needed some motivation to work on my undergrad thesis, I would sit with other writers and make sure that I was trying to type just as much as they were on their computers. It gave me the boost I needed to really focus on my work and not space out or procrastinate on things I knew needed to get done.


Note: No matter where you go study off campus, make sure that you bring food and water with you. A location can do a lot, but if you don’t have study fuel, you won’t be able to chug along for long and might get hangry. This is why I always opt for the coffee shop as my first go to off-campus study location, but changing up your scenery might give you different production levels, so try out new things and see what works best for you.

Happy studying!

Learn more about Kaplan’s test prep options and start building the confidence you need for Test Day.

Hi! I'm Francine and I'm a fourth year Creative Writing major at UC Santa Cruz. I am one of the Campus life columnists on Uloop's National Team and also the campus editor for UCSC. I enjoy reading, writing, and taking selfies with my cat.

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