College students have enough expenses, so software shouldn’t be one of them. Luckily, at a time when a lot of students will have to learn new skills—whether life skills or skills to help them in school—companies have responded with lots of free software. For some you need an email address tied to a school in order to sign up, others are free for everyone.
And you don’t have to sacrifice quality: some of these titles are the exact same ones your parents are paying big money for. So take advantage while you can! Just remember that a lot of free software makes its money from installing other programs or toolbars on your computer that you may not want, so always choose custom installation if possible, and pay attention to any boxes that are checked or unchecked.
Microsoft Office 365 for Education (Windows, Mac)
There are lots of Office imitators out there, but why not get the real thing for free? Full and part-time tudents (and teachers) get Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Microsoft Teams, and more, completely free (that includes high schools, too!). Plus, it comes with 1 terabyte of OneDrive cloud storage! All you need to sign up is a school-specific email address (like YourName@YourSchool.edu).
While Paint.net does have its roots in the old Microsoft Paint software, it’s much more evolved and has many more features than that basic program, including some advanced ones, like the ability to “undo” all the way to the beginning of the file, and the ability to work with layers. If you’re used to something like Photoshop, you’ll see a lot of the same tools, like the clone stamp, the magic wand, and the lasso. You can save images as a .png or .jpg (probably sufficient for most users), plus a half dozen other formats. You can also download plugins that have been developed by the Paint.NET community.
Jango Music Streaming (browser-based)
The free versions of other music streaming services are loaded with ads. Jango only plays one audio or video ad per DAY! How does it manage that? By earning revenue if they sell you a song you’ve listened to, but also by letting independent artists buy their way into the music rotation. When one of these songs is played, a pop-up lets you see who it is, and you have the opportunity to like the song, become a fan, or contact the artist. It’s a win-win: you get (almost) ad-free music and get to listen to a new song here and there, and the artists get exposure and maybe even a sale.
Tableau (Windows, Mac)
Tableau is an innovative visual analytics tool that helps you to understand large amounts of data by showing it to you in different ways, and K-12 and college students can get it for free. Tableau lets you see data in the form of charts, graphs, maps, and more in order to spot trends, make interactive dashboards, and create beautiful graphics for presentations. There’s also a student guide to help college students use data analytics.
LogMeOnce (Windows, Mac)
Security experts say that the passwords most of us use are too easy, but with so many different accounts and programs and devices, it’s confusing and cumbersome to use complex passwords. One solution is to use one password to access all of your other passwords, which many programs do. LogMeOnce has taken it one step further and uses photo logins, fingerprint logins, or pin logins on your phone to approve logins from other devices, so that you can go truly password free if you want to. You can make complex passwords (or let LogMeOnce come up with them for you), and you’ll never have to remember them!
Prey (Windows, Mac)
Losing a laptop can be devastating for a student, since so much of their lives (and school work!) is probably stored there. Prey is free software that you can download to your PC or Mac (and mobile devices, too) that will monitor your device’s location and let you know when it leaves a certain radius (your dorm, for example). If you mark your laptop as missing, Prey will send you status reports including location, screenshots, and pictures. You can sound an alarm, send a message that will pop up on the screen or even lock the device. There are premium features that can do more, but the basic free version is probably fine for students.
AVG AntiVirus (Windows)
Scammers are getting more sophisticated, so you have to be smart about protecting your computer. There are many paid programs out there that will do the job, but if you can’t afford them you should at least cover the basics with AVG. AVG will protect your PC from viruses and malware, and will also block unsafe links or downloads (it will also remind you what you’re not protected against unless you upgrade to its paid version). It scans yourcomputer without any noticeable slowdown, which is a huge plus.
OneNote (Windows, Mac)
OneNote is an amazing organizational tool that can help you keep all of your notes and assets in one place, and its drag-and-drop boxes can keep everything in order. It autosaves after every single change, so you never have to worry about losing your work. If you’re using a device with a touch screen and a pen, you can handwrite notes as well. You can drag items into OneNote easily from webpages or other sources, or use the OneNote Web Clipping Tool to save entire web pages. If you link to an online video it can be played right in OneNote. You can also use OneNote to record audio and/or video, and it will link the notes you take during the recording to the timecode in the recording. This is incredibly handy for taking notes during lectures and classes. There are OneNote apps for many devices, so if you link OneNote to the cloud you will never be without your notes.
You’re living in a dorm or an apartment. Nobody is looking over your shoulder to see what you spend. You’re finally being treated like an adult when it comes to money. So don’t blow it! Mint doesn’t just keep track of your money by linking to pretty much every financial institution you would ever use, but it also helps you stay on track. It gives you reminders and helps you pay your bills, it analyzes your spending and suggests ways to save and it monitors things like unusual spending and when funds are low. You can also make a budget and check your credit score. All for free!
Cold Turkey (Windows, Mac)
You need to focus. You have a paper due, or an exam or you have to read an entire book before tomorrow, and there are just too many distractions. Cold Turkey is a very simple program that will block you from using sites on the internet (or the entire internet) for a predetermined chunk of time. Start the timer and you’re locked out of Facebook, Netflix, Reddit or whatever it is that distracts you. It works on Windows and Mac and supports all major browsers, so you have no excuse.
Dia (Windows, Mac)
Dia is an open-source diagramming program that can draw flowcharts, diagrams and circuit diagrams. Its user face is simple enough for someone just wanting to make a flowchart, but it also has support for many different kinds of technical drawing. There’s also a repository of additional shapes and objects that can be downloaded to Dia, such as chemistry shapes, renewable energy shapes, and engineering shapes.
Windscribe (Windows, Mac)
Many people use VPNs (Virtual Public Networks) to access the internet so that they can’t be spied on over a public connection or leave a record of searches. Some people may want to stream a TV show that’s blocked in the U.S., or watch a U.S. show while traveling. Perhaps some other people want to bypass restrictive internet blocks at school or at work. Whatever the reason, installing a VPN is easy, and in Windscribe’s case, free. You get 10GB of data a month for your anonymous, non-trackable browsing and eight different countries to pretend you’re browsing from.
Lightworks (Windows, Mac)
Lightworks is a professional-level video editing platform that has a lot of advanced features. You can import just about any video format to Lightworks or record from a camera directly into the program. You can export your video to YouTube and Vimeo as an mp4 at up to 720p. There are lots of built-in effects, a voice-over feature, and a really great text editor for making titles and credits. If you’re a beginner, the website has video tutorials to help get you started, and if you’re a more advanced user the controls and tools should look familiar.
Audacity (Windows, Mac)
Audacity is an open-source multi-track audio editor that can be used to record podcasts, record live audio, edit audio files and combine files into one big production. You can raise the level on a file that’s too quiet, cut out swear words, reduce noise on a recording that’s hard to hear, remove pauses and change the speed and pitch of a file. This is the only audio editor you need to produce great multi-track songs or conversations and it’s free!
Don’t be that person who loses everything in a computer crash. Backing up your PC is super important, and the best way to do it is regularly and automatically. With EaseUS Todo, you can back up your system and files on a schedule to a safe place (including a local drive, CD or DVD, external drive, or the cloud) in case you lose everything. Backups can be done incrementally to save time, so that only the things that have changed are backed up each time. Start doing this now, before it’s too late!
Back to School Guide
- The Best College Laptops for Every Major
- The Best 2-in-1 Laptop/Tablet Hybrids
- Which MacBook Should You Buy? MacBook vs. Air vs. Pro
- The Best Laptops and Chromebooks for Less Than $500
- 10 Best Back-to-School Laptop Backpacks
- The Best Laptop Bags, Backpacks, Cases and Luggage
- The Most Stylish Laptop Bags for Women
- Laptop Buying Tips for Students
- Laptop Mag's Back to School Guide
- The Best Education Apps for Students