CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert deal-hunting staff showcases the best price drops and discounts from reputable sellers daily. If you make a purchase using our links, CNET may earn a commission.

Best apps for college students to save time, money and rock another semester

Whether you're an incoming freshman or plagued by senioritis, these apps will prepare you to get back to school.

Shelby Brown Editor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown
9 min read

What's in your digital backpack? 

Nicole Cozma/CNET

From hailing a ride to finding a date and even learning French, there are helpful apps available to aid in almost any task, so it tracks that there would be a slew of apps made for college students to help them both scholastically and in general campus life. As college co-eds around the country prepare to head back to school, being armed with the best digital tools can actually make a huge difference in how their school year shakes out. 

Whether you're a freshman trying to figure out the campus map, a seasoned senior getting ready to wrap up a degree, or just simply looking for apps to help reach your class performance goals, check out some of these great apps for students to optimize for your most successful semester ever.

Read more: Cooking essentials for your college dorm 

Study, study, study

These are the best apps for college students with regard to studying, paper-writing and test-taking and includes apps to help you make useful study flashcards, create MLA citations for papers and even one app that blocks you from social media so you can focus on school.

Read more: Best college laptops for 2019

EasyBib: Best app for citations

Citations were the bane of my existence in college, but they don't have to break your spirit. EasyBib is a helpful web app that generates citations in MLA for free. The site also has tools that detect plagiarism (even if you didn't mean to) and checks grammar. The free version, unfortunately, doesn't check for plagiarism, gives 20 suggestions for grammar and cites MLA. If you upgrade to the premium version for $10 per month (with a three-day free trial), you'll get unlimited everything and all the citation styles. You can also add EasyBib to your toolbar in Chrome (or compatible browsers such as Brave).

Read more: 10 best phones for back to school

Sharon Profis/CNET

Grammarly: Best app for grammar

Grammarly is another helpful tool if you have a major that requires a lot of essay writing or you just want your professor to harp on you less. The web app has three versions -- free, Premium ($30 per month) or Grammarly Business ($15 per month). I use the free version and it does the job. You can install the extension for MacOS or Chrome. If you're writing on the go, you can download the Grammarly Keyboard app for iOS or Android

Read more: What you should know about buying a laptop for college

TED: Best app for ideas and inspiration

If you're stuck on finding a topic for a project or want to find a unique source for a paper, the TED app is a good place to start. Be warned, though, TED Talks are a rabbit hole. The topics are endless -- why we procrastinate, childhood trauma stretching into adulthood, how the moon came to be, what happens on the darknet and a 10-minute quantum computing lesson. You can get inspired by these lectures and others on the TEDx and TED YouTube channels, the TED Talk podcast or the TED app on iOS or Android

Read more: The best cheap and free perks for college students

Duolingo: Best app for learning a language

Most degrees require some kind of language course, and I wish I had used Duolingo as a supplementary tool when I was in school. It's a quick and easy way to learn, keep up with, or study another language. On top of the easy-to-digest lessons, Duolingo features stories that you can read to practice your comprehension, a built-in dictionary and a list of words you've learned and reminders if you're overdue for practice. Duolingo has completely free (and ad-free) apps for Android and iOS or you can practice on its website

Nic Henry/CNET

CliffsNotes: Best app for book summaries

I will never advocate that you use this app in place of reading the book or ditching your homework. Trust me, professors know all the tricks. But if you want to reinforce the chapter you read or explore a better understanding of some of the symbolism in the story, CliffsNotes is a handy tool to have. On top of helping you survive English class, the site has test preps you can buy and free study guides for almost any subject you could take. 

CliffsNotes is available online and for Android or iOS. The Android app is meant for people who've purchased the Test Prep course and it won't work without it. The CliffsNotes Study Guides app is totally free on mobile and online. 

Brainscape: Best app for studying and flashcards

Making flashcards by hand always took too much time in my opinion (especially if you've got three other classes to study for). With Brainscape, you can create your own digital flashcards or study flashcards made by others in practically every subject you can think of. 

You can use Brainscape for free (just make an account) to help you study for exams and make flashcards. The Pro version for $10 per month offers some extra bells and whistles -- you can bookmark flashcards, make your classes private and reverse your flashcards. You can use the tool online or for Android and iOS

Read more: Four useful sites for college students

Flipd: Best app for focusing and unplugging

Many college students know the siren call of social media all too well. Open the app to check a notification and all of a sudden you're scrolling through random cat memes an hour later. If you're using your phone to help you study, it's wise to take precautions against getting sucked into Facebook , Instagram and other social media. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are multiple apps you can use to "unplug." You can also explore your phone's built-in digital wellness tools. I recommend Flipd to help you stay off your phone. You can "casually lock" your phone for studying (one hour), work, sleeping, a whole day, three days or set a custom time. If you close out of the lock before the timer is up, Flipd lowkey shames you for "giving up." If you absolutely can't stay away from social media, you can choose to take a break and Flipd will remind you to come back periodically. You can download the app on iOS or Android.

Stay organized with Google

I'm a fan of pen and paper to keep track of all my to-dos, but Google Tasks helps keep everything a bit neater (and saves trees). If you have a Gmail account, Google Tasks is honestly a to-do list maker's dream. You can make as many lists as you want and add subtasks to any items. In addition, you can add details like dates or times. It's easy to switch between lists and check off anything you've done.

Google Calendar can sync to your iPhone or Android phone, which is extra helpful if you need to plan a busy day. It's also a great planner to set up your class schedule and then put reminders for 15 or 30 minutes ahead of time to get notifications on your phone. If you use Gmail, you can open the widget to see all your upcoming events from a web browser on your laptop. You can assign deadlines different colors to correspond with your classes, set recurring events (like quizzes or tests), and the app can also send you reminders about upcoming deadlines. Of course, you don't have to use a calendar app associated with Google. There are dozens of iOS and Android calendar apps available for you to try out. 

Google Drive saved my life more times than I can count. I got into the habit of backing up almost anything I would need for a class to Google Drive. My work was always accessible, whether I had my laptop or not, because Google syncs your Drive's contents across devices. Google Sheets, Docs, Slides, Microsoft Office docs, PDFs and more are all compatible with Google Drive and everything is shareable. 

Keep track of money

Pinching pennies is no joke when you're in college. To pay for rising tuition and costs, more than half of students take out loans. While the loans help with some living expenses, odds are you've got a job that probably doesn't pay too much. Here are some of the top picks for best app for college budgeting to help students manage money and make balancing the books a bit easier. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Wally keeps track of your finances -- accounts, expenses, bills and more on the go. You can budget everything from necessities like rent and food to luxuries like Spotify . Wally also displays deeper insights like your monthly spending habits. You can get started on iOS devices or Android

Mint is another money manager app you can use to see all your finances in one place and make a budget with suggestions from the app based on your spending habits. You can also check your credit score and get tips to improve it. It's available on Android and iOS

Finally, Venmo eliminates getting money from the ATM to pay someone back, your parents having to send you a check or go to the bank and transfer money to you. Venmo lets you make and share payments by linking your bank account or debit card to the app. So, money sent to you on Venmo can easily be transferred to your bank account.  

Read more: The best money-saving apps to keep you within your budget in 2019

Thrifty textbook shopping

Buying textbooks hits your bank account hard at the beginning of the year. Don't even think about how little you'll get when you return them. Fortunately, your schedule usually tells you what books you'll need. (Pro tip: If you wait to purchase your books, you might luck out on the first day and your professor will say you don't need to buy it.) 

If you do have to buy textbooks, exhaust all options before shelling out campus bookstore prices. Check out the book section on Chegg. You can rent or buy physical copies or e-books of the book you need for a fraction of the cost you'd pay on campus. Just make sure it's the right edition of the book. You can also sell old textbooks on Chegg and it has free shipping. 

Depending on what you're looking for, you might have luck on eBay if you search for "college textbooks." Amazon also offers textbooks for sale or rent -- it's a bit more specialized than eBay, and it's also easy to return books.  

Read more: 11 ways to get free or discount books for college

Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images

Loans and scholarships 

Long before you graduate, the lenders are prodding you about how you plan to pay back your loans. It's never too soon to start keeping an eye on the debt you're racking up in the name of higher education. While you'll be able to access your loan information online, most of the lending companies, such as Navient and Sallie Mae, have mobile apps.

While on the topic of loans, it won't hurt to see if you can avoid them as much as possible. That's where Scholly comes in to find you the perfect scholarship. In addition, the app keeps track of your application status, totals and deadlines, and gives you tips to nail that essay. The app is available on Android and iOS.

Other must-have college apps

These next few apps may not fit into one of the larger categories but can definitely help enhance the average college student experience.


Whether you're braving college across state lines or taking classes at a community college, communicating with your family is important. Skype is a quick and easy way to feel like you're with your loved ones, even if you can't make it home very often. The app's group call feature is also helpful for study buddy sessions or planning group projects. You can use the video call app on Android, iOS or from your PC, unlike some other platform-specific video call apps. 

Microsoft/Screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET


It can be hard to learn the ins and outs of your college, especially when you're new there. Twitter, a platform you probably already use, is an easy way to get your finger on the pulse of the campus. Just do a Twitter search your university and you'll likely find dozens of accounts to follow about clubs on campus, student government, Greek life, upcoming events and more. 


If you want to look a little more discrete whilst trying to figure out where the Science Building is, finding your school in Google Maps or Apple Maps' satellite mode can make a world of difference. It's often more detailed than traditional campus maps if you're wondering where you are on campus or searching for some type of identifying marker (roof colors, grassy areas, parking lots and so on). 

Your university's app

It's worth checking to see if your university has an app you can download. With the university's app, you'll have access to most of what you can view on the school's website -- like Blackboard or Canvas. At the very least, I suggest linking your student email to your phone, which will keep you in touch with your professors and on top of notifications from the school.

Watch this: Back-to-school MacBooks get faster, cheaper

More back-to-school picks