Free and Incredibly Useful Apps You Need to Download for College

These apps won't be on your regular back-to-school list, but they'll help first-year students save time and money.

Katelyn Chedraoui Associate Writer
Katelyn is an associate writer with CNET's services and software team. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in media and journalism. She believes in the transformative power of digital platforms, tools and communication to increase accessibility to information and the even-more transformative power of a good cup of coffee.
Katelyn Chedraoui
3 min read

First-year college students are told they need to buy a lot of things before starting college: dorm furnishings, textbooks, laptops and other devices, and so much more. While these things might make the transition to college life a little easier, there are some digital must-haves that don't typically make your standard college packing list.

Based on my own college experience, and aided by some informal crowdsourcing on Slack, these are the apps that will help you be prepared and successful during the 2023 school year. And in true college fashion, all of them are free to download and will help students save time and money.

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Google Calendar

Or another digital calendar or planner

Having a reliable calendar or planner is an absolute necessity for all college students. There's always so much happening, especially in the first few weeks of the semester, and you'll need a way to organize class schedules, due dates, club meetings and other events. After years of using a paper planner, I finally converted to a Google calendar last year and haven't looked back since. Google Calendar is my preferred program because it's easy to access from multiple devices, can be color coordinated and it's simple to use and update.

a hand holds about 20 $100 bills that are fanned out
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Budgeting apps

For managing money

If this is your first time living away from home or managing your own finances, you'll need a budgeting app to plan your financial decisions. Even after you've paid tuition and bought textbooks, there are other expenses you'll want to plan for. Some banks offer customizable budgeting services but other apps, such as Mint, work for everyone. CNET put together a list of the best budgeting apps for 2023 to help get you started. 

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Unidays Student Discount App

For student savings

If there's one thing all college students can appreciate, it's a discount. Unidays compiles different deals, promo codes and savings across hundreds of brands online and in-store. The savings are available to anyone with a student email.

Venmo logo
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For sending and receiving payments

Having a Venmo account is absolutely essential for splitting bills and costs with friends. Especially if you are living off campus, you'll need a cash-free, secure way to send payments to the people you're living with. Get an account set up and secured in advance so it's less of a headache later.

iOS 15 Focus Mode
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Pomodoro Focus productivity timer

For better study habits

Making the transition from a high school course load to college requirements can be difficult. Having a digital productivity timer can help students improve studying habits. The Pomodoro Focus Timer for iOS follows the Pomodoro time management method, with 25-minute timers for focused work, followed by a 5-minute break. After four sets, you get a longer break to reset your mental focus. This particular app tracks your study time and offers a variety of white-noise recordings to help keep you focused.

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For class communications

GroupMe is an alternative messaging platform that many college classes use to create group chats. Often at the beginning of the semester, one student will create a chat for the whole class and email a link that will automatically add pre-existing GroupMe users to the chat. It's a great way to keep up with classmates without having to give out your personal phone number. It also has a helpful mute function for class group chats that can get notification-heavy.

Lyft ride sharing
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Transportation apps: Uber/Lyft

For getting around town

Finding your way around a new college campus and town can feel daunting. It's a good idea to set up an Uber or Lyft account before starting school, so it's ready for you to use whenever you might need it. 

Keep in mind that many colleges have digital campus maps you can either get through a university web-based app or a traditional app. These tend to be more accurate and have better landmarks and direction than Apple or Google Maps. Some cities also have dedicated apps for the town or university's bus routes -- TransLoc is a popular one. 

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1 Second Everyday

For capturing everyday life

It is such a cliché to say, but it is unfortunately true: college goes by fast. 1 Second Everyday urges you to take a 1-second video every day, then at the end of every year it creates a movie of all your days. It's an easy and fun way to capture the college experience, even the days that seem too mundane to record. I've been doing this for about six months now, and it's such a great way to develop appreciation for all the good, small moments in life.

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