Free apps you need to download before starting college

ByLance T. Lee

Aug 9, 2022

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There are tons of things freshmen are told they absolutely must buy before they start college: textbooks, dorm furniture, laptop and other devices, and more. While these things can make the transition to college a little easier, there are some digital must-haves that don’t often make it onto your standard college packing list.

Based on my own college experience and aided by informal crowdsourcing on Slack, these are the apps that will help you be prepared and succeed during the school year. And like a college, 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 students. There’s always so much going on, especially in the first few weeks of the semester, and you’ll need a way to organize class schedules, deadlines, club meetings, and other events. After years of using a paper calendar, I finally converted to a Google Calendar last year and haven’t looked back since. Google Calendar is my favorite program because it’s easy to access from multiple devices, can be color coordinated, and it’s simple to use and update.

James Martin/CNET

Budgeting apps

To manage the 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 paying tuition and buying 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 has compiled a list of the best budgeting apps for 2022 to help you get started.

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Unidays Student Discount App

For student savings

If there’s one thing all students can appreciate, it’s a discount. Unidays compiles different offers, promotional codes and savings on hundreds of brands online and in store. The savings are available to anyone with a student email.

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To send and receive payments

Having a Venmo account is absolutely essential for sharing bills and costs with friends. Especially if you live off-campus, you’ll need a secure, cashless way to send payments to the people you live with. Get an account set up and secured ahead of time so it’s less of a headache later.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Pomodoro Focus Productivity Timer

For better study habits

Transitioning from a high school course load to college requirements can be difficult. Having a digital productivity timer can help students improve their study habits. The Pomodoro Focus Timer for iOS follows the Pomodoro method of time management, 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 you stay focused.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Group Me

For class communications

GroupMe is an alternative messaging platform that many college classes use to create group chats. Often, at the start of the semester, a student will create a whole-class chat and email a link that will automatically add pre-existing GroupMe users to the chat. It’s a great way to track your classmates without having to give out your personal phone number. It also has a mute feature that is useful for class group chats that can get a lot of notifications.

James Martin/CNET

Transportation Apps: Uber/Lyft

To get around town

Finding your way around a new college campus and a new city can seem daunting. It is a good idea to set up a Uber Where Lyft account before you start school, so you can use it whenever you need it.

Keep in mind that many colleges have digital campus maps that you can get through a college web app or a traditional app. These tend to be more accurate and have better landmarks and directions than Apple or Google Maps. Some cities also have dedicated apps for city or university bus routes — TransLoc is popular.

Katelyn Chedraoui/CNET

1 second every day

To immortalize the daily

It’s so cliché to say, but it’s unfortunately true: college passes quickly. 1 Second Everyday invites you to take a one second video every day, then at the end of each 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 a great way to develop appreciation for all of life’s good and little moments.

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