Essential Software For University Students

We've covered choosing a laptop or a netbook, but what software do you need to ensure a productive university experience? Here's some quick thoughts across the key categories.

Obviously, there may be specific software you need depending on your discipline: design students are likely to require Photoshop, statistics students will want SPSS. We're concentrating here on the tools that pretty much anyone in tertiary study will find useful.

Word processing (and office suites)

In purely economic terms, OpenOffice is obviously the cheapest alternative, and Google Docs is another choice if you're always connected. With that said, one big advantage of Microsoft Word is that it has first-class tools for referencing, which can save you a lot of hassle.

Students can also take advantage of the It's Not Cheating site to purchase Office for $99.

Dropbox (or other sync tools)

While you might not have the luxury of owning multiple PCs while you're a student, using Dropbox ensures you do have an easy automatic backup if things go wrong. A basic Dropbox account covers 2GB (and there are plenty of tricks for getting more). If you're not in a design or technical discpline, 2GB should be more than adequate to store your work.

Whenever we mention Dropbox, it gets pointed out that rival services such as SugarSync offer similar features and more space. It's worth looking into alternatives, but Dropbox's dominance does tend to mean there are more integration options with other apps.

Calendar software

We've already banged on about the importance of time management. While you can manage your time with pen and paper, having an electronic calendar is a much more sensible approach: it's easier to alter and you can sync it to multiple devices.

Given its ubiquity, Google Calendar is the obvious choice in this space, but there are other options; check our Hive Five of calendar apps for some ideas.


    The link to 'It's not cheating' does not work.

      Sorry for that, fixed now.

        You should link to
        It's been a wonderful tool for me and several others I know doing IT based courses, and considering the amount of computer people that visit this site it seems exceptionally relevant.

    I was going to suggest Google Docs and Google Calendar. Google Cal is awesome - I have my class schedule on there synced to my iPhone with Exchange and with iCal on my Mac via CalDAV so I can check it and update it wherever, either on my phone, my computer, or a uni computer via the Google Cal website if I'm without either.

    Lifehacker should do a dealhacker post about student discounts on software.

    Endnote is a must, its easy to integrate into google scholar and can save hours of formatting your references.

    SAS guy chiming in. Stats students and profs, or any who want to use SAS data mining, text mining and reporting in their curriculum, can get it for free through SAS OnDemand for Academics.

    Shameless plug? Maybe. But hey, it's free.

    Evernote. No.1 needed software for uni students. Data collection and everything else.

    Also, Sugarsync (as mentioned). For when you want to organise your data your way, but still sync it.

    zotero ( Collect references while browsing.

    That link to the 5 best calendar applications was from 2008. I recently found a free calendar program named VueMinder Calendar Lite (

    In my opinion, it completely blows away the other calendars that were listed. It's VERY nicely designed, easy to use, and pleasant to look at. It also syncs with Google Calendar, Outlook, and anything else that supports ICS.

      Yes, we should revisit the calendar area with a hive five at some point.

    Mendeley allows you to sync references across the board, and lets you (the all important) easily throw up a BibTeX file by just drag and dropping a pdf article into it

    One Note is worth a mention too!

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