Free software for university students
The last thing uni students need to worry about is forking out more money for pricey apps and software on top of their tuition fees and other expenses. Thankfully, there are plenty of free software and alternatives to popular paid apps that you can use to your advantage.
From efficient citation tools so your essays are always on point to a superior spell check that even most of us at TheSmartLocal use daily, here are seven free apps that all uni students can download before the first day of classes start.
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1. Grammarly – a higher-level spell check that spots grammar mistakes
Image credit: Grammarly
I can’t count the number of times Grammarly came in clutch as I churned out essay after essay during hell week. The handy writing assistant would spot some of my most egregious grammar and spelling mistakes that the default spell check just ignored.
As I spent most of my time on Google Docs, the browser extension worked best for me. However, it also works on Microsoft Word and as a desktop app. If you would rather not download anything, you can also run it on your browser once you’ve signed up with them.
Get Grammarly here.
2. LibreOffice – open-source suite for Word docs and Excel sheets
Image credit: LibreOffice
If your university doesn’t offer Microsoft Office for free, a good alternative you can download is LibreOffice. The suite of apps is fully compatible with all types of documents that Microsoft Office already handles, just that they do it under different names: Writer for word processing, Calc for your excel spreadsheets, and Impress for all your powerpoints.
LibreOffice can be installed on Windows, Mac, and Linux, so you don’t need to worry about any compatibility issues too.
3. Diagrams.net – easy tool for building diagrams
Image credit: Diagrams.net
Unless your school has bought Photoshop for the entire cohort, chances are you’re looking for a free alternative for all your diagramming needs. Enter Diagrams.net, a free and open-source tool you can use to create anything from graphs, charts, and even infographics.
While there is an easy-to-use browser version, downloading the app so you can use it without Wi-Fi is a better experience.
4. Inkscape – design software to make vectors and Illustrator alternative
Image credit: Inkscape
Those who need to make graphics for an assignment can turn to Inkscape instead of paying for a subscription to Adobe Illustrator. The free and open-source vector graphics editor lets you design anything from logos to banners at an unlimited resolution, so your printouts can be crystal clear with no pixelation.
If you’re not familiar with the user interface, fret not – there are many official tutorials available to guide you through the various features from bitmap tracing to calligraphy.
5. SketchUp – online 3D modelling software that you don’t need to download
Image credit: SketchUp
Once you get to the varsity level, art classes would require more than just your pen, pencil, and eraser. Students working on interior design, architecture, and other projects that need sketches can use SketchUp, a free web-based app that lets you create 3D models.
The simplicity of the app is what makes it stand out compared to other more expensive and popular alternatives like Revit and Fusion 360.
6. GitHub Student Developer Pack – complimentary access to pro versions of Canva and Typeform
Image credit: Canva
In case you didn’t already know, your student email account gets you access to a ton of freebies courtesy of GitHub, including 12 months of Canva Pro (worth $165) so you can impress your profs with your presentation slides and one year of Typeform’s professional plan (worth over $400) to make all the fancy-looking surveys.
Check out all the other developer tools available in the pack here.
Sign up for the GitHub Student Developer Pack.
7. Zotero – cite and organise your essay research more efficiently
Image credit: Zotero
No one prepares you for the number of citations you have to do for your research essays, and you can save yourself the headache of rushing out your references at the final minute with Zotero. Their Firefox browser extension will create a citation of the webpage you’re referencing with a single click, which can then be exported as a proper citation in over 9,000 styles.
Bonus: Mendeley – intuitive citation manager for Chrome and Safari users
Image credit: Mendeley
Those who spend their days on Google Chrome and Safari instead can use Mendeley, another powerful citation management tool. It boasts plenty of intuitive features including a single-click citation importer.
If you’re using Microsoft Word, you just have to download Mendeley Cite to quickly put references into your document from your library of citations.
Best free software downloads for students
Gone are the days where you can just breeze through a school semester with just a pen and some paper. The right apps and software can make surviving your college years a smoother and stress-free experience. Your bank account also won’t be in the red as much because these apps here are all free of charge with no strings attached.
Cover image adapted from (L-R): Canva, Josiah Neo