Five (Free) Apps Every College Student Needs

College, even in non-pandemic times, is a defiantly digital place. Here are some apps, free of course, to ace that studying, networking, or good-time-having.

A group of college students in a circle on cell phones

Our grandparents suffered through school with simply a bag and loads of books. Of course, they also wore collared shirts and long pants to class, so more than one thing has changed. Our parents suffered through school with maybe, maybe, a desktop, found in an old, dusty library on campus, with which to boot up and sporadically surf the interwebs. No longer!

Now, we have a whole host of studying gear, networking gadgets, and socializing gizmos to get us through our college years in style. Please slide your mouse, or thumb, or forefinger, or whatever scrolling mechanism you like, down to check out this list of essential (totally FREE!) apps a college student needs.

A tablet in someone's hands flashing out and illustrating networking

A Networking App

(The boring stuff first!)

Yes, college is a time for fun, laughter, some good times, but it’s also a chance to jumpstart your future career, build out a public portfolio for prospective employers, and showcase the hard work you’ve been putting in (alongside all that fun!).

There is but ONE networking tool that is essential. Think of it as the ONE RING to rule them all of career sites and apps: LinkedIn. Getting started early on LinkedIn is essential; it’s a way to connect with your peers professionally—not just sharing dance vids with one another—and a way to connect with companies that you aspire to work for or with.

You could pay for a premium, but it’s honestly not necessary. Put your awards, honors, certificates, degrees, internships, jobs, anything else that may appeal to folks in your field, all on your profile. It’ll pay off; trust me.

A college student rests his head on ginormous pile of books, too tired to study.

A Study App

(Hit the virtual books!)

Now there are probably hundreds of different study apps out there, but when you want to learn information quickly, indigestible, bite-sized pieces there’s really no better way than a flashcard.

But no one wants to actually go out and buy index cards anymore. For one thing, it’s a waste of paper, and for another, they can get bulky and disorganized after a while, especially if you’re carrying a lot.

The solution: Quizlet. The original study app and, for my money, still the best with an easy user interface and simple layout. An ad-supported version is free, and it isn’t necessary to pay for the premium version unless you just really really love flashcards.

Flashcards are the ideal way to study when you have lots of terms and definitions; careers in STEM or Technical fields benefit from that kind of approach. Flashcards won’t work for everyone, and won’t work for all study sessions and fields, but when you want a great flashcard app, you have to go with the tried and true, AKA Quizlet.

A toddler wearing a little suit and blue sunglasses with a pile of cash in hand.

A Money App


What do all humans want and desire besides love, affection, and free things? Money, of course. When you’re in college you may find yourself short a couple bucks every so often (or all the time), and you and a friend want to splitzies on a pizza for lunch, or dinner, or midnight snack; your friend offers to pay, but you have to pay them back. How?

Venmo obviously. There are a few different app-based banking tools, but Venmo is probably the most ubiquitous. You can link your bank account to the app itself, or just keep money on hand in the app for all those (many, many) times you and your friends split a check.

The other reason Venmo is nice is that they don’t charge the small fee a lot of apps do (usually less than 1%) when you send money back and forth. It truly is a college student’s best friend. Early in my college days, I refused to get a Venmo account and, am ashamed to say, was always that guy who constantly owes people a buck here and a buck there. Once I got Venmo though I was able to pay everyone back and stay totally on top of paying back my friends and acquaintances from that point on.

Bonus: most, if not all, vintage and secondhand sellers at flea markets and on Instagram use Venmo to handle their payment system, which is another great reason to get the app.

A delivery driver wearing a mask gets ready to deliver food.

A Delivery App

(Hunger strikes at odd hours; you must be ready!)

Whether you’re living in a dorm or living off-campus you need to eat. And while I personally think cooking your own food is healthier (and cheaper in the long haul), there needs to be a solution for that Friday feeling when you’ve had a long week and you just need to sit, do nothing, and allow that delicious burger and fries come to you. And that’s what delivery apps are good for.

There are literally dozens of delivery apps, and all are sort of the same…but different. This section will be sort of a bonus because I’ll name a few before crowning my top choice. There is of course: GrubHub, UberEats, Caviar (in a select number of cities), Favor (for both food and other goods), DoorDash, and GoldBelly (for specialty and gourmet stuff), and probably a ton more I’m forgetting.

But the overall crown goes to…Postmates. It’s sort of the best of all worlds, with a lot of options, from cheap and easy to more pricy, and you can get essentials—like soap, toothpaste, etc.—on there as well. It’s a glutton’s paradise out there, folks, and college students certainly belong in that crowd.

A woman dances in her bedroom.

A Socializing App

(Those dance & lip sync vids won’t make themselves!)

Forget about Facebook. That’s for your uncle and dad to compare and share fly-fishing photos with one another (and no one else, because who really cares?). Snapchat? More like that snap-that-in-half-and-forget-about-it (forgive me). Instagram? Okay, IG is probably the only one of these three original titans of social media to retain its cool and its relevance, but I may be speaking rashly as an older Gen-Z-er.

There is one social media that reigns supreme right now, and it actually folds in nicely with Instagram, and that’s TikTok. The excellent (and maybe not so excellent at the same time) thing about TikTok is that there are so many sub-threads, so many different kinds of videos and content. It’s practically limitless. I would say a one-two punch of TikTok and Instagram will set you up well as a college student to have when you meet new people, as you invariably will throughout your schooling.

TikTok is a showman’s app, ideal for highlighting fun, interesting, and plain wacky things. However, it’s not great for actually staying in touch with folks, or seeing what’s new in their lives—it’s being even more performative than other social media. Instagram allows for that connection, that thing that will keep you more aligned with one another.

A zombie college student takes a selfie.

Wrappin’ It Up

There’s not much I need to say here. You all know how to use an app. And you all know that too much of anything, be that LinkedIn, Quizlet, or TikTok is never a good thing. Use all of these in moderation, within your budgets, and don’t let any dominate your brain space for too long and too absolutely.

What these apps show, if anything, is that college students lead surprisingly balanced lives (a banking app, a study app, etc.), but also that these apps are designed to capture and hold your attention. Do not fall into that trap. A whole other app (which would defeat its purpose of course) ought to be Disengagement; take a chance to not use any of the apps I listed, and simply be…it’ll start out as boring, but it’s worth it.

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