Top Educational Apps for College Students

Did you know that, in a Pew Research Center survey taken last March, 67 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 said they have a smartphone? Two-thirds of young adults! And that’s not even counting the ones that are using iPads.

That means a whole lot of college students are carrying around mobile devices. But is there any educational value to this technology (other than the ability to Google answers and make your professor think you’re a genius)? Of course! Here are some of the best apps that college students can use to help them study and do better in class.

Dragon Dictation

Taking notes in class can be such a chore, especially when your professor talks like the Micro Machines guy. (YouTube it if the reference is too dated, kids.) The point is, it used to be that your only alternative to taking notes was to record the lecture and play it back later. That’s great, but sometimes you just want to be able to read what was said. Well, now you can, because Dragon Dictation is a free (!) iPhone and iPad app that will record your professor’s lecture and instantly transform what he or she is saying into text. Awesome!

StudyBlue Flashcards

Tired of writing flashcards out by hand or typing and printing them? StudyBlue Flashcards is a free app that works on just about any mobile device (Android and anything Apple), and it boasts lots of benefits that regular flashcards don’t. First off, you can access cards created by other users, so there’s no need to recreate common flashcards that a dozen people have already made for you. Second, you can set the app up so that you get study reminders. And finally, these flashcards actually keep score, so you know how well you’re doing and where to focus your studying efforts.


Much of college is dedicated to working on larger projects, and often that means teaming up with other people. Dropbox makes group work a breeze by allowing you to share documents on the cloud and choose who gets access to what. It’s also nice for when you somehow forgot to turn in that paper and can show your professor that you really are sending it while you’re standing in front of them instead of cheating and adding a few final touches.

Sign up for Dropbox with your student email and get double space!

Graphing Calculator

Okay, obviously not every college student is going to need one of these, but consider this. Before apps, anyone in math, science, or technology-related fields would have to spend at least $50 (and often $100 or more) to get a good graphing calculator. Want to know how much this app featured in Time magazine costs? $1.99. See, sometimes technology really does make things better. Except maybe for Texas Instruments.


For college students who do like to take notes or documenting things, Evernote is essential. It lets you record lectures, jot down information, take photos, store documents, and even “favorite” websites for research purposes. But the best part is that you can keep all of this information in a single, easy to find location so that when you’re studying for your essay on Chaucer or your Bio midterm, you can just access that folder and everything will be there waiting for you. Pretty convenient.

Samuel Clemens is a former educator who spends his time reviewing study materials for students. Click here to view the study guide he recommends for Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

How to Find Cheap Textbooks

Textbooks are one of the most expensive costs for a college student, especially if you’re going into a major that is heavy on reading. If you’re a broke college student, finding cheap textbooks is a priority. It’s also not hard to do.

Do I need this book?

The first step is to figure out what books you need and how much you actually need them. I haven’t always used my textbooks, which led me to start asking the professor if the book is really needed. Most professors will be honest and tell you how much you need it. Sometimes you can get away with borrowing a classmate’s book if you only need the book a few times.

eBook or real book

Once you know you need a book, decide whether you want to buy a real book or an eBook. The upside to an eBook is obviously price and the downsides are that you have to read it on an electronic device and you can’t resell it at the end of the semester. Depending on your needs, make a decision.

Renting or owning

If you’ve settled on a real book, the next step is to decide if you want to rent or own the book. The upside to renting is it’s cheaper, but the downside is you can’t sell it at the end of the semester. If the book is going to be worthless at the end of the semester and you know this, go with renting. If you can sell it back to Amazon or another online marketplace with a textbook buy back program, own it.

Finding the best price

Throughout your search for a book, you will need to compare textbooks and find the best price…and the Internet is here to help. The easiest way to find cheap college books is to search websites for the ISBN and compare prices. There are tons of websites out there for you to compare prices easily and having the ISBN is the best way to do it.

Finding the Best Savings Account for You

Many college students struggle with personal finance and have a hard time saving money. On top of that, many banks don’t offer a savings account that is conducive to a college student’s savings plan and budget. To get a decent interest rate, most banks require a large balance in the tens of thousands, which isn’t an easy feat for most students.

Decide on a Savings Plan

Most college students don’t think saving money is important. While it’s true you don’t necessarily have to start saving for retirement while in college (although it definitely helps), you do need a savings account. You need to plan for unexpected events and emergencies. It also helps to save money if something really incredible comes up – like a trip to Europe. Having the financial freedom to join your friends on a vacation is a much better choice than having to beg your parents for the funds.

If you’re saving up for something specific, like a $10,000 car, figure out how much you need to put away per month. If you’re just saving money, put away as much as you can per month. Even small savings can add up over time to large amounts of money. An extra $5 per month over a few years makes a huge difference, especially if you get a good interest rate.

Finding a Bank

The first step is finding a bank that offers what you need. You can start locally by visiting banks and credit unions in your area or you can start online by searching. Credit unions will be more friendly to smaller accounts, but you will be limited by their smaller network. While a large network is more important for checking accounts than savings accounts, this may still matter to you if you live far from home or plan on moving soon.

Choosing the Best Account

Once you find a bank that you think will work best for you, look carefully at their types of savings accounts. You want to find the best savings account for you. Look at minimum deposit amounts, monthly balances and any fees associated with the accounts. U.S. federal law only allows you to withdraw money a maximum of six times per month for an account to be considered a savings account. Most banks will turn your account into a checking account if you go over the withdraw limit, and sometimes they will charge you a fee.

5 Ways to make some quick money

1. Sell on ebay. This requires some research, but what I do is scour Best Buy and Circuit City (and other such electronics retailers) for great sales, then buy the product and put it on ebay. Best Buy has some great sales where you can get $100 off retail value, sell it on ebay and get a $50-75 profit easily.

2. Join websites that pay you to fill out surveys and do free trials. The ones with high payout are usually trial offers that require a credit card to join, and if you cancel within the trial, you won’t be billed. I’ve made $80 in two months with Cash Crate. You’ll also need an extra email address for all the spam you will get from the surveys.

3. Do laundry for your friends. It costs me $2 to wash and dry one load of clothes, so charge $4 and you make easy money with a few minutes of work.

4. Bring energy drinks and snacks to all-night study sessions in the university center or library and sell them to the different study groups. This works best during finals week.

5. If you’re decent with computers, start a computer maintenance “business”. Post flyers advertising your services around campus. Offer to backup hard drives, clean up and optimize computers, install new memory…Charge half of what it costs to take it to Best Buy.

Get ready for tax season

The new year brings tax season and not all students have to file a return, but some do. If you’re not sure whether you’re included in those who do, you can visit the IRS site to find out. Tax season brings unhappy thoughts into most minds, but when you’re a student, it can be a good thing. Most students aren’t required to pay taxes so anything that was withheld will be refunded to you. Unless you claim exempt on your W2 form at work, taxes are withheld from your paycheck. Some people even fill it out so the IRS takes out more than they should so they can get a bigger refund (this is what I do – I treat it as a savings account because I find it’s hard for me to do it on my own).

Filing isn’t tricky either. Services like TurboTax make things so much easier. If you’ve paid interest on any student loans, you can claim up to $2,500 as a deduction. While this doesn’t help students who don’t have to pay any taxes (like myself), it is helpful for those who do and for those who are out of college.

Preparing your return

  • TurboTax, which is made by powerful software company, Intuit, is the leading tax preparation software. The basic edition is $20, but there’s also a free online edition for 1040EZ filers (most common, unless you’re utilizing deductions, you’ll most likely fall under this category).
  • IRS eFile – The IRS allows you to prepare and file your tax return electronically.
  • H&R Block, Jackson Hewitt, etc. – These tax preparation companies are another alternative to filing for yourself, but if you’re a student, your return isn’t going to be complicated and these places aren’t cheap. Not a good idea for most people.


  • Mail – you mail it off, it’s free, but it can take up to six weeks for your refund
  • TurboTax efile with direct deposit – $14.95, can get your refund in 9 days
  • IRS FreeFile – if you qualify for FreeFile (made $54,000 or less in 2007), you can file your return electronically with the IRS for free. You can set up direct deposit and get your return in 10 days.

Websites to help you out

10 Money saving tips for the new year

1. Save up before you spend your money on that new XBox 360…don’t put it on a credit card.

2. Join a credit union or find a bank that offers free student checking accounts

3. Prepare your FAFSA and apply for financial aid with your school

4. Apply for scholarships

5. Don’t buy textbooks unless absolutely necessary, and if you do, be smart about it

6. Learn how to eat on a college student’s budget

7. Make a budget and track your spending

8. Don’t get a credit card unless you can use it responsibly (if you do, don’t apply for more than two because multiple inquiries can hurt your score)

9. Join Netflix instead of renting movies, better yet, watch them online for free (or much cheaper). Even better, rent them at your local library. (Thanks TipDiva)

10. Utilize your school’s gym, computer lab, health clinic and other resources. You already pay for them.

Mint – Refreshing money management is a new online budgeting tool. You input your bank and credit card logins for their websites and it gathers the data and pulls all of your financial information together. It simplifies everything because it’s all in one place. You don’t have to login to six different websites to pull up your balances. They also have an alert system to notify you when your balances become low so you don’t overdraft.

I tried it out and was actually very impressed. If you’re not sure how to budget or don’t want to bother, Mint is a great way to keep track of your money. I personally found it a little too simple for me. I have an exact image of the way I want my budget to be and I’ve just had to keep using a spreadsheet do so.

I really like how it breaks down spending and shows trends. It doesn’t always recognize certain charges, but for the most part, it puts them in the right categories. It compares cash and debt, which is nice since apparently it thinks I have more cash than debt (it doesn’t know my poor “cash” is really all debt in student loans.) It does know, however, that my most frequent stop is at HEB (grocery store).

The feature that shows ways you can save money by switching accounts is nice, but doesn’t really apply to a college student with little credit. Mint thinks I could save $424 by switching checking accounts and credit cards, but what it doesn’t know is that I can’t just get another credit card because mine has too high of an interest rate.

Of course, there are some drawbacks to a website like this, the most important being that they have your bank information. As a paranoid person, I just don’t like giving other people my passwords to anything, much less my bank accounts. What with all the security leaks recently, I’m even more paranoid. It doesn’t take much to hack a website and steal all of this information. Other than that, sometimes it seems too simple for me. I have a pretty complicated plan for my budget and have yet to find a program that does what I want.

Repaying student loans

I’m still four years away from having to repay my student loans, but I know I should start thinking about it now. Get Rich Slowly posted a great guide to repay student loans.

If you have federal loans, your options are much simpler. The interest rate is lower, so it’s usually best to just pay them as scheduled. Private loans are a whole different ball park and very confusing because terms usually vary from provider to provider, while government-backed loans are stuck with the federal terms given, no matter who your lender is.

One option is consolidation, which is not the best option unless you seriously can’t afford the monthly payments. Consolidation leads to a higher interest rate because you’re extending the life of the loan and there are more complications with private loans. Depending on your financial plan, consolidation can be a good or a bad option.

There are also options for loan forgiveness if you are going to be joining the Peace Corps or the military (or other programs that are listed on the FinAid website). I personally don’t qualify for any of this, so I hope I’ll get a high-paying job with my really expensive fancy degree so I can pay my loans off quickly.

Also, you can’t simply just declare bankruptcy anymore and be done with your loans. Certain federal loans will go away, but not private loans. The government decided on this a few years ago because too many students were coming out of college and declaring bankruptcy right off the bat. There are certain circumstances surrounding the issue, which are covered in more detail here.

The FinAid website also has a Loan Calculator that just made me feel very sad about the amount of interest I’m going to pay just on my freshman Stafford loan. Bring on the next three years worth of borrowed money.

Student loans

Student loans are the answer to money problems these days, especially because you can defer payments until after graduation, unlike other loans. But if you aren’t careful, you can end up owing a lot more than you borrowed. I was able to get $4000 in scholarships, but the rest of my expenses are covered by loans. I was able to get a subsidized Stafford loan through Wells Fargo (the government pays the interest while I’m in school) for $3500, but all the rest is in a Parent PLUS loan, which has a high interest rate and although payments are differed, it accrues interest now. If you can get Stafford loans, even if it’s unsubsidized, I’d take advantage, even if you need another loan as well. Stafford loans are a great deal.

I didn’t have to get any private student loans, but for some people, this is what they choose to do for whatever reason. Think Financial offers student loans as well as financial advice and resources and a comparison chart. Think Financial is a well-known student loan provider in cooperation with Charter One Bank and their website is very helpful. They don’t require collateral, and you can apply and get an answer in fifteen minutes and you can use the money for all expenses, unlike some providers. Private loans also give you your money much faster than going through a university.

The biggest reason people choose to go this route is because the amount you can borrow is up to $40,000 for one year, which is a lot more than financial aid offices award students. There are other loan companies, such as Sallie Mae and My Rich Uncle, although I personally like Think Financial or Chase.

If you’re going to go this route, I definitely suggest doing a lot of research into the company and the rates. Be sure to read the fine print and make sure you’re getting a fixed rate. Some companies, such as Sallie Mae have allegations against them so beware of that. Also, private loans usually require good credit to be approved so it helps to have a parent or older family member that’s willing to help. But if they’re going to put their name on it, sometimes it’s better to take out a second mortgage or do a home equity loan with a better rate.

Educate yourself on credit

As a student with a fixed income, I’ve been tempted with credit cards. I even have three, although the limits are rather small and aren’t maxed out. But one of the biggest problems I’ve seen is that people don’t know what they’re getting themselves into, which nowadays, I think is ridiculous. There’s so much information out there so you can be educated on credit and not get yourself in too deep.

It may not be fair that credit is an important part of society now, most people can’t buy a television without it, let alone a car or a house. Credit scores are even looked at during the employment process. Nonetheless, you should still be smart about borrowing money or you’ll end up paying way more than you should.

Credit Me is a large website that has an incredible amount of information about credit cards. They have a list of resources, FAQ’s and my favorite, the Ultimate Guide to Perfect Credit. Also, they have a list of student (and other) credit cards comparing the rates and terms of each one and listing what kind of credit you need to be approved (good, bad, none.)

Tips to build your credit without hurting it first

  • Don’t apply for too much credit at once – this will hurt your score
  • If you take advantage of 0% APR grace periods, which is okay to do, be careful of the fees you’ll incur afterward. Sometimes they’re awful.
  • Don’t take out cash advances. If you really need cash for something, use the money you’d otherwise spend on food, CDs, etc. that’s in your bank account and put those purchases on your card. Regular interest is better than cash advance interest no matter how you look at it.
  • Don’t simply apply for a card just because they’re giving away free t-shirts. You might miss a $50 yearly fee because you’re distracted with presents.
  • If you can’t get credit anywhere else, try a in-store credit card at a store you frequent, but only after carefully looking over the terms. Put a small amount on the card, pay it off at the end of the month to avoid interest. Do it again each month for the next six months and apply for a better card somewhere else.
  • Remember, that if your score is low, there’s nowhere else to go but up. If you play the game right, you can have great credit without paying too much to the companies.

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