It’s back to school time, yet again. In the spirit of the season, I decided to gather together the best tools, websites, and advice I know of to help make you a more effective and relaxed student this semester. Since I know you’re broke, it’s all free!
10 Free Applications Every Student Needs
Unless you have money coming out of your ears, you probably won’t want to shell out the cash you’ll need to get Office, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, EndNote, and so on — even with your student discount. These free apps do the job well enough, and sometimes even better than their paid or otherwise limited alternatives.
OpenOffice.org: A top-quality, full-featured office productivity suite — word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, graphics editor, database, the works! Can save and open most Microsoft Office formats. If you have MS Works on your PC, ditch it and get OpenOffice.org instead. Available for most operating systems.
GIMP: A powerful, full-featured photo editing program, comparable to Photoshop. Available for Linux, Mac, and Windows.
KeyNote: Even after 2 1/2 years of being abandoned by its developer, KeyNote (not the Mac presentation software) remains the best free outlining software, with support for rich text formatting, plugins and macros, hotkeys, and a lot more. Can be run from a flash drive, too.
FreeMind: Great mindmapping program, useful for brainstorming, outlining projects, and keeping notes.
Mozy Backup: An Internet-based backup system, Mozy’s free plan allows you to store up to 2GB of files. The software runs in your system tray and automatically backs up the folders and files you’ve selected. I have it set to backup my documents folder and my email, which comes in just under 2GB. To backup photos, music, and other big files, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid version.
Zotero: A bibliography manager that integrates with Firefox, allowing you to automatically add webpages and, more usefully, resources from academic databases like J-Stor and AnthroSource to your bibliography. You can attach PDFs and images to your entries, as well as add your own notes. And all without leaving Firefox.
NVU: Mozilla’s web editor, NVU allows you to write webpages either in raw code or using the WYSIWYG interface, making webpage creation simple. UPDATE: NVU is no longer in development; the current version is called Kompozer.
VLC: The VideoLan Client isn’t pretty, but it will play just about any audio or video file you throw at it.
Pidgin: A single IM client that connects to just about every IM network: AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, MySpace, IRC, and so on. Available for Windows and Linux; Mac users can give Adium a try (I can’t vouch for it, since I haven’t used a Mac for 7 years…).
11 Online Tools Students Should Check Out
Or 20, depending on how you count.
Register for a solid, plain-jane email address from Gmail, something like FirstnameLastname@gmail.com. If your school sends important information only to your school email account, have it forwarded to your Gmail account. When you graduate, you’ll lose that school address — don’t invest too much of your social identity in an address you’ll lose someday. And while that .oOAwesomeChickOo.@goober.com email address seems like fun now, it won’t be much use he you start applying for internships, scholarships, and jobs.
Word Processor:Google Docs/Zoho Writer/Buzzword
Online word processing offers solid features (minus a few bells and whistles you aren’t likely to need) with the ability to access your work from any web-connected computer. Google and Zoho lead the pack at the moment, though Buzzword’s gorgeous interface makes it a definite contender.
Spreadsheet:Google Docs/Zoho Sheet/EditGrid
Again, Google and Zoho both offer strong online spreadsheets; if you’re using them for word processing, you might as well stick with them for spreadsheets. EditGrid’s emphasis on collaboration (they even have a FaceBook app) and strong feature-set make it well worth checking out.
Online organizers designed with students in mind, these services offer the ability to create, organize, and share notes, create reminders for important assignments, track grades and schedules, and generally keep on top of your student life. Each offers a slightly different feature-set and approach to student organization; pick the one that fits you best.
Todo List: Toodledo/Remember the Milk
Good, solid general-purpose task lists that allow you to sort tasks by date, priority, project, and just about any other way that strikes your fancy. Send yourself reminders by SMS, email, IM, or RSS. Access on your computer or any web-enabled mobile device, even by voice using Jott. Integrate with GMail (Remember the Milk only), iGoogle, Google Calendar, and various other apps and services.
Release your creativity and organize your thoughts using an online mindmapping tool. Collaborate with others and publish your mindmaps. Use to generate ideas for your papers and export in outline format.
Search over a hundred online bookstores for used or cheap copies of your required texts.
Still the best place for storing, organizing, sharing, and discovering online resources. Tag bookmarks with the name of each project you’re working on to create an online research reference. Tag by subject to recall possible topics for later papers.
Use Google Notebook to keep track of pages, pictures, excerpts, and other material for papers and projects. Create a new notebook for each class or essay. Share resources by publishing your notebooks to the web.
Another way to build and share resources like notes, collaborative papers, etc. Wikis offer incredible ease of use and are ideal for working with others.
Enter the ISBNs of all the books you used in a paper; OttoBib returns a perfectly formatted bibliography ready to cut and paste into your paper’s “Works Cited” page.
15 Websites for Students (Aside from Lifehack)
These sites are in the same vein as lifehack.org, but focus exclusively on student life and the needs of academics.
Study Hacks: The first stop in academic productivity, written by author Cal Newport (How to be a Straight-A Student).
Academic Productivity: Three cognitive scientists share their insights into how productive researchers work.
HackCollege: Cynical (in a fun way) and unabashedly anti-authoritarian, this site promises to teach students how to hack “the old” — professors and administrators.
Mindful Ink: Review of tools and techniques for better studying.
The University Blog: Study tips and higher education news and commentary from a avid student turned university administrator.
To help you get started with all your research projects:
WikiPedia/Citizendium: While neither online nor offline encyclopedias are suitable as references in college-level papers, they are great for looking up unfamiliar topics in a flash and for getting a good overview of your topic when starting a new research project. WikiPedia is well-established as the “go to” resource on the web; Citizendium is an upstart using hand-picked expert authors.
Library of Congress: Literally Congress’s library, the LOC’s website offers a wealth of primary sources, including historical documents and photos, artworks, letters, manuscripts, and more. Expecially good are their online exhibitions of art and artifacts around specific themes, people, and events, like the Civil War or Colonial America.
Google Books: A great way to locate books for research papers and other projects. Use “Advanced Book Search” and select “Full View” to limit your search to titles whose entire contents are available online. You can even download PDF facsimiles of some titles!
Artcyclopedia: One-stop shopping for information on virtually any artist, movement, national tradition, or anything else art-related.
Intute/InfoMine: Curated guides to scholarly resources available on the Internet.
Bartleby: A full reference library at your fingertips, with dictionaries, encyclopedias, poetry collections, and full versions of classic novels, philosophy, religious texts, science writings, and more.