How to be overly prepared for college with apps

Loknath Das

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

As we enter the thick of back-to-school season, companies are discounting school supplies and kids are packing up to return to the dorms. No matter who you are or what school you attend, there are numerous apps that can help your college life feel a little easier and less stressful. Some of the better ones will continue being useful and follow you post-graduation. Besides the basic social media apps and word processing essentials like Google Docs and Microsoft Word, what are some other standout apps of the 2.2 million plus that are in the app store? I’ve selectively chosen a few, knowing from my own studies that memory, data, and mental energy are the most frequent constraints. Nearly all of these should be available for both Android and iPhone.


This app is the only one you’ll need to solve calculus and physics problems. Whether you’re taking a general requirement, or you’re majoring in engineering, everyone gets stumped on a problem once in a while, and WolframAlpha is there to provide tips when you need them. Once you’re done with classes, though, feel free to uninstall to free up extra memory on your device. After all, who wants to be visually reminded of the hard sciences and math classes you’ve had to take? The WolframAlpha app is available on Android and iOS.

Wunderlist (soon to be Microsoft To-Do)

Wunderlist is the classic to-do list, but it’s streamlined in a way to make your typical bullet points look very appealing. With minor tasks that litter your agenda, like checking in with the registrar and the bursar’s office and assigned readings, you’ll need to stay organized in order to stay on top of everything. You’ll also need it to look pleasant enough so that staring at your to-do list won’t send you into a spiral of procrastination. I’ve used other to-do list apps before, and Wunderlist — even the basic, free version of it — looks better than most. Just be aware that soon it will be replaced by Microsoft To-Do, which should offer most of the same features under a new name. The app is available on Android and iOS.

Khan Academy

If you’ve used the browser version before, you might be excited to learn that the app version is highly rated as well. Do you ever sit down in a class where the professor is droning on and you know that they purposefully allowed electronic devices because they’ve given up on the chance of any student listening to them? Also looming in this scenario: the approaching deadline of a major exam that you’re definitely not ready for. So since your professor is going to be no help to you in this case, there’s the helpful Khan Academy, which primarily works best for math and science courses. The app teaches you concepts, one step at a time, and tests you on them. For higher-level calculus, I found it extremely helpful. (The humanities equivalent of this app is probably a combination of SparkNotes, office hours, and dumb luck.) The Khan Academy app is available on Android and iOS.

Google Slides

If you’re a communications, marketing, history, or another major that relies heavily on group work, you will need to compile a bunch of PowerPoints in your lifetime. And while you could wait around for your teammates to complete their fair share, what’s most likely going to happen is they will fail you and make up some kind of an excuse: they had to work a night shift; their computer broke down; they didn’t know the presentation was today. At this time, instead of arguing with your group members, you can tell them to whip out or download this app during class and work on the presentation right now. Then, you can monitor their work through your own Google Slides app, which updates every time they make a change on the slides. You may also want to get the Google Drive app, too, to make saving and accessing files easier. The Google Slides app is available on Android and iOS.

Adobe Photoshop Mix

For all of my drawing purposes, I got many of the Adobe iOS apps, including Adobe Illustrator Draw and Adobe Creative Cloud. These work better on a tablet, with a stylus, than simply on phone, because of the greater surface area it gives you to draw. Whether you are taking an art course or just doodling between classes, these free Adobe apps are easy and intuitive to use for almost all of your image-editing needs. All the barriers to using Adobe programs — the expensive subscription and the complicated toolbars — are mostly gone with these apps unless you require their more advanced features. These apps are available on Android and iOS.


Scrivener is my all-time favorite writing software, now made into an app, available only on iOS for $20. Like the Photoshop apps, Scrivener works best on a tablet or with as big a mobile screen as possible. It has so many buttons and features for drafting the perfect novel, play, or poem that even after five years of use on both Mac and PC, I still unearth new features all the time. It syncs up with other instances of Scrivener running, so it’s meant to be used alongside the original desktop software version. Fun fact: Erin Morgenstern drafted The Night Circus using desktop Scrivener.

Starbucks Mobile App

If you drink coffee daily and you don’t have a coffee machine readily available, what is there to do? If there’s a Starbucks on campus (there usually is) and they take mobile orders, you’ll need this app to start getting discounts. Make the call and get the app as soon as possible if you realize you need it. I was a Starbucks regular for years before I got this app, and I mourn all of the free drinks that I’ve lost by not using it. Just don’t fall for the hype and start ordering a turkey pesto panini five days in a row for the stars — there are better options. The Starbucks app is available on Android and iOS.


The Discover credit card is a great first choice for students, because it has a good grades reward of $20 for a 3.0 GPA or higher and a relatively easy approval. Part of the stress of having a credit card is having to pay the bills on time. With the app, I schedule payments and never have to even touch a physical statement or call anybody. It also starts you off with a small credit line so that you can test the waters before going for bigger cards. No matter which bank you’re with, mobile finance apps are all starting to get pretty good; Mint is a good one for tracking all of your accounts together. The Discover app is available on Android and iOS.


When it comes time to get away from campus and visit family, Hopper looks for the best flight deals for you and tells you whether you should wait until a certain date for cheaper deals. It takes all of the legwork out of thinking about where to get the best deals and when to buy them, revealing all the unlikely sweet spots of the next 12 months. Plus, there’s a cute little rabbit sprinting across the loading screen. After using sites like Expedia and Kayak, I can say that Hopper’s design gets you all the information at once, saving you all the clicking back and forth between tabs that comes with looking on other sites. The Hopper app is available on Android and iOS.


I can’t count the number of people who owe me money and have given me a blank, glazed stare when I ask them if they have Venmo. “What’s that? Never heard of it.” Thankfully, it’s a little better known these days. If you’re like me and you don’t carry a lot of cash on you (because you keep losing your wallet), but you also hate owing others money, get this app to start paying them back quickly. It connects to major banks and cards. I’ve even had a sketchy employer pay my final paycheck through Venmo, so it just goes to show how useful this app can be. The Venmo app is available on Android and iOS.


Finally, winding down the count, there’s Headspace, a peaceful meditation app, for when you can’t sleep at night. Andy Puddicombe co-founded the app and guides your meditation with his calming British accent. According to him, Headspace has the emotional effect of taking an aspirin. Between the chaotic hustle and bustle of classes, extracurriculars, relationships, and the shine and glimmer of these apps and the many push notifications they’ll be sending you, you’ll need the aspirin. The Headspace app is available on Android and iOS.