The best free tools and services for college students

Whether or not you’re going back to in-person classes this fall, you’ll probably need a lot of services and software to get your classwork done, handle your time, and unwind after a long day of lectures. Don’t worry, though, that this will add to your ever-growing college debt. There are more and more free services and tools that are surprisingly powerful, like office apps and media editors that pros use.

You might not have to pay a dime to watch a TV marathon or listen to a hot new song. Our suggestions could help you do well in school and save some money for fun activities outside of school.

Google Docs

At school, you’ll probably need a work suite. Thank goodness, gone are the days when you had to buy a pricey set of software. Google Docs can help you make all of the documents you’ll need over the course of a semester, like term papers, spreadsheets, and group slideshows. Automatic cloud saves can keep you from having to start over if you lose your work.

If 15GB of free space on Google Drive isn’t enough for you, you might want to sign up for a Google One plan. Even if Docs is very useful, some teachers may still require paid services like Microsoft 365. But if you can pick your own work tools, Docs is an easy choice, especially if you already use Calendar, Meet, and other Google products.

Todoist

Time control is the key to being a student. You’ll probably have to keep track of various assignments, study sessions, and your personal life (remember that?). Todoist is our top choice if you want to stay on track. You can make to-do lists, but you can also set up task boards, set goals, and give tasks to other people. This is useful if it’s your roommate’s turn to buy dinner.

With support for five ongoing projects, five collaborators, and 5MB file uploads, the free Todoist plan should be enough for school. Paying $36 per year for a Pro account is only worth it if you have many projects going at once (up to 300), need to send large files, or want to set reminders. No matter what you need, this could be the key to finishing a paper on time.

Inmagine Pixlr E

Free picture editors used to be weak or hard to use, and you could usually forget about web-based versions. Pixlr E doesn’t work like that. Image healing, visual effects, and multi-layer compositing are just a few of the tools that were previously only available with a paid membership or a large offline app. It works with both Photoshop (PSD) files and other popular file types. If you just want to fix up a picture for a show or crop a picture for photography class, you might not need much more.

There are some rules. Pixlr E has ads, and you can’t use the AI-powered tools, 8K by 8K resolution support, or themes that come with the $59 Premium level. You should also look into tools like Inkscape if you want to make vector drawings or if you need a lot of different art apps. Pixlr is much cheaper than Adobe Creative Suite, and its browser-based technology could save the day if you need to edit a project on a computer you don’t know.

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve

You might not need to buy an expensive video editing program to do well in film school. DaVinci Resolve from Blackmagic is a free program that has a wide range of tools for editing, color correction, audio, and effects. You could make a short movie for class using the same basic tools that are used to make Hollywood hits. You could even work with other people on it.

In fact, unless your coursework has very specific standards, you probably won’t need to pay for editing services very often. Spending $295 on DaVinci Resolve Studio is only worth it if you want to edit footage at more than 4K resolution and 60 frames per second, work with more video types, or use advanced 3D, AI, and HDR tools. This should be enough to learn the basics, unless your teachers want you to use a different tool like Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro.

Blender

You’ll need a good modeling suite if you’re making 3D art for games or movies at school, and one of the best modeling suites is free. Blender has a lot of tools for modeling, animating, and creating 3D content. It also has built-in tools for compositing, motion tracking, drawing story art, and simple video editing. You might already have all the tools you need to make a short CG film.

You’ll need to make sure that Blender can do what your class asks of it, and you might also need specialized software like Natron, a free blending tool, to help you out. The fact that Blender’s code is open source and its design can be changed is a plus. You can easily find a lot of free or cheap add-ons that fit your needs, and if you know how to script, you can even write your own.

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