7 free tools for college students

Here are some free tools that helped me save money and work smarter during college.

Share class notes with Google Docs

Google Docs is like having Microsoft Word in your email account.  Once you sign up, you have access to a word processor and spreadsheet application that can import and export files to and from Microsoft and Open Document formats.  It doesn’t have all the features of Microsoft Office, but it’s good enough for most of the writing you’ll have to do during college.  Best of all, you can give your friends access and editing privileges for your documents, enabling easy sharing of class notes and study guides, and efficient collaboration on projects.

A few years ago, getting notes for a class I missed meant I had to set up a time to meet, and either copy by hand or find a copy machine.  Now, if I’m getting notes from a colleague who uses Google Docs, sharing notes with me takes 30 seconds and a couple of mouse clicks.

I’ve also used Google Docs to collaborate on study guides.  I imported the review sheet into a Google Doc and shared it with friends.  Each of us could log in, see what questions had been answered, and address the ones that remained.

Google Docs is free.

Click here to learn more about Google Docs

Earn money or merchandise for sharing class notes with Knetwit

Knetwit is like a giant online warehouse for sharing class notes, organized by university and course.  It is free to join, because it is supported by advertising, and shares the revenue with its users.  You can upload your own notes, or view notes posted by others.  Each time you upload a note, you receive points, called “Koin.”  Koin can be redeemed for money or merchandise at the Knetwit Store.  Your notes are available to other Knetwit users, and you receive Koin each time that happens.

Knetwit is most valuable to freshmen and sophomores taking large general education classes, because there is a larger potential pool of notes to draw from.  Grad students in smaller, more specialized classes will find it less useful, but can still upload their notes.

For more about Knetwit read my review here.

Disclaimer: Make sure you aren’t violating any university or class policies before you share your notes in this manner.

Get a permanent phone number, screen calls, and make free phone calls with Google Voice

If you’re anything like me, you moved and changed phone numbers several times during college.  Updating your contacts can be a pain, and sometimes people slip through the cracks.  At one point I almost didn’t get into my intended academic program because my college was trying to contact me at an outdated phone number.

Google Voice solves that problem.  When you sign up, you get a free phone number that is yours for life.  You then set it up to forward to the phone(s) of your choice with rules based on who is calling and what time it is.  You can even screen calls by listening to voicemail messages as they are being left and interrupt if you want to talk to the caller.  Google Voice can also receive text messages and forward them to your cell phone.

Google Voice is useful if you’ve moved to a new area and want to keep your old cell phone number but also have a local number for things like apartment security gates.

If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can use Google Voice to make free phone calls within the US.  This involves some setup, detailed here.

Google Voice is currently available by invitation only.  You can request an invitation here.

Use email as a backup for term papers and projects

Hopefully you’ve never had the experience of losing a critical assignment to a lost or corrupted flash drive.  I have, and that’s why I always use my Gmail account to keep a backup.  Here’s how it works:

  1. When you finish working on an assignment, attach a copy of the file to an email and send it to yourself.  You can use the subject line for keywords that will help you find it in your mailbox later.  You an also use Gmail’s labels or Yahoo’s folders to make a category just for your backups.
  2. Each time you change the file, delete the email and send an updated copy.

If you lose, forget, or damage your flash drive, you can retrieve and print the assignment from any computer with an internet connection.

Keep business and pleasure separate with virtual desktops

Are you the type of student who likes to keep email, Facebook, Twitter and LOLCats open while you work on school assignments?  Ever wish you had multiple monitors so you could keep your fun stuff open on one while you slave away undistracted at the other?

Virtual Dimension allows you to separate your open programs and windows into multiple desktops as if you had multiple monitors.  You can switch between them with a mouse click or a keystroke.

Right now, I have my email, calendar and Facebook open in one virtual desktop, and I’m blogging in the second.  That helps me stay focused on writing without getting distracted by extra buttons in my task bar.

Virtual Dimension is free and can be downloaded here: http://virt-dimension.sourceforge.net/

Run your favorite programs from a flash drive with Portable Apps

A portable app is a program that has been adapted to run from a flash drive, allowing you to carry around your favorite programs, preferences, and bookmarks and use them on any Windows computer.  Many open source programs are available as portable apps, including web browsers like FireFox, office suites like Open Office, and image editing and developer tools like the GIMP, Kompozer, and Notepad++.  You can set up your flash drive to include only the programs you want.

Portable Apps is free.  You can learn more and download it at PortableApps.com.

Save money with open source software

Last summer, I blogged about how I’ve saved over $1,200 by using free, open source alternatives to commercial programs.  This includes using Open Office instead of Microsoft Office, and free developer tools like Kompozer and the GIMP instead of Dreamweaver and Photoshop.  Read the full post here.

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