Plan the Path’s Guide to Essential Student Apps

The prevalence of smartphones presents college students with a quandary: in the midst of the analytical papers to finish and poli-sci readings to complete, it’s all too easy to disappear into the rabbit holes of Instagram, Snapchat, and Candy Crush. While smartphones, equipped with social media apps and games, can be meandering paths on the map of procrastination, they also have the potential to be helpful tools for navigating the college journey. By downloading a select group of apps onto their devices, college students can turn the pocket technology into a Swiss Army knife of educational utility, primed to help them with research and organization. In this Guide, we summarize some of the apps that recent and current college students have found particularly useful:


Nearly all smartphones nowadays come equipped with a built-in note-taking app. Evernote blows generic, preloaded “notes” apps out of the ether, with its ability to create complex charts, graphs, and files of multiple notes, not to mention its ability to sync files and documents between multiple devices. Students who’ve been taking their class notes on a laptop using Word, Pages, or Google Docs may find Evernote to be a more effective way to organize their documents. Cost: Free, or $5/month for the premium version


Are you constantly reloading your Facebook newsfeed or watching Instagram stories instead of studying? It’s not just you—humans today are more distracted by the dopamine-rush of stimulating distractions than ever before. SelfControl brings a dab of moderation into your relationship with social media and other “addictive” websites, a shift that can be of tremendous value for students. The app allows users to create a customized list of verboten websites, as well as provide a timer for avoiding them; after entering a password, SelfControl will block these websites from your browser for the selected amount of time. While the app is not for smartphones, its use for keeping focused makes it a worthy inclusion in our guide. Cost: Free on computers running OS X


There is perhaps no study method more universally utilized than the tried-and-true process of self-quizzing with flashcards. Compiling flashcards by hand, while helpful, can also be time-consuming and cumbersome, especially for busy students on the go. Quizlet allows users to create digital sets of flashcards, and then to put their knowledge to the test through study sets, memorization games, and more. Cost: Free 


Lists, lists, lists! Whether they contain details of exam schedules, grocery items, required readings, or must-try craft beers, lists are an inevitable part of many college experiences. Wunderlist allows students to create interactive lists, store them in a virtual cloud, and access them from multiple devices. Users can also incorporate reminders and alerts into their lists to help them stay on track. Cost: Free


They often say that the hardest part of any yoga practice is “getting on the mat.” Similarly, the most challenging part of any lengthy academic assignment is often getting started. Turning abstract, creative ideas into a structured outline, or simply generating those initial ideas in the face of writer’s block, can make even the most competent and creative students feel stuck. SimpleMind is an app that can solve this problem, by providing students and writers with a variety of tools for brainstorming and mind-mapping. The app is an excellent resource for visual or symbolic learners, as it helps turn mental lists of ideas into interactive graphics and maps. Cost: Free, or $6.99 (one-time fee) for premium version on iOS


There is unfortunately a dose of reality in the stereotype of college students as continually “broke.” Living full-time away from home can be financially stressful for the newly independent from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. Juggling multiple college classes, adjusting to life in a dorm, and exploring the activities of campus life can make the process of earning and saving money rather difficult, and the best way to navigate this dilemma can be summed up in one word: budgeting. Because money often feels abstract and invisible (especially in today’s world of credit cards and Venmo), it can be difficult to budget and allocate your funds in a productive and realistic way. Mint gives users helpful and simple tools for budgeting their income and managing their finances, and is simple enough to be used by young adults with little financial literacy. Students using Mint can create customizable budgets and financial goals, manage multiple bank accounts, and even track their student loans. Cost: Free


When impassioned and brilliant speakers talk about their life’s work, listeners are bound to find inspiration—no matter the subject. TED is the official app of TED Talks, an international network of forums for an extremely diverse array of thinkers and doers, who share their thoughts on an equally diverse array of subjects. Students yearning to better understand new concepts, garner ideas for their next paper or project, or simply hear about an issue from an expert, can use the TED app to explore the educational and dynamic talks. The presentations can range in length from a few minutes to over an hour, and the speakers discuss subjects as varied as the human experience itself. Also check out TED Masterclass, the companion app that teaches students how to give TED-style talks themselves! Cost: Free