Back-to-School Software Guide: How To Save Thousands!

Back-to-School Software Guide: How To Save Thousands!

August is that time of year: back-to-school time for students across the country. Being a tech savvy student does not just mean owning an iPad. Using technology to help increase your grades and ease your studying is the mark of a smart student, and the foundation of your academic tech arsenal needs to be software. Below the jump are some of our suggestions with big tips that can literally save you thousands of dollars during back-to-school season.

Quick Tips:

  • Don't overbuy. If a simple product works, go for it!
  • Evaluate your needs and ask your professors for help/discounts.
  • Hunt and search for discounts online aimed at students (including those who've returned to school for extensions/career course)

The Basics:
Many students are now utilizing non-Microsoft products for their word processing and spreadsheet needs. Office can however still be the best suite for the money. Many universities offer substantial discounts on Office (the one we attended offered it for $25.00). The basics that any college student need are a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation software.

Microsoft Office:
If you are a business student or thinking of becoming one, this is the only product that will work for you. Excel is the corner stone of many accounting and economics classes and as such necessitates Office. Additionally, check with your university as they might require Visual Basic or other Microsoft specific capabilities. Price: vary, but purchase through your school for big discounts

Apple iWork:
If you are a non technical student (i.e. History, English) then iWork can be a viable option. This office suite is dense enough for the demanding user. iWork can import and export Microsoft Office files. Price: $79.00

Open Office:
Open Office is free, well featured, and a mature software platform. It has file compatibility with Microsoft Office, but the software is not as well polished and lacks the slick ease found in iWork and Office's presentation software. Price: Free

Research Papers:
Writing a solid research paper is not just about prose; it demands time and thorough combing of article repositories. Producing a finished article can often exceed the capabilities of the basic office suites mentions above.

Papers is a rare software product that a student can find both easy to use and damn important. We find it to be the slickest and with the best integration by combing article repository searching (looking for research articles using various online catalogs), organizing PDF files, providing a slick onscreen reader, and organizing citations for export to Latex or Word. If you do any kind of academic writing this piece of software will save you countless hours and greatly increase your ability to charge through papers. The only downside is that is only works on Mac OS X. Academic Price: $42.00

Endnote is the classic academic software for hardcore article writing. It works perfectly for organizing articles and citations. If you are a windows user this is suggested since Papers is not available on Microsoft platforms. Prices: vary, but purchase through your school for discounted rate

If you do any academic or mathematical papers for conference or publication, Lyx is a godsend. This program allows a basic user to tap into the power of Latex typesetting language. If you don't know what Latex is, no worries, just keep it in mind if you ever need to write a paper with mathematical symbols in it. Price: Free

Math Software:
According to a recent New York Times Article, math and statistics are in. If you are in a course of study that offers statistics, you will undoubtedly encounter statistical software. These programs do the heavy lifting of statistical analysis for you and let you focus on crafting excellent research pieces instead of doing long division.

STATA is considered to be the gold standard of social and hard science statistical software. It is immensely complex and will likely require a course to use it. If you want to purchase it to keep here is a secret: STATA offers Grad Plans that require a professor to register your class and name. Grad Plans allow students to purchase STATA for around $ 180.00, which is a fraction of the $ 1500.00 it costs at retail. Check with your professors to see if purchasing STATA is worthwhile. Price: Grad plan prices from $49.00 - $179.00

Sas is the statistical program of choice for finance and engineering. Its usage in the business world makes it a popular program to train students in. Purchasing sas for personal usage is possible, but entirely dependent upon your university. Price: dependent upon your universities licensing program

SPSS is the original statistical software that included a graphical user interface. That made it accessible to non-technical users while still allowing complex analysis. Its current draconian licensing issues make it a do not recommend, but if your courses require its usage try to use free on campus computer labs. Price: dependent upon your universities licensing program

R is a beast of a software environment; capable of anything and everything you ask it to do. That capability comes at a price; it is a mathematical programming environment meant only for those who have programming ability and likely a class to go along with it. R is free, making it a great value, but this program is suggested only for math/computer science students or very advanced graduate students. Price: Free

Design Software:
If you are an artist, photographer, web designer, or journalist, design software is your bread and butter. With only one software suite that is actively taught in the U.S, selection and price is a difficult match.

Adobe Creative Suite: Adobe builds great products, but greatness comes at a tradeoff, a massive price tag. The Adobe Creative Suite has few competitors and is what we have seen most students to be taught. Do yourself a favor, if you need this software, check through your professors to see if they have access to it. Often they have versions that they can give your copy free or at a minimal price even compared to your universities academic rates. Using that route can save you over a grand or more. Price: Students/Teachers can purchase for $199 compared to $1,299 through academic software sites with proof or via campus computer dealers.

GIMP, the free Photoshop Alternative: If the student discounted rate is still too high, a free powerful alternative is GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). Think of it as Photoshop without the polish, but with almost all the same features for digital photo retouching projects as its prosumer cousin. Price: Free

This software allows you to organize, keep track, and stay sane during the semester.

We recommend Evernote for its unique combination of software, accessibility anywhere, available for online use, Windows, Mac, and mobile devices. If you're the type who likes to jot notes, annotate images, clip sites as you browse, create to-do lists, or record audio notes (all searchable one inputted), then we'd recommend you give Evernote a try for its all-in-one features. Price: Free

Back Up Software:
Backup software is essential for students. Countless times we have known students who have lost their work at the last minute before finals due to not backing up. DO NOT be one of those people. Use backup software! The built in software provided by both Microsoft and Apple is sufficient, but not perfect.

This little piece of software has saved our butts in many situations through computer hard drive crashes to random reboots. It is simple, thorough, and nearly idiot proof. Install the client and place your important files inside and Dropbox backs it up online. Your files can be synced between computers or just safely copied into the cloud incase you computer bites the dust. Price: Free with larger accounts available for a monthly fee

Bottom Line:
Academic software can cost a student a fortune, but the right skills and a thrifty attitude can save you a fortune. We recommend first asking your professors what you need and then using your university as a resource to cheap software, alongside online academic software dealers such as:

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