The best free software for students
College textbooks inevitably cost a fortune, but software doesn't have to. Our toolkit will help you work smarter, stay secure and avoid procrastinating (none of us really do our best work at 3am, despite what we might tell ourselves), but also let your hair down once your deadline's passed.
Quick tip: download the software you need before you move out (with your parents' permission, of course) to avoid going over your broadband usage allowance in your first month living away from home.
Work harder, faster
Students get a discount on Microsoft Office, but it's still not cheap. Stretch your budget further by installing LibreOffice instead; its Writer app offers almost all of the same features as Word, and doesn't cost a penny.
It can save your work in whichever format your lecturers prefer (including DOC), and makes light work of page numbering, indexes, footnotes and footnotes.
Facing a particularly tight deadline? The Pomodoro Technique – concentrating hard in bursts of 25 minutes, with a five-minute break in between – is an effective way of pushing yourself to get more done. Distraction-free writing tools like FocusWriter come with alarms built in, but for an easier way to manage your time, check out Tomighty – an open source app specifically designed for this way of working.
Avoid the social media time-sink
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg created the social network to connect his classmates, and it remains a notorious student time-sink. When work is due, catching up with school friends and sharing photos from last night suddenly seem desperately important.
If you find Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram clamoring for your attention, consider downloading Cold Turkey to supplement your self-control. It comes equipped with a list of known time-wasters, and you can add more. Don't trust yourself? It's very difficult to stop or uninstall Cold Turkey once the timer's been started, and it works on all browsers so you can't just load Edge instead of Chrome and sneak onto your favorite gaming forum.
Hold a virtual LAN party
We'd never advocate violating your IT department's acceptable use policy, so read it carefully before trying anything using its network. Torrenting services are usually banned, for example. If you're living off-campus, however, the web is your oyster.
Your friends might now be spread throughout the country (or beyond), but you can still get together for a session of Counter-Strike or Call of Duty thanks to LogMeIn Hamachi. This VPN tool connects your PCs as though they were on the same local area network (though the connection won't be as fast).
Once you've installed Hamachi, create a username and either connect to a friend's existing network or create your own. This step-by-step guide explains how to set up a Counter-Strike game, but the principle is the same whatever you choose to play. You might need to turn your firewall off temporarily, so make sure you reactivate it once you've finished.
Secure your new logins
Your first week at university or college will begin with a barrage of new usernames and passwords for emails, department portals, and resource hubs like Athens. Rather than jotting them down in a notebook (easily lost) or relying on your browser to store them (risky), try a password manager like KeePass, which will store them all in a single secure vault protected by one master password.
You'll also need a solid antivirus suite to keep yourself safe online. Avira Free Antivirus is an excellent choice thanks to its high detection rates (courtesy of the Avira Protection Cloud), and is particularly good at picking up ransomware, which could spell disaster if you rely on your PC to study.
Even without a virus infection, you never know when a mishap might befall your hard drive (probably related to either theft or careless use of your laptop as a coaster), so it's a good idea to use a service like DropBox to sync your projects and dissertations to the cloud. This has the added advantage that you'll be able to access them from the university IT suite at a moment's notice.
With this free software installed, you'll be ready to face all the challenges your first week will throw at you, and all without taking out an extra loan.