The best free software for students 2018: save cash on college essentials

LibreOffice running on a laptop

College textbooks cost a fortune and university fees are eye-watering, but there's no need to spend extra money on student software.

This essential toolkit of free software will help students work smarter, stay secure and avoid procrastinating (none of us really do our best work at 3am, despite what we might tell ourselves).

Whether you're heading off to college yourself or helping your kids get ready, we've gathered together all the essential apps a student needs to get more work done, stay safe, protect their work and ace those exams.

LibreOffice screen grab

Office software: LibreOffice

Don't pay through the nose for office software – LibreOffice is a great free option for students, and has all the tools you could possibly need

Students get a discount on Microsoft Office, but it's still not cheap. Stretch your budget further by installing LibreOffice instead – it's a brilliant office suite for students that gives you almost all the same features as Word, Excel and company, completely free.

It can save your work in whichever file type your lecturers prefer (including Microsoft's proprietary formats), and makes light work of page numbering, indexes and footnotes.

If you really need Word, PowerPoint and Excel, check out Office Online. It doesn't contain all the features of Microsoft's desktop software, but it's a great compromise and includes collaboration tools for group projects.

Cold Turkey Blocker screen grab

Time management software: Cold Turkey Blocker

A dramatic, but effective solution to online procrastination

For students whose self-control needs a boost, Cold Turkey Blocker (available for Windows and Mac) is fantastic. It plugs into your web browsers and prevents you accessing your favorite time-wasting sites while you get busy with those important assignments. Once you've started a block, there's no way to stop it.

The free version of Cold Turkey lets you block websites until a certain time, and comes with a ready-made list containing dozens of the most notorious time-thieves. You can also build your own lists of vices to block. 

Cold Turkey Blocker works with Chrome, Edge and Opera. Other browsers will be closed during a block.

Cold Turkey Pro costs CAN$25 (about US$20, £15, AU$25) and adds the ability to schedule blocks in advance, block specific applications (a great way to stop yourself loading Steam) and set time limits so you can't use your computer at all for certain periods. The free version is excellent though – particularly for social media addicts.

BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition screen grab

Antivirus: BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition

A student-friendly security suite that offers protection from viruses, phishing attacks and other threats – even if they're brand new

Every student needs a solid security suite to protect their privacy and keep their work safe from dangers like ransomware that could damage or encrypt crucial essays and reports. 

BitDefender Antivirus Free is the best free antivirus around – fast and well designed, with excellent detection rates. Its behavioral analysis makes it particularly good at picking up zero-day threats – those that haven't yet been identified and catalogued by its security experts, but have been spotted based on their behaviour.

BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition isn't bloated with add-ons that you'll never use, but it does include anti-phishing and anti-fraud tools to keep students safe when they're banking and shopping online.

EaseUS Todo Backup Free screen grab

Backup software: EaseUS Todo Backup Free

Protect work from accidental deletion, malicious attacks or drive failure

Your college work is irreplaceable, so a regular backup routine is essential. You never know when your PC's drive might fail, you could fall victim to a ransomware attack, or your laptop might be lost, broken or stolen on campus.

EaseUS Todo Backup Free makes protecting your documents as easy as possible. It can make an image of an entire drive (including the operating system), or just selected files or folders. The first time you start it, it begins backing up your documents folder automatically. After that, the choice is yours.

Getting started and setting up a regular schedule is simplicity itself, and restoring from a backup is just as straightforward if the worst happens.

Video chat software: Viber

Keep in touch with parents and friends back home for free

Skype might be the first name that comes to mind when you think of video chat software, but it you're tired of the ads that come with it, check out Viber. It's a great way for students to keep in touch with friends and family, and it's free. 

The mobile app sits comfortably alongside your existing chat and messaging tools, letting you connect with other people using their phone numbers.

Viber is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS and Android, making it easy to chat with loved ones on any device, and offers text chat, voice and video calls.