The best free software for students in 2024

Going back to school doesn't have to be expensive
Le retour à l'école ne doit pas être coûteux.

Back to school 2023 is currently underway and software is some of the best yet underrated products to invest in. Whether you or your student is heading back to school, college, or university, there’s a lot to buy in preparation and all that gear and supplies add up.

Between the best student laptops, the best tablets, the best computers, and more, expenses easily pile up, and you’ll still need certain programs or applications – many of which come at a premium – to get schoolwork done. And even with the best back to school sales, the costs can still add up.

There’s a way around breaking the bank on those big-name apps, though. The best free software for students to download gives you the same functionality without any of the cost. Even some of the big companies offer some free tools that you can take advantage of. So, save yourself some money by taking advantage of the free software for back to school. Take a look at our picks here and put that cash to better use.

Kid's backpacks: from $19.99 at Amazon

Kid's backpacks: from $19.99 at Amazon
Amazon's back to school sale includes a huge selection of backpacks for all ages from brands like Adidas, Jansport, and The North Face, with prices starting at just $19.99.You'll find character backpacks for younger kids and laptop backpacks for college students with a range of patterns, colors, and fabrics.

Apple iPad 10.2 (2021): $329.99$279 at Amazon

Apple iPad 10.2 (2021): was $329.99 now $279 at Amazon
Amazon has the 2023 Apple iPad on sale for $279 - $30 more than the record-low price. It may be slightly older tech, but the 10.2-inch Retina display and A13 Bionic chip ensure excellent picture quality and superior performance to this day. The entry-level tablet can do it all without issue, according to our Apple iPad 10.2 review: whether that's browsing the net, streaming media, light work, or playing games.

HP Chromebook 15: $399$199 at Best Buy

HP Chromebook 15: was $399 now $199 at Best Buy
This basic budget HP Chromebook 15 is down to a terrific low price if you need a device for light use, such as general browsing and schoolwork. It offers a 15.6-inch display, impressive battery life, and decent performance thanks to the Chrome OS – all for under $200. A bargain for students and those with basic needs.

The best free back to school software

LibreOffice, a rival to Microsoft Office, is free for everyone.


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A superb free, Microsoft-compatible office suite

But perhaps the real beauty of LibreOffice is not just the fact that it is free but is free for everyone. Home users can use it, as can students, businesses, and just about anyone else. This is a perfect example of a piece of software demonstrating that great things need not cost the Earth.

It is impossible to imagine spending very long without using an office suite, and the default choice that people opt for is Microsoft Office. But there is really no need to pay a monthly, annual, or even a one-off cost for your software – LibreOffice is available free of charge. Not only is the software completely free, but it is also a genuinely viable rival to Microsoft Office.

LibreOffice is not only a rival to Microsoft Office, but it is also fully compatible with the famous office suite. Unlike other free office suites such as WPS Office, LibreOffice is free of advertising and still includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool, and even a database, formulae app, and vector graphics editor.

In terms of the interface, LibreOffice is similar to pretty much any other office suite out there, although it has opted for a rather more retro, non-ribbon toolbar that may be preferable to fans of the older look of Office.

Attend online lessons with Zoom

(Image credit: Zoom)


Stay in touch with friends and family, or conduct remote meetings and lessons

Providing you have a laptop or desktop PC with a webcam – or even just a phone or tablet with a reasonable camera – Zoom offers a great way to hold video calls and meetings. Whether you’re catching up with friends and family while away from home, or using the app to keep in touch with tutors, the communication and remote working possibilities Zoom provides are brilliant.

This free back to school software is pleasingly easy to set up, and recent improvements in security mean that locking down your meetings is a simple affair too. The great news for anyone who does not want to pay for video conferencing software is that Zoom lets you hold meetings of up to 40 minutes in length with up to 100 participants – and this should be more than enough for most people.

The software is also very versatile, offering not only basic video conferencing, but also screen sharing, scheduling, and privacy features such as background blurring.

Google Drive is free for everyone

(Image credit: Google)

Google Drive

Stores files, backup data and work collaboratively in the cloud

There are many benefits to storing your files in the cloud, but two are key. Not only does it make it easier to access your files from just about any computer or device with an internet connection, it also serves as a way of safeguarding your valuable files by having them automatically backed up. There are various cloud storage services available, but Google Drive is one of the best.

This free back to school software you'll use to synchronise data between your computer and your cloud storage is called Google Backup and Sync, and you can use fine-grain controls to choose precisely which files and folders should be synchronised – or opt to backup your entire computer if you want.

Google Drive stands out from many rivals because of the number of platforms it is available for, and the quality of its web apps. You even get access to a cloud-based office suite which is perfect for collaborative work.

Should you find that the amount of cloud storage space you're given for free is not quite enough, you can easily upgrade to a paid package – and the prices are surprisingly reasonable, even for relatively large amounts of space.

BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition offers complete PC protection

BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition

A student-friendly security suite that offers complete protection

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 Edition is the best 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 cataloged by its security experts but have been spotted based on their behavior.

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.

Evernote is perfect for putting all your research materials in one place


A cloud-based notebook that's perfect for gathering research in one place

When you're researching a project, you need somewhere to keep all your notes and resources. Evernote lets you upload 60MB of data per month (which goes a long way when you're mostly dealing with text), syncs across two devices (the mobile apps are also free), lets you share notes and whole notebooks with friends, and makes everything you've clipped searchable.

Evernote also has a web interface, which means your notes are accessible from any device with an internet access – including computers in the IT center or library that don't have the app installed.

To get the most from Evernote, we recommend installing the Web Clipper browser extension so you can add whole webpages, bookmarks, or individual articles to your notebooks with a click.

EaseUS Todo Backup Free protects work from accidental deletion

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, a free back to school software, 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.

WhatsApp is a great messaging tool for keeping in touch with family for free


Stay in touch with friends and family using any device – mobile or desktop

You might already have the mobile app on your phone, but WhatsApp is also available for desktop devices. Just download the app from the Windows Store or iTunes, then scan the QR code on the screen with your phone to log in and sync your messages.

WhatsApp's main advantage over most chat apps is its double-ended encryption, which keeps your messages safe from interception. It's no longer just for text conversations either – it also supports video calls, and a recent update added the ability to set up group calls with up to four people.

Paint.NET is free photo editor


A fantastic, feature-packed photo editor without the price tag

You don't have to be working on a design or photography course to need an image editing tool – they're incredible versatile pieces of software that can be used for screen grabbing, logo making, document scanning, photo retouching and so much more. As is so often the case, there is a bewildering choice in this software genre, and it can be near-impossible to find a free program that's powerful enough for demanding users. But Paint.NET is different.

Available for both PC and Mac, Paint.NET does great job of competing with the greats such as Paint Shop Pro – and even Photoshop – but remains delightfully accessible. From the offset, this is a powerful piece of software with a great range of tools for you to work with, but support for plugins – and there is a massive and growing selection available – means that it is possible to further extend the capabilities of an already incredible program. 

a graphing chart created by a calculator

(Image credit: Desmos / Akash Shendure)


Why pay for a graphing calculator when you can just use Desmos's free web or mobile app? Well, if you want to use it for the SAT or AP Calculus exam, we guess, but if you just need some homework help, Desmos has you covered.

The simple and elegant design allows you to do everything from graphing algebraic equations to differentiation and integration with ease. While handheld graphing calculator screens are tiny little things, Desmos lets you graph as many interactive functions as you want on a full screen display making for very dynamic visualizations.

The mobile version isn't as robust as some of the pricey exam-approved graphing calculators, but this is by far the best graphing calculator you're going to find without having to spend any actual money.

Sofia Elizabella Wyciślik-Wilson
Freelance writer

Sofia is a tech journalist who's been writing about software, hardware and the web for nearly 25 years – but still looks as youthful as ever! After years writing for magazines, her life moved online and remains fueled by technology, music and nature.

Having written for websites and magazines since 2000, producing a wide range of reviews, guides, tutorials, brochures, newsletters and more, she continues to write for diverse audiences, from computing newbies to advanced users and business clients. Always willing to try something new, she loves sharing new discoveries with others.

Sofia lives and breathes Windows, Android, iOS, macOS and just about anything with a power button, but her particular areas of interest include security, tweaking and privacy. Her other loves include walking, music, her two Malamutes and, of course, her wife and daughter.

You can find her on Twitter and Mastodon.

With contributions from