12 Back-to-School Mac Apps for College Students
There are lots of blog posts describing good Mac applications for students; the Tired Donkey has done you the service of linking to several of the better ones below. Most of these lists throw in a couple of productivity apps, a couple of entertainment apps and few other random apps the author happens to like. Nothing wrong with that kind of list-making (which is why the Tired Donkey linked to some of the posts), but the Tired Donkey, who has a large number of children in college and high school, would like to focus his list a little more tightly on fixing the stupid crap students do that compromises their ability to succeed.
So. The Tired Donkey has divided his list into apps that do the core things you need to do to succeed in college: organize yourself, take good notes, study and keep your computer healthy. Many of these apps cost money (but all that do have a free trial period). Get over it; go mow a few lawns or work a little overtime or beg your parents for some more money. Better yet, just make them read this post. The Tired Donkey must point out that you (and your parents) are going to be spending a fortune on your education, and, given this, he respectfully suggests that you would be an idiot not to spend a few hundred dollars more to make sure you have the software you need to succeed.
Apps to Help You Organize
Schoolhouse (available here; free to try, then $14.95). This beautiful little application was written by a college student for college students, and it just won the 2010 Ars Design Award for Best Student-Created Mac OS X App. Now, the Tired Donkey recognizes that awards don’t necessarily mean much; after all, “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from Mary Poppins won the Best Song Oscar in 1964. But Schoolhouse is no Chim Chim Cher-ee. It’s an app that will keep track of all your tasks for every class, any other tasks you have, your grades, your calendar and more, all via an intuitive, Finder-like interface. If you want to read more, check out the comprehensive review here or the short one here.
Slife (available here; free). One of the problems many college students face is figuring out how to stop wasting so much damn time every day. Enter Slife. This app watches everything you are doing on your Mac, from using applications to browsing the web to email and then presents you with a timeline of all your activity. Wonder where all your time goes when you are “working”? Slife will show you and give you a chance to discover all your bad habits and fix them. Check out the review here.
Apps to Help You Take Notes
A notebook and a good pen. With blue ink. Really. “But Tired Donkey,” you say, “that’s not an app, Mac or otherwise.” You are right. But let’s face it, this blog is about giving you advice, and this is advice: the best tool for taking notes is a notebook and a good pen. Why? The Tired Donkey will provide you with two reasons. First,
processing the information you are learning in class twice is better than processing it once. You accomplish this feat by taking notes in class with a pen and ink and then cleaning up, organizing and transcribing those now-transformed notes into an outline from which you will study for your final. This technique is in no way revolutionary, but it really works: the Tired Donkey used it all the way through college at USNA and law school at UGA and in both instances did well enough to get special Latin words added to his diplomas.
Second, there are many classes you may take where typing your notes into a computer simply won’t work. Calculus, for instance. Or Chemistry. Or Electrical Engineering. The Tired Donkey could go on, but you get the point: you can’t effectively type formulas or diagrams or circuit layouts. So what about those classes where you could type all your notes? See reason 1, above.
So. The notebook. Buy a high-quality, spiral bound notebook with a heavy cardboard back and good paper. One for each class, each semester. Taking five classes? You need five notebooks. This will cost you about $20 more each semester than buying crummy notebooks with bad paper would cost you. That’s $160 in extra costs over your college career, dude. It’s worth it.
And the Tired Donkey recommends a good pen because these things matter. If you choose to write your notes with a rotten pen, the Tired Donkey submits that you just don’t care about your notes. So they are rotten, too. This is college, for God’s sake. Probably the last four years of your life where you are going to be able to do nothing but
learn. It’s precious and all those things you are learning are precious, too. So have the decency to treat them that way: use a good pen. There is one exception to this: for technical classes, you will also need a high-quality mechanical pencil for homework. The Tired Donkey recommends this one. If that one is not good enough for you (or if you’re just a pencil geek), check out the reviews at the great blog Dave’s Mechanical Pencils.
So that covers mechanical pencils. “What pen should I get?” you may ask. Good question. Unfortunately, the Tired Donkey can’t answer it because that is personal to you. He used various fountain pens, some expensive, some not, throughout his
formative years because he likes the feel of the nib on paper. And he is also partial to this inexpensive, liquid-ink writing instrument. But you are going to have to make your own choice from among the many thousands that are available. There is only one rule: the pen must be a choice based on writing characteristics that speak to you, not just the cheapest thing in plastic-bag multi-packs on the back-to-school aisle. And please use blue ink (or blue-black if you are using a fountain pen and can find it). Because if you are reading this blog, the Tired Donkey is quite certain you are not a run-of-the-mill, black ink kind of person.
But if you insist on taking your notes on your MacBook or MacBook Pro, the Tired Donkey has some recommendations.
First, MacJournal (available here; free to try, then $39.95). This is a dead-bang simple program to use. Open it for the first time and you see a blank page with a column on the
left similar to a Finder sidebar. You can add Journals to the sidebar which are akin to folders. Underneath those, you add Entries. When you add a new Entry, the default title is the date, but you can name it anything you want. Then you type your entry. Add other media if you want. Post it directly to your WordPress or Blogger blog if you want. Whatever.
The Tired Donkey uses MacJournal to write the drafts of all his blog entries, and he can recommend it enthusiastically. If he were going to use it to take notes in a college class, he would do it thusly: create a Journal for each class and then a different Entry for each class day when you take notes. Start a new Journal each semester for each class. Simple and elegant. If this sounds interesting to you, you can read a more complete review here.
NoteBook (available here; free to try then $29.95 for students). The Tired Donkey was hesitant about recommending this software for two reasons: (1) it is made by a company called Circus Ponies Software, and the Tired Donkey hates circus ponies, and (2) it seems really complicated. But then the Tired Donkey downloaded it and started using it and decided that it is really quite a good way for a student who does not know how to
organize him/herself to start getting organized. When the program starts, it allows you to choose a template for high school or college students which automatically creates tabs in your “notebook” to allow you to enter all the information necessary to keep track of every class (including professor contact information, office hours, advisor information, class notes, paper outlines, etc.).
You could enter all this information for each class just as easily with MacJournal, but if you didn’t know what you ought to enter, you wouldn’t enter it, would you? You won’t have that problem with NoteBook. So the Tired Donkey gives it a qualified recommendation. He says “qualified” because the interface (which looks exactly like a notebook) is a little too cute for his taste and because he prefers to use separate apps to do what NoteBook puts all in one place. But if you are a disorganized person who can’t keep track of information, sign up for a 30-day trial of NoteBook and see what you think.
Apps to Help You Study
Grapher (already on your Mac in the Applications/Utilities folder). As the Tired Donkey mentioned in an earlier post, this is a graphing calculator on your computer, but a lot easier to see and use properly. It does 2D and 3D graphs from any equation you might be presented with in class. The Tired Donkey includes it as a study aid because, if you are taking Calculus or any other advanced mathematics or science classes, it can be an invaluable aid in visualizing what it is you are actually doing with all the equations you are handling. If you are student who likes to get beyond rote memorization, this is a tool you should examine. Using it is not as intuitive as it ought to be, but there are decent tutorials available here and here.
iFlash and iFlash Touch (available here and here, respectively; free to try, then $14.95 (iFlash) and still free (iFlash Touch)). You need a flash card program, and this is the
best. Dead easy to use, elegantly implemented and available wherever you need it. You create flash cards on your computer and then study them on the computer or download them to your iPod Touch to study on the way to class, between classes, etc. You can find a comprehensive review here.
Think (available here; free). The Tired Donkey loves this little app. He uses it at work all the time, but it would be just as useful for you at school. What it does is quite simple:
gives you a black background so you can focus only on the app you are working on. This is especially useful for those of us who are easily distracted. Find yourself keeping an eye on Facebook while you are trying to write a paper? Think will help you fix this problem while keeping other apps you may need to use at your fingertips. Give it a try.
Apps to Keep Your Computer Healthy
The Tired Donkey submits that all the work you do preparing your Mac to help you succeed in college will be for naught if your Mac doesn’t work properly or your personal information is compromised. So be ready to take care of your Mac with these four apps.
1Password (available here; try it free then $39.95). When you get to college you will begin to accumulate web accounts that you never had need for when you were living at home. 1Password is, bar none, the best password and account manager you can buy, and everyone should own it. It will allow you to create truly secure web passwords, fill in those passwords automatically, keep track of credit card and bank accounts and generally make your browsing simpler and more secure. Well worth the cost.
The next three apps the Tired Donkey has discussed before in an earlier post, and he will not go into significant detail now. But here’s the short story:
OnyX (available here; free) will keep your computer healthy and get rid of unused content that can clog your hard drive over time. You should run it at least monthly and more often if your Mac starts acting squirrely.
GrandPerspective (available here; free) is a great little program that will enable you to find forgotten content on your hard drive and then delete it. It’s invaluable for keeping your drive free of media content that you no longer need but forgot you had.
SuperDuper (available here; free to try, then $27.95) is the best back-up program for Macs, period. Don’t be the person who moans to all his friends about how all his work has been lost because his hard drive failed (and it will). Get an external backup drive and let SuperDuper back up all your work in the middle of the night every night.
If you want to check out some related posts from the Tired Donkey and other bloggers, here they are; each takes a slightly different approach to the topic, but expect some overlap:
Making the Most of Your Mac in College
10 Necessary Mac Apps for the College Student
10 Great Mac Apps for College Students
9 Great Mac Apps for College Students
10 Great Web Apps for College Students
Have a great time in college. And feel free to include whatever additional apps you find indispensable by adding a comment below.