25 Superb Mac Apps for College Students

This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. This post was originally published on May 24th, 2011.

Macs are becoming much more popular with college students nowadays, owing to Apple’s generous student discount (around 15%) upon purchase. But once you’ve bought your shiny new computer, you’ll be wanting to know which are the best Mac apps aimed at college students and which ones to download or buy.

Up until a few years ago, Mac users had very little choice of software as they were seen mostly as a niche platform and therefore only ran specialist software.

As I was in exactly the same position when I bought my Mac, I’ve now created – for all the students out there – a list of 25 superb applications recommended for you. I’ve tried to keep this list relevant to any major and, in order to save on costs, I have tried to include free software wherever I can.

All applications featured in the list run on PowerPC and Intel architectures unless otherwise stated.


LyX is one of a few word processors that uses the idea of WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean), as opposed to WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) employed by word processors such as Microsoft Work and Apple’s Pages.

It allows you to type documents without worrying about the layout as the program does this for you – processing is done using the TeX system via the click of a button. For those of you who haven’t heard about it, TeX is a typesetting system that is used widely in academia as it produces standard, professional looking documents.


The LyX interface with a document being edited

LyX is also especially useful for anyone who uses a significant amount of maths in their degree as it renders mathematical equations very well and features an advanced equation editor – a definite advantage for anyone using a Mac seeing as it doesn’t feature an in-built equation editor (unlike Windows).

I use LyX mostly for university work such as writing essays as it means I can type without worrying how it will look on the page. The program is slightly more complicated to use than other word processors but it will save you time in the long run – it allows you to just write freely.

There are several templates available and the website features lots of useful help videos for anyone starting to use it. For anyone who is looking for an alternative to their word processor, LyX is definitely worth considering.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 and above and a TeX system for document processing (MacTeX is the best one available for Mac, available here)


iWork is, in my opinion, one of the best word processors available for Mac and although I use LyX for most things, having a proper word processor which can read Word documents is a necessity. iWork features three programs, Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheets) and Keynote (presentations).


Numbers '09, with a spreadsheet open.

All offer full Office support, meaning you can open and save documents in Office format so there are no compatibility issues. The clean, uncluttered interface is very easy to use and the in-built templates are well-designed and useful for all situations.

iWork is also priced very favorably against Microsoft Office 2011 for students ($59.97 if purchased off the App Store vs $149.99) so it is more within a student’s budget. Although there are free office suites out there, they just don’t cut it when it comes to functionality and looks, and although it is a slight price to pay, iWork is certainly worth it in the long run.

Price: $19.99 per application (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) if purchased off the App Store.
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4.11/10.5.6 or later


Postbox has already been reviewed separately all the way back in 2009, but it’s worth mentioning once again here. As a student, I want all my e-mails in one place and Postbox is one of the most functional and best-looking mail clients out there for Mac at the moment.


The inbox view in Postbox

Postbox combines all the messages from your different accounts into one mailbox and you can organize your messages into different folders (for those of you who like to keep your studies and social life separate). It supports all major mail protocols and integrates well with your Address Book and even Facebook (if you want your contacts’ pictures showing up in messages). The features are too great to go into detail here but you certainly don’t mind paying $30 for such a feature-rich application. A necessity for all students.

Price: $29.95
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 above. Intel only.


As a student, I like to keep in touch with all my mates, mostly via Facebook Chat. Unfortunately, the stock Chat application is utter garbage and crashes, freezes or just doesn’t send messages (come on Facebook, sort it out!).

Adium is a free instant messaging program exclusively for Mac which supports several chat protocols, including AIM, Facebook Chat, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo Messenger.


The main screen for Adium. All accounts are listed in seperate lists.

The user interface is clean and really ties in well with the overall Mac user interface. The app integrates with your Address Book and there are plenty of extras to be had including custom emoticons, sound sets and message styles (all of them free of course).

Finally, the icon is a sheer pleasure to look at and when you get a message, the little green (or whatever colour you choose him to be) duck flaps his little wings up and down! Cute and practical – a must have.

Price: Free
Requires: Adium 1.4 or later requires Mac OS X 10.5.8 or newer. Older versions of the program support Mac OS X 10.4 and downwards.

iStudiez Pro

Is anyone like me and forgets certain “important” deadlines like handing in essays and exams? Well, iStudiez Pro is a program designed specifically for students to prevent just this. It was already reviewed separately but I thought I’d just mention it here because it is so relevant.

iStudiez Pro

The assignments view of iStudiez Pro.

iStudiez Pro keeps track of your homework, class schedules and your grades and can even sync with your iPhone/iPad, a definite necessity for students. You can color-code different things according to pretty much anything you like, and the interface is drop-dead handsome. It beats iCal hands down for practicality and is well worth the small price tag.

Price: $9.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 or later. Intel only.


If you haven’t yet heard about Evernote, then you must be living in the Dark Ages, as it is probably one of the most useful apps of all time, not just for students. Evernote is a cloud-based note-making application which syncs across all platforms. The application is also available for Windows, Android, iOS, Blackberry, Palm and Windows Mobile.


The main interface of Evernote, showing a list of notes down the left-hand side.

As well as text notes, you can also clip web pages and make voice and iSight notes. Evernote avoids the need for having loads of little scraps of paper with bits of info scrawled all over them lying around and makes organization a lot easier. I like to have everything in one place and seeing as all your notes are hosted on the cloud, it makes accessing them from different places a lot easier – an absolute must at university.

Evernote is free, however there are some restrictions: the application is ad-supported (however these are quite non-instrusive) and you can only upload 60 MB of data a month (this equates to about 30,000 notes and 400 web pages), which is usually more than enough.

Price: Free (restricted, ad-supported)
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5.8 onwards.


There’s going to be a time whilst you’re at university that you need to draw a graph or two. Unfortunately, drawing graphs on Word or a drawing program can be a nightmare and a particularly fiddly task – not something you want when it’s 2 AM and you’re finishing off the graphs in that essay due in in 7 hours. OmniGraphSketcher is one of the only programs that is designed to draw graphs on Mac OS X.


OmniGraphSketcher, featuring a graph I drew myself.

You can import data in from Excel or even draw your own and the application allows you to customize everything, including the axes, shading and points. The app will allow you to export your graphs in PDF, PNG, JPG and EPS format and it is very simple to use. The results are professional-looking graphs which look good in any situation, whether it’d be a presentation, essay or dissertation. The developers offer an academic license for students so go ahead and grab it whilst it’s hot.

Price: $29.95
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 onwards.


Caffeine is a discreet little program that runs in your Menu bar which stops your Mac automatically dimming or starting the screen saver whilst you’re working on it (one of my pet hates!). Although it won’t do wonders for your battery life, it will certainly stop you throwing your computer out of the window every time the screen goes black whilst you’re slaving away on that essay…

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 onwards (a version for Mac OS X 10.4 is available here)


iStumbler is a useful little utility which allows you to view all Wi-Fi networks in the local vicinity – very useful if you’ve got your Mac with you on campus or in the library and there is a load of different Wi-Fi networks knocking about.


iStumbler, showing a number of different Wi-Fi networks.

The app can even detect any Bluetooth devices in the vicinity as well and any Bonjour-enabled devices if you are wanting to share anything over the local network. iStumbler is a useful little accessory that saves you hunting around and makes WiFi connectivity that little bit easier.

Price: Free
Requires: iStumbler 99 requires Mac OS X 10.6 and above. Other versions of Mac OS X are supported via previous releases (see their website)


Brainstorming is vital for any student, whether it’s for a research project, an essay or your final year thesis. MindNode is a great brainstorming program which allows you create professional-looking mindmaps – without any fuss – that suit any situation.


MindNode, showing several main nodes and sub-nodes

You can create them in a few seconds and export/print them as you wish. Mindmaps really help you get organised and help you focus on the task in hand, and MindNode makes it easy to create them with minimum fuss. A highly-recommended app.

Price: $19.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 and above.


Whether you use it to keep the world up to date with your happenings or simply to keep up to date with the world, Twitter has seen an explosion in recent years, with celebrities, companies and even university lecturers jumping onto the Twitter bandwagon.

There are a wealth of Twitter clients out there for the Mac but I find Twitterrific the most useable and feature rich.


The timeline of tweets in Twitterific

The free, ad-supported version only supports one account (how many Twitter accounts do you have?) but supports the standard Twitter toolbox, like link shortening, image/video uploading and retweeting. To preserve your sanity (and your Mac), just make sure you turn off the notification sound if you follow lots of people, as that twittering bird notification every 2 seconds a new tweet comes in does tend to grate slightly…

Price: $9.95
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 and onwards. Intel only.


Instead of shelling out your precious money to the greedy mobile phone companies, get a cheap contract, encourage all your mates to sign up to Skype and talk to them there. Skype allows you to make unlimited calls to any other Skype user (whether voice or video) for absolutely nothing, no matter where they are in the world.


The main window in Skype

You can even buy Skype credit to call landlines and mobiles from around 2 cents per minute, far cheaper than any deal you’ll get with your mobile. The Mac version is good for everything (including video calling) however it is a little awkward to navigate around though (especially if you were used to the Windows version). Skype is the future of telephone calls can save you a surprising amount on your phone bill, both locally and internationally.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5.8 or newer and a Skype account (free – sign up for one here)


Dropbox is a cloud-based storage solution which allows you to upload files onto an online drive, thereby allowing access from anywhere. The service is web-based, however you can download clients for Mac, Windows and all the major smartphones (Android, iOS and Blackberry).

Your Dropbox folder integrates seamlessly with the Finder, meaning it shows up and you can save things onto it easily without having to upload each individual file.

You can even share your folders with other Dropbox users with just a few clicks.

I find this application very useful for transferring things from home to university, meaning I don’t have to e-mail documents back and forth. It’s a real timesaver and if you refer some mates, both of you get extra storage space – always a plus!

Price: Free (for 2 GB storage. Extra storage is available from $9.99 per month for 50 GB or via referrals).
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 and above.


If there’s any app that’s going to save you time, it’s Alfred. The developers of the little known company – Running with Crayons Ltd – based near Cambridge, UK have designed an app that almost every Mac user has been waiting for. Simply hit a hotkey (mine’s Command and Space) and a little box comes up, which you type in the first few letters of your application and hit Enter – hey presto! Your application starts running.


A search in Alfred

Alfred is far quicker than Spotlight as it caches your applications and picks out your most used ones depending on past searches. It also saves you hunting around for applications as when you install a new one, Alfred automatically recognises it and adds it to the list.

You can even use it as a file browser and as a controller for iTunes. If you’re going to download and install just one application from this list, make it this one!

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 and above and an Intel processor. A PowerPC version is available here (though no longer updated/supported)

Time Out Free

Picture the scene: you’re on your Mac, it’s 2 AM, you’ve drunk enough energy drink to actually be sweating the stuff, and you still have 2,000 words left of that essay to write. Your eyes start to droop but you keep on working, despite the fact you desperately want to take a break.

Well, Time Out Free has that covered. Whilst you’re working on your Mac, it’ll grey out the screen at regular intervals and remind you to take a quick break.

Time Out Free

Time for a break!

You can set two kinds of break: a ‘normal’ break which is typically 10 minutes long every 50 minutes and a ‘micro’ break, which is usually 10 seconds long every 10 minutes. Not only does it help you preserve your sanity, it also helps you concentrate for longer so as not to let your mind wander……where was I? Oh yes: it’s a must for all students.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or later.


Although it won’t win any awards for looks, Grisbi is a very feature-rich free personal finance application available for Mac (it’s been ported across from Linux). I know how important managing your finances is for college students, and I like to know exactly how much I’ve got before I go out and buy something. Grisbi lets you do this without having to log on to your internet banking website every time.


The transactions view of Grisbi

Grisbi allows you to set up multiple accounts as well as schedule any bill payments (such as utility or credit card bills) so you don’t forget them. There is also a useful credit simulator, which calculates the interest and repayments due on any credit borrowed and the total cost due. The program is extremely easy to use and is highly recommended for anyone trying to budget prudently.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 above (separate versions for Intel and PowerPC)

Parallels Desktop

I thought I’d seen the last of Windows when I bought my Mac, but there are times that you really do need to use it (particularly for specialist software). Macs now do offer the option of Boot Camp, meaning you can install Windows on a separate disk partition and boot your Mac into either Mac OS X or Windows but personally I do find it rather annoying having to reboot my Mac every time I have to use Windows for one application.

Parallels Desktop means you can use Mac and Windows side-by-side without having to reboot your computer. It creates a virtual machine onto which you can install any operating system you want (not necessarily Windows – you can also other compatible operating systems such as Linux).

Windows 7

Windows 7 running virtually using Parallels Desktop

Unlike other virtualization applications, Parallels Desktop features a useful Coherence mode, which allows you to get rid of the Windows background and run all your Windows programs natively under Mac OS X (Parallels Desktop needs to be running though) instead of in a separate window.

You can even copy your files from Mac to Windows and vice-versa by simply dragging and dropping, and all your folders on Mac are shared and viewable in Windows.

You’ll need a fast host to run Parallels Desktop (at least 2 GB of RAM is recommended) otherwise the program won’t run very well. It also does slow down your computer quite a lot due to the amount of resources it uses so it’s not recommended for long-term use (use Boot Camp instead).

For anyone who needs to run Windows applications on their Mac, Parallels is highly recommended and the developers do offer an academic license, meaning that it is more affordable for students.

Price: $39.99 (academic license)
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5.8/10.6.3 or later and a full copy of Windows (or the operating system you are going to run). Intel only.


Isolator helps you concentrate more by cutting out distractions. When you are working on your Mac, Isolator will blur out all the background windows, leaving the one you are working with in the foreground.


Isolator blurring out everything apart from the window you are working with

You can even set Isolator to hide the dock, giving you a distraction-free screen, or instead of blurring out the background, Isolator can hide it altogether, allowing you to focus on one window completely. It’s a very useful application and teamed along with a few other apps featured here (e.g. Time Out Free), it can really help you keep your concentration up.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 and above.


One of the complaints I had when I migrated from Windows is that Macs do not have an in-built equation editor (unless you splash out on Microsoft Office). This is a slight inconvenience if you use a lot of math in your degree and you’re having to type out a lot of equations. MathType renders this a thing of the past. It’s a fully-featured, easy to use equation editor for Mac allowing you to write and edit equations quickly and easily.


The editing window for MathType, showing an equation

One of the most useful things about MathType is the ability to simply copy and paste your formulas into different programs. The website has a list of all the programs supported (including iWork ’09) and a list of all the features, which are too detailed to list them all here! Although it is quite pricy, the developers do offer an academic license and for such a feature-rich program, the price is worth it.

Price: $57 (academic license)
Requires: Mac OS X 10.3.9 and above


You’re probably wondering why Preview is in here. It’s a simple little application, available to all users of Mac OS X but don’t underestimate its features. Unlike most other PDF viewers, Preview allows you to annotate PDFs by highlighting, drawing arrows and crossing bits out, all in lots of different colours.


Preview showing a PDF created in LyX, with various annotations

I find this feature especially useful for highlighting journals and papers, meaning I do not have to print them out and when you save your PDF, your highlights and annotations are saved along with it. You can also delete and add pages to PDFs – useful if you are trying to compile a document together or get rid of unnecessary pages. For a built-in PDF viewer, Preview has a wide range of features and should not be overlooked.

Price: Free
Requires: Included with Mac OS X

Circus Ponies Notebook

One complaint I had about Microsoft’s port of Office to the Mac was that they left out OneNote, a very useful note-taking program. They have to tried to rekindle this with a version for iOS, but as of yet, no version for Mac has been written.

Circus Ponies have, however, written a full note-taking application for Mac with a wealth of features. With Notebook, you can clip text, entire documents, images and movies and you can add diagrams to your notes to make them more understandable.

Circus Ponies Notebook

The notes view of Circus Ponies Notebook

A useful feature for students is the wide range of built-in notebook templates, including one for writing a research paper. This allows you to pull together all your findings into one place, avoiding the need for bits of paper all over your desk. If you take your Mac into college to make notes, or if you just want to get more organised, then Notebook is a really useful program.

Price: $49.95 (academic license)
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later


Yep pools your hard drive for any PDFs, iWork and Office documents and categorizes them in one place, avoiding the need to search around for a particular file. You can add tags and search for documents using the tags you created.


The main window of Yep, showing a list of PDF documents

Yep also integrates with your scanner (if you have one), allowing you to scan in all your little bits of paper and categorises them as well, making hunting around in endless folders a thing of the past. Unfortunately, the developers do not (yet) offer an academic license, meaning students have to pay the full price of $39 for the application, but it does help you keep organised and saves a bit of time. The other applications by the developer, Ironic Software, are worth a look as well.

Price: $19.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5.7 or later


Anxiety is a lightweight, To-Do list that syncs with iCal and Mail. The program sits quietly and unobtrusively on your desktop and helps you keep track of what you’ve still got to do, great for students who’ve got tonnes of deadlines looming on the horizon. It’s very small, but very effective.

Price: Free
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 and above

Fluid App

Fluid is a small utility that allows you to create standalone “applications” from websites, meaning you can simply launch them from Finder instead of having to open your browser all the time.


A Facebook stand-alone application, created using Fluid

This is especially useful for websites that you visit a lot as it saves you from having to use your browser all the time. The paid version ($4.99) adds a few more features, such as the ability to pin your created applications to the Dock, but when you’ve got Alfred, who really needs this?

Price: Free/$4.99
Requires: Mac OS X 10.6 and above. Intel only.

Timeline 3D

There will almost certainly be times during your studies when you need to use a timeline to display information either for a presentation, or just to help you keep on top of all your deadlines. Timeline 3D helps you create professional looking timelines in a variety of designs.

Timeline 3D

Timeline 3D, with a sample timeline created using events from iCal

The app integrates with iCal, meaning you can import your own deadlines, or you can create them using the program itself. Most importantly, Timeline 3D can export your timelines in a variety of formats, including via email, the web, YouTube and, most importantly, Keynote.

The timeline is saved as a QuickTime movie and can be played from within your presentation, which looks extremely cool and slick and can really spice it up. Timeline 3D avoids the need for spending time drawing timelines and with the developers offering an academic license ($39 instead of $65), it makes it that little bit more affordable for such a useful program.

Price: $65
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 onwards.


I hope this list will help any students out there with their studies. I certainly found that the applications in this list will really complement your Mac and your university degree, making life just that little bit easier as well as ensuring you get the full functionality out of your computer.

I would appreciate any comments, including suggestions for other programs that you find useful, as I am always on the lookout for new applications that may be really useful. Now I better get back to my own revision….

In the meantime, best of luck with your studies!