College is a horrifying time in one's personal development. Aside from being "the best years of your life," those years are also those in which your expenditures outstrip your income by more than they ever will later (with any luck and ambition on your part, at least). They can also be some of your more strapped-for-time years and attention-deficit-overload years.
Here are a few tools we wish we'd had when we were still dorm-dwelling nobodies. Forward these links on to the collegiate folks in your life, and add your own favorites to the list. Together, we can rid the world of dropped classes and "ramen starvation."
One-Stop Comparison Shop for Textbooks
BigWords is a site and iPhone app that source a slew of online retailers to get students the cheapest possible textbooks, taking the legwork out of online comparison shopping. BigWords also claims to optimize prices by looking for multi-item specials, shipping discounts, coupons, and other exceptional deals. Students (or textbook-shopping parents and guardians) can also share "bookbags" with others, and the site claims an average $225 savings on multi-item orders.
When students can use Facebook Connect to sign into an app designed to optimize study time, you know the world has changed. StudyBlue takes advantage of your virtual Rolodex to help you share notes, flashcards, and other study tools. Notes can be recorded as text or as multimedia content - that means you can share audio and video with your class-skipping colleagues. If only it counted as attendance, no? Best of all, the StudyBlue team has announced mobile capabilities for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Another app we like in this space is Quizlet, an online flashcard and quizzing resource that also uses Facebook Connect.
Rent and Return Textbooks
BookRenter soothes the eternal frustration of spending a triple-digit amount on a textbook you'll use for four months and then resell to your college's bookstore for a princely ten bucks. Renters register and have access to the company's catalog of millions of titles. Prices are refreshingly reasonable; shipping options and rental periods are flexible; and return shipping is free.
DesignYourDorm is a new-this-year app that allows college students to design their dorm room interiors in 3D and purchase their decor selections online. Not only can students often choose their exact room dimensions and layout from the DYD database and collaborate with dormmates to get rooms furnished based on thorough checklists; parents can also send care packages from a gallery that calls to mind an edible version of 1800Flowers.
Mobilize Your Textbooks
Coursesmart, a leader in the e-textbook game, just released an iPhone app, which we reviewed recently. Their catalog so far includes 7,000 ebooks, and their software works for both Macs and PCs. The desktop apps also allow students to take notes while reading, and both desktop and mobile apps have built-in search function.
Research on the Fly
The mobile version of Wikipedia has long been available for on-the-go consumption, but did you know Wikipedia also just released an official iPhone app, which we recently reviewed? You can also try iPhone apps such as Wapedia, Wikiamo, or Wikipanion.
Get Yourself and Your Group On-Task
Remember the Milk is one app we like for individual or group tasks. This full-featured program allows users to keep track of tasks through RSS feeds, share tasks via email, add tasks via email or SMS, and even assign tasks a specific location. There's an iPhone app, and RTM plays nicely with Gmail, Twitter, and Google Calendar, as well.
Hit 'Em With Your Best Shot
Finally, after all your hard work and study, you'll need to create a certain number of papers, presentations, projects, and perhaps even a website or two during your time in school this year. We have a whole list of code-free website creation tools that range from easy to use to ridiculously easy to use, and with a little finessing, they'll definitely impress a professor or two. For creating multimedia presentations, we like Empressr, Drop.io, and SlideShare, all of which have different social sharing/embedding and multimedia capabilities.
Back to Basics
For staying organized, keeping in touch, taking notes, and generally keeping yourself sane, your old friends are more useful now than ever. And by "old friends," we mean those apps you already use so much you don't even realize they're apps anymore. Try seeing Facebook, Google Docs, Google Notebook, Gmail, Twitter, and Skype as study and communication tools rather than just time-wasters, and you'll notice that you can get a lot done on your favorite sites.
So, what apps are you using to get organized, get smart, get together, or just get it right this year? Let us know in the comments!