The Best Free Software for Students

Nov 01, 2016

By Lauren L'Amie

We all know school is expensive, and while we might have to save our pennies to pay back our student loans, we don’t have to spend oodles on software. A lot of software is free online, especially for students. You just have to look past the shiny, expensive boxes. We’ve gathered a list of the best free software for students for when you need to edit that extra-credit video for history, create a presentation on “The Stranger,” learn a new language and apply for internships by the end of the week. 


LibreOffice (Windows, Mac and Linux)

Microsoft Office Home & Student with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and OneDrive goes for $139.99 to download on one computer. That's more than a year's worth of Netflix subscriptions. Instead, LibreOffice is a free download, and you're not restricted to using it on one computer. LibreOffice includes alternatives to all Microsoft Office applications, plus the ability to draw 3D illustrations and create mathematical equations. Download it here.

GIMP (Windows, Mac and Linux)

Yes, you can do a lot with Adobe Photoshop CC, but it also comes at a cost of $19.99 per month ($240 per year). GIMP is a free download that has long been popular as a substitute for Photoshop, and with good reason. It works. You can enhance, retouch and add to photos in the same way you can on Photoshop. Download it here.




That video project isn’t going to edit itself. While Adobe Premiere Pro CC goes for $19.99 per month and Final Cut Pro X is $299.99, Lightworks is a completely free download just for students. Along with all the usual features such as file type conversion, audio manipulation and adding transitions, this software lets you share edits in real time for group work. You know Pulp Fiction and The King’s Speech? They were edited with Lightworks. Download it here.


More: The 10 Best Bargains in Tech Today

Audacity (Windows, Mac and Linux)

Audacity is an open-source, cross-platform software program that media and music majors (or really anyone with an interest in sound editing) can use for editing audio files. Through Audacity, you can record live audio, convert tapes and records, edit sound files together and more. Your next audition tape will simply blow them away. Download it here.

Google Nik Collection (Windows and Mac)

Google's Nik Collection features seven different but equally powerful desktop plug-ins built to match professional-level editing software. Analog Efex Pro allows you to test out vintage or analog effects sans actual vintage equipment. Color Efex Pro provides tons of color filters, while Silver Efex Pro focuses on gray-scale and black and white. Both Viveza and Dfine sub in as simplified selection tools without the hassle of adding layers or masks. HDR Efex Pro and Sharpener Pro allow you to create control points and selectively edit photos to create high-quality images, even if you lack Photoshop chops. There is a bit of a learning curve with the new tools and interface, but at a going rate of $0.00, Nik isn't a bad deal. Download it here

Prezi (Windows and Mac)



Are you tired of PowerPoint or plain slides? With a free Prezi account, you can create presentations that include motion, brainstorming diagrams and any videos, photos and text you want. The easy-to-use interface lets you choose from 92 unique templates designed by professionals, or you can create a Prezi from scratch. World map, newspaper, chessboard and family tree are just a few of the design options. What’s more, Prezi is cloud-based, so you can start creating your presentation in your room, move to the library and finish it in the classroom. The software lets you autosync your work across all of your devices, including iPads and iOS and Android phones. Download it here.

KeePass Password Safe (Windows, Mac and Linux)



As a student, you have to keep track of an overwhelming number of passwords — just remembering iPhone's unlock pattern is hard enough. Enter the free, open-source KeePass Password Safe software. This download manages all your passwords by putting them into one database that you can unlock with one master password. Download it here.

DreamSpark (Windows)



For all the student developers out there — Microsoft brings you the free DreamSpark program. All you have to do is verify your status as a student and you can download new software tools such as Visual Studio Community 2013, Xamarin and GitHub Education, which enable you to develop and design apps for Android, iOS and Windows devices. Find it here.

Spotify Student (Windows, Mac and Linux)

Creating a basic Spotify account is completely free, but it's just as easy to upgrade to the ad-free premium experience with Spotify Student, which allows anyone with valid .edu email address to access Spotify Premium for $4.99. Spotify Premium for Family also recently matched Apple Music's family-plan rate, offering Premium access for $14.99 monthly, supporting up to six accounts — this means the best deal is grabbing five of your floor mates to split unlimited music access for the cost of a large pizza. Download it here

Stuffit Expander (Windows and Mac)



Zip and RAR files, or “archive” files, contain a bunch of files that have been compressed or reduced in size. A lot of software programs you download online might be ZIP or RAR files, which need to be opened by software like Stuffit Expander. This free download is a simple tool to expand Zip and RAR files. If your teacher emails you a zip file with the semester’s homework schedule and lesson plan, you’ll have to open it with software like this. Download it here.

Avira Free Antivirus (Windows and Mac)


With all the junk that’s out there online, it’s important to have some antivirus protection on your computer. Avira Free Antivirus software protects your computer against threats such as Trojans, viruses, adware and spyware. Plus, unlike a lot of other antivirus software, it won’t constantly bug you about starting security scans — you can automatically set it so that the program runs silently in the background. It's our Editor’s Choice on Tom’s Guide for best free antivirus software, so it's got that going for it. Download it here

Zotero (Windows, Mac and Linux)

Zotero basically acts as your personal virtual file cabinet that will collect research as you find it. The program features an icon that pins directly to your browser to store research quickly, whether it's from JSTOR or any news website. It can store PDFs, images, audio and video files, screenshots, etc. You can then organize, cite and share your research in a jiffy. You can even collaborate with a group on a project with notes and discussion threads. Download it here

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (Windows and Mac)

Anti-Malware from Malwarebytes will keep your computer safe and healthy by scanning for all the things that could make your system sick, protecting you from them and removing them. This means any worms, Trojans, rogues, bots, spyware and more. While Malwarebytes does offer a premium version, which automatically schedules updates and scans, the free version provides protection by removing malware and spyware. Find both versions here.