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How to Get Through College on a Mac

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Read Time: 8 mins

When I glance casually around one of the crowded lecture theatres at my university, it often looks like the setting for a Mac convention. That glimmering white apple is adorned on almost every computer I see, from top-of-the-range MacBook Pros to dented and scratched black and white MacBooks that look like they have seen their fair share of usage. Macs have certainly shrugged off their reputation as expensive specialist pieces of kit and become a staple of the students' gadget arsenals, along with the ubiqutious iPhone and iPad.

This is certainly a welcoming phenomenon, and it does show how Apple has orientated itself more towards the students and their (slightly) limited budgets. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to survive and get through college with your Mac – from someone who is almost at the end of the university experience (I'm due to take my finals in June). You'll (hopefully) find that a Mac really is an indispensible tool for both your studies and for later life!

1. Buy a Mac

Yes, it seems like I'm stating something obvious here, but as students you are eligible for Apple's generous education discount which, depending on the country, ranges from around 15–20% – a considerable saving. In most cases, you'll have to buy from the online Apple Store but I do know that in some countries (the UK) you can go into an Apple retail store and purchase a new Mac with your education discount, as long as you show proof of student status.

Education pricing doesn't just get you a slightly cheaper Mac either. You are also eligible for a discounted AppleCare program (my 3-year AppleCare program for my MacBook cost only £40, instead of the £200 or so I would have paid normally). To gain access to your university or college's education store, head over to the official Apple Store online then click on the Education Store link (highlighted in blue in the screenshot below) on the right-hand side:

Education StoreEducation StoreEducation Store
Finding the Education Store on the Apple website.

Most likely, you'll to be logged in to your college's network (as the authentication process is done via your college's IP address) or be prepared to authorise yourself via remote login. If you live in the UK, then you can access your university's education store by typing in: https://store.apple.com/uk_edu_5000xxx, replacing the xxx with your university's unique ID (the full list can be found here).

If you're unsure on which model to get, then why not check out my guide on buying your first Mac – there's loads of tips in there including a comparison between different models, a guide on from where to purchase your Mac (especially if you're looking to save a buck or two) and some recommended accessories to get yourself started.

Tip: As a student who is going to be carrying their laptop to and from lectures every day (hopefully, anyway), I'd highly recommend investing at least $50 in a decent, protective case for your new Mac!

2. Input Your Class Schedules

Now you've got your shiny new Mac, it's time to put it to the test and the first thing you'll need to do is start inputting your class schedules. I personally prefer iStudiez Pro as it gives you greater flexibility (you can group lectures and seminars by subject and term, for example) however it'll set you back $9.99 on the App Store.

iStudiez ProiStudiez ProiStudiez Pro
iStudiez Pro is a popular app for keeping all your timetables and assignments in order.

There is a separate iPhone and iPad version of iStudiez Pro available, however this will set you back a further $2.99 (there is a dedicated sync service between the two, though). You can always use Calendar for your assignments (which is completely free with OS X) and sync to your other devices using iCloud.

3. Take Notes

Taking concise and decent notes is one of the many skills you'll pick up in your first semester at university. I personally think it's a bit of an art form and it certainly does take a bit of practice to get just right. But however you want to do it, there are quite a few ways on your Mac, from free, cloud-based services (such as Evernote) to paid software applications (Circus Ponies Notebook or SOHO Notes, for example).

Mac Lecture HallMac Lecture HallMac Lecture Hall
I personally like to use my Mac alongside a notebook, but use whatever makes you feel the most comfortable (like these students).

I personally use Evernote to make notes (as it keeps them in sync across all my devices) however I always keep my trusty notepad and pen next to me in case I need to scribble down a quick diagram or flowchart. I'll then take a picture of this after the lecture and upload it along with the notes I made in Evernote, so that they all stay together.

Of course, you don't have to do it this way – there are plenty of other methods, such as the Notebook view in Word or just simply opening a Pages document and typing away there. You don't have to splash out on a fancy note-taking program for your new Mac (that is until OneNote arrives for the Mac in its proper form!) as any word processor will do the job. It all depends on how you want to keep and organise your notes – if you're keen on keeping them super organised then Evernote or Pages with iCloud enabled is highly recommended.

4. Stay Organised

This really is crucial as a student – keeping everything in order. I'm an absolute sucker for creating endless lists of things to do, as for me it's the only real way to keep everything in check and know exactly what I need to do. There are hundreds of GTD (Get Things Done) apps for the Mac ranging in prices and features from free (for example, Reminders in OS X) to professional ones (such as OmniFocus).

Reminders OS XReminders OS XReminders OS X
Reminders on OS X is a really easy way to keep track of all your tasks – and it's free as well!

There's a few other nifty tools that are great for students, such as MindNode (for creating mind maps – a real plus when it comes to either group projects or revising) and Yojimbo, which keeps all your files, documents, images and so on in one place. My other recommendation would be to create a special University folder in Pages and keep all your stuff in there (I like to sort by module). I'd also back this folder up to an external storage provider, such as Dropbox or Google Drive, so that you can not only access it from wherever you are but also you've got a second copy of all your precious files should something go wrong with your Mac.

5. Study for Tests

Whatever your technique, studying for tests is absolutely vital and there are a few nifty tools available for your Mac that'll help you do this. My favourite (and preferred technique) is to read from my textbooks then write down key facts, theories and formulae on flash cards then try and memorise them by heart. Of course, paper flash cards are so 2010 and there are plenty of Mac "flash card apps" available out there.

Smartr is one flash card app (that's also free) but it's a bit simple and may not cater to everyone's tastes.

Smartr (shown in the screenshot above) is one example – you can create your own flash cards with pictures and the app will test you on all of them randomly. It's available for free in the App Store but, in my opinion, it's a little simplistic (I think it's more designed for high-school students rather than university ones) and it may not be suited to everyone's tastes.

Mental CaseMental CaseMental Case
Mental Case is an alternative flash card app for OS X.

The other option is Mental Case, which is available for $29.99 from the App Store. It's one of the more expensive offerings out there but if you want flash cards on your Mac, then this really is the app for you and a really nifty feature about it (which isn't available with similar flash card apps) is that you can sync all your flash cards to your iPhone or iPad, which I think is really handy if you want to revise sans Mac.

Good Luck!

In this tutorial, I've tried to cover the most common situations that you are likely to use a Mac at university, and which apps are best-suited for these. Of course, there are plenty of alternatives to my suggestions and if you do discover an app that's better, then please feel free to suggest it in the Comments section below!

And be sure to check out my article, 25 Superb Mac Apps for College Students, over on Mac.AppStorm. Although it's a little out of date (it was originally published back in May 2011), there are still some fantastic apps in there that as a student you'll (hopefully) find indispensable. All that's left now is to say: study hard and good luck for your studies!

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