21 SA Pro-Approved Apps to Boost Your Smartphone Game

Remember when you had to go to a library, find a call number, and pull out an encyclopedia anytime you wanted to learn more about something?

Today, most of us carry all of that information right in our pocket. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 77% of cell phone owners own a smartphone — up from just 35% in 2011.

People across the world are more connected than ever before, and that’s amazing. When I want to learn new things or explore, I know that the internet is there to help connect me to people, places, and experiences.

For example, I have had so many cool, unexpected adventures in places I’ve visited using apps like Yelp or TripAdvisor to find things to check out. I generally do this from my phone, especially for things like finding a local restaurant in an unfamiliar town.

And aside from the ways that internet connectedness can make life more fun, it’s also an amazing tool for organization, information-sharing, teamwork, and productivity. And while desktop computers are still the most popular tool for the workplace, more and more workers are including mobile technology in their productivity plans.

While there certainly can be much said for unplugging and having some time away from screens, there are many apps out there that can help us facilitate that real-world time in more meaningful ways.

So, I reached out to my networks and gathered a great collection of useful mobile apps from higher ed pros that can help you be productive, get connected, and explore the world around you.

pablo (46)

Apps for Learning

1. NPR One


image from npr.org

This is one of my personal favorites. It’s an easy way to keep up with local and national news, plus discover new podcasts.

I love this app since it’s free, very user-friendly, and can help everyone become more engaged with the world around them.

2. Audible


image from www.windowscentral.com

“Nothing new, but great way to spice up your listening rotation from music/podcasts with the voices of your favorite celebrities”

Jennifer Ramsdell, Assistant Director of Transitions, Maryland Institute College of Art

What we really enjoy about Audible is the robust library of different kinds of books and the ability to get a free book each month with your subscription. It really helps you to “read” more! And if you have a commute into work, it’s a great substitute for Top 40 radio.

3. Duolingo


image from www.lingualift.com

“Great for anyone wanting to learn a new language.”

Lynne Marie Meyer, Director of Spiritual Life & Diversity, Illinois Institute of Technology

Duolingo is the go-to app for quickly brushing up on a foreign language or starting from scratch. This app would be a great way to learn languages to communicate with international students. Plus, the app is 100% free, so feel free to dive right in!

4. SoloLearn


image from www.mobileappdaily.com

“Simple way to pick up programming basics — awesome UI & there’s a course for a huge variety of major programming languages!”

Anthony Mandelli, Communications Architect, Cue Connect

Programming is a useful skill to have, even in the simplest of understandings. Tools like SoloLearn can help nurture this in your spare time!

5. Merriam-Webster’s Quizzitive


image from www.merriam-webster.com

“I like to try and keep up with my vocabulary by doing word games and Quizzitive is my go-to one right now.”

-Kyle Bianchini, Community Director, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

I’m all for some smart, nerdy fun, and trivia or word games fall right into that category. It’s great to engage your brain in more thoughtful fun and this app is a great option.

Apps for Socializing

6. Twitter


image from www.imore.com

“My favorite app is Twitter because I am truly amazed how 140 characters has such power to create and foster community and continues to educate others.”

Karyn Dyer, Assistant Director of Leadership Development, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The ubiquitous social media platform is one of our favorites too, allowing for amazing personal and professional connections. Check out #SAChat, #SAGrad, #EdTech, and #SATech to get you started.

7. WhatsApp


image from androidauthority.net

“I’d say my favorite smartphone app is WhatsApp because that’s the one my brother, sister & I use for our group chats. I rarely ever close that app out without smiling or laughing about something we’re all talking about, and it helps us all stay connected across three different states & timezones!”

Lindsay Murdock, Engagement Specialist, Presence

There is no shortage of messaging apps to choose from (we have a few on this list!) but WhatsApp seems to be the standard for personal chat for people spread out across the country (or world). It’s fun, simple, easy to use, and makes the world feel a little smaller.

8. Marco Polo

marcopolo 2

image from www.techcrunch.com

“Marco Polo is a great video walkie-talkie app, letting you send live video to friends, and leave video messages in a timeline with an individual or group. It’s like video text, and it changes how you communicate.”

Andy Gould, Director of Campus Development, Presence

A lot of modern tech tools are changing the way we communicate. Short videos and audio clips can sometimes make sending a message more clear or at least more personal and meaningful. Consider switching up the way you connect with those around you.

9. Instagram


image from www.9to5google.com

“I’m obsessed! There’s something so awesome about seeing folks share how they see the world through the lens of their smartphone ❤️”

Meghan Hakey, Campus Outreach Coordinator, Presence

I’m a big fan of Instagram as well. Nothing beats a great view or a fun picture of people I care about having a good time. It’s really built up to a deep platform over the years, with Stories, private chat, and inclusion of emojis!

Apps for Fun

10. Skidmoji

Untitled design (3)

image from itunes.apple.com

-Jackie Vetrano, Social Media Coordinator, Skidmore College

I’m all for clever ways to help build your campus’ brand and drive engagement. This university app features unique emoji with different campus icons so that students can share their campus pride.

11. Roadtrippers


image from blog.cintric.com

“Check out local sights / eats / adventures”

Cassandra Balzarini, Residence Hall Manager, University of New Hampshire

I love checking out new places, and apps like Roadtrippers help me to narrow down the best things to visit. All of the choices we have can be overwhelming at times, but using a travel app can help plan and prioritize the perfect vacation.

12. Marvel Contest of Champions


image from freeapps.net

“It’s a good way to escape the day-to-day stress from work/home. It combines my love of Marvel superheros in a street fighter style game.”

-Michael Chavez, Assistant Director of the Undergraduate Advising Center at The University of Kansas

We all know I love my geeky stuff, so I appreciate this submission. I wind down with some gaming after work, and I spend some quality time with my brother through our shared loved of games. It’s important to find a fulfilling hobby outside of work to give us some balance.

13. Pokemon GO


image from www.dailytelegraph.com

“Fun way to walk around/explore campus with students and colleagues alike!”

-David Speiser, Residence Hall Coordinator, Illinois State University & Joe Sabado, Associate CIO of Student Affairs, UC – Santa Barbara

Keeping with the gaming apps, Pokemon GO is the modern update of the classic video game, and uses your location and augmented reality to help you find new Pokemon while exploring the real world around you. It’s free to try, so see what all the hype is about!

14. Untappd


image from windowscentral.com

“The app that I use to document all the beers that I drink and rate them”

Brian LeDuc, Education Designer, Education Design Lab

I also enjoy using this app to connect with friends about the craft beer and cider that I enjoy, and it helps me get new recommendations. It’s a fun tool to help you discover different local flavors.

Apps for Getting Stuff Done

15. Bodyspace



image from shortmotivation.com

“The assessment nerd in me loves being able to track and measure my workouts and progress in one place instead of keeping notes or something. It also has access to lots of workout plans.”

-Eugene Frier, Assistant Dean of Students, Texas Wesleyan University

It’s important to get into a consistent, enjoyable fitness routine and Bodyspace can help to track your milestones and celebrate the small wins along the way. This will help you stay healthy in the longterm (say “bye-bye” to forgotten New Year’s resolutions) and have more energy to do all the things you want to do.

16 & 17. Slack & Evernote



image from timecamp.com


image from blog.evernote.com

Dr. Josie Ahlquist, Speaker, Author, and Professor at Florida State University

I personally enjoy both of these apps as well. They’re great tools to help organize stuff and get things done, especially collaboratively. You can use both for free and upgrade to paid tiers for more features. You can use them for everything from personal projects and grocery lists to team projects at work.

18. Canva



image from www.techinasia.com

“I’m a huge fan of Canva – so great!”

Michael Lynch, Director of Operations, Regis College

You can use this graphic design at either a paid or free tier, and it has a robust functionality to help create social media logos, posters, and so much more — all perfectly sized for your needs.

19 & 20. Trello & Asana


images from blog.tickspot.com

If you’re a go-getter with a slightly too long to-do list, these apps can truly change your life. The Presence Blog team utilizes Trello to plan out and collaborate on blog posts. Student affairs departments can utilize Trello or Asana to organize and plan departmental trainings. And they both integrate with Google Drive!

21. Pocket


image from bestfreeapps.com

“I’m always on the lookout for the best content and what’s trending. Sometimes I find helpful articles or compelling headlines, but I don’t have time to read them right away. I’ll put an article in my pocket to reference or read for later. So helpful!”

Kayley Robsham, Community Engagement Manager, Presence

Pocket can be used via mobile or desktop. Store articles and keep everything organized by tags in one place.

What Are You Using?

There are so many great apps out there to help you relax, have fun, connect, learn, and get stuff done. Whatever it is you need or want to do, hopefully some of these tools can be helpful to you.

If you’re up for sharing, it’d be great to hear your favorite app(s)! If you want to chat apps further, give me a shout @HigherEd_Geek!

Dustin Ramsdell

About the author: Dustin is a graduate of the Rutgers University College Student Affairs Ed.M Program. He is a proud nerd and self-affirmed "Higher Ed Geek" who is excited to connect with folks who share his love of deep conversations! Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.