62 Digital Tools All Student Affairs Professionals Should Know About

On my first day at Presence, my supervisor handed me a list of strange words. There was Slack, Airtable, and Gusto, along with Zenefits, Crowdtangle, and Lattice.

What were these?! Did she want me to pick out a cool new nickname for myself? Memorize the names of our office dogs? Christen a new university? Nope, nope, and nope. She told me that these all are websites, apps, and software programs that would help me navigate the everyday processes and goals of my job.

I was skeptical. Wouldn’t learning how to use these tools be more trouble than they were worth? I’d rather spend time writing awesome blog posts than learning new tools, thanks. 

But whoa boy, was past Jodi wrong. Each of these tools has made me better at my job, freeing up my energy to focus primarily on being creative and productive rather than on finagling methods for effective organization and communication. 

If only I had known about these tools when working with student organizations! They’ve made me realize that I don’t need to set up new systems for communication, weave together numerous notes for program planning, nor manage a knowledge database — at least not completely on my own. 

With so many amazing tools to choose from, you don’t have to create complex systems from scratch. You can let apps, websites, browser extensions, and downloadable software guide you!

So, that’s why I’m sharing this list with you: To help make your job not just easier, but better. You can use these tools with your closest coworkers, with colleagues in other divisions, or even for solo productivity. 

And, perhaps most excitedly, you can use these apps and websites with student leaders and student organizations. That way, your students can focus on planning programs, gaining co-curricular skills, and having fun — rather than on headache-inducing processes. 

Here, let’s open the toolkit.

(Note that the prices and plans listed are current only as of November 2019. Also, my top picks are not sponsored endorsements; they’re simply recommendations from my own experience and research.)

Program Planning

How tools can help

When planning programs, how can you effectively organize and track the approximate million-and-one moving parts? Well, there’s no one unequivocally right answer but these tools allow you to customize some solutions. 

Many allow you to assign tasks to other users, set and track goals, create intuitive spreadsheets, and much more.

At first, it might seem like learning to use sites these will be another pesky, time-consuming task for your to-do list. And indeed, implementation won’t be instantaneous. But once you see how these tools make program planning smoother and smarter, I bet you’ll be glad you invested that bit of time.

My pick: Airtable (#1)

Airtable is permanently opened on all my devices. I use it to organize all of our posts blog posts and to remember my ideas for future posts. I also have all of our awesome writers pitch their ideas through it. 

I can imagine SA pros and their students creating Airtable boards (known as “bases”) to collaborate on marketing plans, create student org directories, plan out retreat agendas, and way more. 

screenshot of an Airtable dashboard screenshot of a Airtable table

screenshots of Airtable bases and tables

The best part? It’s completely free! …Or, well, mostly. Premium plans cost $10 a month per user. But I haven’t needed it. I’ve found that the free plan is more than sufficient for my large group of users, and I imagine the same will hold true for most student organizations and campus offices. 

More great options 

  1. Basecamp (free for Basecamp Personal; $99 for Basecamp Business)
  2. Hibox (free basic plan; pro versions start at $4/month per user)
  3. Casual (free 14-day trial; group plans start at $21/month)
  4. Flow (free 30-day trial; team plans start at $5.95/month per user) 
  5. Freedcamp (free basic plan; premium plans start at $1.49/month per user)
  6. PlanningPod (free 14-day trial; plans start at $19/month)
  7. Podio (free for up to 5 users; larger plans start at $9/month per user)
  8. Trello (free basic plan with no user limit; premium plans start at $9.99/month per user) *beloved by many of my Presence teammates
  9. Swit (free for up to 50 users; $19.99/month for larger teams)
  10. ClickUp (free for limited storage; $5/month per user for unlimited storage and additional features)
  11. Asana (free basic plan; premium plans start at $10.99/month per user)
  12. Monday (basic plans start at $17/month for two users)
  13. Coda (free basic plan; premium plans start at $10/month per user)
  14. Azendoo (free 14-day trial; premium plans start at $7.50/month per user)

Ideation

How tools can help

If you’re lucky enough to have every stakeholder available to meet at the same time, brainstorming can be super easy. But what if you’re not so lucky? 

These tools can help, by prompting users to share their ideas in a way more organized (and visual) matter than a ridiculously long email or text chain. And you won’t even need to book a meeting room!

My pick: Ayoa (#16)

Ayoa is a mind-mapper’s best friend. You can use it to inspire students to start brainstorming, to organize the ideas that they’ve already shared, and to help them understand messy interconnected concepts. 

Ayoa also has many project and task management features, giving it some overlap with other tools on the list. It’s free for single users, with premium plans starting at $10 a month.

Ayoa screenshot

screenshot of an Ayoa calendar view

More great options

  1. Connected Mind (free)
  2. Coggle (limited free plan; unlimited plans start at $5/month) 
  3. Popplet ($4.99 per mobile app download)
  4. GroupMap (plans start at $20/month after a free 14-day trial)
  5. XMind (paid service with discounted plans for students and educational professionals)
  6. MindMeister (first three mind maps are free; plans start at $4.99/month after) *I tried it out and can vouch for how pretty and addicting it is
  7. Klaxoon (free 30-day trial; full prices provided by request)
  8. Bubbl.us (first three mind maps are free; plans start at $4.91/month after)
  9. Lucidchart (free basic single-user plan; pro plans start at $9.95/month)

Knowledge Sharing

How tools can help

You, your coworkers, and your students know things — lots of things. Tools like these allow users to share their knowledge without needing to schedule boring meetings, search through an organized sea of texts or online docs, or (gasp) ask you to repeat facts ad nauseam. 

Think of ‘em as Wikipedia — but for your team’s eyes only. 

My pick: Notion (#26)

Although I haven’t used it (yet), Notion seems like a great deal. Its basic free plan allows for unlimited users, plus anyone with a school email address can get a free upgrade to unlimited storage and uploads.

There’s also a free mobile app, options for adding to-do lists to a calendar, and a spreadsheet builder. And it all looks rather easy to learn and intuitive to master. 

screenshot of Notion mobile views

screenshots of Notion mobile views

More great options

  1. Zoho (free for up to three users; larger plans start at $3/month per user)
  2. G Suite (free 14-day trial; basic plans start at $6/month per user)
  3. Flowflu (free basic plan for one or two users; premium plans start at $29/month)
  4. Slite (free limited storage plan; unlimited plans start at $6.67/month per user)
  5. Slab (free 14-day trial; plans start at $35/month for first 10 users) *a bit pricey but we use this at Presence, and it’s been wonderful
  6. Blogin (free 14-day trial; $39/month after)

Communication

How tools Can Help

My Presence teammates and I virtually never email one another. An email between coworkers here would be as shocking as an open parking spot on a college campus. 

It’s not that we don’t communicate with each other. Actually, I think we’re pretty masterful at communication, thank you very much. 

Our secret is Slack. The instant messaging platform allows us to organize our discussions into categories (called “channels”), communicate with our entire team or select individuals, highlight big announcements, share files and images, and so much more. 

Not to go overboard in gushing over Slack, but after using it every day, I’d honestly be nervous to go back to a team that relies on emails. I bet even your texting-obsessed students will quickly get hooked on it… or any of these other communication tools.

My pick: Slack (#33)

I adore Slack for the reasons I already explained, and I can easily see a student affairs team embracing it, too. 

You can create channels for your professional staff’s eyes’ only, as well as channels for student groups and individual student leaders. Anyone who downloads the free mobile app can opt into push notifications, making a Slack message just as urgent and dynamic as a text. 

screenshot of Slack

screenshot of a Slack desktop view

And don’t let the pricy premium plans scare you away. The free version allows for an unlimited number of channels, messages, and users. I  imagine that most folks reading this won’t need to spring for the extra paid features. 

More great options

  1. Chanty (free for up to 10 users; $3/month per user for larger groups)
  2. Cliq (free basic plan; premium plans start at $2.25/month per user for small groups)
  3. RocketChat (free basic plan; premium plans start at $3/month per user)
  4. Flowdock (free 30-day trial; plans start at $3/month per user)
  5. Riot (free)
  6. SquadPod (free basic plan; premium plans start at $3/month per user)
  7. Flock (free basic plan; premium plans start at $4.50/month per user)
  8. Glip (free basic plan; premium plans start at $5/month per user)
  9. Mattermost (free 30-day trial; plans start at $3.25/month per user)

Task Management

How tools can help

No offense but your handwritten to-do-list doesn’t impress me much. 

These digitized tools for notetaking and to-do-list creation easily win out. They allow you to more thoroughly organize your ideas and plans, share tasks with others, set reminders for yourself, and more. 

And yes, they still make checking items off your list satisfying. 

My pick: Todoist (#43)

Its name might be a challenge to pronounce, but Todoist makes organization easier. I’ve used it to create grocery lists, remind students of tasks and deadlines, track my progress in planning programs, and prioritize goals for student leaders. 

screenshot of Todoist

screenshot of a Todoist inbox

The premium “business” plan costs $5 a month per user, but the free version allows up to five users per project.

More great options

  1. EssentialPIM (lifetime licensing starts at $39.95)
  2. Remember the Milk (free basic plan; premium is $39.99/year) 
  3. Simplenote (free) *ideal for anyone who wants something super clear and simple
  4. Microsoft To Do (free)
  5. Google Tasks (free)
  6. TickTick (free basic plan; $27.99/year for premium plan)
  7. OmniFocus (free 14-day trial; plans start at $49.99/lifetime)
  8. Habitica (free) *a fun, quirky app that gamifies users’ goals  through role-play adventures
  9. Workflowy (free for basic plan; $4.99/year for premium plan)

Scheduling

How tools can help

Meetings are critical to our work; I can’t suggest a tool that’ll free you of the need for them forevermore. (Sorry!) But there are tools to help dwindle down the colossal amount of time it takes to schedule meetings.

The websites and apps below allow users to find a time — if one exists (fingers crossed) that works well for everyone, no email chains necessary.

Many of these can also help you manage your daily calendar, schedule a complex series of events (such as orientation or a conference), and share your availability with other users.

My pick: Doodle (#53)

Doodle is simple, but that’s why I appreciate it so much. Through Doodle, it’s easy to poll meeting participants on their availability and it’s easy to make sense of a large groups’ response. It’s even easy to create a poll and respond to one; you don’t need to make an account. 

screenshot of Doodle

screenshot of my recent Doodle poll result

And the basic plan (which I use) is free! (Premium plans start at $4 a month.)

More great options

  1. Do’zz (free)
  2. Calendly (free basic plan; premium plans start at $8/month per user)
  3. TimeTree (free)
  4. When Is Good (free basic plan; $20/year ad-free plan with additional features)
  5. MeetingBird (free)
  6. Xoyondo (free)
  7. TeamUp (free basic plan; $8/month premium plan)
  8. Omnipointment (free)
  9. LettuceMeet (free)

Budgeting & Graphic Design

Do you like saving money? Well then, I have some tools for you! (Yes, you can read that in the voice of an infommercial presenter.) I previously shared a bunch of money-saving apps and sites here.

And if you’d like to boost your graphic design skills, my coworker Luke wrote a blog post that’s chock-full of great tools for that — including many free options! Check them out here.

Did I miss any tools you cherish? My teammates and I would love to learn about your favorites! Tweet us @HelloPresence.

Free ebook: The Art of Data Second Edition

There is more happening beneath the surface than you can see. This e-book will help you view the full picture. Download For Free
Jodi Tandet

About the author: Jodi Tandet loves writing about the magic of campus life as the Lead Storyteller at Presence. She's also passionate about baking, mental health advocacy, her Presence teammates' dogs, and her ever-growing podcast collection. 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.