Going to university involves a lot of surprises. Doing your own washing. Buying your own clothes. And, of course, no longer being able to borrow every software package you need off your parents. If you’re finding this something of a shock, don’t worry. Software publishers might be control freaks who’d like nothing more than to stop people installing their programs entirely, but even they realise that there’s value in getting students hooked on their software before they head out into the working world.
Yes, if you’re a student (university or otherwise) who wants to buy what would normally be a rather costly software package, you’re in luck. Publishers do offer an alternative to shelling out your hard-earned loans and grants: the educational licence.
As the name suggests, educational-licence software is available to students (and anyone working in the educational sector) at a hugely reduced discount. The idea is that companies can treat the sales as loss-leaders: getting software into the hands of the next generation of workers so that, when the time comes, they’ll want to use it in their workplaces. The publisher’s endgame is to sell fat, commercial licences off the back of cheaper student sales!
Student editions are, for the most part, identical to retail versions in every way and entirely unrestricted. At most, expect multimedia tools to contain a restriction on any commercial use of their output, but this will be a digital watermark at most, rather than one which is visible on the video or pictures. The intention of these is to prevent companies and large organisations using educational copies rather than the fully licensed versions, rather than prevent students from profiting from their software purchase.
You may be wondering what measures there are to prevent non-students from buying educational editions at the reduced price and using those at home in a non-commercial manner. The answer, really, is nothing. There are checks along the way, but these mostly end at the point where you receive your product key with no follow ups.
That said, if non-students buy educational editions, the licence on the software is effectively invalid. By buying a licence for which they are not eligible, people who do this have effectively committed software piracy. This applies even if they’ve done so in such a way that ensures that the traditional supply chain receives some money in the process. A piece of software bought under false pretenses is no more legal than if it had been torrented from Pirate Bay!
It’s also worth pointing out that student editions tend not to be returnable, in order to prevent people getting refunds if they discover they can’t swindle the eligibility requirements. Non-students, buy these copies at your own risk!
Where to buy
Buying educationally licensed software isn’t particularly difficult - the only real hurdle is proving your eligibility to buy it! If you’re already enrolled in an educational institution, most will have some kind of on-site retailer (whether self-owned or franchised) that will be able to sell student editions to you over the counter. In most cases all you need is your student ID as proof. A number of websites also allow you to purchase software editions online. These will be retail boxed copies, which arrive in the post, rather than downloads. In some cases when buying online, you might not actually need to provide student ID, although some organisations insist that you provide digital proof at point of sale, for their records.
Most publishers have a dedicated student reseller program that allows you to perform a postcode-based search on retailers in your area who stock boxed student editions. This is ideal if you’re buying at short notice. Such retailers may require proof of your student status, as they could lose their ability to participate in the reseller program if they are found to be selling student software to people who are ineligible.
Although you may be able to find student software for sale at independent high street retail outlets, a simpler way of getting hold of academic editions is to buy them online. This can mean one of two things - either direct from the publisher or from online resellers. In the case of the former, you will probably find that the costs are higher and the postage considerably larger, but if you’re looking for specialist software there may be no other stockist around. If you go directly to the manufacturers, you may also be able to get download-only versions of software not available from other retailers.
In many cases, you’ll be required to provide a digitised copy of your student ID and proof of enrolment in order to receive the necessarily product activation keys for a student licence. This is done to prevent ineligible buyers from trying to save money by buying student editions. If you do not have a student ID, you should be able to get a certificate of enrolment from your institution’s administrative office, similar to those used to exclude yourself from council tax, although some photo ID - a passport or driving licence - might be necessary alongside this.
For those interested in boxed versions only, we’ve put together this short list of places to find the student discounts you’re entitled to:
A clean and accessible website with reasonably low prices and a decent range of software - although don’t expect anything in the way of hardware (the clue’s in the name). The on-site blog is a nice touch, too, featuring a variety of student-related content: reviews, competitions and ‘Top FIve’ lists, all of which help keep customers engaged with the products and the site itself. Web Of Truse ratings for this site are all 90%+, so even though are student days are well behind us, and we’ve never shopped here, we’re confident recommending the site as a top choice.
The National Union of Students doesn’t sell software directly, but its website offers a reasonably helpful description of the software discounts students are entitled to with links to places where you can buy the relevant software. As well as 15% off at the Apple Store, NUS Extra ISIC card holders can get 90% off Microsoft software and discounts on hardware from Dell.
Amazon’s virtual shelves contain a huge number of student-licensed editions of many popular packages, including the likes of Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite. Student verification for its purchases are mostly done through the publisher, rather than the retailer - you’ll still have to activate the software online before it can be used! The discounts are reasonable, but as with most things Amazon-related, it’s really the selection that it’s worth turning up for.
What to buy?
The wide range of software available for students does beg one question: of all the wide variety of options out there, what do you actually need? Plenty of packages are optional, and if you really are committed to keeping your outgoings to a minimum, then if truth be told there are free alternatives available for most. There are, however, some distinct advantages to shelling out some money, so to help you make some decisions we’ve listed our top student software packages. Load your computer up with these and you’ll have everything you need to conquer the world of academia. Or, at the very least, set you on the path to blagging a 2:2!
Microsoft Office 365 University (£54)
Office 365 is Microsoft’s subscription-based online Office suite, offering access to a number of convenient services and cloud-based versions of popular Microsoft applications. As well as online versions of the 2010 editions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Publisher, buyers receive 20GB of cloud storage provided by Microsoft’s own SkyDrive Service and 60 minutes of international Skype calls a month - making it especially attractive to international students studying here. The University edition is near-identical to the Home Premium edition, although the licence is only four years in length and it can only be used on two devices (PC or Mac) by a single user.
Amazon is currently selling it for £6 less than Microsoft is, but beware – the retail copy is just a download code, rather than a physical disc.
Microsoft Office University 2010 (£100)
Although it’s now been superceded by Office 365, those who want a student edition of Microsoft Office on disc can still buy the 2010 release from various suppliers. This academic edition of Microsoft Office comes with Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint 2010, OneNote 2010, Outlook 2010, Publisher 2010, Access 2010, as well as access to the Office Web Apps and is licensed for installation on two PCs. Notably, it’s restricted to ‘higher-education’ owners only, meaning it’s an offer that’s only applicable to university or college students and the staff of those institutions.
Eligibility is verified online rather than through a generic product key, meaning your going to need an International student identity card or academic email address to activate the software and begin using it.
Microsoft Windows 8 Pro Upgrade (£50)
The bad news is that, unlike previous versions of the operating system, there’s no Student-only edition of Windows 8 (at least, not yet). That means that student discounts are purely limited to those offered by the retailer. The cheapest price we can find the Windows 8 Pro Upgrade edition online is £49.50, a measly 49 pence cheaper than it’s available for if you buy it direct from Microsoft. Many high-street retailers will give NUS members somewhere between 10-20% discount, though, so if you’re looking for a new Operating System, it might be worth scoping out some bricks-and-mortar stores instead.
One word of warning: Windows 8.1 is due out within the next few weeks, so if you can stand to wait you might be able to get a fresher version by doing so. The 8.1 update should be free, though, so don’t worry too much!
Adobe Creative Suite 6 Design Standard Student and Teacher Edition (£286)
It might sound pricey, at almost £300, but the non-academic version of CS6 costs several times that amount, so this is actually quite a good deal - especially when you consider what you get. The package contains CS6 versions of Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop Extended, Audition, SpeedGrade, Prelude, Illustrator, Encore, Flash Professional, Media Encoder and Bridge. It is available for students, teachers, school staff and any other educators who meet the eligibility guidelines, at any level of education, from primary school to university.
Eligibility for students is ascertained by providing digital proof of enrolment using a photo ID, (students under 18 do not need to provide a photo), while academic staff can use a payslip or a letter from the registrar. The software takes two days to activate, though you should be able to use it freely for a month before proof is required. The only restriction is that Student and Teacher editions of Adobe software can’t be upgraded (although you do qualify for discounted purchase on upgrade editions).
QuarkXpress 9 Education Edition (£98)
QuarkXPress is a WYSIWYG publishing program that runs on Mac OS X and Windows and can help users create a huge variety of layouts, from single-page flyers to the multi-media projects required for magazines, newspapers and presentations. Although surpassed by Adobe InDesign as the industry standard, QuarkXpress is still widely used, so students have good reason for wanting to buy a copy.
Educational editions are sold without a validation code and proof of educational enrolment is required in the form of an academic email address or a student ID showing school name, student name, a photo and the enrolment date AND either a tuition bill, transcript, letter of enrolment or report card. The software is available to university and college students, secondary school students, homeschooled students and the faculty or staff thereof.
SketchUp Pro 2013 Higher Education Edition ($49)
A fully featured 3D modelling program, SketchUp Pro is available to student users at a significant discount - the Pro version normally costs $590! Although the student version is available direct from Google, you do need a ‘.edu’ address to buy it, which is only a likely situation in the US. In other countries (including the UK) you can only buy the student edition through a reseller, although there are no further checks and the software can be activated immediately. Licences are valid for one year after the date of purchase and the educational edition of the software can be upgraded for free. You can install the software on two machines simultaneously and the only eligibility requirement is that you are enrolled at an accredited educational institution. Notably, the student edition of SketchUp Pro 2013 cannot be used for commercial purposes.
Kaspersky Internet Security 2013 Student (£35)
A security suite like this one is an essential purchase, especially if you’re going to be hooked up to a university network alongside hundreds of other computers containing who knows what sort of viruses and malware. Offered to students at a discount, Kaspersky internet Security 2013 contains the latest versions of both its antivirus and internet security suites. Available as a download, this edition comes with a one device/two year licence and can only be purchased from authorised student resellers. There are no other checks or restrictions on usage.
Free student essentials
It’s hard enough being a student without expecting to pay for software as well, so to try and help you out further, here’s our list of essential free alternatives that you might want to use instead.
Undeniably the student’s best friend, LibreOffice is a fully Microsoft-compatible office suite with a word processor, spreadsheet application, PowerPoint-style presentation creator and more besides. If you want to save the best part of £100 on the most commonly needed types of software, LibreOffice is the way to go!
If you’re not already using Skype, it’s an essential communication tool for students, making it easy to collaborate on work right from your university room and phone your relatives back home for free, no matter what country they (or you) are in. The only hard part is getting other people to install it too!
If you’re looking for audio-editing tools, why let yourself get tricked into shelling out for Adobe’s high-end software when this open-source alternative is just as good and costs absolutely nothing to download and install? You can even use it to quickly convert and edit audio, which is especially useful if you have a lecture recorded that you want some or part of recorded to listen to again later on!
Juvenile name aside, GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Project, if you were wondering) is a fantastic piece of software that has many of the image-editing capabilities of Adobe’s Photoshop package but doesn’t cost anywhere near as much. Image editing is an essential skill these days, whether you’re touching up images for presentation or just trying to make your Facebook photo albums look vaguely acceptable!