Many young people are heading back to school with smartphones and tablets in their backpacks, but there's a host of free and low-cost apps available that can make these gadgets even more useful for students who want to stay on top of their studies.

To sift through these apps, CBC News asked for recommendations from three app developers who are students themselves:

  • Brennan McEachran is a fourth-year commerce student at Ryerson University and is the CEO of Hit Send, a technology startup incubated in Ryerson's Digital Media Zone that creates web applications for companies;
  • Hannah Mittelstaedt is a fourth-year computer engineering student at the University of Toronto. She has developed a number of mobile applications, including SoFit, a fitness app with a social media component, and;
  • Ben Docksteader is in his final year at the University of Prince Edward Island. He has created several apps, including Domain Hole, which helps people find domain names. He is currently working on a medical application for stroke patients called StrokeLink.

Here are their top recommendations.

quora

Quora

Price: Free

Website: http://www.quora.com/

Platform: Android and iPhone

This social media app is still building an audience. McEachran said what's really neat about Quora is that users can pose questions to a core group of people who are knowledgeable about certain topics, and receive answers. McEachran said students can use this as a first-hand source for research projects.

 "There's a huge knowledge database. And it's not like a boring library version," McEachran said. "It's a social, collaborative community of questions and answers. And you can get some really insightful research."

wolfram

WolframAlpha 

Price: $1.99

Website: http://www.wolframalpha.com/

Platform: iPhone

For students on tight deadlines looking for a quick statistic for essay or research, this app is another good place to start, McEachran said. Type in a question, and WolframAlpha can often provide the answer.

"Things like, 'What is the life expectancy of a 21-year-old male in the city?'" said McEachran, "and it will give you sources for that."

Anti-distraction apps

There are a number of apps designed specifically to help people concentrate on their work:

  • Anti-social: When it's running, this Mac OS X app blocks access to social media sites and any other sites you choose. Once activated, you'll have to reboot your computer to unblock the sites. (Free trial, $15 to register it.)
  • LeechBlock: This Firefox add-on is designed to "block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day," according to its website. You can choose what to block, and at what time of day. (Free.)
  • WAYD: WAYD is a program that sits in the Windows tray, waiting. After a set amount of time, a big window opens on your computer, covering your entire screen, and asks you: "What are you doing?" WAYD is designed to guilt you into concentrating on your work. (Free.) Alternatives include RescueTime (lite version is free, pro version is $6 a month), Klok (free trial, $15.99 to register), Slife (free) and ManicTime (free).
  • Blinders: The Mac-based WriteRoom (free) and its Windows counterpart, Dark Room (free), promise "distraction-free writing" by paring your screen down to one function: Writing.
  • Pomodoro timers: A simple, effective time-management technique. Choose a task to be accomplished and set the Pomodoro timer to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer). Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper. Take a short break. Every four Pomodoros, take a longer break. There are lots of downloadable pomodoro timers.

do

Do

Price: Free

Website: https://do.com/

Platforms: Android and iPhone

When it comes to organizational apps, there are so many to choose from. But this app that Docksteader recommends allows users to organize and set up their own or shared profile that allows students who are working on group projects or planning events to create lists, calendars, send files and even chat in the same app. It also syncs everything online at do.com.

"It's not convoluted like a lot other platforms," Docksteader said.

springpad

SpringPad

Price: Free

Website: http://springpad.com

Platforms: Android and iPhone

This is an organizational app that Mittelstaedt finds useful. But SpringPad does much more than let you jot down ideas — it can save articles, record voice memos, allow users to snap photos and take note of their exact location at the time.

"It's a way to jot down a note and it just syncs it with your account," Mittelstaedt said, "I use it at work when we have meetings."

It also has commerce-related features that can enhance your notes with extra information, such as links to reviews and nearby theatres related to a notation you make about a specific movie.

googledrive

Google Drive

Price: Free

Website: https://drive.google.com

Platforms: Android and iPhone

Mittelstaedt doesn't use a native word processor anymore -- she uses Google Drive. The app launched recently by Google integrates storage and its Google Docs cloud-based word processor.

Hannah uses the app to save documents for school, and it automatically syncs on her computer, in her online account and on her smart phone.

"With Google Drive, everything is just there. I even have the Google Drive app on my phone."

prey

Prey Anti-Theft

Price: Free

Website: http://preyproject.com/

Platforms: Android and iPhone

At some schools, theft is a problem. McEachran recommends that students download the Prey Anti-Theft app and software on their smartphone or tablet (it's also available for laptops).

The app allows users to track the whereabouts of a person's device if it goes missing. It can also monitor who's using the device by quietly snapping photos if the phone or laptop has a front camera, and can then send these details to the rightful owner. The app can even remotely command the device to issue an alarm or message notifying thieves that the device is being tracked.

"You don't have to lose that two grand that you just spent [on a laptop]," McEachran said.

spenz

Spenz

Price: Free

Website: http://spenz.com/

Platforms: iPhone

McEachran said that many banking apps don't cut it when it comes to helping students plan their finances. But the fourth-year commerce student recommends Spenz, an app his colleagues designed at Ryerson and that encourages budgeting by asking users to log everything they spend daily.

It also gives people the option of adding their banking information through a twice-over encrypted connection.

"It kind of gives you extra incentive to pick up the cheaper thing and save an extra dollar, and go to Tim's instead of Starbucks," McEachran said.

twitter

Twitter

Price: Free

Website: https://twitter.com/

Platforms: Android and iPhone

Twitter is a common app, but McEachran said students often overlook a really handy way of using it. He recommends that one of the most productive things university students can do is use their Twitter accounts to follow university staff and campus organizations.

Universities and colleges can be huge places and it's easy for students to feel out of the loop. He said he uses Twitter to get information that may not be readily available to students any other way.

"There's a lot of inside tips that can save you a lot of time during your day if you pay attention to them," McEachran said. That goes for things like finding classes and getting study tips, but he adds that another bonus is that when you're in the campus loop, "You know where the free pizza is going to be."

penyopal

Penyo Pal

Price: Free

Website: http://penyopal.com

Platforms: Android and iPhone

Penyo Pal is a language app mainly developed for kids, but Docksteader said high school students and university students can use it, too. It's a quick and fun way to learn a little more about another language. So far, the app is available in Mandarin and French.

"It's cool because it's not just a game, but it helps you learn," said Docksteader. "Languages are the future."

flowfree

Flow free

Price: Free

Website: http://app.net/flowfree

Platforms: Android and iPhone

While there are apps for organizing your life and researching information, there are also apps that can help students unwind after a tough class. One entertaining option is Free Flow, Mittelstaedt said. The goal is simple - to get the highest score, you have to connect the dots with the fewest moves and mistakes.

"You have to connect these dots to fill a screen, but it’s kind of addictive," Mittelstaedt said.