The end of summer vacation is fast–approaching, with only a couple of weeks left until we begin an uncertain and inevitably challenging Fall semester at Penn. With most classes moved completely online and strict guidelines in place, we’ll probably be interacting more with technology than with each other for the next few months.  

Even before the pandemic, smartphones have served as our generation’s most loyal companions. They accompany many of us everywhere we go, stocked with apps to provide constant entertainment, comfort, advice, and connection. But as we enter what will primarily be a virtual semester, we will likely spend even more time on our devices. Here are some suggestions of apps to not only help make life at Penn easier, but also a lot more fun. 

First, there are the Penn essentials. Canvas, Penn’s lifeblood—where instructors post grades, update course materials, and submit assignments—is not only a website, but also an app. Having quick access on your phone is especially convenient when you get a notification of a new midterm grade. Additionally, Penn Mobile is a must–have for all things student life. The app gives you access to your course schedule, news, dining hall hours and menus, fitness facility schedules, and study room availability, in addition to other hacks and pieces of useful information.  

Apps like Google Calendar and Google Tasks might also be helpful when it comes to organizing and keeping track of your workload and upcoming events (though having many of those this semester is unlikely). For those moments when Google reminds you that your hand–written problem set is due on Canvas at midnight, having an app like PDF Scanner to quickly take a pic—one that isn’t blurry or grainy—to upload is a must.  

Beyond apps that are helpful for academics, here are some suggestions for when you need to (safely) venture off campus during these next few months. If you’re looking for private transportation, Uber and Lyft are classics. For those willing to brave public transit, Septa and Google Maps often have listings of times for subways and buses, and Amtrak is great for booking longer train rides. Students who need to fly to and from campus might benefit from downloading Hopper to help book flights. And for students looking to reduce their carbon footprint, try Indego, Philly’s bike share app. 

In terms of food, dining might be especially tricky this semester because of social distancing guidelines. Downloading apps that allow you to order food directly to your dorm or for pickup will not only be helpful in avoiding long lines, but will also allow you to safely distance from others. For these situations, apps like Grubhub, Ubereats, Instacart, goPuff, Postmates, Caviar and—the college classic—Snackpass will have you covered to fulfill your food delivery and/or pickup needs. Specifically for Penn students, having apps for staple stores close to campus—like Wawa, Sweetgreen, Starbucks and Saxby’s—is also a good idea. 

Life as a Penn student can be stressful. Finding things to do that make you happy outside of class and the grind culture is essential, but it is also important to recognize that these activities don’t have to necessarily be “productive.” It’s okay to spend hours watching Netflix or Hulu on your phone, or listening to music on Spotify, Apple Music or Soundcloud. If you need to expend some energy, maybe go for a run using the Strava app, or try a workout from the Nike Training Club app. Headspace—a mindfulness and meditation app—can help you recenter and reconnect to yourself during periods of stress. But sometimes mindlessly playing Candy Crush or scrolling on Instagram can be equally as therapeutic as meditation. 

The advent of the app has provided the masses with a creative way to turn a smartphone into more than a communication device. Apps transform your phone into a personalized, virtual toolbox by making countless resources just a swipe and tap away. So, as we enter a primarily virtual semester, it might be worthwhile to stock up on those tools—you never know what might come in handy. 


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