Not too many people pay their way though seminary by working as a Mac consultant on the side. For me, it was the perfect mix. Five years working Apple Retail was great as a post-college gig, but balancing that with school and kids was near fatal to my sanity. My wife wasn't a fan, either. I eventually decided to take the risk of starting a Macinstructor. This has been a tremendous blessing in many ways, one of which is that it kept me on the cutting edge of software, which turned me into a better student. In this post, I'd like to share with you what software I used along the way.
It shocks me how many other students don't know what Dropbox is, or why they should use it. Simply put, Dropbox installs a folder on your Mac that syncs across the internet to all your devices. Drop files into it, and they're available from anywhere. Not only does it give you an extra layer of backup, but it also allows you to hop on your school's computer lab, pull up a paper online, and then print it. Collaborating and sharing with other students is super easy with Dropbox, too. I'm not going to give a full review, since those abound throughout cyberspace, but just know that everything in your current semester should be stored in Dropbox. Get it.
I'm ashamed to admit that OmniOutliner is relatively new to me. Most pros in the Mac community have been users for years. As you might gather from its name, OmniOutliner is a tool used to create outlines. For me, it's the best option for taking notes in class, strategizing research papers, or just jotting down my plan of attack for an elaborate project. The first question people ask is usually, "Why wouldn't I just outline in Pages or Word?" Well, being able to quickly rearrange bullets, attach files, export to a variety of formats, and quickly navigate through hundreds of rows makes it an absolute joy to use. Yes, a word processor can do these things, but because OmniOutliner is build just for outlines, it makes work much more efficient.
Quiz yourself on Greek and Hebrew with every spare moment you have with this well crafted flashcard app. Yes, it syncs to an iPhone, too. If it wasn't for Mental Case, I would have failed so many classes! What's especially unique and powerful is the way it shuffles back through your deck the cards that you missed. It algorithmically learns your rough spots and reminds you of them until you have them mastered. A lot of flashcard decks for common textbooks are available for free online, as well. Mental Case makes it simple to browse and import these shared decks.
You want your papers to be painless to write and formatted gorgeously. Neither of those things are done well with Microsoft Word, so go ahead and invest in your productivity by picking up Pages. Personally, I've loved how easy it is to create and apply styles (Body, Header, Footnote, etc). Oh, and it does track changes very simply, so when it comes time for your friend or spouse to edit your work, you can easily see what they changed and why. And this is even easier with iCloud. I would often write a paper on the Mac, but then ask my wife to edit it on the iPad. When she finished, I'd then go back to the Mac, read through, and apply her suggestions.
Pages also pairs well with iPhone dictation. Again, because of iCloud, I can open up a paper on the iPhone and just dictate portions of it. This is perfect for when a new idea comes to mind while you're waiting in line to pay a parking ticket.
This iPad app can pull up any PDF stored in Dropbox. It's especially neat since most school libraries have a fancy scanner that can email a PDF of whatever's been scanned. After getting the email, move the PDF to Dropbox, and just use the iPad to read and annotate PDFs at home!
On the Saturday after the first week of a new semester, I suggest piling up your syllabi and enter in all assignments into a task manager of choice. For me, that's OmniFocus. Honestly, most students would be better off with Things instead, since it's far simpler to learn. But if you're a lover of Mac power apps, now is your chance to justify picking up the granddaddy of them all. One strength of OmniFocus is its ability to create contexts for tasks (the place or tool you need to get the job done.) For example, I keep a context for the library and computer lab and then address the relevant tasks when I'm at one Of those places. OmniFocus is a beast at keeping up with the crazy amount of details that will quickly pile up on your plate.
Seminary gave me one killer book collection, many of which I seriously need to reread. Well, Delicious Library for Mac helps keep books organized. After scanning a book's barcode with the companion iPhone app, it immediately appears in your library on the Mac. From there, you can jot down notes about the book, organize them in digital shelves, keep track of who's borrowed them, look up the current used value, publish your collection to a website, and retrieve properly formatted bibliographies. Very helpful.
For any seminarian serious about their studies, Accordance is a must. A lot of folks ask me how it compares to its competitor, Logos, and honestly, I don't know. From what I hear, Logos is good for lay study, but Accordance shines for academic work. I've been a user of Accordance for almost ten years, and over that time, I've accumulated a massive amount of commentaries, translations, maps, and resources which have become essential for research. Their staff and user communities online are super friendly and helpful, too. Over the years, I've asked for Accordance modules for birthdays and other celebrations, so the collection has grown quite considerably; and because they offer an iOS app, all this material is quickly accessible no matter where you are.
Keeping a journal during your seminary career could be one of the best ways to stay level-headed. The best digital one out there is Day One. Seminary is such an emotional roller coaster, and you might want to express your thoughts privately before processing them with a peer or professor. Like many apps listed above, Day One has complimentary iOS apps, so creating entries from any device is super easy.
So there you have it. These apps, and a handful of others, helped streamline the load of staying organized, conducting research, and writing papers throughout seminary. Please let me know if you think I forgot something. My hope is that this basic list will at least place you enough on track so that your software actually doesn't become a hinderance to your degree. Once these things are familiar to you, you can focus on the theology and wisdom that you are gleaning from this spirit enriching degree.