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Best Cloud Storage for Students in 2023: Cheap & Free Storage for Collaboration

Having the best cloud storage service for students could be the difference between a hassle-free experience with your academic work or a stress-inducing scramble to make the grade. Fortunately, we’ve got a list of the five best cloud storage providers for students so you can store, share and collaborate on your school work with ease.

Jason Stagnitto
By Jason Stagnitto (Writer)
— Last Updated: 2022-10-10T20:00:00+00:00 Facts checked by Jasna Mishevska

It’s almost impossible for students today to go through school without the need to store, access, collaborate and share their digital schoolwork. For students in college — especially an online school — it’s nearly a requirement. With all the different cloud storage services out there, it’s tough to know which one is the best cloud storage for students.

Key Takeaways:

  • Google Drive offers 15GB of free storage and an affordable option of $19.99 per year for 100GB. All plans (free or paid) come with many of Google’s native applications.
  • Microsoft OneDrive offers 5GB for free and 100GB for $19.99 per year. However, even with the baseline paid plan, you do not get access to Microsoft 365.
  • Dropbox offers incredible third-party app integration, collaboration and sharing, but its free plan only comes with 2GB of storage.
  • IDrive offers 10GB of free storage and 10GB of cloud backup. However, collaboration is a challenge without third-party app integration.

There are a lot of ways to evaluate cloud storage. You could look at the best overall cloud storage, or you could narrow the choices to the best free cloud storage providers. 

For students, we focus on a few important considerations: the amount of storage, how much it costs, if the provider offers a student discount, and how easy it is to share and collaborate. Using these criteria, we’ve compiled the five best cloud storage providers for students. 

  • 06/25/2022

    Updated Sync.com’s plans and pricing information.

  • 10/10/2022 Facts checked

    Rewrote the article and updated the list of cloud storage solutions for 2022.

  • Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive offer the best combination of app integration and free or affordable storage plans. Many academic institutions offer one or the other with student accounts.

  • Many top cloud storage services offer a free plan that varies from 2GB to 20GB of storage.

  • OneDrive offers a free account with 5GB of storage. However, OneDrive does not offer a student-specific storage option.

  • Most free cloud storage plans run from 2GB to 20GB of storage, with Google Drive providing 15GB and OneDrive offering 5GB.

Top Cloud Storage Solutions for Students

  1. 1
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    100 GB – 30 TB starts from $1.67 / month (save 16%) (All Plans)
  2. 2
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    100 GB – Unlimited GB starts from $1.67 / month (save 16%) (All Plans)
  3. 3
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    1000 GB – Unlimited GB starts from $6 / month (All Plans)
  4. 4
      250 GB – 20 TB starts from $4.97 / month (All Plans)
    • 5
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      – 5 TB starts from $9.99 / month (save 17%) (All Plans)

    What Makes the Best Cloud Storage for Students?

    Collaborating and file sharing are essential features for students. Also, we can’t forget potentially the most important consideration: cost. Since your academic work and digital identity are important, security and privacy also factor in — but they might hamper collaboration, especially with private encryption, so it’s a balance.

    Considering all of the above, we rank the five best cloud storage providers for students. For some, your school may offer an account with one of these providers, and some of them might offer a student discount for paid plans. 

    1. Google Drive — Cheap cloud storage with 15GB free plan and focus on collaboration
    2. Microsoft OneDrive — Free 5GB of storage; strong sharing and collaboration 
    3. Sync.com — Excellent all-around cloud storage with 5GB for free 
    4. IDrive — 10GB of free cloud storage and cloud backup in one 
    5. Dropbox — Outstanding sharing and collaboration, but only 2GB free storage

    Due to some troubling privacy concerns, Google Drive doesn’t consistently rank as the top choice on our cloud storage provider lists. However, what Google Drive does do well — storage, sharing and collaboration — rates highly with students. Add in a generous 15GB of free storage and access to Google Workspace, and Google Drive is hard to beat.

    OneDrive offers similar features and storage, albeit within the Microsoft ecosystem. Their free account comes with 5GB of storage. However, this plan does not include Microsoft 365 or their Office apps. Even the entry-level paid plan that’s comparable to Google’s doesn’t have the apps you’d expect from OneDrive.

    Sync.com consistently ranks highly on our lists, due to its strong security and privacy. IDrive offers a unique combination of cloud storage and cloud backup, as well as a 50% student discount (it’s the best online backup for students). Dropbox has perhaps the strongest sharing and collaboration potential, but with a trade-off of limited storage on the free account, which is limited to three devices.

    The 5 Best Cloud Storage Services for Students

    Any of the following cloud services will help you along your academic journey. Some may even come as part of attending your school. However, if you have a choice, let’s take a more detailed look at each, starting with our top choice, Google Drive.

    1. Google Drive

    google drive home
    Drag and drop, edit, share or collaborate with your files from your Google Drive homepage.

    More details about Google Drive:

    • Pricing: 15GB free; 100GB for $1.99 (one-month plan)
    • Provider website: drive.google.com

    Pros:

    • Plenty of free storage
    • Third-party app integration
    • Google apps on free plan

    Cons:

    • Privacy concerns
    • Can’t password-protect links

    As a student who needs a cloud storage service to manage your digital coursework, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Google Drive. Chances are, you’ve had experience working with Google Classroom, a somewhat ubiquitous teacher/student tool used by over 150 million students. 

    Even if you haven’t, using Google Drive is not difficult to learn, as it integrates seamlessly with other Google services.

    A free Google Drive account comes with 15GB of storage, which is the highest allotment on this list. You can upload and download your academic papers using an internet browser or their desktop or mobile application. 

    Depending on the institution, your student account may come with Google Drive. Schools that use Google Workspace for Education share a pool of 100TB, with the potential for more on their Educational Fundamentals plan.

    Google Workspace for Education comes with several native apps, including familiar ones such as Google Docs, Google Sheets, Gmail and Google Meet. If Google’s native apps aren’t enough, you can search the third-party marketplace to find what you need.

    Sharing and Collaboration

    With productivity tools built into many apps, Google Drive makes it incredibly easy to share and collaborate on educational projects. An excellent example is Google Docs, which supports multiple people working on a document simultaneously.

    Sharing files on Google Drive with fellow students or teachers happens in a few clicks, and you can easily set permissions and restrictions. Collaboration is a breeze, as you can choose which email addresses get edit access, while restricting others to view only. 

    google drive cta
    Sign up for a free Google Drive account with 15GB of storage.

    There are a few very affordable options if 15GB isn’t enough storage and your student account doesn’t come with Google Drive. The cheapest plan gives you 100GB for $1.99 per month. If you decide to pay for this up front, this plan will set you back only $19.99 for the year. This option makes Google Drive friendly for even the tightest of budgets.

    2. Microsoft OneDrive

    onedrive home
    OneDrive’s account home has everything in one place and resembles File Explorer.

    More details about OneDrive:

    • Pricing: 5GB free; 100GB for $1.99 per month (one-month plan)
    • Provider website: onedrive.live.com

    Pros:

    • Office 365 integration
    • Great sharing & collaboration
    • Fully featured

    Cons:

    • No zero-knowledge security
    • Free plan lacks Office 365

    Like our top choice, Microsoft OneDrive offers a free account, although it’s limited to 5GB. While the free plan doesn’t come with Microsoft’s ecosystem of apps, most of the paid plans do. A Microsoft 365 for Students account, provided through a participating school, comes with at least 1TB or potentially unlimited storage.

    Microsoft applications — through the student program or purchased with a plan — include popular choices such as Teams, Skype, OneNote and Outlook. With these apps, sharing and collaboration happen seamlessly within OneDrive. Work on and edit documents within OneDrive and share files with a link or by using individual email addresses.

    Seamless Integration

    One of the nice things about OneDrive is it just works, especially when paired with other Microsoft products. Transitioning between Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, sharing your work within OneDrive or uploading to a Teams page takes little effort. 

    Best of all, anyone you share a file with from a Microsoft app (Word, Excel, etc.) can edit it without needing a Microsoft account.

    Onedrive homepage 2021
    Sign up for OneDrive’s 5GB free accounts or check out their paid options.

    If your school doesn’t come with OneDrive and the Microsoft app ecosystem, 5GB of free storage may not be enough. The first paid plan comes in at a very affordable rate of $1.99 per month for 100GB. 

    Note that this plan is for OneDrive only and does not include the suite of Microsoft Office products. Still, OneDrive brings a lot to the table as our OneDrive review explains.

    OneDrive Basic 5GB
    • : 5GB
    Microsoft 365 Personal
    • : Comes with Office 365 Personal
    • : 1TB
    Microsoft 365 Family
    • : Comes with Office 365 Home
    • : 5TB
    OneDrive for Business Plan 1
    • : Price per user
    • : 1TB
    OneDrive for Business Plan 2
    • : Price per user
    • : Unlimited GB
    Microsoft 365 Business Standard
    • : Price per user
    • : 1TB

    3. Sync.com

    sync.com web dashboard
    Sync.com’s web interface makes it easy to store and sort your files and folders.

    More details about Sync.com:

    • Pricing: 5GB free; 6TB for $24 per month (one-month plan)
    • Provider website: Sync.com

    Pros:

    • Strong security & privacy
    • Competitive pricing
    • Office 365 integration

    Cons:

    • Not as feature-rich as some
    • Slower sync speeds

    Sync.com helps lower the barrier for students and teachers by offering an integrated approach to classwork and learning. A free account comes with 5GB of storage and basic sharing ability. 

    Better still, all Sync.com accounts have unlimited data transfer limits. This feature means you’ll never have to worry about being stopped from submitting that last-minute paper because of too much transfer activity.

    Sync.com doesn’t come with an entire suite of productivity applications compared to other providers. However, Sync.com integrates with Office 365, even on the cheapest paid plan, letting you open and edit files from Word, Excel or Powerpoint. These apps make it easy to collaborate and share files in real time with your teachers or fellow students.

    Even if Microsoft apps aren’t your software of choice, sharing your files with anyone — even if they don’t have a Sync.com account — is easy. However, collaboration becomes more challenging outside of sharing and downloading files.

    Security and Privacy

    Sync.com consistently rates highly as one of our favorite cloud services. Top-notch security and user-focused privacy are two of the biggest reasons why. All Sync.com accounts come with zero-knowledge encryption as a standard feature. Several of the other providers on this list can’t make that claim.

    All data transferred to and from Sync.com enjoys end-to-end encryption. Additionally, Sync.com puts your privacy first. It adheres to laws enacted by the U.K./EU and Canada that protect your healthcare, personal and business information on most of its paid plans. You don’t have to worry about third-party tracking, as Sync.com does not collect or sell your data. 

    Sync.com’s free account comes with 5GB of storage and many features of the paid plans.

    The cheapest paid plan on Sync.com starts at $24 per month for 6TB of storage. However, there’s no monthly payment option, so you’ll have to pay for this plan on an annual basis. We cover Sync.com extensively in our Sync.com review.

    Free
    • : 5GB
    Pro Teams Standard
    • : Price per user
    • : 1TB
    Pro Teams Unlimited
    • : Price per user
    • : Unlimited GB

    4. IDrive

    idrive home
    IDrive’s user interface for cloud storage and backup has many options in the sidebar.

    More details about IDrive:

    • Pricing: 10GB free; student discount of 50% on paid plans
    • Provider website: idrive.com

    Pros:

    • Backup and storage
    • Free 10GB plan
    • Excellent student discount

    Cons:

    • No monthly payment option
    • No third-party integration

    Perhaps the greatest appeal of IDrive is the 50% discount for students or teachers. You qualify if you have an active email with a valid educational domain. If you are unsure, there’s a free 10GB plan to try it out. 

    Upon logging in, the standard storage options exist in a simple user interface. However, you can also back up your computer data. This combination of cloud storage and backup sets IDrive apart from its competition. 

    Sharing works well enough, although it’s not quite as robust as other providers on this list. You probably won’t find it as easy to collaborate in real time on documents, as IDrive doesn’t have third-party integrations. 

    You are, however, free to use the apps you enjoy, such as Google Docs or Microsoft Word. It’s easy to share files by sending a link via email, with the option to password protect or limit the number of downloads.

    Backup and Storage

    The best part of IDrive’s cloud service is having the backup and cloud drive on one account. It’s convenient to have your computer data secure on the same platform where you keep your academic files. 

    Better still, whatever backup space you use does not affect your cloud drive storage. It’s not entirely clear on IDrive’s site, but with the free plan, you get 10GB of backup and 10GB of cloud storage.

    IDrive’s cloud backup works the same as an external hard drive, and it’s not limited to a single computer. IDrive also offers a service where they send you a physical hard drive to upload large amounts of data. This option works well if you have slower internet and backing up to the cloud just isn’t viable. Once you send it back to them, IDrive will upload the backup to your account.

    idrive cta
    IDrive’s student discount page requires a valid education email address.

    The entry price for IDrive is $59.62 (without a discount or promotion) per year for 5TB of cloud storage space. With the 50% student discount, that comes to around $40, which makes it an excellent value to back up your files and ditch the external hard drives. 

    The only downside is the requirement to pay for the entire year, as there’s no option for monthly payments. We cover the different plans and everything else IDrive has to offer in our IDrive review.

    5. Dropbox

    dropbox home
    Dropbox’s familiar user interface makes it easy to sort and share your files.

    More details about Dropbox:

    • Pricing: 2GB free; 2TB for $9.99 per month (one-year plan)
    • Provider website: dropbox.com

    Pros:

    • Office 365 & Google integration
    • Slack & Zoom integration
    • Dropbox Paper tool

    Cons:

    • Privacy issues
    • Low storage allotments

    It’s not hard to make a case that Dropbox provides all the tools and features to make your academic life easier. Dropbox offers excellent third-party productivity tools as it integrates with Office 365 and Google services. 

    Plenty of universities offer Dropbox to their students. Additionally, Dropbox has a few native apps, including Dropbox Paper, a real-time collaborative digital environment.

    Sharing and collaboration — using Dropbox Paper or not — are additional strengths of the service. This process is as easy as choosing a file or an entire folder, setting permissions and creating a link. 

    File size limits aren’t capped and go as high as your storage quota. Dropbox’s collaboration platform helps organize meetings, share content or host project plans. Real-time communication works with app integrations such as Slack and Zoom.

    With all these productivity tools and features, you might ask what the catch is. The answer is storage. 

    A free Dropbox Basic account comes with a minuscule 2GB. Chances are you’ll need additional space before the end of the first semester. Even the storage allotment for an educational team shares 15GB among as many as 300 people. It’s not a lot, and the 2GB free plan puts Dropbox far behind the competition.

    Security and Privacy

    Security and privacy are something of a mixed bag for Dropbox. Being one of the most well-known cloud storage providers makes it hard to escape the bad light of a data breach. Data encryption and security are a high priority to Dropbox’s credit, although that does not include zero-knowledge encryption. 

    Privacy, on the other hand, is not strong. The impressive array of third-party app integrations means Dropbox can share your data with them. Dropbox’s privacy policy explains as much, stating that your data and the way in which you use Dropbox are theirs to access as they need.

    dropbox signup
    Sign up for a free Dropbox account with 2GB. For faster access, link your Google account.

    Dropbox does not offer individual student discounts. Beyond the 2GB of free storage, the cheapest paid plan runs $11.99 monthly for 2TB. If you spend $119.88 for a year up front, the monthly cost drops to $9.99 per month. 

    Dropbox’s price is somewhat higher compared to other services that offer a 2TB paid plan. For a deeper dive into Dropbox, check out our full Dropbox review.

    Honorable Mention: MEGA

    mega sign up
    MEGA’s free account offers a generous 20GB of free storage.

    MEGA deserves some consideration for all the positives it brings to the table. Among all the above service providers, MEGA’s 20GB offers the most storage on our list. As a student, 20GB is enough space to get you going. Additionally, MEGA boasts some of the best security and privacy in the industry. It’s your data, and MEGA doesn’t want access to it.

    Collaborating and sharing within MEGA works well and includes a secure chat called MEGA CHAT. However, because of the high level of security and privacy, you won’t find third-party integration, which makes real-time collaboration on projects difficult. 

    If you don’t need to collaborate, MEGA offers an excellent paid option of $5.07 monthly for 400GB of storage. If you’re curious to learn more about MEGA, read our MEGA review

    Free
    • : 20GB
    Pro Lite
    • : File transfer: (monthly plan) 12TB (yearly plan)
    • : 400GB
    Pro I
    • : File transfer: 2TB (Monthly plan) 24TB (yearly plan)
    • : 2TB
    Pro II
    • : File transfer: (monthly plan) 96TB (yearly plan)
    • : 8TB
    Pro III
    • : File transfer: 16TB (monthly plan) 192TB (yearly plan)
    • : 16TB
    Business (3TB)
    • : Per user (minimum 3)
    • : 3TB
    Business (10TB)
    • : Per user (minimum 3)
    • : 10TB
    Business (10TB)
    • : Per user (minimum 3)
    • : 50TB

    Final Thoughts: Cloud Service Options for Students

    Having cloud storage that supports your academic work is a necessity. Fortunately, there are plenty of options, with many providers offering a free plan. 

    Sharing, collaboration and affordability factor highly into our metrics to determine the best cloud storage for students. Before deciding, we recommend you consider the security and privacy policies in addition to the features.

    What cloud storage provider do you use as a student? What are your experiences like sharing and collaborating? And what do you look for when it comes to collaboration features? Will you stick with your cloud storage after school? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for taking the time to read our article.