Google Workspace vs. Office 365: Which is better for students?

Student Learning
Student Learning (Image credit: John Schnobrich on Upsplash)

Office 365 Education

official logo

You can get an Office 365 Education subscription free with your school email address. With this subscription, you get access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneDrvie. You can collaborate with teachers and fellow students through Teams, OneNote and keep track of email messages and upcoming deadlines with Outlook.

Office 365 Education

Top pick for students

Access to eight Office programs
Teams allows real-time collaboration
Compatible with multiple devices
Not as many collaboration tools as Workspace
Saved files may be seen by administrators

Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals

G Suite official logo

Google Workspace allows real-time collaboration through all Google apps, including Docs, Slides, and Sheets. You can meet virtually using Meets and sync your Gmail and Google Calendar apps to receive reminders of when assignments are due and scheduled meetings. You also get a ton of online storage through Google Drive.

Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals

Good collaborative tools

Access to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides
Collaboration tools
Access school email through Gmail
School partnership is required
Collaborating features are clunky

Before deciding on Google Workspace vs. Office 365, first, look if you already have free access to one of them as a student through your school. Most school districts or schools have an education partnership with either Google or Microsoft and extend some of the services to students. It would be smart to install the school's chosen program to your device to be compatible with the same apps and services.

However, if you'd like an account separate from the school's, or if your school doesn't offer free access to its students, then we recommend using Office 365 Education because you can still get an account as a student, even if your school doesn't have a contract with them. All you need is a valid school email address. Office 365 Education gives you access to all Office programs and Teams — it's a collaboration tool — and comes with plenty of cloud storage.

Comparing the two

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Header Cell - Column 0 Office 365 StudentGoogle Workspace for Education Fundamentals
Yearly subscription$0$0
School license requiredNY
Included programsWord, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Access, Teams, OneDriveDrive, Calendar, Meet, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Classroom, Assignments, Forms, Sites, Groups, Admin
Email appOutlookGmail
Phone support24/724/7

What you need to know about Office 365 Education

With an Office 365 Education subscription, you have access to eight Office programs, including Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You also have access to 12 Microsoft services, like OneDrive, SharePoint, and Forms. Office 365 lives in the cloud, so it doesn't take up valuable space on your computer and allows you to access all its programs and saved projects from anywhere and from any device. Simply log into your online portal, and you have access to everything from Publisher to OneNote.

Apps can be pinned to Android smartphones and tablets for quick access on the go, and you can download each Office program to your laptop or computer to work offline. However, you will need to log into your online account often enough to keep your subscription active.

Microsoft Teams is a live chat program that comes with your Office 365 Education subscription that lets you talk with people in your study group, teachers, or other students in real-time. Anyone can create channels that reflect a specific class or project, or you can keep it more confidential with person-to-person chat — like Slack. From within Teams, you can call other collaborators or hold a video conference with up to 50 people at once. You can also share documents and give direct access to them so everyone in your group can add, edit and work on the project at the same time from the Teams Hub viewing window. As the files are changed, all copies, including those saved in your OneDrive, are automatically updated, too.

One important note about Office 365 Education: If you're given access through your school, it's possible for administrators, collaborators, teachers, and others to see some personal information and saved files. Since admins set the rules for OneDrive, they could restrict files from being deleted and see data being saved there. Even if you create an Education account on your own, Microsoft will automatically connect your account to your school's if one ever becomes available. Because of this, we recommend not using this program for personal use. You can, however, purchase an Office 365 Personal account to use separately from your school account to keep personal files and documents private. This subscription will cost you about $70 per year.

All about Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals

Google Workspace used to be known as G Suite. Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals comes with an impressive amount of collaboration tools with Meets and Classroom. Each one allows real-time communication and project creation with multiple people in an easy-to-use way. For example, you can chat or hold video conferences using Meets to help everyone get on the same page. In addition, Google Meets records meetings and saves them to your Drive to be referenced later or shared with those absent. However, this is a temporary benefit for free accounts until January 2022. After that, you'll need to purchase or have access to the two highest-level Google education programs to continue using this feature.

Another collaboration tool available for Google Workspace users is Classroom. Classroom is managed by individual teachers to create a place for assigning homework, sending reminders, gathering and grading finished projects, and pass along virtual handouts and other study materials. Educators can also assign group projects and create study groups within Classroom to help foster collaboration.

Google Workspace lets you share files saved in Drive with others and allows them to see and edit files in real-time. This is done by creating a link and sharing it. You can see when others are in the same files as you and watch as edits are made. However, it's a bit clunky, and we noticed there's a slight delay, so it's possible multiple edits could mesh together and cause some confusion. Google keeps track of changes, though, and won't make them permanent without your consent.

Google Workspace's office programs, like Docs and Sheets, work similarly to Microsoft Office programs with most features and tools located in the same places, and it uses some of the same in-program shortcuts. You can also open and view Office documents, spreadsheets, and slideshows in Workspace, though you do need to convert them into a Google format to edit them. This may change some of the fonts and formatting of the projects and require a little more fix-it work on your end. Also, we noticed that some tools and functions don't work the same or aren't available at all in Workspace. For example, some of the macro functions in Excel aren't available in Google Sheets, so it's harder to produce the same results.

The biggest catch to using Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals is students can't have an account unless their school has a subscription. Even teachers can't sign up or use any of the tools until the school has created a partnership with Google.

Google Workspace has four education programs, with one being offered to schools and their teachers and students for free. With this program integrated at school, teachers can set up individual Classrooms, give access to Workspace to their students using a school email address, and create an environment for effective collaboration and learning. Students are welcome to have a personal Google One account to access Google Drive and office programs. However, personal accounts cannot be used to access Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals.

Compatibility of Office 365 and Google Workspace

Because both Office 365 and Google Workspace are cloud-based, you can access them from just about any device, including Macs. Simply logging into your account through a web browser gives you access to all your programs, files, and apps. Both Office 365 and Workspace have apps you can download to your cell phone to access and edit specific files, though you need an individual app for each program. However, installing the Google Drive or OneDrive app does let you tap into any saved file created with its compatible programs with some basic editing and sharing capabilities.

If you, or your school, have a Chromebook, you will see easy access to Workspace and other Google cloud programs already installed on the home screen. However, if you are a 365 user, you can still log into your online account and use its programs from a Chromebook using an internet browser, just like you do from a laptop or computer.

Both Google Workspace and Office 365 have ways to access programs offline. For Workspace users, simply indicate that you'd like a specific file available offline from within a Google program. Once the device you're using connects to the internet, the file changes will be updated within the cloud program.

To use Office 365 offline, you need to download the Office programs to a compatible laptop or computer running Windows. You are given the option of installing Office programs locally when you first being your subscription but can download them any time during your active subscription. You need to log into the cloud-based program at least every 30 days for your online Office 365 subscription to remain active and sync changes made offline. Microsoft will prompt you to do this, so you don't have to remember on your own.

Wrapping it up: Our final thoughts

When choosing between Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals or Office 365 Education, start by finding out which one your school uses. This is as easy as asking a teacher or speaking with someone from student services. Using the same program will ensure you are on the same page as your teachers and have access to the same collaboration tools they use.

If you don't need to use a certain program to collaborate with your teacher or classmates, it tends to come down to personal preference. You can use one over the other or even mix and match programs from each package. Since both Google Workspace and Office 365 are cloud-based, you can easily toggle between them without having to worry about hard drive space.

The only reason Office 365 Education gets an extra boost from us — and we love using Google and its programs — is because you can download this program for free as long as you or your child is a student with an active and verifiable school email address. So even if your school doesn't have a contract with Microsoft to use its educator programs, students can still use the program at no cost to them.

On the other hand, Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals is only available if your school has contracted with Google to use its education program. If your school doesn't use Workspace, you can still access a free, individual Google One account for finishing homework assignments. You just won't have access to the collaboration tools available through Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals.

Nikki Johnston
Commissioned editor

Nikki is a commissioned editor for Future Plc covering internet security including antivirus and VPN. With over 18 years of research and writing experience, and 11 years of testing and reviewing internet security solutions, Nikki knows how to dive deep to get the information consumers need to make better buying decisions. She is also a mom to 10 children, and personally uses many of the products she reviews to ensure the safety of her own family.