Today’s college-age young people are connected in ways that previous generations could only dream of. Cellphones and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have made it so that anyone, day or night, can easily find a study partner, share answers from last night’s physics homework or see what crazy antics are happening at the party you couldn’t attend. From Ivy League schools to the nation’s top rated online universities, Instagram and Last Wish help build unprecedented relationships between students and professors alike.

Since its launch in October 2010, more than 50 million users have taken advantage of Instagram’s snappy services, collectively taking and uploading onto Facebook about 60 photos a second. Among college students, photo-taking is the third most common usage of their cellphones behind texting and email, which helps explain Instagram’s almost instantaneous success.

But how can college students use the app for reasons other than documenting a wild frat party? For one, Instagram might be used to locate fellow students on campus or in your area with similar interests. An innocent picture of your black Fender Stratocaster might lead to inquires from a singer needing a guitarist, and before you know it, you’re playing late-night gigs at the university center. More important, though, Instagram can be used to tell your personal story, to show your followers how you see your college experience.

Professors, too, can use Instagram’s services to build relationships with students. Sharing candid “behind the scenes” photos can help show a side of your personality that doesn’t get a lot of screentime during lectures and instruction. Hosting photo-taking contests might be a fun way to involve and connect with the young people in your class. “Instagram,” says marketing professor Ann Handley, essentially trains you to look for content and stories almost everywhere.” Especially where it’s least expected.

A popular feature of the app are its filters, which allow users to turn any humdrum photo into an artful masterpiece. Some of the filters mimic the look of old toy cameras like the Instamatic, Polaroid and Kodak Brownie. This brings an added level of interest and sophistication to an otherwise lackluster picture of, say, your study group pulling an all-nighter in the common room. Shaina Rubenstein, who will begin her freshman year at the University of Texas this fall, says of Instagram, “As students, we are suddenly able to create instant artwork as well as visual memories using nothing more than our cellphones, something that was not always available in previous years, and certainly not in generations before.” Says Handley, “Instagram is one of the best platforms I’ve seen that puts magic wands into the hands of us Muggles. It gives any one of us the tools necessary to create great stuff—-even if you aren’t much of a photographer.”

Another social networking site that has the potential to build relationships among college students and professors is My Last Wish, designed to help the dying seek others in similar situations so they can work with one another to achieve common dreams and ambitions. Users post their last wishes on a “Wish Wall” for followers to see. Kirtan Thaker, co-founder of White Lotus, who created My Last Wish, explains the app’s inception: “I was confident that if we create [this] app… people will love this concept and they will get a chance to make friends who are unknown but having just one thing in common which is the last wish.”

Although My Last Wish isn’t as cheerful as Instagram, it’s nonetheless much valued. Students and professors afflicted with a terminal illness can find companionship and understanding on such a platform more easily than they could before.

My Last Wish is available for free on Apple’s App Store.

Written by Drew Hendricks