Is an iPad worth it for college? An Ivy League Student’s Honest Review


College student holding iPad and Apple Pencil

Let’s face it. You’ve seen them everywhere, whether it’s from those How I Take Notes YouTube videos or even just looking around the students at your college library. The combination of an iPad and an Apple Pencil seem to have become the symbol of effective studying. But the truth is, it is quite expensive. The cheapest Apple Pencil and compatible iPad costs around 600 bucks combined. Is an iPad really worth the cost?

The Pros

College girl holding ipad and swirling tea

1. Flexible Ways to Take Notes

As a stationary maniac, I have to admit that iPads offer many more different options. From highlighters to brush pens to markers, you can customize them to your own preferred thicknesses and colors. Tired of line paper? Try out graph papers, Cornell note-taking system, planner papers, or even your own paper format!

More importantly, an iPad also gives you the flexibility to have different media types in your notes. You can add recordings, pictures, videos, typed notes, written notes all in one file. Personally, I really benefited from having pictures in my notes: it becomes much easier to follow along fast-paced lectures. No way would that have been possible with just paper and pencil!

2. You will NEVER lose them!

Are you tired of looking through endless piles of notes? Or accidentally mixing them up with unimportant flyers? Then an iPad is perfect for you! Moving everything digital prevents you from ever losing or mixing up your notes. Even if you accidentally lose your iPad, there are multiple ways you can backup your notes so that you can access them using another device.

What’s more, many apps such as Notability and GoodNotes allow you to search up keywords, even in handwritten notes. If you remember a concept but aren’t sure about where it was written, you can easily find it using the search function.

3. Portability

Last but not least, iPads are so easy to carry around! Instead of walking around with heavy notebooks and textbooks for each class, one thin piece of metal is all you need. According to the Apple website, the device is only 1.44 pounds, and fits easily in a purse or backpack, at about 10 by 7 inches. Trust me, you have to walk so much in college that portability is such an important feature.

The Cons

Macbook, iPad and iPhone sitting on a wooden table in a dorm room

1. Hard to layout everything

But of course everything has its pros and cons. One disadvantage compared to using physical paper is that you cannot lay out all your notes side by side. Because all of your notes are concentrated on one device, you can only view a maximum of two documents using the iPad's split screen function.

When I was working on a research paper where I had to compare and analyze multiple sources of information, I found having physical copies much easier to use. The same goes for when I was reviewing for exams, where it was much more convenient to have all my notes and textbook laid out in front of me. That way, I could easily reference my textbook, my class notes, and other lecture materials at the same time. Though an iPad is easier to carry around, I find studying with physical pieces of paper more effective.

2. Desire to make everything pretty

Another potential disadvantage is that you might spend unnecessary time on trying to make your notes pretty. If it’s something you enjoy doing, then feel free to skip this part. But if you are someone who cares more about efficiency, then you should take this into consideration. Because it is so easy to erase and rewrite, I found myself falling into this cycle of trying to make every single letter or word METICULOUS. Though being organized is good, this strive for beautiful notes can be counterproductive.

3. Tech Problems

And of course, iPads need to be charged. Though they can last around 10 hours, there is still a possibility that they might run out of battery if you forget to charge them the night before. Along with all technological devices, they can also be a source of distractions, whether it is “accidentally” browsing reddit or receiving text messages from your friends. Of course, these issues are less significant. If you have self-control and remember to charge your device, you should be able to avoid these issues.

Should YOU get an iPad?

Smiling college sophomore holding an Apple iPad

So, what should YOU do? The answer to this question essentially translates to: do these pros and cons apply to you? If you are someone who could benefit from the pros a lot, then an iPad might be a wonderful addition. For instance, if you are studying STEM, you might find an iPad really helpful for taking hand-written notes, organizing them, and doing problem sets. On the other hand, if you are a humanities major whose assignments mainly involve writing papers, a laptop might be sufficient.

If price is a concern for you, you might consider the resources your school has to offer. For instance, these schools already offer free devices to their students. Moreover, Apple has an education discount for enrolled college students, where each purchase of an iPad comes with free AirPods.

Which iPad model should you get?

New York Apple Store logo illuminated at night

If you do decide to get an iPad, there are several iPad models you can choose from, including the iPad Air, the iPad Pro, the iPad, and the iPad mini. I will go through the two most popular models among students, but here is a comprehensive comparison of the different iPad models.

iPad Air 3

Starting at $499, iPad Air 3 is deemed the best overall iPad for students. It provides essential features, such as Apple Pencil compatibility and the Smart Connector, at a more affordable price than the iPad Pro. It comes in three colors: Space Gray, Silver, and Gold, so you can pick the one that suits you the best. This is the iPad I personally chose to buy, and I find its functions sufficient for my needs as a student.

iPad Pro

Starting at $799, this iPad is highly recommended if you don’t mind the price. It has a better camera and uses Face ID instead of the classic Touch ID. If you are considering the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, which sticks magnetically to the iPad and wirelessly charges, then you have to go with this model. Moreover, if you are an artist, the new Liquid Retina display in the iPad Pro can offer you incredible color accuracy. Most of my friends who are artists or graphic designers are very satisfied with this iPad.

What are some good apps to get?

iPad with App Store


What makes an iPad helpful is the myriad of apps that it has. Two well-known note-taking apps that I recommend are Notability and GoodNotes. Though I chose to go with Notability, the two are quite similar. Because they both cost money (Notability: $9.99, GoodNotes: $7.99), I did thorough research on their different features and benefits. Here are some Youtube videos and websites that I found helpful in making that decision.


OneNote is also a convenient Note-taking app. The reason I highly recommend OneNote is that it is completely free and compatible with any Apple devices you have. Using OneNote allowed me to easily access my notes on my laptop immediately after I drop them down on my iPad. Trust me, this feature is so helpful when I need to take screenshots of my zoom lecture on my laptop and annotate them on my iPad.

Depending on what you plan to use your iPad for, there are many more different apps that might be helpful for you. Remember to always research thoroughly before making any purchases!