Study Tips

Which is the Best iPad for College Students?

June 18, 2024

A comparison of iPad models for college and university students

So you’re considering an iPad for college?

There’s the original iPad, iPad Pro, the iPad Air… and each comes in varying specs, sizes, and price points. With so many choices, which is the best iPad for students?

The best pick for you will primarily depend on how you want to use it at school. Will it be a replacement for your laptop or more of a portable secondary device?

To find the one most suited for you, let’s compare current iPad models available.

The iPad (10th gen) — Best value on a student budget

Screen Size: 10.9”
Storage: 64GB, 256GB
Price: Starting at 349 USD
Chip: A14 Bionic

Meet Apple’s original iPad, a great entry-level machine that covers all your basics. Since the release of the 10th generation, there are several improvements that we want to spotlight.

You’ll find this iPad more than up to the task for everything from taking notes, streaming videos, reading, and acting as a second screen. It’s no M4, but it doesn’t need to be: the iPad’s A14 Bionic chip is more than powerful enough to support note taking and drawing apps, like Goodnotes or Procreate. 

The 10th-gen iPad also waved goodbye to the home button and now supports Touch ID. It’s also now compatible with the latest USB-C powered Apple Pencil, which can attach magnetically to the side. Combined with the 11” screen, writing on this device feels like writing on paper. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to plug the USB-C Apple Pencil into the iPad to charge it. 

Regardless, the new-and-improved iPad satisfies all your basic studying needs, and it’s the only iPad to do so in Pink, Blue, and Yellow, and at an affordable price. 

Our verdict? It’s easily the best iPad for students on a budget. 

You should choose the original iPad for college if:

  • You’ll be using a laptop or desktop as your main work machine, but want a secondary device to support your studies.
  • You’re looking for an iPad primarily to read/write notes or watch lectures.
  • You’re looking for the best bang for your buck.

iPad Air — Best “does it all” iPad for college students

Screen Size: 11” or 13”
Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
Price: Starting at $599 USD for 128GB
Chip: M2

Since its refresh last May, the iPad Air has quickly risen to the top of the food chain. Sporting an M2 chip, it has a desktop level processing power rivaling some versions of the MacBook Air. Even better? It's compatible with the Magic Keyboard and the Apple Pencil Pro.

That means the iPad Air is going to remain dependable when performing even the most intensive tasks you’d typically reserve for your computer, like editing 4k video, or even gaming.

The iPad Air also offers a seamless comfortable note-taking experience: the 11” screen feels familiar in size to a normal piece of paper, and the Apple Pencil 2 or Pro conveniently attaches (and charges) magnetically.

You should choose the iPad Air for college if:

  • You’re looking for an all-in-one iPad that’s strong enough to replace your laptop as your primary device
  • You plan to take intensive notes and prefer the convenience of the Apple Pencil 2 or Pro

iPad Pro — Best for professionals or hardcore Apple fanatics

Screen Size: 11” or 13”
Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Price: $799 USD for 11” at 128GB
Chip: M4

The iPad Pro is the amalgamation of all Apple’s latest technology in the form factor of a tablet. No other iPad supports up to 2TB of memory, a RAM of up to 8GB, and a processor on par with the MacBook Pro’s. That being said, for the average student, you might need to use all these additional upgrades. 

iPad Pro vs. iPad Air: What does the iPad Pro have that iPad Air doesn’t?

  • Four speaker audio
  • ProMotion display — some animations feel smoother. For example, unlocking the screen, flipping between screens, opening apps.
  • FaceID
  • Much more memory (up to 2TB) and higher RAM (up to 8GB)
  • Ultra Retina XDR display, meaning higher brightness, wide color support, and better color accuracy
  • LiDAR — enhances augmented reality apps

So, is the iPad Pro good for college? Sure. It will do everything you need it to do. But for the average student’s budget and daily use cases — note taking, reading, video calls, watching lectures (and Netflix) — we think the extra bells and whistles aren’t worth the price.

You should choose the iPad Pro for college if:

  • You plan to use it as your primary device
  • You want a larger screen
  • If you are running AI-powered tasks on the iPad and require the top-notch memory and processing power options the iPad Pro offers

iPad Mini — Portable second screen

Screen Size: 7.9”
Storage: 64GB, 256GB
Price: $399 USD for 64GB
Chip: A15

The iPad Mini is small, lightweight, and powerful. Often compared to the Kindle, its size makes it comfortable as a reader.

We’ve learned from our user interviews that this model is especially popular with medical students, who happen to be on their feet and need to take notes on the go, especially when working in wards. (Bonus points: it fits in a lab coat pocket!)

While the iPad Mini should be more than up to the task of more memory intensive activities — like working in spreadsheets or designing presentations for example — the smaller screen size might not be the ideal experience.

You should choose the iPad Mini for college if:

  • You’re looking for a more portable study companion, but are still going to be using a laptop or desktop computer as your main work machine
  • You’re looking for a comfortable device to read books

So which iPad is the best for students?

Overall, we think the iPad Air is a solid choice for college. It’s more affordable than the iPad Pro, yet offers a comparable performance for all your studying, research, and note-taking needs. Plus, it can support pretty much any intensive task too with ease, such as working in large spreadsheets or even video editing, so you don’t necessarily have to have a laptop with you to get most of your work done.

That being said, our second choice for students is the 10th-gen iPad. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, and especially if you’re on a student budget, we’re confident the original iPad should be plenty sufficient. With an improved Apple Pencil experience, it’s easy to see why it’s a popular model amongst Goodnotes users.

Want to take better study notes on the iPad?

Join millions of students using Goodnotes to take handwritten and typed notes on the iPad.

Download and try Goodnotes for free.

Just purchased your new iPad? Here are the best iPad apps for students.

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