Why You Should Buy An iPad for College or University

Yep, it’s that time of the year again. Hundreds and thousands of students around the world have graduated from high school and are currently loading up their parents’ cars almost to bursting point, raiding the kitchen cupboards for tins of soup and instant noodles and shipping off to either college or university, depending on which part of the world you’re from. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people but I believe university really marks the second stage in your life when you lave home, brush up on both your ironing and social skills, and discover what kind of a person you really are.

Besides the countless things you’ve got to think about, there’s one thing that is worth considering — should I get a new computer for university? There are hundreds of great deals out there for students looking to buy a new computer for their studies (including Apple’s very own, and very generous, education discount) but I believe that an iPad should be your essential purchase for university. As a recent graduate and proud iPad owner, I can truly say that I wouldn’t have survived college with one, and I found it indispensable on so many different occasions.

Here’s why.

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The Apple Store is currently running a promotion whereby if you buy a new iPad, you’re entitled to a free $50 gift card to spend on apps!

First Things First: Which Model?

Before we start, it’s probably worth exploring the options available to you as a potential iPad purchaser — and a couple of things you should watch out for as well. In short, the iPad comes in 2 different sizes, the “normal” and the “Mini”, and 2 different versions: WiFi or the “Cellular” model. Each model is available in a variety of storage sizes, ranging from 16 GB to 128 GB. Unlike other tablets, you can’t upgrade the physical storage after purchase, so choose wisely!

iPads come in a range of different storage sizes and models (figures shown are in US dollars).

iPads come in a range of different storage sizes and models (figures shown are in US dollars).

I personally have a third-generation cellular iPad with 16 GB of storage. If you’re planning on using your iPad around campus (and assuming your campus has wireless internet) then the WiFi-only model should suffice perfectly. If you’re planning to be out and about with your iPad, though, then it may be worth spending an extra $100 on the cellular model (and this was the choice I made), depending on how much a data tariff for your iPad costs.

Storage-wise: I quickly found that even with a modest amount of apps, the 16 GB model soon filled up and I was yearning after a bigger model. I’d therefore recommend to spend a bit of extra cash and buy the 32 GB model (unless you plan on storing loads of movies or songs on there) so that you can “future-proof” your iPad for the duration of your studies.

Now we’ve looked at the options, let’s get down to why you should buy an iPad for university.

It’s Portable

Although a laptop does sound pretty appealing to any college student, I can tell you first-hand that lugging one around between lectures — along with all your books and study materials — can get pretty tedious. With an iPad, on the other hand, you can just whip this out, click the Power button and start working on it straight away.

There’s no bulky power adapter to carry around (and in my university, there was about 3 power outlets in a lecture hall designed to accommodate 400 students) and you can slip it in and out of a bag really easy. I found that with moderate usage, my iPad would last me a whole day at university (and a whole evening of watching various trashy sitcoms in bed when I got home) and if you’re looking to squeeze a few extra hours out of your battery, then check out our top 11 battery saving tips.

iPads are much more portable than laptop computers, making them ideal for use in university.

iPads are much more portable than laptop computers, making them ideal for use in university.

Some readers will probably now be wondering, “well, what about the MacBook Air or another ultra-portable laptop?”. Well, I personally think these devices are way over-budget for a student, plus they don’t offer much computing power for your money. Sure, they aren’t meant as really high-end devices, but I’d rather spend my money on a tablet and a few useful accessories (plus have some change over for a few decent nights out).

There Are Loads of Apps

The range of apps for the iPad is second to none, and there are simply loads that a student will want to download. Rebecca Tarnopol recently rounded up some of the best iPad applications for high school students — and I think some of these could also be used for college students as well. You’ll need a decent notetaking application or word processor (I was a big fan of Pages as it synced pretty much flawlessly with my iMac) and a good PDF reader (Documents by Readdle was my weapon of choice here), though there are absolutely loads of choices.

The range of applications available for the iPad is second to none — there's something there for everyone.

The range of applications available for the iPad is second to none — there’s something there for everyone.

One of the advantages of an iPad over, say, a laptop is that the applications are often priced within a student’s budget. Pages, for example, costs a mere $9.99 on the iPad instead of $19.99 for the desktop version — and many applications are a lot cheaper. OK, so the iPad version is certainly not as feature-rich as the one we’re used to on OS X, but it’s still really good value for the price, in my opinion. And of course, there are plenty of awesome free applications for the iPad, meaning you often don’t have to spend a single penny (Documents by Readdle, for example, which I mentioned above).

The Range of Accessories is Awesome

Accessories for your iPad really complement your experience, and I believe there are a couple which are worth investing in. The first is a decent case, which not only protects your iPad but also allows you to stand it up in your lecture theatre, making it easier to type with. I personally used Apple’s Smart Cover, but there are loads of other great options as well, all priced reasonably well (try searching on Amazon first before buying — Apple’s own Store tends to be notoriously expensive).

The Smart Cover puts your iPad into a comfortable typing position, for example whilst you're using it during a lecture.

The Smart Cover puts your iPad into a comfortable typing position, for example whilst you’re using it during a lecture.

You’re probably wondering now whether or not it’s worth investing in a keyboard case for your iPad. If you’ve already got an Apple wireless keyboard then remember you can connect it up to your iPad via Bluetooth (as long as it’s not connected to any other device) but personally, I wouldn’t bother with a keyboard, unless you plan on writing lengthy essays on your iPad — as it just adds to the cost and also it’s an extra thing to carry around in your presumably already-heavy bag.

The second worthwhile investment is a decent stylus. I know Steve Jobs hated them, but I found it much easier to sketch diagrams and graphs using a stylus rather than with my salami finger. My weapon of choice was the Wacom Tech Corp stylus, which is available from Amazon for around $20, but you can choose any stylus — just make sure before you buy that it works with the iPad (some don’t, for example).

It’s Worth It

Of course it is — otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this article. I know I’m a little biased and it’s easy to try and tempt people to buy an iPad when I already have one, but I found that throughout the four years I was studying, my iPad became such an indispensable tool. I used it far more than my Mac (I actually did most of my research and drafting for my dissertation on it) and I found it became almost like my laptop — my MacBook acted pretty much as my desktop computer.

An iPad is by no means the cheapest option — there are Android tablets out there which cost far less — but I believe it is the most versatile option given the range of applications out there for it. This is where Apple leads the way — the iPad is still the most popular tablet — and developers are now becoming even more ambitious with their creations. Originally touted as a ‘bigger, heavier iPhone”, the iPad is now a revolutionary device which has changed peoples’ lives for the better — and mine is one of them.

I believe that if you’re due to start university, now is the best time to buy an iPad. Pens and paper are so last year (when I last took a quick glimpse around my lecture theatre I estimated that around half the students were making notes on some kind of electronic gadget) and you’ll soon discover that with an iPad, you can achieve so much more. Gone are those heavy, disorganised folders full of dog-eared notes and half-legible diagrams; gone is wasting your printer credit on journal articles. An iPad will save you an awful lot of time in the long run and will help you become a better, more organised student.

And if that’s not a good enough reason to buy one (or persuade your parents to buy one for you), then frankly I don’t know what is.