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Can an iPad Replace a Laptop for a College Student?

Can an iPad Replace a Laptop for a College Student?

Can you use an iPad for college instead of a laptop? Students are using iPads as laptop replacements now that technology has significantly increased the performance of tablets.

The iPad excels in taking notes for lectures in college because it is instantaneous to turn on and you can draw with the Apple Pencil. Compare the note taking on an iPad to a Macbook and you’ll see that the iPad is faster to use due to its portability.

Several colleges, such as the University of Kentucky and Ohio State, have even provided iPads to their freshman students in the past.

The iPad allows you to draw diagrams, pictures, important notes you can’t do with a keyboard, and it’s much more versatile in this regard than a laptop, especially in college.

Related: 8 Best Digital Writing Pads (Electronic Notebooks)

The latest iPads, such as the iPad Air and iPad Pro have the advantage of a lightweight and portable design.

You can also view the Top iPads we tested for Note taking

A major advantage is being able to use one on a couch for research or browsing since they provide a touch screen that in many cases will make your life easier. iPads also have a more minimalist, modern design compared to the latest MacBooks.

Related: 7 Best Adjustable iPad Stands [iPad holders]

Can you use an iPad as a laptop for college?

Can you use an iPad as a laptop for college_

Yes, you can use an iPad instead of a laptop for college and this is very common because the iPad is not only touchscreen compatible with the Appel pencil, but can connect wirelessly to a keyboard as well as a Bluetooth mouse. 

The Apple Pencil posing many benefits when using and on an iPad rather than a MacBook Pro or Air Because you’ll be able to draw out abstract objects such as different math, calculus or physics problem solving.

Related: iPad vs Laptop Pros and Cons: Replacing a Laptop with iPad

If you’re using an iPad for college then you may want to consider a stand, keyboard, wireless mouse, and an Apple Pencil as these make note taking significantly more convenient, especially if you’re going to be using the Apple tablet very often.

See our post: Do I Need an iPad if I Have an iPhone? (Is it Necessary)

Using the iPad for Note-taking in lectures rather than a laptop

Using the iPad for Note-taking in lectures rather than a laptop

Many students in college are using an iPad for notetaking during lectures. This includes math, engineering, psychology, architecture, and other areas of study.

Not to mention you can simply use a wireless keyboard and a wireless bluetooth mouse now that this technology is available.

Side Note: We reviewed the 9 Best Laptops for Note-taking (For Every Budget).

It could be said that the new iPads are not just good for notetaking, as it is like they were created for that! Due to its compact size and note-taking apps, iPads are arguably more comfortable than laptops during lectures.

For more on the iPad battery, see our post: How to Fix iPhone Battery Draining Overnight

iPad Air: Best iPad for College

iPad Air_ Best iPad for College

What is the best iPad for College? When it comes to using an iPad for college, an iPad Air is the best if you are on a budget because it shares much of the performance and speed of the iPad Pro, but is more light weight, slim, and affordable. It also has a fair amount of storage options

The iPad Pro is useful if you plan to perform more CPU-intensive tasks with and want a very top tier Camera, since its 8GB ram and ultra-wide 12MP camera are it’s main benefits over the iPad Air when we tested the two side by side. 

Related: 10 Best Document Cameras for Teachers in (Math and Art Visualizers)

The standard, basic iPad also works for class, but it’s a bit more bulky, heavier, and has less ram compared to the iPad Air and Pro.

One could agree that for other majors, like psychology or archaeology, for example, that the student has to cope with non demanding CPU, everyday tasks such as researching online or writing an assessment while multitasking, an iPad could be used as the main computer.

What is better for college a laptop or iPad?

What is better for college a laptop or iPad_

Apple has made a great research and because of that, the new iPads could be characterized as compact “performance beasts”.

By offering ultimate portability at a lower cost than a MacBook, decent battery life, an enormous number of apps for you to poise potential lack of software, a touch-screen accompanied by the useful Apple pencil and keyboard, and a non-problematic, fast environment, the new iPad Air and iPad Pro have taken their game to the next level.

Correspondingly, your everyday tasks like browsing and researching online, writing an assessment, or writing/drawing visual notes during class will be “a piece of cake” when using an iPad.  

since Apple has released the iPadOS 14, which limits the performance and capability gaps between an iPad and a laptop even more, its certainly a consideration.

Related: 9 Best Laptops for AutoCAD (Designers Guide) 2021

However, as mentioned above, modern iPads still can’t be compared to a laptop’s CPU or GPU power and thus, could not be used for demanding computing or editing software that certain majors require. (but, its great for note taking and essentially every other task else remaining)

Moreover, when it comes to multi-tasking Google sheets, which is something that every student has to cope with, it simply takes more effort on a tablet and there will probably be a learning curve if you are not familiarized with the iPad Operating System.

That being said, if you are (or determined to become) comfortable navigating an iPad and don’t have a major that requires CPU-intensive software, then the speed of iPads shouldn’t discourage you.

When you should use an iPad for college

When you should use an iPad for college

Every computer purchase at the start of your college life should be considered as an investment for the thrilling upcoming years. The latest iPad Air and iPad Pro could both be seen as computer systems which you won’t have to replace anytime soon. The basic iPad could also work for you, but as technology advances quickly, its power could, in the future, prove not to be enough for your college needs.

Apart from their promise to be your “partner” for many years, iPads can be preferred over a laptop due to some advantages they have that are directly connected to your college’s everyday life. The iPad Pro weighs 1 pound and sizes 9.7x7x0.2 inches when the MacBook Pro is four times heavier, three times more thick (0.61 inches), and almost twice as big (13.75×9.48 inches). Thus, due to the advance of the iPad capabilities and offerings, it seems that laptops nowadays may not be “portable enough” for a student. 

See our post: 7 Best Laptops for Animation Students

Moreover, having a smaller screen, an iPad won’t occupy lots of space on your desk and will be easier to handle in a class by handwriting or drawing notes with the apple pencil straight on your screen, which is easily converted into a doc.

See: How to Use an iPad as Phone Replacement

There is an enormous number of multitasking tools and school-related applications that you can utilize on the iPad that will make your college life easier. Because of all the reasons provided and given the fact that the new generation iPads will not have any problem dealing with everything except for high-end software, it can be argued that in many cases, an iPad can be the ideal solution for a college student of 2020. 

Pros: The benefits of using iPad for college:

If you want to purchase a computer that is reasonably priced, ultimately portable but also powerful enough for your student needs and super-compatible with your iPhone, then you could consider buying one of the iPad Air and iPad Pro. 

Consequently, you will be able to save some of the money you would spend if buying a powerful laptop, while you will have purchased a device that will be easily carried all the time, no matter where you are heading. Moreover, given the fact that the iPad Pro and Air are also very powerful devices, hosting an A14 Bionic CPU and 6GB of RAM, that will easily handle anything you throw at them for many years, purchasing one of them as your main computing device for college is a smart choice for many students.

When you shouldn’t use an iPad for college

When you shouldn’t use an iPad for college

“Is the glass half empty or half full?” is a common expression that could be used in situations like this. Students have been using laptops for their college’s needs for many years for good reasons. It has been argued that, when dealing with advanced Google excel or doc sheets, iPads are just not as comfortable as laptops. Some also claim that iPads are not as practical as laptops when it comes to reading long papers or writing your dissertation, mainly because of their smaller screen. 

iPads are just not as comfortable as laptops when dealing with advanced Google excel or doc sheets. “Is the glass half empty or half full?” is a common expression that could be used in situations like this. Students have been using laptops for their college’s needs for many years for good reasons.Some also claim that iPads are not as practical as laptops when it comes to reading long papers or writing your dissertation, mainly because of their smaller screen. 

The lack of a mouse or trackpad has forced Apple to invent some not-always-intuitive finger moves to complete tasks. Thus, as a finger-first computer, an iPad has, according to many tech reviewers, a learning curve and this is something you should consider before purchasing an iPad for college as your main device. 

Related: 7 Best Digital Writing Pads for Online Teaching & Whiteboards

As mentioned above, there are some majors like computer science, engineering, graphic arts, film animation, and architecture that require the usage of various computing software by the students. When it comes to coping with demanding software, like Premiere Pro or Python, even the iPad Pro’s CPU is not a great choice. Thus, if you are a student of these majors, you might have to consider purchasing an iPad only as a supportive, second device for your everyday tasks while having a more powerful laptop for engagement with this kind of software.

Is it worth getting an iPad for college?

Is it worth getting an iPad for college_

As mentioned above, even if the addition of the Apple pencil is super helpful, the lack of a mouse that we have all been used to is a disadvantage of the iPads’ comfortability when coping with advanced sheets, researching online, and writing at the same time. T

he good news is that you can grab a bluetooth wireless mouse to connect to your iPad.

Multitasking is essential for you as a student, and it will take someone who knows how to use an iPad for complicated functions. 

Keep in mind that you should feel comfortable while using a device as you might spend a lot of hours in front of it during college. This many-hour occupation with your computer is why some students support that it will be annoying to have a smaller than 15’’ screen as your main display for college.

See: How to Connect a Tablet to a Monitor (Computer, Laptop)

Some claim they would never have an iPad as their “main device” but having both an iPad and a laptop is super useful. If you are going to have both you’ll likely decide on a MacBook first, mostly for compatibility reasons, as using iTunes or opening all types of files easily without converting them are more straightforward on a laptop.

Ipad vs laptops for College: Pros and cons

Ipad vs laptops for College_ Pros and cons

There are pros and cons to weigh when choosing between an iPad vs Macbook for school. Below I’ll go over individual features of the iPad and laptops that we’ve tested at side by side to discover how they compare when used in school & college.

Screen size:

Although laptops used to have much bigger screens, the new iPads’ 11 and 12.9 (iPad Pro) inch displays have narrowed the gap to the minimum. Moreover, the LED-backlit, IPS technology, Multi-Touch Liquid Retina display of the iPad Pro offers better quality than most laptops out there, with breathtaking, vibrant colors that will in most cases, make you forget the small screen size difference.


IPads’ Drag and drop multi-tasking, a vast number of school-related applications, and command shortcuts combined with complicated features consist of a fluid environment for you as a student, especially when you get acquainted with them. These features can’t be run on a laptop as seamlessly as the iPads. 

Writing/drawing visual notes

The capabilities of a multi-touch screen combined with the practical Apple pencil have created the brand-new feature of drawing and writing visual notes while attending a lecture, and many students have purchased an iPad, only for this feature, as no other device offers it. The fact that you can write or draw something directly on the screen and the iPad can convert all your notes to doc, is one of the biggest pros of the device for a student like you and will prove to be more than useful in your everyday life. 

Research papers

Although the laptop’s bigger display makes it more comfortable to have multiple pages open at the same time during your academic research, iPads have also introduced features like split-screen or using your compatible iPhone as a second screen, that help in this matter. 

Reading textbook and journal articles

Using an iPad for reading textbooks and articles is very comfortable and one of the great advantages iPad users have over laptop users, as iPads are ultimately portable, making it easy for you as a student to lay on a bed or couch while reading, which is impossible to do with a laptop.


As mentioned earlier, the new hardware build of an iPad Pro or even an iPad Air (which is slightly slower), proves to be quick and solid, especially for majors that don’t require the usage of demanding computing software. It might take some effort to learn how to navigate between multiple excel sheets and there’s a learning curve for certain software on tablets, but if you are (or when you become) comfortable with an iPad’s environment, the speed isn’t a limiting factor for potential iPad purchases. 

Do I really need an iPad for college?

Do I really need an iPad for college_

In most cases an iPad will be needed in college, particularly if you do not have a laptop or if you really need portability an instantaneous use in public because the laptop is very heavy in comparison to a MacBook Pro or gaming laptop.

The iPad also has iOS specific apps that may not be available on a laptop. In the past you may not had needed an iPad for college, however technology has advanced and electronics such as tablets, iPads, and the iPad mini are able to accomplish much of what a laptop does.

Do you need both an iPad and a laptop for college the answer could be yes if you’re the type to constantly be moving around and don’t want carry a bulky, heavy laptop and still want the power of a MacBook or laptop when your in your dorm or main area of studying.

Is it common for people to use iPads for college?

Is it common for people to use iPads for college_

So, is it usual to see students using iPads instead of laptops in college nowadays? The answer is yes! As mentioned above, in the last couple of years, Apple has developed an advanced Operating System and combined it with solid performance builds for the iPads to become stronger and much more comfortable than their ancestors.

f you add to that, the bigger screens they now have, the supreme portability, and some unique new functions like drawing and writing notes with the pencil, it can be said that iPads are, and will continue to be, a great purchase that will cover your needs as students.

Related: 7 Ways to Write and Draw on a Non Touch Screen Laptop

Alternatives to using a iPad as a laptop

Alternatives to using a iPad as a laptop

If you do not want to use a iPad for college but you still want all the benefits it provides over a laptop, then you could use a much smaller, slim, 2-in-1 touchscreen device like the Lenovo yoga or the Microsoft surface pro.

This alternative device choice is particularly desirable if you do not want to use the iOS operating system or if you are not a Apple fan.

Benefits of the Lenovo yoga and Microsoft surface pro is that you can draw directly on the device and you can do so on windows and if you’re using Lenovo you can use android.

Keep in mind if you were using the iPhone and you were used to the android operating system of your Google phone or your Samsung galaxy, then you may want to go with an android or Windows based tablet or laptop. In this case a Samsung galaxy or Google tablet could prove better than an iPad for college.

Should I get the Apple Pencil for college?

Should I get the Apple Pencil for college_

When you’re taking notes and using different apps, it is not as easy as having a laptop for navigating through different screens, but the Apple Pencil can prove to give students a significant advantage when combined with a good note taking app. Using Siri also makes it easier when taking notes and find app uses that aren’t in your browsing history

They are not made to be as versatile with programs like Microsoft Office.

  • It does make typing a bit less comfortable due to its size and location of keys.
  • The iPad is becoming more and more popular in the past few years. With a large variety of apps and games, it is used by students to replace their laptops.

However, iPads do not have the same exact benefits as laptops when it comes to using a pen or stylus, but similar and proves useful in calculus and instead of using a bulky digital writing pad or drawing tablet for students.

Related: How to Use an iPad as Phone Replacement


This article I’ve explained how you can use an iPad for college as a replacement for a laptop or MacBook.. I explored the pros and cons of using a laptop instead of a laptop and also how it effects your classes, lectures, and everyday experience as a student in college.

When discussing why this is possible  it’s important to remember the main advantage is that it is more portable and it is eat more easily able to pick up instantaneously and use such as on a couch, in car rides, and on the go.

The reason why an iPad can be used instead of a MacBook is due to its M1 chip and increased technological design as its improved significantly from its previous models.

About the author:

Photo of Paul Michael, Founder of MediaPeanut

Paul Michael

Paul Michael is a media and technology expert whose research reveals how technology and media are being used in the world today. He has expertise on computers, the internet, streaming, Roku, electronics, and education. He also enjoys graphic design & digital art. Paul has his Bachelors of Arts and Science(s) from Rutgers University-New Brunswick, NJ