Back to School: iPads & Digital Note-Taking

On social media, I see a ton of people who use iPads for digital note-taking, and it’s something I do myself. First, I’m going to discuss my personal pros and cons for digital note-taking, then, I’m going to go ahead and give a back-to-school buyer’s guide if you’re absolutely set on it.

My Experience


  • very portable – allows you to have all your notes everywhere with just carrying around your iPad
  • eco-friendly – you’re not wasting tons of paper on printing out your notes or using notebooks
  • makes notes easier to edit – you can always go back and move some text down or resize it if you need to insert more notes
  • cleaner looking notes – no eraser markers or scratched out words, it makes your notes neater and more readable


  • start up costs can be expensive, especially if you’re on a budget
  • not for everyone – you may find that you’re not as engaged as if you’re writing on a notebook… of course, this is dependent on the class for me. for some online classes, I actually prefer taking notes by hand, but in a lecture hall, my ipad and apple pencil are enough for me.
  • sometimes i get too involved in making my notes “pretty” and forget to care more about retaining the information
  • some classes may not allow electronics in the classroom, so even after you spent all this money, you may be SOL

Now that I’ve discussed my personal experience in terms of pros and cons of having my iPad, I will say that for me, the experience is worth it. I never have to worry about my pen running out of ink or forgetting my notebook on the way to class, especially when my schedule gets super hectic.

Buyer’s Guide to iPads

Let me say this first: YOU DON’T NEED AN iPAD PRO TO TAKE DIGITAL NOTES. The Apple Pencil is compatible with most if not all of the newer generation iPads, and so you don’t need to get the most expensive iPad Pro to get started.

1. iPad Pro (Full Specs)

Now I know I just stated you don’t need this one, but for those who don’t even have a laptop, this can be a powerful tool. The current 3rd generation 12.9 in. iPad Pro starts at $999 new (WiFi, 64GB) and supports the 2nd generation Apple Pencil. With the Apple Pencil, this would cost you about $1128 (for the 64gb ipad + 2nd gen apple pencil) before tax. The 11-inch is also compatible with the 2nd generation Apple Pencil, and that will cost you about $928 (for the 64gb ipad + 2nd gen apple pencil) before tax.

2. iPad Air (Full Specs)

Compatible with the first generation pencil, this is a more light solution to digital note-taking with the iPad. Starting at $499 ($598 with the apple pencil before tax), this could be a more budget-friendly solution compared to the iPad Air.

3. iPad Mini (Full Specs)

Compatible with the first generation apple pencil, this 7.9″ retina true tone display is super portable – and it starts at $399 ($498 w apple pencil before tax). The iPad mini is great if you need a smaller writing companion, and don’t want to break the bank. The only downside I had with this one was that for the way I hold a pencil, the screen was just too small. So before buying, I’d recommend going in-store to try out the Apple Pencil experience on this size of screen before buying.

4. iPad (Full Specs)

The current base-model iPad starts at only $329 ($428 w apple pencil before tax) and works with the 1st generation apple pencil. This is the one I have, and it works like a DREAM. I’m obviously biased towards this option, but with a bigger screen and a smaller price tag than the iPad mini, I would always recommend this one first.

5. An iPad you already own.

Last but not least, check the list of iPads that are compatible with the Apple Pencils.

2nd Generation Apple Pencil ($129) Compatibility

  • iPad Pro 12.9 inch (3rd gen)
  • iPad Pro 11 inch

1st Generation Apple Pencil ($99) Compatibility

  • iPad Air (3rd gen)
  • iPad mini (5th gen)
  • iPad (6th gen)
  • iPad Pro 12.9 inch (2nd gen)
  • iPad Pro 12.9 inch (1st gen)
  • iPad Pro 10.5 inch
  • iPad Pro 9.7 inch

When looking into these options, I will always recommend to go for the one that doesn’t break the bank. Look into various discounts that may apply to you, whether buying through the Apple website or your local best buy (ex: student, military, etc). I bought mine at a Best Buy, and my iPad was on sale. I also brought in the quote for the student pricing, and they were willing to price match. Buying open-box electronics at Best Buy or other electronics stores could also be a better option, as they are typically marked down. You could also buy a secondhand or certified refurbished iPad on sites like OfferUp, EBay, or Amazon.

Remember – you don’t need to get the biggest and newest iPad (that also happens to be the most expensive) to get what you need. Buy whatever fits your budget and lifestyle, and get to note-taking!

Also, don’t forget that the most popular note-taking apps that you see everyone using cost money. The main two are Notability ($12) and Goodnotes ($8).

Krys Kestrel (@kryskestrel on ig)

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