Life as a student is great, but it's not all about partying; you'll also be required to do some work. To make that part of your journey as a student smoother you will be looking for the best tech to take to university or college.
In this article we help you select the best iPad for the student life, seeking out the devices that offer the perfect combination of portability, power, ease of use and value for money.
Before you decide which iPad to buy, there are a few things to note. The biggest is the fact that if you are a student, a teacher, or you are employed by an educational institution, you can get money off a new Apple product by shopping in Apple's education store. You can read all about how to get an Apple Student Discount here.
Plus, if you buy an iPad (or a Mac) from Apple and you are a student you might be able to get a pair of free AirPods while Apple's Back To School Promotion is running (usually June to October in the US, from July in the UK).
Here's a link to Apple's Education Store (in the UK you will need to verify your student status via UNiDAYS). Click here to visit the Education Store if you are in the US. If you are a student here's how to get Apple Music for half price.
If you want to know whether an iPad will be suitable for your needs at university, college or school jump to the section below: Should students buy an iPad or a laptop?
Best iPad for students
iPad 10.2in (8th-gen, 2020): Best For Bargain Hunters
Since we expect that students are likely to be looking for a bargain we'd suggest that the 10.2in iPad is the closest you can get to a bargain iPad - especially once you apply the student discount (more on how to get a student discount from Apple here.)
In September 2020 Apple updated the processor inside the 10.2in iPad from the A10 to the A12. The new generation of processor will make a significant difference compared to the previous generation.
Nothing else changed in September 2020 - the design is exactly the same as the previous version. But there is another bonus if you are in the UK: in September 2020 the price dropped by £20, meaning the cheapest iPad is even cheaper. (The iPad Air, on the other hand, saw its price increase.)
Since it's a low cost iPad you don't get all the bells and whistles that come with the other iPads: storage is a measly 32GB at the entry-level (not enough so we suggest opting for 128GB); the screen isn't as good - its not fully laminated so it feels a bit more flimsy, and it lacks the anti-reflective coating; it is only compatible with the smart keyboard and 1st generation Apple Pencil (but at least both are the cheaper options anyway); and the camera is only 8MP (rather than 12MP) and the FaceTime camera is a poor 1.2MP.
But if you don't mind all of that then it's a good choice.
If on the other hand you aren't looking for bargain, but would rather get the best iPad you can for your money, read on...
Read more about the 10.2in iPad (2020) here.
iPad mini (2019): Most Portable iPad
If the most important factor to you is portability there's one iPad in particular that you might want to consider.
The iPad mini weighs from 300.5g. In contrast the 10.2in iPad is 490g and the iPad Air is 458g. Of course the low weight is a result of the iPad itself being smaller - the screen is 7.9in. We think that this screen size is the perfect size for reading books on so it may well be ideal for you. It depends on what you intend to use the iPad for.
The iPad mini is currently in its 5th generation. That model was introduced in March 2019. Note that is more than two years ago now and a new iPad mini is expected later in 2021.
Despite its age, the iPad mini has the same A12 Bionic chip as the 10.2in iPad (2020) and the same 8MP camera.
However, the mini has a number of advantages over the iPad. The storage options go up to 256GB (vs 128GB), it also offers the True Tone, Fully laminated display and anti-reflective coating that the iPad lacks, and a 7MP FaceTime camera rather than 1.2MP on the 10.2in iPad. (Given that you will probably be FaceTiming or video calling a fair amount this could be useful).
One disadvantage is that the mini only works with Bluetooth keyboards, rather than Apple's range of iPad-specific keyboards - but whether that is a disadvantage is debatable. It will probably save you money.
At £399/$399 for a 64GB model the iPad mini is a great option if you consider that to get an adequate 128GB storage for the 10.2in iPad you'd have to spend £429 (the alternative being the 32GB iPad for £329).
Here's our review of the iPad mini.
iPad Air (2020): Best For Future-Proof Features
We think the iPad Air, with its 10.9in display, modern design, light weight (at 458g or 1.0lb), great cameras and powerful processor - is a good choice for students.
Unfortunately it's not as cheap as it was. When Apple introduced the 4th gen iPad Air in September 2020 it raised the price by £100 compared to the previous generation, so it now starts at £579/$579 rather than £479/$499 for the 64GB model (although students can get a discount on that price).
Because of the price increase it's no longer our top choice iPad for students, but if you can afford it then it really is worth the investment.
There are lots of things that the iPad Air has going for it. The new design means there is a bigger screen and slimmer bezels, there are new colour options including metalic green and blue shades. Inside there are even more improvements, including a fast A14 processor.
The camera is now 12MP (like the camera on the iPad Pro) - the other iPads still only offer an 8MP camera. The front facing FaceTime/Selfie camera is also better than that of the standard iPad - 7MP, rather than 1.2MP. If you are likley to be video calling home this will be a real benefit.
There is no Home button, but rather than use Face ID it unlocks with a tap on the Power button thanks to a Touch ID being relocated there.
Another key difference relates to the screen on the iPad Air and the screen on the iPad. The iPad Air offers True Tone and an anti-reflective coating, while the iPad doesn't. That's a great feature if you're likely to be using your iPad in different lighting conditions, such as outside in the sunshine, or in a dingy library.
Another reason why we think the iPad Air is a great choice for someone heading to college or university is the combination of a large screen and thin, light body. The iPad Air weighs 458g compared to the iPad's 490g. Of course the iPad mini is lighter still at 300.5g.
The iPad Air does have a more expensive sibling, the iPad Pro, which gives you a more powerful machine, but we prefer the Air for a number of reasons. Summed up: the iPad Air offers many of the features of the Pro for less money.
We highly recommend the iPad Air for students.
iPad Pro 11in (2021): The Best High-Power Option
Maybe you have no money concerns (or you've just got your hands on your loan and are feeling flush) should you consider the more expensive, and more powerful, iPad Pro?
Sure, if you have the money to spend, the iPad Pro is a great choice. It starts at £749/$749 for the entry-level 11in model, but there's also a 12.9in model that starts at £999/$999 and goes all the way to £1,999/$1,999 for 2TB storage (if you have particularly generous parents!)
We'll focus on the 11in iPad Pro, primarily because there's not a great deal of difference between the two models. It really is just a choice between a 11in and 12.9in display.
We think that, aside from the more powerful processor (M1 rather than A14), better cameras (12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras vs 7MP, and 12Mp TrueDepth front camera vs 7MP).
The iPad Pro models and the iPad Air models are all compatible with the second-gen Apple Pencil, which can be magnetically attached to the side of your iPad, where it charges wirelessly.
Features like Face ID and the advanced features of the camera might appeal to you, but probably it will be a choice based on the size of the iPad - and the Pro gives you an option of bigger and biggest.
Read all the details in our review of the iPad Pro 2020
Before you go ahead and buy your iPad you may want to consider its suitability for your purpose.
As a student you probably have a few requirements:
- Low price
- Great apps for things like note taking, recording lectures and revision
- Light enough to carry around all day
- Keyboard and stylus support
- Suitable for making video calls home
You might be wondering whether a tablet or a laptop would be better for those needs, and if you lean towards the latter, take a look at our guide to the best Macs for students.
We think, however, that an iPad is a great choice. It runs many of the apps you'll find on a laptop, including Office apps like Word and PowerPoint and the Apple equivalents, and in some cases an iPad is actually more powerful than a laptop thanks to the super-fast processors Apple uses.
Another benefit is that you can have all the books you need for your course on your iPad and carry them with you to lectures and tutorials. You could even photograph pages from books in the library and use optical character recognition to save the text to your iPad.
Not only do you not need to lug all your books around with you, an iPad is far lighter than even the lightest laptop, so you won't be getting backache from lugging it around with you to lectures and the library.
With battery life of 10 hours - plenty for a day on campus - you aren't going to need to find a space beside a plug socket in order to get though a day at uni.
Think that having an iPad will mean you have to type on an on-screen keyboard? No! You could sync any Bluetooth keyboard or plug in one of Apple's own iPad keyboards and effectively turn your iPad into a laptop. There's also the Apple Pencil, which could come in useful if you wanted to jot down some notes on your iPad screen in a lecture. See Best stylus for iPad.
And when you've finished studying there are loads of games, and apps for video calling your parents.
Still not sure? We have more information comparing a MacBook laptop and an iPad.
Are iPads good for students?
The next question you might want some reassurance on is whether the iPad is the best option for a student. There are a lot of other tablets available, many of which are cheaper than an iPad. So you might be thinking of saving some money.
We think if you do so you will regret it. There are many reasons why Apple's iPads are so popular:
- The App Store is heaving with great apps designed specifically for the iPad.
- Many of those apps will be ideal for students: note taking apps, apps for converting handwriting to text, apps for recording lectures, timetable management, and of course video calling (so you can stay in touch with mum and dad).
- There is an ecosystem of great accessories designed to work with the iPad.
- Apple's iPadOS is stable and easy to use, especially if you already have an iPhone.
- If you've got a Mac you can use an iPad as a second screen, provided you are runing Big Sur or Catalina, or, when it lauches, Monteray.
How to get an iPad student discount
If you're still thinking that the price of an iPad is a little more than you want to spend, here's some good news: you don't have to pay full price at all.
Apple offers a student discount via its Apple UK Education Store or Apple's US Education Store. Sign up with details of your student status and course, and prove your identity. We explain how to do this in our article How to get an Apple student discount.
If you can't get a student discount that doesn't mean you won't be able to get money off a new iPad. Read our round up of best iPad deals.
That's all of our student-related buying advice, but if you're buying for someone younger, check out our guide to the best iPad for kids.