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The IPad For Online College Students: Pros and Cons

Aug 11, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 2 Comments


Is an iPad a good investment for college students? At first glance, it looks like it might be—the idea of carrying around one slim device instead of a stack of college textbooks has to have appeal. But the price tag is hefty—and many students wonder if it’s worth it. Here’s a look at the pros and cons.


Positive Aspects of the iPad for Online College Students

It’s lightweight

If your classroom is as mobile as you are, you’ll probably get tired of carrying your laptop and all your books around with you. The Apple iPad can carry all of your books with it—which makes it a lot easier on your back.
It carries more than books

Man and E-Reader

Another advantage of the iPad over, say, the Kindle, is that it carries more than your college textbooks. It can also store video lectures, online notes, lab materials, lecture materials and supplements, your teacher’s uploaded class notes, and more. You can basically carry your entire classroom in your iPad.


Like an iPhone, you can download applications to work on the iPad that can greatly expand its function. Some are free, such as; others come in a range of prices from $.99 (Articles for iPad, which connects to Wikipedia) to $19.99 (Things for iPad, an intuitive task-management program). With all the applications out there, iPad lets you manage your life and work as well as your studies.


Drawbacks to the iPad for Online College Students

The price

The biggest thing that will keep most students from buying the iPad is the price. The iPad costs anywhere from $499 (with 16 GB and no 3G network) to $829 (with 64 GB, WiFi, and 3G).

Limited textbook selection

The most useful application of the iPad for students would be its ability to allow them to replace their heavy stack of textbooks with a single device, on which they can read all textbooks…you would think. But because the device is new, publishers haven’t yet caught up. There isn’t a wide selection of textbooks available for the iPad yet, and pricing is still a mystery—while it’s possible iPad e-books will cost less than traditional textbooks, they could come with digitally interactive bells and whistles that actually raise the price.

One workaround is to download a Kindle app (which is free)—it allows you to read Kindle books on a non-Kindle device. Kindle textbooks often aren’t cheaper than traditional college textbooks, however.

Better than a laptop?

While the iPad might be useful, many cash-strapped college students aren’t likely to lay down the cash for a device like an iPad when they also have laptops to buy. Is an iPad better than a laptop?

It may be slightly lighter to carry around—and battery life is significantly longer, which means you don’t have to search out one of the few chairs by an outlet when you take it to a café or library to work. But in terms of functionality, the iPad doesn’t bring much more to the table than a traditional laptop does. With a laptop, you can also read e-books, keep track of your work and home life as well as school, write papers (more easily with a full-sized keyboard), watch lectures, get online, and more. If you have to choose between an iPad and a laptop, it’s likely you’ll choose the laptop.

If you’re thinking of using an iPad at school, do your research first. While the iPad does have some advantages, many blogs and users are saying it’s not more ideal for college students than a laptop or even a Kindle. Other comments regarding the iPad include that it’s difficult to write in books—you can’t do it unless you download several complicated applications, some of which aren’t free—and that you can’t multitask, so you can’t write a paper when listening to music, for example. These issues make it difficult to recommend the iPad for online college students now—but maybe in future years, the technology will improve.

Higher Learning: The iPad on campus


Monica Horn Over a year ago

It's hard to keep on top of new technology and what is the best for each one's needs. I agree with many of the points made that a laptop is a better overall.

Sheamus Over a year ago

This should be updated.

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