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The best iPads for college students heading back to school

From taking notes and Zoom calls to completing a graphic design project, we went hands-on with the top iPads for college students heading back to campus this fall.
Written by Allison Murray, Staff Writer
Reviewed by Kayla Solino
iPad Air (5th generation) | Best iPad for college students overall
Apple iPad Air (5th generation)
iPad Air (5th generation)
Best iPad for college students overall
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iPad (10th generation) | Best iPad design for college students
Apple iPad 10th Gen Blue
iPad (10th generation)
Best iPad design for college students
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iPad Mini (6th generation) | Best portable iPad for college students
iPad Mini (6th generation)
Best portable iPad for college students
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iPad Pro (7th generation) | Best iPad for college students for content creation
iPad Pro M4 2024
iPad Pro (7th generation)
Best iPad for college students for content creation
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iPad (9th generation) | Best iPad for college students for value
iPad (9th generation)
Best iPad for college students for value
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As technology becomes more portable, tablets are becoming a popular option for college students. Tablets are more lightweight and portable to carry from class to class, and as the most popular tablet on the market today, iPads have become a great option for college students. 

Also: The best iPad models you can buy

Whether you need a powerful option to run professional programs like the iPad Pro or a portable device to upload your books, an iPad will carry you far in your college career. Now is the time to start thinking of what iPad will suit you best for returning to school in the fall, and you have plenty of options. 

What's the best iPad for college students right now? 

After ZDNET's hands-on testing along with considering functionality, performance, and battery life, the 5th generation iPad Air wins our pick for the best iPad for college students overall thanks to its powerful A1 chip and portability. However, other models and generations are still well worth considering for back-to-school season. 

The best iPads for college students in 2024

Pros & Cons
  • Apple M1 Chip
  • Affordable option for amazing quality
  • Fast USB-C connectivity
  • 64 GB isn't enough
  • No SD card slot
More Details

This lightweight tablet can do everything -- including taking notes for college. Compatible with the Apple Pencil (second generation), the iPad Air makes it easy to take notes in class and watch seminars virtually if needed. Apple's products are largely customizable, and this is no different: you can opt for one of five colors and get more or less storage depending on what you need. 

In addition, you can also equip your iPad to use cellular data if Wi-Fi doesn't feel sufficient for classes. For students who might need to use their tablets while on the go often, a cellular data plan ensures you can always get online to access. 

Review: iPad Air (2022): So good I almost regret buying my iPad Pro

ZDNET contributor, Jason Cipriani, went hands-on with the iPad Air and was impressed by its 2-in-1 compatibility thanks to the Apple Keyboard and Apple Pencil additions. "It's as powerful as the iPad Pro, but costs hundreds of dollars less -- even when you max out the storage -- with a display that's on par with the 11-inch iPad Pro," he wrote. 

Overall, 98% of Best Buy customers who bought the iPad Air would recommend it to others and gave it an overall rating of 4.8 out of 5.

iPad Air (5th generation) tech specs: Display: 10.9-inch Retina display | Processor: Apple Silicon M1 | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Biometrics: Touch ID | Colors: Space gray, starlight, pink, purple, blue | Cameras: 12MP rear, 4K video. 12MP Ultra Wide camera | Weight: 1.02 pounds | Dimensions: 9.74 x 7.02 x 0.24 inches | Connections: USB-C port | Battery life: 10 hours

Pros & Cons
  • Affordable
  • USB-C replaces lightning port
  • Lots of colors to choose from
  • Isn't compatible with Smart Keyboard Folio
  • Doesn't work with 2nd generation Apple Pencil
  • Only available in 64GB and 256GB
More Details

Apple's tried-and-true tablet, the base model iPad, is arguably the best design out of Apple's tablet lineup -- especially thanks to its versatility and compatibility. When it comes to features, you essentially get the same suite as the more expensive iPad Pro and iPad Air models, but in a more lightweight form factor and a 10.9-inch Liquid Retina, True Tone display. Plus, Apple recently reduced its price by $100, making it an affordable $349.

Review: iPad 2022 (10th Gen): Better than the Pro in two ways

In his hands-on testing, June Wan determined that if you're shopping on a budget (as most students are), this iPad should "make the most sense," especially given the A14 Bionic processor, USB-C support, 5G support for on-the-go tasks, and a new 12MP ultra-wide camera. There's also a Magic Keyboard Folio made specifically for this iPad, making it perfect for turning your tablet into a laptop in your dorm, library, or campus center with ease. Plus, it includes an adjustable kickstand with a 14-key function row for shortcuts. 

However, one callout to note that some verified customers make, is that this iPad doesn't support the 2nd-gen Apple Pencil, which means you'll have to use a dongle in order to use it.

Apple iPad specs: Display: 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone | Processor: A14 Bionic chip with 16-core Neural Engine | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Biometrics: Touch ID | Colors: Silver, Pink, Blue, Yellow  | Cameras: 12MP f/1.8 wide, 12MP Landscape f/2.4 front | Weight: 1.05 pounds | Dimensions: 9.79 x 7.07 x .28 inches | Connections: USB-C, Smart Connector | Battery life: Up to 10 hours of video playback with USB-C charging

Pros & Cons
  • Battery life is impressive
  • Sleek design
  • Small size makes it east to fit in a backpack
  • Not compatible with Magic Keyboard or Smart Keyboard Folio
  • No UltraWide camera
More Details

Apple's iPad Mini has an A15 Bionic chip, making it a powerful tablet packed into a small package. The iPad Mini was last updated in the fall of 2021 with new features like support for the 2nd gen Apple Pencil, a slightly bigger screen size, and a USB-C port for charging and data transfer.

Review: Apple iPad Mini (6th Gen.) review

There's a spot on the right side of the tablet to charge the Apple Pencil, making it a great tablet to draw or write class notes on. Plus, the size makes it portable enough to bring wherever you need it around campus.

ZDNET contributor Jason Cipriani went hands-on with the iPad Mini and said, "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't absolutely fascinated by it." "Its compact size is more manageable," Cipriani wrote. "I don't have to move my keyboard and mouse or trackpad out of the way to make room. Within a few hours, the iPad Mini quickly became my preferred device for taking notes."

ZDNET editor-in-chief Jason Hiner also noted that "Compared to a phone, [the iPad Mini is] better for reading ebooks, PDFs, documents, news apps, and other digital content," meaning you won't have to lug around heavy textbooks from class to class--you can just slip your iPad Mini into your backpack. 

iPad Mini tech specs: Display: 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display | Processor: A15 Bionic | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Colors: Space gray, pink, purple, starlight | Cameras: 8MP rear, 1080p video. 12MP FaceTime camera with Center Stage | Weight: 0.65 pounds | Dimensions: 7.69 x 5.3 x 0.25 inches | Connections: USB-C | Battery life: 10 hours

Pros & Cons
  • Tandem OLED display gets plenty bright
  • M4 processor is fast, reliable, and for everyone
  • Strongest accessory ecosystem yet
  • Expensive choice for students
  • Accessories that optimize workflow are sold separately
More Details

There is no doubt that the iPad Pro is powerful, thanks to its M4 chip. This chip upgrade comes with next-generation machine learning accelerators to handle a diverse range of tasks, and ProMotion technology, enabling variable screen refresh rates ranging from 10 to 120Hz.

ZDNET reviews editor, Kerry Wan, spent some time with the 13-inch Apple iPad Pro and was especially impressed by chip performance. "A more efficient processor means the iPad absolutely speeds through app load times, 4K video exports, detecting and cropping subjects out of images, and more," he wrote in his review. 

Review: I replaced my MacBook with an M4 iPad Pro and was less bothered than I expected

Wan added that this tablet is perfect for content creation thanks to the iPad-iPhone-only workflow that feels less challenging than previous models. "This ultimately lowers the barrier to entry for videographers, digital artists, and other content creators, which is never a bad thing," he said. 

The Pro also supports the new Apple Pencil Pro, which has range of note-taking features including a squeeze gesture for quick tool and custom haptic feedback that you can feel via a pulse. It also pairs with the newly revamped Magic Keyboard which is thinner and lighter, has a larger trackpad, and a new row of function keys to make your iPad experience feel more like a MacBook experience--especially if you want to entirely replace your laptop with an iPad for schoolwork. 

Apple iPad Pro tech specs: Display: 13-inch Ultra Retina XDR OLED display with ProMotion | Processor: Apple Silicon M4 | Storage: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB or 2TB | Biometrics: Face ID | Colors: Silver, space black | Cameras: 12MP wide (4K, ProRes), Landscape 12MP ultra-wide | Weight: 1.23 pounds | Dimensions: 11.09 x 8.48 x 0.24 inches | Connections: USB-C connector with support for Thunderbolt / USB 4 | Battery life: Up to 10 hours of surfing the web

Pros & Cons
  • Front camera features Center Stage technology
  • Can use multiple apps at once
  • Affordable price for a lot of storage
  • Back camera could use some work
  • Slightly heavier than the other options
More Details

All college students know the importance of a college budget, and this 9th-generation iPad is perfect for those looking for a powerful Apple product with a budget of less than $400. You'll find many of the same features you'd expect from Apple's other tablets, like iPadOS updates for years and access to the App Store.

Review: Apple iPad (2021) review: If it's not broke, don't fix it

While the 10th-generation iPad was announced in 2022, Wan said the 2021 version is still a good buy -- plus it's $120 cheaper. "Even if you're shopping for personal use, if your intended uses are mainly video streaming, note-taking, and playing tablet games, then the ninth-generation iPad should suffice," Wan said. 

While this iPad doesn't feature the near-borderless design as some of the newer units included in this list, with a 10.2-inch display there is still plenty of room to draw or write with your Apple Pencil and connect the Smart Keyboard to transform your iPad experience. 

One Reddit user noted that the older design wasn't a deterrent in buying the 9th-gen iPad: "The non-laminated display is honestly not a deal-breaker, and it's definitely not as bad as tech reviewers make it out to be."

Apple iPad (9th generation) tech specs: Display: 10.2-inch with True Tone | Processor: A13 Bionic chip | Storage: 64GB or 256GB | Biometrics: Touch ID | Colors: Silver and space grey  | Cameras: 8MP f/2.4 back, 12MP Ultra Wide f/2.4 front | Weight: 1.08 pounds | Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.8 x .29 inches | Connections: USB-C, Smart Connector | Battery life: Up to 10 hours

Former ZDNET contributors Josh Slate and Lena Borrelli also contributed to this story.

What is the best iPad for students?

Powered by the Apple M1 chip and a Liquid Retina display with True Tone, it's hard to argue that there is a better iPad for students than this iPad Air. From its slim, sleek design available in an array of colors to its powerful capabilities internally, this iPad gives you the "wow" factor with its usage and with its price.

Though the iPad Air is our top pick, there are still plenty of good options in Apple's fleet of tablets. The table below helps you compare the five iPads by a few of their key features.

Best iPads for college students


Screen size


iPad Air (5th generation)


10.9 inches


iPad (10th generation)


10.9 inches

A14 Bionic

iPad Mini (6th generation)


8.3 inches

A15 Bionic

iPad Pro (7th generation)

Starting at $999

11 inches or 13 inches


iPad (9th generation)


10.2 inches

A13 Bionic

*MSRP at the time of writing. Please note that actual prices may vary depending on available sales, deals, discounts, and coupons.

Which iPad for students is right for you?

There is an abundance of factors that go into the decision when purchasing anything, especially high-quality tech. From surfing the web to editing high-quality videos and pictures, iPads can seemingly do it all. Consider this table when deciding which iPad will be the next addition to your backpack.

Choose this iPad for students

If you want…

iPad Air

The best iPad for students on the market. It's super lightweight and has many of the same features as the iPad Pro, but for less money.

iPad (10th generation)

A reliable iPad with a sleek design. There's also a Magic Keyboard Folio made specifically for this iPad.

iPad Mini

A smaller tablet that is still highly capable. It's size makes it a great replacement to lugging around textbooks in your backpack.

iPad Pro

An iPad that can fuel your passion for content creation. Its M4 chip makes performance faster and better than ever, great for multi-tasking between software programs.

iPad (9th generation)

To save a little money with an older, but still capable iPad. 

Factors to consider when choosing an iPad for college:

Between the four different iPad model variations (iPad base model, the Pro, Air, and Mini), there are many capable features that makes decision making, especially for students, even tougher. 

  • Chip: Apple's signature processor comes in a few different forms. Its M2 chip is the latest and greatest, offering lightning-fast performance, but our team at ZDNET has also greatly appreciated the M1 chip in our testing. 

  • Screen size: iPads are available in a variety of screen sizes, running anywhere from less than 8.5 inches to 13 inches. As a college student, you may prefer a larger screen, but a smaller size lends better to portability. 

  • Storage: An iPad is more limited in its storage than a Mac, so be sure to consider the amount of storage that comes with your chosen iPad. College students generally deal with a lot of files, but if this is a device supplementary to your computer or laptop, then storage is not typically such a concern. 

  • Cost: Apple products are not the cheapest, but you will find a lower price tag with the iPad line. The cost of the best iPads for college students range from about $350 to $729, depending on the model you choose. 

How did we choose these iPads for students?

When choosing the best iPad models, ZDNET editors considered our own experiences testing and using these tablets. We do extensive hands-on testing of tablets, including ease using them for work and entertainment, and paying attention to specs like display, battery life, and overall experience while using an iPad.

For products we recommend, we write a product spotlight review that we update periodically with new features and pricing information.

Should I get an iPad or a laptop for college?

Generally, tablets are cheaper than laptops since they have less processing capabilities and storage options. It really depends on your major and what classes you are taking if you opt for a tablet over a laptop. For example, English majors could probably get by with an iPad instead of a laptop, while an engineering student will most likely need a laptop to work with specific programs. 

Do college students get discounts on iPads?

Apple offers several student discount options when you purchase an iPad with a verified college email address. Students can get anywhere from $50-$100 off popular iPad models. Apple and other retailers also offer deals on tablets to students closer to graduation or back-to-school season, so always keep an eye out for those deals.

Do iPad covers fit all iPads?

No. Much like phone cases, the size and layout of these iPads change with every model that is released. But, you can find cases for any line of iPad at places like Best Buy, Amazon, and Target.

Are there alternative iPads for students worth considering?

There are always alternatives when making decisions, but when it comes to high-quality technology like iPads, the number of alternatives is narrow. Still, Apple offers a number of devices that can help you have a successful college career. 

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