Finding the best iPad for students in 2023 can be a bit of a quest. Is the most expensive iPad always the best one? Do you need all of the accessories too? And, most importantly, do you need all the official Apple add-ons or will cheaper third-party accessories do just as well?
The flexibility of an iPad is truly where its benefits lie when considering the student lifestyle. Sliding an iPad in and out of a rucksack is significantly easier than lugging around a heavy laptop, it’s an instant-on affair instead of waiting for things to load up, and you can handwrite notes just as easily as type them. There's a reason they're so popular in back-to-school season.
We've also got a larger guide to the best student tablets – not just limited to iPads, but Android and PC tablets too – if you want to cast a wider net. If you're looking for a laptop instead, check out our guide to the best student laptops and if you know it's an Apple you're after, we've got the best MacBooks for students too.
Best iPad for students in 2023: Top 3
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The best iPad for most students is the iPad Air (2022). It's almost as powerful as the much more expensive iPad Pro, it has second-generation Apple Pencil compatibility for taking notes or doing artwork and the colour reproduction is superb.
The best small iPad is the iPad mini. It's quite expensive compared to the standard iPad but inside that smaller case is a very powerful processor that's even better than the one in the iPad Air.
The best budget iPad is the 9th generation iPad 10.2-inch. It supports the first rather than second-generation Apple Pencil but otherwise it's a good and more affordable alternative to the iPad Air.
As we said in our iPad Air 2022 review: this fifth-gen slate "delivers the power of a MacBook Pro in a stylish frame and with user-friendly software". That's thanks to the addition of Apple's M1 processor being inside the latest slate.
The Air works with the 2nd Generation of Apple Pencil, too, meaning that note-taking is just a matter of clipping the stylus satisfyingly on and off when needed – well, if you buy the accessory anyway (we list the best accessories towards the bottom of this page).
The screen is pleasantly bright, and while it doesn't include a 120Hz refresh rate (the iPad Pro has this though), its LCD is exceptionally easy on the eyes, with a pro-level of colour reproduction.
Battery wise it will depend how you’re using it, but we got up to 10 hours of browsing and general tasks. Of course, if you’re playing games then it'll run down faster. Not that you'll be doing that as a student, of course.
If you don’t fancy the sprawling real estate of the rest of the iPad lineup, the iPad Mini is a perfect alternative for those just looking for something small to slide into a bag, perhaps along with a laptop, or instead of one just for lectures. The Apple Pencil 2nd Gen attaches to the side magnetically, meaning it's always ready to go when you want to take notes, draw diagrams, knock up sketches, or anything else.
We wouldn't recommend the iPad Mini as a laptop replacement, but as a way to read, highlight and take notes all on one device – and at the same time – it's an ideal student buy. But it's not just about notes – if you're taking a creative course and you want to be able to make music or create illustrations or anything else whenever inspiration strikes, it's fantastic. Bear in mind, it's smaller than an A5 notepad, so you need never be without it. And it's great for streaming and gaming fun, and all that good stuff, as our full iPad Mini (6th Gen) review attests.
Just because it doesn’t have square edges, and isn't the latest model in this range (here's that review), doesn’t mean you should write off the 10.2-inch base iPad. As a work tool, it’s perfect for using Apple’s Pages software for documents or hooking up to your various Google Docs, though it can run music-making software, video editing and just about anything really – it's very fast and really quite capable, even though its processor is older than any other iPad listed in this guide.
This option has more of a classic iPad look with a home button and larger bezels compared to the latest offerings, but the screen is attractive enough with a brightness that makes visuals pop. Also useful is the compatibility with the 1st Gen Apple Pencil, so if you want to take notes or make the most of the gamut of excellent art apps, this is a great way to get creative. The original Apple Pencil has a more awkward plug-in charging system and doesn't attach to the iPad, so we much, much prefer the 2nd Gen overall with the iPad Air – but in terms of actually drawing and writing, the 1st Gen works perfectly.
While the cameras, like most iPad snappers, are nothing to write home about, the battery life here really is. It'll provide 10 hours of light browsing and activity – so you won’t need to worry about constantly finding a plug point. It's a great machine for the price, as our full Apple iPad 10.2-inch (9th Gen) review explains.
Best iPad for students 2023: The best of the rest
If money is no object and you’re looking for the very best student iPad, then you’ll find it in the iPad Pro. This was the first of Apple’s iPad line up to use Apple’s M2 chip (now being included across its laptop and desktop range).
And it is powerful –probably so much so that you’ll rarely, if ever, be able to push it to capacity, even if editing 4K footage. Of course it's therefore more expensive than anything else in the iPad lineup, but this investment gets you a glorious 120Hz refresh rate mini-LED HDR screen. It's also compatible with the 2nd Generation Apple Pencil for scrawling on that luscious screen.
The iPad Pro 2022 is a monster of a tablet and the only reason it’s not on top of this best list is because most term-time needs just won’t require a CPU this beefy. But thought of as a laptop replacement, the Pro with a bunch of accessories might well be the best iPad for your needs.
The newer 'classic' iPad is much pricier than the outgoing 9th Gen model, which is why for now it doesn't feature higher up our list. Sure, it's been worth the wait (as said in our iPad 10th Gen review), as the 2022 model brings a design overhaul that means a larger screen, complete with a host of vibrant colour options (as you can see from the yellow finish, pictured).
The newer iPad also squashes those screen bezels, which is a great thing, but with a more up-to-date design comes a higher price point. And given that the iPad Air isn't a huge amount of extra cash compared to this entry-level iPad, you may want to weigh up your options if more power appeals (or, if budget dictates, then the 9th Gen model is still a great buy).
This is just like the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but the screen is smaller and doesn't have the mini-LED technology with HDR performance – it's just a great screen instead of an amazing next-gen one.
Otherwise, it's the same, including the ridiculously powerful M2 chip, impressive cameras, 120Hz refresh rate display, Apple Pencil 2nd Gen compatibility, option for huge amounts of storage, and so on.
Well, nearly the same – it is also cheaper. So if you do think you need huge power but don't need the larger scale, it's a good option. But we think that makes it a bit niche for students – the iPad Air is pretty much the same size, offers most of the same features, and is plenty powerful anyway, while being cheaper again.
Is there a student offer for iPads?
There is indeed! Apple offers lower prices on a whole range of its products for students, though the exact amount of discount differs depending on the price. But Apple also does special student offers on iPads that tend to appear before term time on Apple’s website. These are usually around free items and discounted Apple Care. Student iPad offers for 2021 include a free set of AirPods when buying an eligible Mac or iPad through Apple's specific Education Store Online.
In the UK, you'll need to be verified using the UNiDays system before you can browse the discounts.
In the US, things are much more straightforward and you can browse and buy without having to show proof of student status.
Again, in Australia, you can just browse the prices at the link below.
Other than Apple’s website, though, other retailers are particularly competitive before term time with deals on iPads and accessories so it pays to shop around to see what you can get. As ever, we have gathered some of the best prices across the web for each item below.
Best iPads for students: The add-ons you need
With the right accessories your iPad can be as good as a laptop. Apple’s official keyboards aren’t cheap, but they have really evolved over the past few years. The Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and iPad Air incorporates a case, keyboard, stand. Using what Apple calls a ‘floating cantilever design,’ this means you can adjust the iPad screen to a perfect viewing angle. The Magic Keyboard RRPs for £279 in the UK and $299 in the US in its smaller size – very steep, but it's a quality product that's built to last.
If you'd rather not pay quite so much, Apple also offers the Smart Keyboard Folio and the Smart Keyboard. The Smart Keyboard Folio is suitable for iPad Pro and iPad Air and includes a folding cover and keyboard, but doesn’t have the floating design of the Magic Keyboard or trackpad. It merely props up the iPad in a regular stand set up and protects the front and back so you don’t need to worry about sliding it into a bag. The Smart Keyboard Folio is £179 in the UK and $179 in the US. The Smart Keyboard which is for the 10-inch iPad only includes the front cover as well as the keyboard and not the back, and costs £159 in the UK and $159 in the US.
Of course, you don't have to use Apple accessories. iPads work with all Bluetooth keyboards from the cheapest to the most premium, but if you're going to be doing a lot of typing at college or uni we'd strongly advise buying on comfort, not cost. You'll thank us at the end of the year when your hands remain happy and strain-free.
We'd also recommend an Apple Pencil for note-taking, illustration or just doodling during more tedious lectures. Both generations deliver paper-like writing and drawing but different iPads support different ones, so make sure you get the right one for your iPad. One of the iPad's best features now is that you can handwrite notes, then copy the text and paste it into word documents just like regular text on a computer – you can even copy and insert any diagrams you draw too. It's really great for turning notes into something shareable, or for adding them into wider research documents.
There are two generations of Apple Pencil available and we’ve highlighted which iPad works with which below. The biggest difference is that the 2nd Generation Apple Pencil charges wirelessly when you magnetically attach it to the side of your iPad, which is a much better and more useful setup. The first generation charges by sticking out from the Lightning port, which is odd and potentially disastrous if it gets bent. The 2nd Generation also comes with a handy double tap to change tools ability which means you can quickly switch between a pen and an eraser as you’re writing. Otherwise, both have pressure sensitivity and impressively little lag.
iPad for students limitations
iPads without doubt lean more toward creative disciplines and general study, rather than heavy duty number crunching or processing tasks. As such, engineering students for example will almost certainly be better with a powerful MacBook Pro than an iPad.
iPads, and specifically the new iPad Pros, are very powerful, but their is still a limitation to their abilities. It's also about screen real estate, too, as while you can hook up an iPad with attached keyboard to an external monitor, that adds expense to the setup.
For most creative or general use students, though, iPads are just as good as laptops for work and play, so are well worth considering as your primary student lifestyle computer.