Best Note-Taking App for Students: 6 Options That Are Perfect for College

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What is the best note-taking app for college students?

student using tablet to write college notes with stylus

Pen and paper are touted as the end, be all when it comes to taking notes in college.

Evidence from research suggests that it isn’t just an old-fashioned sentiment. There’s even a study titled “The Pen is Mightier Than The Keyboard”!

So why reinvent the wheel, right?

Well if there’s anything I’ve learned about life so far, it’s that what’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander.

Thanks to variability everyone is different and so are learning styles.

And honestly, the digital approach has a lot of advantages. Like the convenience of accessing paperless notes and being able to record audio. 


Let’s go over the 6 best note-taking apps for students and what makes them ideal for college courses.


Best Note-Taking Apps for Students 2021

✅ Best Free Note-Taking App WINNER

microsoft onenote icon, purple


⟶ Available for: iOS | macOS | Android | Windows

Pricing: FREE

  • Records audio and video
  • Transcribes audio into searchable text
  • Custom tagging
  • Web clipper
  • Excellent stylus/pen support
  • OCR for handwriting and PDFs
  • Annotate imported PDFs and other files
  • Syncs across devices and platforms
  • Simple, user-friendly interface
  • No reminders
  • Lacking integration with other services
  • Search function isn’t great

OneNote is a highly flexible app with an impressive amount of features, especially when you take into account that it’s FREE to use.

With all the customization options you have the freedom to take digital notes in a way that works best for you.

Video: How to Use Microsoft OneNote


Best Note-Taking App With Stylus Winner

Notability app icon


⟶ Available for: iOS | macOS

Pricing: $8.99 one time purchase

  • Highly versatile for handwritten notes
  • Auto straight lines
  • Annotate imported PDFs and other files
  • Voice-over audio recording
  • Support for hyperlinks
  • Scales screen size for stylus/pen
  • Split screen
  • Infinite scroll
  • OCR support for handwriting and PDFs
  • Easy copy & pasting
  • Highlighting tool is lacking
  • One page style per notebook

Notability is regularly ranked #1 among college note-taking apps by iPad users. It’s praised for its sleek interface and useful features.

Video: Notability Walkthrough


GoodNotes 5 app icon

GoodNotes 5

⟶ Available for: iOS | macOS

Pricing: $7.99 one time purchase

  • Custom page templates
  • Highlighting stands out
  • Good file organization and structure
  • Wide selection of color and size options for writing
  • Able to change page orientation
  • Handwriting OCR recognition and search
  • No audio recording
  • No support for hyperlinks
  • Lacks automatic OCR for PDFs

When it comes to the best note-taking with pen support:

GoodNotes 5 is always neck and neck with Notability. They each have some features that the other doesn’t.

Both are an excellent choice for students who prefer handwriting notes over typing. Which one is better for you will come down to your personal preferences.

Video: GoodNotes 5 Walkthrough


evernote app icon


⟶ Available for: iOS | Mac | Android | Windows

Pricing: $7.99/month

  • Web clipper
  • One of the best tagging and search functions around
  • Integrates with Gmail and Google Drive
  • Syncs across devices and platforms
  • OCR support for handwriting and PDFs
  • Templates
  • Lacking nesting/sub-folders
  • Poor stylus/pen support
  • Clunky PDF annotation

Evernote is easily the most popular note-taking app available. Ironically, note-taking capabilities aren’t it’s strong suit.

In fact, many users feel that the text editor leaves…something to be desired.

Organization on the other hand is where Evernote excels. It’s great for keeping track of upcoming exams, assignments, and other deadlines. 

Because of this, students often use a different app for taking notes and Evernote for storing files.

Video: Evernote Note-Taking in Action


simplenote app icon


⟶ Available for: iOS | macOS | Android | Windows | Linux

Pricing: FREE

  • Clean and simple interface
  • Quick syncing across web and mobile apps
  • Markdown support
  • Note history
  • Tagging system
  • Almost too simple
  • Lacks rich text editor
  • Lacks multiple notebook functionality
  • Can’t imbed images, audio files, or add PDF attachments

Do you just want a bare bones, basic note-taking app?

If so, SimpleNote is the app for you! It’s perfect for taking no hassle notes on the fly.

Video: SimpleNote Review

notion app for college note-taking icon


⟶ Available for: iOS | macOS | Android | Windows

Pricing: FREE for students

  • Excellent task/project manager
  • Very structured
  • Nesting toggles
  • Combines the functionality of many tools into one
  • Page versatility
  • Not able to create handwritten notes
  • Poor offline support
  • No built-in web clipper
  • No OCR
  • No audio or video recording
  • Data privacy concerns, not suitable for sensitive information

Notion is a newer application that has been gaining in popularity.

It’s an all-in-one productivity app for your notes, tasks, wikis, and databases. The main concept behind it is that everything is built with blocks.

While it’s lacking some features that would make it ideal for college note taking, I can see the value in using Notion in conjunction with another app.

Bear in mind that it has a steep learning curve. But once you’re past that, Notion can be a seriously powerful tool.

Video: 3 Methods for Notion Note-Taking


Conclusions on the best note-taking app for college…

In the end, there is no ultimate app that will work best for everyone. Preferences and even your major can play a part is what features you value most.

I recommend trying 2 or 3 of the apps in this list to find your perfect fit.

Have you used any of these apps before? What did you love or hate about it?




the best note-taking apps for students infographic

Best App for College Note-Taking

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