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What does it mean to be a paperless student?


In the midst of my sophomore year of college, I experienced a mental shift... I wanted to be as waste-conscious as possible. This meant reducing my plastic usage but primarily honing into the single-use products I use on a daily basis.

The list of all the single-use products I was going through was overwhelming but I knew I needed to start small: carry around reusable bags for impromptu shopping trips, order "for here" or bring a travel mug, and minimize the amount of notebooks and paper I was going through regularly.

Now, before I go into this whole fiasco of becoming a "paperless student" / "going digital", I must give credit where it's due: Eden Skopp completely changed my life (for more ways than one). Other than being my incredible"big" in my sorority, she (as a member of the Zero Waste Club at American University) taught me everything I know. From the stylus I use to the note-taking app I downloaded, she was the gatekeeper for this journey of mine.

But without further a-dew, here is how I became a paperless student as well as some tips of how to become one yourself!

1. Using a tablet/iPad

This is the make-it or break-it factor. If I wouldn't have been able to save up for my iPad mini 4, there's no way I would have been able to go digital as smoothly as I did. Although you can certainly take all your notes on a laptop, I've always found that hand-writing all my notes helps me threefold (especially around midterms & finals season). There's also always the chance of you having a professor with a no-technology rule, specifically because they want you to hand-write all your notes.

Of course, if you do end up having a professor like that, what I have found helpful is approaching them after the first class and saying that you prefer to take all your notes digitally all the while satisfying their hand-written criteria. And thankfully, all of my professors have been courteous enough to allow me to take notes on my iPad.

In terms of what kind of tablet you should use, that's very dependent on your preferences and budget. I managed to save up for my iPad mini 4 and it has worked wonderfully. However, others may prefer an iPad Pro or an Android tablet.

2. Buy a Stylus

Now because I had an iPad Mini, the apple pencil did not work with my tablet and I had to find another stylus. I went through three different stylus' thus far:

I) LifeFan Stylus

This was the first stylus I bought to accompany my iPad. While it worked well in some ways, I wanted something with a bit more precision for my notes. One side of the stylus is Hybrid Fiber tip and the other is a Silicone Disc tip. In terms of comfort, it was easy to use and sometimes I still revert to it, especially since it doesn't need to be charged.

II) Pendorra Stylus

*disclaimer* : the last search I had led me to the website saying they were currently unavailable

As per Eden's recommendation, I bought this stylus since it had a more precise tip to write. The pitfall for this stylus was that it had a pretty short battery life and coincidently, I ended up losing the charging cord at the library. I had tried ordering the cord specifically from the website but it would only let me buy a new stylus (which cost about $70).

III) Evach Active Stylus Digital Pen

Third times the charm, right? When I got my hands on this Evach Stylus, it was a match made in heaven. Okay, maybe a little dramatic but seriously... it's the best stylus I used. Not only did it have the fiber tip but the precision was so clear (the only downside is sometimes there can be a bit of a lag from when you write something down to it appear on the "page" - about 2 or 3 seconds, which wasn't the case for the other two aforementioned styluses). The battery for the Evach was sometimes up to 2 whole days, if you turn it off when you're not using it. All in all, this one was my favorite.

Of course, if you have an iPad Pro, you're eligible to use the apple pencil (which I hear is fantastic)

3. A Note-Taking App

Of course a tablet and a stylus make for the pen and paper but think of the note-taking app as your notebook or folder. Depending on the tablet you're using, you'll want to find an app that is most compatible (my friend has some sort of Samsung laptop that turns into a tablet and she uses Microsoft Office's OneNote). The two apps that I'm still going between are Notability and Goodnotes.

I) Notability

Pros:

- Can record your lecture while you're writing your notes, the audio will be linked to your writing so when you listen back, you can see what you were writing while your professor was speaking.

- Ability to insert pictures & "stickies"

- Can change the thickness / stroke type of your pen

- Can create folders (color-coded or not) for each of your classes/topics and it will organize all your notes based on the created date, name, or modified date

- Adjustable page-types (grid, lined, etc)

Cons:

- Only 32 specific color choices (might seem like a lot but I like having variety and options for hues/colors)

- The eraser is a stroke-only eraser (so if you write a "T" but don't like the top line, it will erase the whole thing unless you zoom in c