being a paperless student

*I am not being paid or sponsored by and of the mentioned companies to say any of the following about their products. All opinions are my own opinions.

My motivation for going paperless as a student matches up with my motivation to start a digital shop. I am primarily a watercolor artist and that involves using a lot of paper. I’m starting to use gouache and alcohol markers too, which means using even more paper. Using different mediums also means buying different types of paper. The amount of paper in my possession is pretty insane, but you can’t use watercolor on cardstock and you can’t use alcohol markers on watercolor paper.

My solution was to go paperless in a few different aspects of my life. First, I wanted to stop making prints and stickers and offer my art digitally to cut back on waste. Second, I designed invitations, decorations, and games for a bridal shower and it really showed me how much paper we waste when it comes to parties. In the future, one thing I want to do is find a way to make those paper decorations and invites and games more sustainable by turning them into keepsakes or using as much recycled paper as possible.

Lastly, and the main idea of this post, is that I want to stop using paper as a student. At my parents house, there is a bin of school supplies that we keep on top of the refrigerator. Now that there aren’t students in that house, that bin is pretty empty, but I remember when it was overflowing with half filled notebooks. Even though we saved our notebooks from years past, we always made a trip to staples after the first day of school, which is so wasteful!

Now that I’m in college and laptops and tablets are more widely used, I decided that this year, I am going to use as little paper as possible. First, let me say that you absolutely don’t have to do this. Buying notebooks for every class, even over four years of college, is probably less expensive that what I paid for my iPad and Apple Pencil and if that works for you, then that’s fine! I personally just want to cut back on my paper use, but I understand that not everyone has that motivation and not everyone is capable of doing what I do.

The first thing I did to go paperless was buy an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. I bought a used 2nd Generation iPad Pro and it was around $600 used on Craigslist. I didn’t think it was necessary to have the newest iPad Pro, especially considering they come out every year and a half. When the next one comes out, I will probably get the new one and give my current one to my dad who has an older iPad and would love the bigger screen. I also invested in a case that has a Bluetooth keyboard which makes typing papers much easier. I bought my keyboard case on Amazon for around $50.

I use the Microsoft Suite because it comes free through my community college. The college that I am transferring to also offers Microsoft 365 and even offers 5 TB of storage, so I intend to use the same system at my new school next year. The Apple Pencil and OneNote are my two best friends. I take all of my lecture notes using OneNote instead of typing them. I am the kind of person who learns better by writing things down than typing, and OneNote lets you do exactly that.

They have both lined and graph paper backgrounds and you can create and save tons of different pens and highlighters for quick access! You can also share notebooks or pages with classmates, which I do share with friends who have missed classes. This makes it easy to make sure I’m sharing everything from the lecture with those who missed it. All of my notes from classes are stored in OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud based storage, so I can open up my notes on any computer and even on my phone.

My biggest worry was with my math class. The algebra professor I had over the summer required us to have a notebook and he never used online resources, which is perfectly fine. Not every professor is going to make going paperless easy. This semester in my precalc class, I emailed the professor as soon as she was assigned, and she was very supportive! I use the graph paper function on my iPad for all of my notes, and she just requested that I have paper on hand in case she decides we need to hand work in, or to use on quizzes.

That being said, I actually bought three notebooks for this semester, but I haven’t written on a single page of two of them. I have a graph notebook, but I also have a regular 5 subject college ruled notebook with folders inside. Even though I am not using paper, professors love handouts. I use the folders to keep all of my handouts in one place and if I need to use paper for anything, I have plenty. My plan is to keep the same notebooks for as long as possible instead of buying new ones every semester. I also have a composition notebook that I got for $1 at CVS that is required for my chemistry lab and there was no way to work around that.

When it comes to writing papers, Microsoft offers Word, PowerPoint, and Excel as iOS apps. They can’t do everything that the desktop or online versions do, but they get around 90% of the way there. My English professors take our essays and most of our other work digitally, but I do have a chemistry professor who requests that we type and print our lab reports. It would be awesome if she took them digitally, but it is the only thing that I have to print on a regular basis across all five of my classes.

What about textbooks?! Surely I had to buy textbooks right? Yes, I bought textbooks for three of my five classes, but they stay at home on my bookshelf and I only really use them for homework which is pretty rare. I am a strong math student so I rarely use my math textbook, but in my other classes, I like to keep my digital copy of the textbook open just in case I need to read over something again. This saves a ton of time and space in my bag because all three of those textbooks don’t actually fit in my backpack all at once, so I would have to go home between classes just to swap them out.

So, what does being a paperless student look like? Even though I don’t have every class every day, I keep the same things in my backpack. I always have my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, a portable charging cord, my bullet journal (video and blog post coming soon), my three notebooks, a sketchbook, my graphing calculator, and a pencil case. Sometimes I have a water bottle, sometimes I have a snack, but my bag stays relatively light. In most classes, I am using just my iPad and OneNote to follow along with lectures and complete class work.

As I said above, you absolutely don’t have to go paperless if you don’t have the means to or if you simply don’t wan to. This is just how I do it, and how I deal with some of the common issues that might come up when deciding to go paperless. If you have any questions, be sure to leave them in the comments or use my contact form and I’ll happily get back to you with whatever advice I can!