By now, you probably already know that countless students use note-taking apps on their computers to help them keep track of what they’ve learned in class.
Even better, some students use tablets for schoolwork — something that is quickly becoming the norm. When paired with a stylus, a good class notes app can feel practically heaven-sent for keeping notes, assignments, and schoolwork organized. And tablets (or compatible touchscreen computers) are simply amazing with styluses.
That said, you don’t need a stylus, a tablet, or a touchscreen computer for your notes. Plenty of apps will allow you to take notes just as efficiently with your keyboard, for example.
If you’re on the hunt for the best note-taking app for students, we’ve put together a list of our top recommendations below. We included apps that work on different platforms and with different hardware, so there will be something for you regardless of your situation. Let’s get right to it!
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What Makes Note-Taking Apps for Students Special?
Right now, you may wonder: what’s the point of using an app to take notes? You might even ask, “Is there truly anything special about note-taking apps for students?”
Well, the honest answer is no. There isn’t anything inherently special in a class notes app. And, although you can use them to take notes, they aren’t strictly for that purpose alone. The truth is that even the best note-taking app for students will function outside the classroom. They aren’t just for students; many professionals and individuals use note-taking apps daily for one reason or another.
However, it’s worth noting that not all note-taking apps are equal. Some have features that can be incredibly useful to students. In some cases, these features are practically necessary for a student to find good use out of an app or program.
Out of all the apps we considered, we put together ten of the very best in our recommendations below. These apps include many helpful features that students can appreciate.
Evernote is one of the very best note-taking apps out there, whether for personal, school, or professional use. It has continuously grown in popularity since its founding in 2004. Today, it’s loaded with many features to help students take notes and keep them organized.
One of our favorite features is the ability to upload a picture or scan and have Evernote scan it with OCR (optical character recognition) to make the text in the image 100% searchable.
Although it doesn’t natively have handwriting support (you can use handwriting, but it’s not as convenient as simply writing on a page), Evernote also offers Penultimate. Penultimate is like a digital notebook and is best used for handwriting notes. The best part is that it syncs perfectly with Evernote, so all your handwritten notes get OCR-scanned for easy searching later!
Evernote is easily in contention for the best software for note-taking. Our only issue with it is its cost, which can be quite prohibitive for students on a budget!
Has a (limited) free forever plan
Countless features to make note-taking effortless
Works and syncs across all platforms
OCR and search function makes finding notes a breeze
OneNote has many of the same features that EverNote offers. In some ways, it’s better than EN — for example, OneNote works well for handwriting notes right out of the box without needing anything extra. On the other hand, it does have its downsides, like a messy interface and limited organization features.
In 2014, Microsoft made OneNote free to download and use. OneNote is a fantastic app for making notes for students, but the free version has some limitations. That said, it’s tough to beat free — especially since OneNote works on all platforms!
Free to use, though some features are paywalled
Works on nearly all the platforms
Notes are more customizable than EverNote
Handwriting works out of the box, no extra apps needed
If you love making handwritten notes but don’t quite want to deal with analog pen and paper, GoodNotes 5 might be the best option for you. Recently named the iPad’s app of the year, this app combines countless features that make taking notes a breeze.
What we love about GoodNotes 5 is its customizability — you can change your notebook’s cover and “paper,” use templates, stickers, images, and more. It also includes OCR handwriting recognition in the paid version, allowing you to convert your handwriting to typed text. Thanks to the OCR feature, you can also search your handwritten notes easily. You can also import PDFs right into GoodNotes 5, where you can highlight and annotate to your heart’s content.
You can learn more about GoodNotes 5’s features on their website. In our opinion, this app offers the best note-taking for college students — at least for those who prefer handwriting! It’s also our choice for the best college note-taking app for Mac and iOS. Because this is a Mac/iOS (and now Windows Beta) app, you’ll need to find a different Android note-taking app.
Create three notebooks for free
OCR handwriting recognition lets you search your notes
Use stickers, templates, or create your own elements
Import files, images, etc.
Organize your notebooks into folders
Tons of templates available to purchase online — get notebooks, planners, stickers, and more!
Could use some more organization features
Limited platform support
Not the best for typed notes
OCR isn’t perfect; may not work well for those who have messy handwriting
Although it isn’t specially designed for students, Notion is a fantastic way to take notes and keep track of them with ease. This app is compatible with all platforms and syncs across all of them too. That means if you have a phone, a tablet, and a computer, you can conveniently see your notes on every device.
Notion offers many features beyond note-taking for students. For example, thanks to features like calendars and kanban boards, you can use this app to create checklists and keep track of your assignments and tasks. You can also customize your experience entirely because you can turn anything into a template for future use.
Free forever plan is often more than enough for students
Template engine and gallery (though many templates are premium)
Excellent for organization, thanks to the nested hierarchical feature
Currently no offline support, so right now, this online notebook for students requires an internet connection to use
Much like Evernote and Microsoft OneNote, Zoho Notebook offers plenty of features to make taking notes a smooth and easy process. However, they offer a slightly different experience by offering notebooks and notecards. There are different types of notecards for different kinds of notes so that you can choose the appropriate version for your needs. The notecard types are:
Audio (yes, you can create searchable audio notes!)
Not all features will be available with a free version, but we love that you can use Zoho Notebook (or just Notebook) for free, without ads. We gave it a try and found that we enjoyed being able to create different notecards. However, if you are the type who likes to keep everything visibly on one page or prefers being able to mix elements, you may not enjoy the notecard experience. That said, we think this app is in contention for the best program to take notes in class, especially if you want to create different types of notes.
Unique notecard feature allows for different types of notes in the same notebook
More affordable paid plans compared to other similar apps
Make audio notes
Sync across devices by creating a Zoho account
No built-in PDF annotation feature, requires a workaround
The notecard style is not for everyone
Best Note-Taking App for Students: Free Apps
Platform Compatibility: Any compatible computer or mobile device
If you use Apple devices and want a free solution, Apple Notes is the best college note-taking app around. It’s simple but has most of the features students need without downloading anything else!
Free with any Apple computer or mobile device
Simple to use
Handy way to take notes by hand or using a keyboard
Not a ton of organization options
Platform Compatibility: all compatible macOS and iOS devices
If you’re looking for a versatile yet free note-taking solution, Apple’s Freeform is an excellent option. This free app offers the best note-taking for college students who enjoy infinite-canvas style notetaking. You can use this for mind mapping and brainstorming, too.
Free with any Apple computer or mobile device
Perfect for mind-mapping or brainstorming sessions
Add shapes and other elements, including premade or freehanded shapes, sticky notes, and typed text
Works perfectly with handwriting
Not for people who enjoy linear notes or pagination
Google Keep is an excellent solution to online note-taking for students. This free Google app is perfect for light usage, and it syncs across platforms, too. Plus, you can seamlessly integrate it into your Google services like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Docs, Sheets, and more. Google Keep also allows you to use audio notes on mobile devices.
Seamless integration with other Google apps
Use with the Chrome extension for convenient image, website, and text clipping
No desktop app
Requires internet to use (rudimentary offline use available)
No built-in handwriting option
If you ask us, the best note-taking app for students is the one that suits your individual needs best. There are many standouts, such as GoodNotes 5 or Microsoft OneNote. However, they’re of no use to you if you don’t have the equipment or subscription required to run them.
Choosing the best note-taking app for college may require a bit of trial and error. You may end up downloading and trying several until you settle on an app you like. The good news is, finding the perfect one can help make your life a lot easier when you take notes for class.
We hope our recommendations above have helped you find the ideal note-taking app for your needs. Is your favorite app not on this list? Let us know in the comments below!
Are you considering getting an iPad for your studies? Check out our recommendations for the Best iPads for Students.