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Take Note: This Student’s Favorite Apps for Writing Things Down

This content was provided by Student Advisory Board Member Maria Soyoso-Capuder.

Balancing life and school can be challenging and overwhelming. Thankfully, our digital world plays a vital role in helping us — busy people — easily keep track of our notes.

You might already have your go-to note-taking method, which I love to hear — that’s great! If you haven’t decided which one to use, I would love to share my favorites and encourage you to try them. But first, let’s take a look at how my notebooks take over my desk. As you see, it’s a real mess.

This clutter on my desk is the reason why I sway away from taking notes on paper. There are also several benefits to taking digital notes. For example:

  • Ease of use
  • Knowing that I can access my notes anytime, anywhere
  • Easily importing handouts or PDFs; sometimes I take a screenshot of the actual book I’m reading and add it to my notes
  • Organization (helps for better review preparation)
  • Easy to search for terms

Almost any digital note-taking app would achieve these goals. Let’s look at a few other requirements I had:

Cross-platform

While I depend heavily on Mac as my daily OS (desktop and mobile), there are times that I like to try the applications on another platform such as Windows/Android.

Text input

I personally struggle reading my own handwriting, so while looking around for note-taking applications, I make sure that the apps offer a text input.

Hierarchical

While some users like the idea of organizing notes alphabetically, it doesn’t work for me because I like to see all my folders in a hierarchical order where I can add a sub-folder to a master folder.

Based on these needs, here are the top three note-taking apps I would recommend:

Microsoft OneNote

I have been using this app since I decided to go back to school, and this has been my go-to. I love how you can choose either a text or handwriting function to take notes from lectures. I also appreciate its optical image resolution, an editor that is flexible and customizable, and that it’s free! The only time that you need to pay is when you need to upgrade for storage, and if you’re lucky enough, most schools offer a bundle for students that has all the Microsoft productivity tools.

Apple Notes

As an Apple user, I like to access all my notes on all of my devices, and while this app doesn’t offer a hyper markdown capability, I like the idea that I can easily pull up my iPhone or iPad and have access to the scratchpad. I also appreciate its formatting tools, the hierarchical organization, and of course that it’s free!

Notion

I wouldn’t end this section without mentioning my super go-to digital note-taking app — Notion. It is powerful and flexible, plus it offers the hierarchical feature where I can save all my notes to a nested folder that I can easily locate whenever I need to access them. Not to mention that the table feature basically creates a database. As a student, you can create a free account using your Penn State email address.