The Paperless Progress

In late 2018, I was finally able to save up enough money to buy an Ipad. While it was no 12.5 inch Ipad Pro, it was at least compatible with the coveted Apple pencil and I was able to live my dream of having a tablet and pen stylus to draw at last. I didn't have to clunk around a heavy bag filled with drawing pencils or watercolors anymore- everything I could ever need to express my creativity was in this tablet and pen.

In early 2019, I prepared myself for the upcoming spring semester by giving my bag a spring cleaning. I cleared out my binders, folders, and notebooks of all the loose leaf papers and documents that I no longer needed. I ended up with a tall and hefty pile of discarded paper. I wasn't proud of how much paper I needed to get through one single semester. About 80,000 to 160,000 trees are being cut down every day, and many of those trees are dedicated to manufacturing paper. This industry also contributes to 20% of America's air pollution. Clearly, the great demand for paper is hurting our environment.

Although I promised myself to recycle these scraps of paper, the guilt was killing me. I wanted to do more than recycle -- I wanted to reduce my consumption.

And that's where I got the idea of trying to be a paperless student for one whole semester.

                                                         Working with my trusty tablet and pen!

What is a paperless student? As the title suggests, it is a student who doesn't use paper during their academic studies, or uses as little paper as possible. Instead, paperless students opt to take notes or manage their academic life digitally rather than on paper.

However, one does not simply jump into becoming a paperless student- you have to plan first. I began my planning with deciding what paper items I was willing to let go of. Instead of carrying around multiple notebooks, I decided to download notetaking apps instead. My preferred apps of choice are Notability, Goodreader, and Goodnotes. However, Onenote has the added benefit of being absolutely free! I also downloaded Onenote on my desktop, allowing me to sync all my documents and notes from my tablet to my laptop easily.

Digital copies of textbooks are definitely cheaper, but going paperless for textbooks was admittedly trickier than I had hoped… I first had to see which of my professors were open to me accessing my books and/or taking notes on my tablet. If what they wanted was for me to retain more information by handwriting notes or by annotating our textbook, I had no problem. Although digital, my notes were still handwritten and I was able to use the same notetaking apps to annotate my texts.

There is also the matter of writing papers, printing, and submitting them in order to get a grade. I also had to ask my professors whether it would be possible to turn in my papers via email rather than print them out. While there were definitely some professors more on board with me turning in an electronic file, there were still those who required that I submit a physical paper for their convenience. I understood and complied- they are my professors after all. However, asking and informing them about my paperless goal was an important step needed for them to understand why I preferred this method to the traditional print and submit.

While I have mostly gone paperless, I still have a folder of loose leaf papers, returned essays, and printed handouts from my professors. However, it is significantly less than the amount of paper I had during the previous semester.

                                                      Definitely an improvement compared to last semester

So what do I make of being a paperless student?


Storage: As a commuter, this is definitely a big pro for me. If everything goes according to plan, all I have to bring to class is my Ipad and Apple pencil (and even my laptop if I want to sync my files to my desktop). If I want to study on the go, perhaps during the weekend just before a test, I could just bring my tablet- which carries all of my textbooks and lecture notes for me. It's also extremely helpful as an artist. Finally, I'm able to say goodbye to spending so much money replenishing art supplies that come in non-biodegradable packaging.

Paper consumption and organization: Although I wasn't able to go completely paperless, my paper consumption has considerably lessened.  This has allowed me to become more organized and more productive as a student as it is easier to keep track of everything in my devices. There is also the added benefit of not having papers scattered around my room. It is easier to click and drag a document to its digital folder than it is to sift through pages of loose leaf paper stowed away in a binder.


Accessibility: Going paperless shouldn't be our main academic goal. Learning should be our main goal. While studying with a tablet and laptop has worked for me thus far, there is no guarantee that it will also work for you. I still feel more organized when I write in a physical planner and I still prefer creating actual flashcards when studying for a test. If going paperless and working digitally does not help you academically, then you shouldn't feel obligated to do it.

Cost: I'm not going to lie- going paperless is a bit pricey. The whole plan relies on the assumption that you have electronic devices to use to take notes on instead of paper. Laptops, tablets, and pens don't grow on trees- the cheapest tablet and pen set I found on Amazon costs about $250, and that's excluding your expenses on buying digital textbooks and downloading apps. This begs the question of whether or not going paperless is a luxury. However, I'd like to see it as an investment. $250 dollars or the rapid decline of the state of our planet? What price are you willing to pay?


Am I a paperless student? Well… I definitely use paper less as a student now more than ever. When I do use paper, I make sure I print on both sides, reuse it as scratch paper as well as recycle, and that's so much better than where I began. Although completely giving up paper may seem impossible, the effort to recognize what you can do to reduce your consumption of it still positively affects the environment. It can be your own way of caring for the earth. At the end of the day, what is important is the steps you've taken to make yourself more aware of your environment. What is important is your progress, and this has been my paperless progress.

                                                         This little fella says, 'thank you for caring for me!'


*all photos courtesy of author