I have actually been looking into the positive and negative aspects of both the past month or so, trying to decide between bringing a laptop, iPad, or both.
For some background information, I have both a laptop and the New iPad.
Positives of a Laptop:
- Somewhat portable
- Write papers, make PowerPoints, use Excel, etc.
- Real keyboard
- Easy to take notes
- Internet Connectivity
Negatives of a Laptop:
- Relatively large (if planning to carry with you, probably need a handbag to protect it while traveling)
- Wi-Fi connection ONLY
- Older computers, such as yours (and mine), need to be constantly plugged in or else they die (can be a problem for the long-term)
Positives of an iPad:
- Very small/portable
- Battery life and battery itself can last a while
- Connects to internet through Wi-Fi AND 3G (which I'd highly recommend the 3G if you plan on only getting the iPad)
- Note-taking apps
Negatives of an iPad:
- Touch-screen keyboard (some people hate this, such as myself)
- Hard to transfer notes or edit them the way a real computer can
- Not really as flexible as some would like it to be compared to a computer
So as you can see, the laptop is probably more appealing already HOWEVER
what I'm about to tell you may or may not change your mind.
I know of quite a few apps which have really made having an iPad amazing, as I can bring it to my dad's house when I go over instead of bringing my gigantic computer. I'll list them below and quickly describe them, what they do, and how they work. Assuming you won't bring a laptop with you (I've found laptop+iPad will make for an awesome combination. Laptop stays in dorm, bring iPad with you. iPad to take notes then transfer them to your computer where you can finalize and edit everything to your liking), here are the best apps:
-This app basically creates a windows virtual machine on your iPad. You can create Microsoft Word documents, PowerPoints, and use the Excel spreadsheet to your advantage. I only have the free version, which does not allow internet access, but I believe you can buy a package from their website which allows internet access at any time through the app itself. So essentially you have a portable Windows computer on your iPad.
Pages, Keynote, Numbers:
-These three apps are all made by the same developer and are essentially another version of Word, PowerPoint and Excel. You can print from the app itself, you have TONS of editing possibilities, and you can import pictures, something not many apps give you the flexibility. All in all, these apps can create amazing documents, but take a little more effort since you're not on an actual computer. Also, you might not want to create an entire PowerPoint on your iPad alone (which is why I highly recommend bringing an iPad and a laptop) as it might eventually become tedious to make it look great throughout the whole PowerPoint and it might take quite a bit more time than you need to.
Also, once paired with a BlueTooth keyboard such as the Zaggfolio (my personal favorite and what I currently use), your iPad can quite legitimately be considered a full-fledged computer.
In general, if you have to decide between one or the other no matter what, I'd say go with a computer. The iPad is a great candidate but simply takes more time than needed to do simple things such as make a powerpoint, or create spreadsheets. The only really good positive side is making word documents quickly.
If you can, try as hard as possible to let her get you both, as pairing an iPad with a computer is probably the smartest decision of your life. You won't have to lug around a giant computer, wait for it to turn on, and you can quickly take notes and such. Then, when you get back to your dorm, simply eMail yourself the notes or something and open them up through your computer and compile them all together to make a study guide or something. Also, it's SOOO much easier to make a PowerPoint through a computer. Even better, in bringing both, you can get an app called Ignition ($130) which allows you to wirelessly connect to your computer and perform tasks on it through your iPad. Ever heard of TeamViewer? Ignition is like TeamViewer on steroids. Again, it's not ideal but is awesome for getting access to notes and stuff that you may have on your computer.
It all comes down to your financial situation I guess. If you can afford both, get both. If you can only afford one, I say go with the computer. It will be a little bit more of a hassle but will save you time and much more in the long run.