This Not That is a HackCollege series where students compare two college essentials and recommend which has worked out the best for them.

Flash drives: they’ve been among our most valuable school supplies since 2003. Whether yours was a rubber dongle in the shape of your favorite animal or a minimalist metal drive smaller than your thumbnail, it held your homework, notes and projects.

But it’s almost 2016, and it’s time to move into the Cloud.

What is the Cloud?

Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox and the like all operate in the same basic way:

  • Download the app or desktop client
  • Save your files to the drive folder
  • Access your files via the web, smartphone app or folder on your desktop

That’s pretty much it. Your files will automatically sync from your computer to the drive as long as you’re connected to the Internet.

Benefits of Going Digital

The most obvious benefit is that your files automatically back themselves up to a secure external drive. You could lose your backpack, your house could burn down and your school could be obliterated, but tomorrow’s paper would be totally fine.

Another perk is accessibility. Forgot your USB at home? Your PowerPoint is already on the classroom computer. Stuck at the bus station for an extra hour? Type out the next great American novel on your iPod and it will sync when you get home.

A third advantage is security. Anyone can plug your thumb drive into their computer and see Passwords.doc, MyTopSecretDiary.txt and your complete collection of angsty poetry from middle school. Save it online and it’s password protected.

Finally, capacity. Sure, you could get a 1TB flash drive, but that’s expensive and Google will give you an ever-growing digital drive for free. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about your Dropbox getting stolen or left behind.

Digital Downsides

To use an Internet drive, you’ll need Internet access. If that’s not something you have all the time, a physical drive may be a better option. If you don’t have Internet access or a computer, you can still take a flash drive to your college or school library and be good to go.

If you’re wary of hosting personal information online or you want to have multiple levels of customizable security, an encrypted flash drive could definitely outperform free online clients.

Another downside is that if you just like USB drives better as accessories, keychains or for ease of use (no logging in!), you might not like switching to a digital drive.


For the vast majority of students, online drives are the best option. They protect your work, are accessible and are easier to use than USB drives. While especially sensitive files or special projects might work better with physical drives, online drives can store the brunt of your files for free.