And How to Choose – and Find Funding for – the Right Laptop if They Don’t
Laptops are the technological tool of choice among college students today. It should come as no surprise then that – according to a 2014 survey by computer company AMD – nearly 85 percent of college students report using a laptop for classwork, research and assignments. The same survey reports that 41 percent of students regard their laptops as their most prized possession, even above their phones and cars. Despite the prevalence of laptops on the college campus, costs can be prohibitive, and make it difficult for already financially-stressed students to afford what is increasingly becoming a necessary tool. Thankfully, many colleges are recognizing this need, and financial aid programs have begun to spring up to help students afford the costs of laptops and other technology.
The same laptop will not work for every college major or student. For example, a graphic design student needs a high-graphics laptop, complete with editing software and a powerful processor. A political science student needs a much less powerful laptop. Students should consider what they need the laptop to do, what software programs they will need and their target budget before shopping for a laptop computer.
Graphics and animation support
Ability to run Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator or Final Cut Pro.
Laptop: Mac. Example: MacBook Pro
ability to use AutoCAD software
create spreadsheet and run program simulations.
Laptop: PC. Example: Lenovo ThinkPad
Word processing software
moderate hard drive storage
wireless Internet card.
Laptop: Chromebook. Example: GP Chromebook 11
If you do not need a high-powered laptop, the following key features should be powerful enough for most college-related applications:
Wi-Fi readiness: minimum 802.11g Dual-Band wireless card
Lightweight for easy portability: 3-5 lbs
Screen resolution: minimum 1024×768
Ram: minimum 4 GB (8 or more is best)
Hard drive: minimum of 128GB solid state drive or 250GB hard disk drive
Backlit keyboard with a number pad
Battery life: minimum 4 hours
Ports: At least two USB 3.0 and an HDMI
Screen: 11 inch minimum
Operating system minimums: Mac OS 10.6, Windows 8.1
Since the invention of the personal computer, there has been extensive debate over whether the PC or a Mac is the better option. Today, there is little difference in capabilities between the two – except where it concerns software. Mac computers are typically loaded with software designed for creative applications (like video editing and audio recording); personal computers are usually come stocked with software designed for business use, such as spreadsheet programs and word processors.
Students also depend on other portable electronics during class, such as, tablets, smartphones, e-readers or hybrid machines. According to a 2015 report from PC Magazine, tablets are useful as secondary devices, but have limited software selection and processing power. However, students have successfully used tablets and other devices for classwork without the need for laptops or traditional desktop computers, depending on their majors and course requirements.
Shopping for a notebook? Here are some key questions to ask:
Do you offer student discounts?
Do you offer payment plans?
What kind of warranty comes with the laptop?
What is the laptop’s processing power?
How long is the battery life?
Can additional RAM or a larger hard drive be added?
What kind of wireless card is installed?
Does the laptop have a dual-band wireless card?
What is the screen size and resolution?
What software comes installed on the laptop?
What kind of DVD, optical, Blu-Ray, player/burner does it have?
How many USB ports does the laptop have?
Are the USB ports 3.0?
Does the computer have a dedicated graphics processor? (Especially important for design students.
Laptops range widely in price with the least expensive priced at just under $200 and the most expensive topping $3,000 in 2015. A typical student probably will not have to pay over $800 for a laptop used for college coursework.
PC Magazine recommends the following laptops for college students in 2015:
|Product||Tech||PC Mag Score||Price||Screen size||Weight||RAM|
|Asus Chromebook Flip (C100PA-DB02)||Chrome OS||$239||10.1 inches||1.96 lbs.||4 GB|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T450s||Microsoft Windows||$1,254.99||14 inches||3.5 lbs.||8 GB|
|Acer Aspire E5-573G-57HR||Microsoft Windows||$554.99||15. 6inches||5.29 lbs.||8 GB|
|Alienware 15||Microsoft Windows||$1,899.99||15.6 inches||7.1 lbs.||16 GB|
|Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch||Mac OS X||$894.78||13.3 inches||2.96 lbs.||4 GB|
|Apple MacBook Pro 13-Inch, Retina Display||Mac OS X||$1,234.99||13.3 inches||3.48 lbs.||8 GB|
|Dell Latitude 13 7000 Series 2-in-1 (7350)||Microsoft Windows||$1,549||13.3 inches||1.92 lbs.||8 GB|
|Dell Latitude 14 7000 Series (E7450)||Microsoft Windows||$1,368.30||14 inches||3.59 lbs.||8 GB|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 12||Microsoft Windows||$1,572.99||12.5 inches||3.48 lbs.||8 GB|
|MSI GT72 Dominator Pro G-1438||Microsoft Windows||$2,099||17. 3 inches||8.5 pounds||16 GB|
Tablets and e-readers are also popular choices for college students. A 2013 survey conducted by Pearson Education revealed that over half of college students claim they perform better in the classroom because of tablets. Two-thirds of students surveyed believe the tablet will replace printed textbooks in the near future. Nearly 90 percent of college students own laptops, Pearson found, but almost 40 percent of college students own a tablet.
Tablets are limited in processing power and may not be suitable when visual design, animation, data crunching or academic research is required.
PC Magazine selected these top-performing tablets for 2015:
|Product||Tech||PC Mag Score||Price||Dimensions||Weight||Storage Capacity|
|Apple iPad Air||Apple iOS||$339||9.7 inches||16.86 oz||16 GB|
|Apple iPad Air 2||Apple iOS 8||$449.88||9.7 inches||0.96 lb||16, 64, 128 GB|
|Asus Transformer Book T100TA (64GB)||Microsoft Windows||$256||10.1 inches||1.44/2.4 lb||64 GB|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4||Android 4.4||$399||8.4 inches||11.68 oz||16 GB|
|Apple iPad mini 2||Apple iOS||$259||7.9 inches||11.68 oz||16, 32 GB|
|Asus VivoTab Note 8||Microsoft Windows||$289.99||8 inches||0.85 lb||32 GB|
|Dell Venue 11 Pro 7000 Series (7140)||Microsoft Windows||$799||10.8 inches||1.6 lb||128 GB|
|Microsoft Surface 3||Microsoft Windows 8.1||$599.99||10.8 inches||1.37 lb||128 GB|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5||Android 4.4||$448.99||10.5 inches||16.47 oz||16 GB|
|Google Nexus 9||Android 5.0||$305.37||8.9 inches||14.99 oz||16, 32 GB|
A 2014 survey from Infographics Commons found that many college students use their phones to study. The survey indicated that 65 percent of college students rely on phones to get their news and 82 percent use their phones for research. Students also use smartphones to take lecture notes, dictate papers, use scientific calculators, coordinate their school calendars and streamline study time.
PC Magazine recommends these smartphones for 2015:
|Product||Tech||PC Mag Score||Price||Dimensions||Battery Life||Screen Size|
|Apple iPhone 6s (T-Mobile)||iOS 9||$649||5.44 by 2.64 by 0.28 inches||4 hours 21 (LTE streaming) minutes||4.7 inches|
|Apple iPhone 6s Plus (AT&T)||iOS 9||$799.99||6.23 by 3.07 by 0.29 inches||4 hours 11 (LTE streaming) minutes||5.5 inches|
|Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (Unlocked)||Android 5.1||$399.99||6.06 by 3.0 by 0.44 inches||4 hours, 42 (LTE video streaming) minutes||5.7 inches|
|OnePlus 2 (Unlocked)||Android 5.1||$329||5.98 by 2.95 by 0.39 inches||5 hours, 19 (LTE video streaming) minutes||5.5 inches|
|Samsung Galaxy S6 (T-Mobile)||Android 5.0||$579.99||5.65 by 2.78 by 0.27 inches||7 hours, 48 (LTE video streaming) minutes||5.1 inches|
|Alcatel One Touch Idol 3 (Unlocked)||Android 5.0||$279.99||6.01 by 2.96 by 0.29 inches||4 hours, 12 (LTE video streaming) minutes||5.5 inches|
|Motorola Moto G (2015, Unlocked)||Android 5.0||$149.99||5.59 by 2.85 by 0.48 inches||6 hours, 32 (LTE video streaming) minutes||5 inches|
|Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (Verizon Wireless)||Android 5.0||$349.99||6 by 3 by 0.3 inches||7 hours 35 (LTE video streaming) minutes||5.7 inches|
|ZTE Grand X Max+ (Cricket Wireless)||Android 4.4||$199.99||6.38 by 3.27 by 0.31 inches||5 hours, 49 (LTE video streaming) minutes||6 inches|
|HTC One (M8) for Windows (Verizon Wireless)||Windows Phone 8.1||$480||5.7 by 2.8 by 0.37 inches||10 hours, 50 minutes||5 inches|
Numerous colleges offer laptop-acquisition programs for students. Most programs either gift the laptop to incoming freshmen or offer student discounts through partnerships with other organizations. When laptops are gifted to students, students must return the computer or pay the remaining cost of the computer if the student drops out. Schools that don’t issue laptops may offer discounted computers sold through the college. Some colleges offer warranties that cover maintenance and repairs.
The following schools offer students free or discounted laptops and software:
ASU online offers students discounts on computer and laptop bundles and Microsoft and Adobe software suites through its bookstore. Registered students have free access to hundreds of software programs online via the My Apps program.
Incoming students at Bethel’s academic programs receive Google Chromebook laptops that are theirs to keep after completing 30 percent of coursework.
Incoming freshmen at Berklee must already own an Apple Macintosh laptop that meets campus technology and academic leadership standards, or they can buy one from the college at a discount. All freshmen must purchase and install Berklee’s Entering Student Software Package.
Entering undergraduate students receive a laptop that is theirs to keep when they graduate. Students who do not graduate are required to return their laptops within 30 days of leaving the school.
Full Sail University offers all students a Mac laptop through the Project LaunchBox program and offers additional discounts on the purchase of laptop or desktop computers. Incoming students in the gaming, sound engineering and filmmaking programs are issued 15-inch MacBook loaded with Final Cut Pro X software.
Gordon College recommends students purchase a Lenovo ThinkPad or Apple MacBook Pro bundled with approved software and a three-year warranty that includes free on-campus technical support and maintenance. Students purchasing the Mac or PC bundles also receive the free use of loaner computers if their machines need upgrades or repairs.
Liberty University partners with Dell, Lenovo and Apple to offer discounted hardware and software through its IT Marketplace. Computers purchased through the plan are eligible to receive maintenance, repairs and required upgrades through Liberty’s ITHelpDesk.
All new undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at least a half-time at Long Island University are outfitted with a free Apple iPad mini during the first semester. Part-time students are eligible to purchase an iPad mini at the discounted rate of $200.
Merrimack does not provide student laptops, however, it does offer three years of technical support on laptops purchased through the Optional Laptop Program. Currently, the program offers a Lenovo ThinkPad T450, Mac Book Pro 13; and Mac Book Pro 13; Retina Display. Support includes walk-in help and loaner computers.
Full-time undergraduate students receive a fully loaded HP EliteBook 840 G1 Notebook PC (Ultrabook) from Northwest Missouri State University.
An Apple Distinguished School, Regis College issues free iPads to new students. The iPads are on loan from Apple, are replaced every two years, and become the student’s property upon graduation.
At Seton Hill, all full-time students are issued a free iPad Mini and a 13″ MacBook Air. Both become the property of the students upon graduation and the iPad is upgraded every two years.
Siena College offers a purchase program for student laptops through the school’s website. Apple laptops and tablets can be purchased through the Apple Store for Education.
Springfield College sells discounted laptops through its Technology Discount program, including the Dell Latitude E5450 and the MacBook Pro 13; with Retina display.
Every freshman enrolled in an online hybrid program is issued a laptop that becomes theirs upon graduation. If the student leaves the college without graduating, the laptop must be returned within 30 days.
At St. John’s, the university says, computers fall into the lap of every freshman or college transfer student. New undergraduate students can choose from a Lenovo ThinkPad or an Apple MacBook. Computers issued by the university are eligible for hardware and software support.
All entering undergraduate and transfer students at Rochester receive a free MacBook Pro or an iPad if they register for full-time studies. If the student graduates, they keep their hardware. If they do not complete at least 6 full semesters, they will be assessed a prorated charge on their iPad/MacBook Pro.
The University does not provide laptops, but offers discounts on Apple, Dell, HP and Microsoft computers and software products through the University Marketplace.
For fifteen years now, the Ursinus College Laptop Initiative has put state-of-the-art personal laptops to in the hands of all new students. The IT department issues a hardware upgrade to all students at least once prior to graduation.
As part of its Strategic Resource Initiative, Wake Forest University loans incoming students Lenovo ThinkPads loaded with educational software. Students must return the computer upon graduation.
Many top computer and software manufacturers, big-box stores and resellers offer student discounts on technology. Some companies may require students to join a consumer club, and other companies may offer free trial programs for software or services. NOTE: Students must provide a student ID or an .edu email address when applying for most discount programs.
is offered to students through a free six-month trial through Amazon Prime, with exclusive promotions in technology, two-day shipping and access to movies, TV shows and music. After the trial, Prime membership costs students $49 per year.
offers student discounts up to $20 on a new iPad and $200 on a new Mac computer.
sends e-mail updates regarding upcoming sales. Recent specials included a $50 discount on iMacs and MacBooks, including free shipping. Students can also save $80 on the Microsoft Surface 3 128GB, keyboard and pen package.
is Dell Computer’s online membership purchasing club for college and university students. Discounts are available for desktops, laptops, gaming PCs and monitors. All Dell PCs come with a one-year warranty.
offers members savings up to 20 percent on HP products, free shipping and student-tailored product recommendations through its free PC MatchLab service.
is a charitable computer reuse organization designed to help students find PCs, Macs, laptops and monitors. A refurbished laptop including Windows 7 Pro, Office Home 2007, Wi-Fi Card, Spyware and Antivirus software sold for $99 in 2015.
offers discount tablets with prices reduced by as much 47 percent. Laptops are up to 53 percent off of Lenovo’s original list pricing.
’s student-only store offers deep discounts on new or refurbished notebooks, tablets and other electronics to members. Students need an .edu email address to apply. Students can get up to $100 off a new Surface Pro 3 through the program.
(NSF) is a nonprofit organization created by students for students in 1998 as a way to provide students with dependable, powerful laptops at affordable prices. Deep discounts are available through the program on select computers.
offers 10 percent-discount student deals on Xperia tablets, laptops and smart devices. Students must provide student ID to qualify for student discounts.