How to Find the Right Laptop for College: A Laptop Buying Guide

If you’re headed to college, you already know your laptop will be your lifeline. Sure, your laptop is the key to coursework—but it also lets you video chat with family, watch movies, browse the web, play games with friends, and more. That’s why it’s so important to find the right laptop before you dive into your classes. Of course, that’s more easily said than done. With a huge spectrum of devices available, from entry-level devices to high-end goliaths, it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why we’ve put together a laptop buying guide to help you navigate your needs, preferences, school requirements, and more. Check out the list below for our best tips for choosing a laptop.

Consider Your Coursework

Depending on the type of coursework you’ve taken on, you may want to look at different kinds of computers. For many degree programs, all you’ll need is basic computing: email, web browsing, video conferencing, and word processing. If this is the case, you can start with entry-level devices or, as needed, reach for more high-tech options if you’ll have additional computing needs like gaming (as we discuss below). However, some programs may require more intensive computing software. Any coursework that involves 3D rendering or video editing, for example, may require a better processor and graphics card—and a steeper price tag.

Check With Your Campus

Next, it’s worth considering the greater environment of your program. Some universities explicitly require Mac or Windows devices. However, even if this isn’t the case, you may discover that students and faculty tend to lean toward a specific product type. It can be helpful to opt for the same type of device as those around you for fewer tech issues when sending, sharing, or presenting data down the line. Still want a better idea of the best laptops for college students at your school? If you want recommendations, it’s a good idea to check with the campus IT department before you make a purchase. Some university IT departments will publish an online list of the recommended laptop specs for students, meaning you’ll have a good baseline to start from. You may also find lists of recommendations by program, either on the IT department’s site or on the program-specific websites. Note that these recommendations are baseline suggestions, so you should plan to get something a little more powerful if you feel you need to. Finally, don’t forget to check out your campus store as you look around for options. Many campuses offer steep discounts for students, and they tend to have devices that work best for most of the people in their programs. Once you’ve got these baseline recommendations out of the way, it’s time to consider your own needs and preferences below.

Decide Between Mac and PC

If your school has a specific requirement or recommendation for this, you should stick with it in spite of personal preference. However, if they leave the choice up to you, it all comes down to what you like. Buying a Windows PC opens you up for more options in terms of brands, selection, and even programs and gaming. However, Macs are a longtime favorite for security and design—but some models can be pricey for the average university student. The choice between Mac and PC has fostered a lot of healthy debate online, so do some research and decide which one works for you.

Think About the Screen Size

Screen size is a critical factor when you’re choosing a laptop. Not only does it dictate other factors like the real estate of your keyboard; it also influences the device’s weight and size overall. A laptop with a 15.6-inch screen is one of the largest sizes that will fit into most commuter bags and backpacks. On the other end of the spectrum, 11-inch to 13-inch screens are much lighter and more portable, though they may offer more cramped keyboards and a little less power. Factor in your personal needs as well: will you need a portable laptop to tote around to class, or will it never leave your dorm room? Do you need more power (and thus a bigger size), or can you get by with a lightweight device?

Opt for a Long Battery Life

There’s nothing like opening your laptop at the start of a class to find that it’s out of juice—especially if you know you’ll need to fight for a wall outlet. If you’re going to be relying on this device day in and day out, you’ll want an option with a long battery life. As you check devices for battery life, remember that the number the manufacturer publishes may not correlate to the laptop’s real-life performance. That’s why it pays to check out sites like CNET, as they often do battery tests to see how devices perform in real-world situations. In addition, if battery life is critical for you, you should consider getting an option with replaceable and rechargeable batteries. This makes it easier to avoid worrying about where your next charge will come from when you’re on the go.

Upgrade for Your Gaming Needs

Buying a laptop for more than just schoolwork? Gamers will need to upgrade their devices in terms of graphics, screens, processors, and RAM. This, in turn, will involve a bit of a price hike, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a build that suits your needs. Of course, the trade-off is that gaming laptops tend to be heavier and wider to fit these extra specs. This means it may be tricky to lug one around campus every time you want to take notes in class. If you’re serious about gaming, you may want to consider buying two laptops—one for gaming, and an inexpensive one for basic classwork—as a way of making your life a little easier. As you consider your laptop options, check out System Requirements Lab, which will give you the minimum specs needed to play your favorite games.

Consider Your Storage Needs

If your personal preferences (or university program) will involve downloading videos, music, and more, you may want to opt for more storage space. On the other hand, if you tend to stream and use cloud storage over downloading, you may not need to worry about finding the largest hard drive you can afford. In fact, the less storage space you need, the less you’ll have to pay for a speedy device, as you’ll be able to get by with affordable laptops for college and even Chromebook models.

Test the Laptop in Person When You Can

If you’re able, it’s a great idea to find somewhere you can inspect any potential purchase in person. This, of course, may be a bit more difficult in the wake of social isolation. However, checking out a device in person can be a lifesaver when you’re weighing multiple models. It also allows you to inspect the build quality, opting for a sturdy chassis, keyboard, and trackpad. If you want this device to last a few years, it’s important to ensure you’re happy with what you’re buying.

Where and When to Buy Your Laptop

Whether you’re looking for an affordable laptop on a shoestring budget or you’re opting for a high-performing device, it pays to know when to buy a laptop. Back-to-school season often involves great deals, along with Black Friday and Cyber Monday—though you should check for promotions at any time of the year. Check out the websites of big-brand tech companies periodically to see what they offer, as most will have specific ongoing deals at any given time. To see an example of helpful deals, click for more info. In addition, buying a device directly from the source is often your best option in terms of tech support, customer service, and warranties—which is great if you’re looking for a laptop to last you through your entire college career!

Find the Right Laptop for Your Needs

Your student life will center around this purchase, which is why it’s so important to follow these steps to help you find the right laptop. Although you’ll have to spend time whittling down your personal needs and preferences—in addition to your budget—a little research can help you find a model with the best power and build for you. Looking for more of the tech tips you need to succeed? Check out our website for more helpful guides to get you started.

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