How to Choose a Laptop for College

Laptops and similar devices are mandatory in college — and even used in many middle and high schools! Computer skills prepare students for most majors, careers, and finding a job, so it’s not a surprise that laptops are a hot ticket item for college students to buy before college. You could take this super short Buzzfeed quiz to decide, but it’s better do to a little more research.

While laptops are not as expensive as tuition at most colleges, they are an investment for students. This means that students should really research and think about their technology needs for college before they buy a laptop for their first year. We have some advice on what devices will suit college students based on their majors and technological needs.

Here are some basic considerations:

  1. Buy new devices — You can find affordable solutions that are used or refurbished, but these typically won’t last that long.
  2. Consider your major — Don’t just buy a laptop that you want or you think is new and cool — it’s not your smartphone! You want something that will last you through your major-related classes. Some majors have device requirements like engineering and design, which you can see some options for below.
  3. Does your college have requirements? — Some colleges may require you to have a specific type of device or specs for your device, so make sure you follow these requirements if applicable.

For Extensive Note-Taking

Note-taking is most of what college students do in classes, so it would be a good choice to base it on this need if there are no extra technological requirements for their major. One downside to the tablet options are that the screen-size may be smaller than a normal laptop.

  • Tablet and Keyboard/Pencil
    • Microsoft Surface Pro with Keyboard & Pen – To get a full-range of use out of the Surface, you must buy the keyboard and pen separately. Otherwise, it’s not too much different than many other tablets, except that it has more power. I personally use this for meeting notes, so I know it’s very portable and handy, especially if you need to write something if you can’t type as fast with the pen.
    • iPad Pro/Air with Keyboard/Apple Pencil – This is a popular with the college students I work with, but I’m not entirely sure how functional it is. Unless you buy a keyboard, but I’m not sure how much the pencil helps.
  • Chromebook – These are used widely in secondary schools, so it could be a cost-effective way to have a note-taking laptop, especially since all college campuses have Wi-Fi to connect to. By far, this is the most affordable option.

For Engineering/Tech Majors

Most engineering and technology careers prefer PC over Apple, so if students are going in that direction they should take that into consideration. Some major programs may even have device requirements!

  • PC’s that pack a lot of processing power:
    • Asus Zephyrus G14
    • HP Spectre x360
    • Microsoft Surface Book 2
    • Dell XPS 15
    • Google Pixelbook Go (most affordable)
    • ThinkPad X1 Extreme Mobile Workstation
  • Apple, if you don’t need a PC:
    • Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020) – great performance and battery life, but a higher price tag.

For Design/Digital Art Majors

My mom was a graphic designer, so I know that Apple devices are usually preferred for graphics. As mentioned previously, Macs are costly, but they do tend to last long — longer than iPhones, at least!

  • Apple/Mac
    • MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019)
    • MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1)
    • MacBook Air (M1)
  • PC, if you don’t need a Mac
    • ASUS Zenbook Duo 14 – has two displays!
    • Dell XPS 13

Best Laptops for Your Budget

You may not get peak performance with these laptop options, but you’ll get the best for whatever your budget may be! Notice that there are no Apple products on this list because if you want a new laptop, you can’t find a Mac for less than $1,000 usually. Also, some of these tech companies offer discounts for students, so you may ease your financial burden a bit more.

  • Under $300
    • Lenovo Chromebook Duet
  • Under $500
    • MSI Modern 14
    • Dell Chromebook 11 (3100)
  • Under $750
    • Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 14
    • HP Envy x360 13 (2020)
    • Microsoft Surface Pro 7

I hope that you have a good direction to look into for your college device needs. All the laptop options in this blog post were researched through secondary articles from PCMagCreative Bloq, and T3. Good luck to all you college students out there!

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