How to Buy a Laptop for College: A Guide for Students and Parents
When you're gearing up to travel from class to class on a daily basis, you need a laptop that's up to the task. If you're wondering how to buy a laptop for college – one that will stand up physically and technically to the rigors of higher education – here's a guide to help you start smart and save money.
Check College Requirements
Before you head out shopping, check with your college for any technical requirements for student laptops. Some schools may have operating system requirements for accessing on-campus resources. And specific majors, like engineering or visual design, may have their own requirements to ensure that your laptop has the power it needs to accommodate the specific software essential to your field of study. If you can't easily access this information in an orientation packet or on your school's website, don't be shy about calling the particular department to ask.
Think About Size and Weight
Laptops vary widely in weight – and heavier doesn't necessarily mean better. No matter where you ultimately decide to purchase your laptop, head to a big box electronics retailer or to the Apple store to try a few different models on for size. See how your hands fit on a more compact keyboard. Then try out a larger model with a bigger keyboard and screen.
Consider Battery Life
When you're figuring out how to buy a laptop for college, it's easy to gravitate toward the least expensive options. Before you click "buy" on that deal, though, be sure to check the battery life. While Apple's MacBooks boast between nine and 11 hours of battery life, the battery life of Windows laptops and Chromebooks varies widely. Think about your course load, the worst case scenario of leaving your charger at home and the potential of being stuck with a laptop with a dead battery.
Check Your Ports and Hardware
Consider everything you might have to plug in to your laptop to get your studies done. While you'll want at least two USB ports, newer laptop models sometimes come with UBS-C ports, which are compact versions of the standard USB port. An HDMI output, standard on a wide variety of models, allows a laptop to connect to a TV or to virtual reality hardware like Oculus Rift (whether that's required for your major or is just for dorm room entertainment). If you'll need a CD-ROM/DVD drive, make sure your laptop has one.
What about an external hard drive? Again, different majors may have different data storage demands (more graphics, for instance, means larger files). Ask your school if it has any recommendations to guide your purchase.
Check Your Screen Resolution
Budget laptops tend to have screens with low resolution (1366 x 768 pixels), which makes long hours spent on research papers tedious and tiring on the eyes. Look for screens with at least a 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p) resolution. While you might spend a tad more, the lack of headaches will be worth it.
Chock full of technical specs and model recommendations, CNET's laptop buying guide makes an excellent complement to this checklist. Make sure to do as much research as you can ahead of time – because while college can be intimidatingly expensive, having the right tools will help you get the most out of your investment.