Paper notebooks and mechanical pencils are a thing of the past in education settings. These days, a computer is an absolute necessity for both note-taking and using school software.
Not sure what specs you need and how much money you really need to spend on a computer? Below we cover different picks for the best college laptop this 2020, no matter what major you are studying.
Picking The Best Laptop For College Students in 2020
There are three key elements to keep in mind when buying a college laptop before you even look at hardware specs — weight, portability, and noise.
You will be carrying your computer from home to car to classes, so you want something that isn’t heavy and unwieldy. If you intend to use your device during class, looking for options with a quiet fan is also a plus (especially for your fellow students).
Durability and comfort are two features often overlooked in favor of high end specs. Don’t make that mistake!
You want a comfortable keyboard design for typing lengthy papers, and spending a little more in exchange for a longer product life span is always a smart move. Or you can check out overall laptop choice!
Let’s jump into our top picks for the best school computer! Want to see each contender by style and price? Check out all our selections below:
Our quick recommendation list for January 2020:
The Contenders For Best College Laptop 2020
1. Lenovo 15.6 Inch – Budget Option
Do you want a computer that will more than meet the needs of the average student but spend less than $400? This should be your pick!
- More RAM than other laptops at this price
- Optical drive
- Short battery life
- No solid state drive
Right now, Lenovo has got some amazing deals on budget notebooks. If you need decent specs but can’t spend a lot of cash, this should be your first option.
Obviously, this is not a top-of-the-line machine. But for the price range, you can’t expect to get better specs than with the Lenovo.
With 8GB of RAM, a full 1 TB hard drive, and an optical drive, you aren’t lacking in performance or features. There’s plenty of room for storing school projects and you will be able to run most programs without any problems.
This model doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card, so you won’t be playing Black Ops 4 on the weekends. With this amount of RAM though, you can still engage in casual gaming after class
While it may not be a skinny ultrabook, this is still a highly portable computer for taking to and from the dorm. It remains under five pounds and less than an inch thick.
To get the most speed out of this device, make sure to uninstall all the bloatware and turn off the auto-starting programs installed by Lenovo.
There’s one other issue to be aware of that is often mentioned by buyers — the battery life is quite short. You won’t get a full 8 hour day out of it, so make sure to find a seat by the power outlet!
If you need to go even lower on the price, the IdeaPad 330 is often available for around $250. You only get 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD, however, so you essentially halve the specs.
2. Apple 13 Inch MacBook Air – Mac Option
Are you a staunch Apple fan and don’t care to go with a Windows 10 device? This should be your pick as the best college laptop!
- High battery life
- Solid state drive
- Low storage capacity
- Not a retina display
Windows isn’t always the best option for students, especially if you are concerned about malware or long Microsoft updates eating up your day.
If you’d like to give the Mac OS a shot, the MacBook Air is the way to go. Its lightweight, has super fast operation, and doesn’t lack in extra features like keyboard backlighting.
256GB isn’t a huge storage capacity, but with a Mac device you will often be storing data in the cloud anyway. If you need physical media storage, you get USB ports, Thunderbolt, and a card reader for connecting devices.
In general, buyers leave overwhelmingly positive reviews of this model, especially if you need the Adobe suite for photography classes. There’s only one issue that is frequently cited as a downside.
Unfortunately, this MacBook isn’t one of Apple’s iconic “retina” style displays. If you want extreme screen resolution you’ll need to bump up the price with a different model.
3. MSI GV62 8RD-200 – For Students Who Play Games
Want to run new games on high settings but still have plenty of storage space for saving school projects? This should be your pick for the best laptop for students who also play games!
- 8th gen processor
- Dedicated graphics card
- No solid state drive
- Slightly heavier and shorter battery life
Everyone needs a computer for school work, but you may want a device that’s capable of more than just reading PDFs and sending emails.
When you need to dominate at Fortnite or PUBG on the weekends as well, this is your machine. MSI’s offering in our list of contenders is reasonably priced for a gaming rig, which is a huge plus for college students on a budget.
The Ti edition of the GTX 1050 card is usually more than powerful enough to handle most games at high settings. If you prefer to go more cutting edge and have the money to spend, look for an upgraded model with the 1060 – 1070 instead.
There are a couple of issues that are going to be present with any gaming machine to be aware of before buying.
First up, they are going to be heavier since they have to cram in more components. This MSI model is still under five pounds though, so it remains on par with a standard work style laptop.
The battery life is also going to be shorter, and the machine will tend to run hotter. Those are just issues you have to put up with if you want to do any serious gaming in addition to school work.
Some gaming features work out well for school settings, however. The red backlit keys in particular are more useful for college students than you’d expect.
When you’re working on projects late at night and don’t want to leave the lights on, this is a life saving feature.
4. Dell Inspiron 15 – For Programming Major
When you’re looking for a laptop that will handle any programming task, Dell Inspiron 15 is an ideal choice. It might look like a gaming laptop (which is another thing it can be used for), but it features really powerful components and amazing processing power for most programmings tasks you’ll need to work on.
- FHD Widescreen
- Powerful components
- Great graphic capability
- Built in media reader
- Support isn’t the best
- Sound quality is an average
Key features & details
5. Acer Spin 5 – For Nursing Students
Need something portable that will last for a full day of classes? This should be your pick for the best college laptop!
- Very lightweight
- Touch screen flip design
- 8th gen processor
- Smaller storage capacity
- Noisy fan
While plenty of your classes for nursing are in a standard classroom setting, much of your training will involve being on your feet and on the go. A lightweight device that can handle multiple types of projects should be what you aim for in a perfect college laptop.
Generally nursing students won’t need a dedicated graphics card, but you do want portability and durability. A battery that’s going to last all day is a huge plus too, as you may not have time to plug in anywhere.
You get all of that with the Acer Spin, which weighs just over three pounds and can flip around in multiple configurations. If you need more than 256GB of storage space though, be sure to invest in an external USB drive.
Although it checks all the boxes for a college laptop, there is one issue many buyers mention that you should know about. The fan on this unit is fairly loud for such a small notebook.
Want a Chromebook instead of a Windows 10 machine? Try out the Asus Chromebook Flip, which is a bit less expensive but has a very similar style.
6. Microsoft Surface Book 2 – For Architecture Students
Want a 2-in-1 device for freehanding designs but still get absolutely top-notch specs? This should be your pick for the best laptop!
- More RAM than other models
- Dedicated graphics card
- 2-in-1 touch screen
- No HDMI port
- High price
CAD software will eat up your computer’s memory, so you want a ton of RAM for architecture classes. Bottom line, just simply don’t settle for anything less than 16GB.
You also want portability, but still need a good screen size. The Surface Book gives you a little of both there, which makes it a great hybrid option.
Most lightweight devices drop down to 13 inches, and that makes viewing architectural design software more of a chore. With the Surface Book, you still get a full 15 inch screen.
The really crazy thing here is that you get a high end graphics card in a thin, 2-in-1 machine with high battery life. Those features don’t normally all go hand in hand, but they are perfect for engineering and architecture projects.
The Surface Book gives you lots of options for freehand drawing designs with a pen. If you don’t tend to use that style, a high end gaming machine without a touch screen may actually be one of your best choices.
One main complaint is often brought up by students who bought this model. You are slightly more limited in the number and types of ports than with other laptops.
Most importantly, there’s no HDMI port here for connecting to an external display. If you need that feature, you will have to invest in an adapter or look for a different model altogether.
7. Lenovo X1 Carbon – Best Pick for Business Major
When you’re looking for a laptop to handle your business major, Lenovo X1 Carbon is number one choice because it’s reliable, powerful, and very versatile. You can work on your most important tasks anywhere you are, and even take the laptop with you in the smallest bag you have – and still don’t feel its weight.
- Vivid IPS display
- Reliable & quick performance
- Ideal portable workstation for business
- Backlit keyboard
- Trackpad is an average
Key features & details
8. Dell XPS Thin And Light – For Graphic & Design Students
Need the best screen resolution and top-notch specs for graphic design programs? This should be your pick!
- Ample storage capacity
- 4k screen
- Touch display
- Not a 2-in-1 design
- High price
Graphic design students can have hugely varying needs in terms of hardware specs. There are a few key components to keep in mind for any student, however.
First off, you probably want a touch screen for free handing designs, and you definitely want a high quality display.
You can also expect to frequently have multiple windows open with memory-devouring graphics applications. That means plenty of RAM is also a critical feature not to be overlooked.
Saving multiple versions of large image files also means you need lots of storage space. You don’t want to skimp by going with the older and slower hard disk drives, so pick an SSD instead.
Although the initial price tag is quite high, this Dell model hits all those key features. There’s only one issue that is often criticized by buyers you may need to consider.
The webcam is at the bottom of the screen rather than at the top. Unfortunately, that makes for an awkward angle when video chatting.
If your course load doesn’t require a dedicated graphics card, or you find yourself using a stylus more often than the touchpad, then the Lenovo Yoga 920 can also be a great option.
Criteria used for evaluation
Size & Resolution
Size & resolution is definitely the first thing you should look for in your new laptop since you’ll rarely use it at a desk, yet you’ll most of the time be on a go and work anywhere.
Therefore, paying attention to size is crucial since it’s something that will determine the versatility and even portability of your laptop. Other than that, the resolution will determine the ease of use of your laptop. We always recommend students to also check the quality of the display itself when checking the resolution.
This will help you understand the capabilities of your laptop when it comes down to size, resolution, and even display. What’s left after that is the performance and even a few other form & design features.
Form / Design
Other than the size, form & design will determine the ease of use, uncover helpful features manufacturer added to the laptop, tell you more about the portability and versatility of the laptop without even having to lay your hands on the laptop.
We recommend you look for the materials used to build the laptop, the number of ports, the thickness of the laptop, laptop’s weight, and basically anything you can look at and is located on the laptop.
Other than that, we even recommend you have a look at the ease of access to the main components since you never know when you might end up upgrading your laptop after all – and believe us, you don’t want to have to remove a lot to access the components.
Paying attention to some useful features even before laying your hands on the laptop, such as fingerprint sensor, is very important so you can be prepared and understand what else the laptop can offer (other than performance, of course).
The main part of the laptop, the heart, and the soul is what lay inside – the configuration/components. Even if you don’t understand a lot when it comes down to components, you’ll need to do a bit of research.
Because laptop’s components can tell you a lot about the performance your laptop will be able to offer. And if you’re looking for a laptop that will be able to fit your specific needs, it’s really important to know the performance level of your laptop.
Luckily for you, if you’re don’t know anything about the components, our categorized picks will help any student find the perfect laptop for their school needs. All you need is to pay attention to a few other aspects mentioned in these criteria, and you won’t be wrong at all.
As a student, you can expect to type a lot typing on the laptop since you’ll be doing anything from homework, writing essays, dissertations, and much more.
A quality keyboard doesn’t need to be a full-sized keyboard, but it needs to have decent key size, a great and comfortable key distance travel and should be of a quality material that will give you plenty of comforts while typing.
When you’re looking at the keyboard, we highly recommend you to make sure that the keyboard isn’t placed awkwardly and that the palm rests fit great for the purpose of the keyboard. Also, make sure that the trackpad isn’t in the way (or isn’t too large).
Additionally, we also recommend students to get a keyboard that comes with a backlit feature since it’s one of the most helpful features voted by students around the world. You never know when it might be useful for your needs!
You might not have any plans to connect additional and external devices, but you’ll have to connect your laptop with other devices at your school, sooner or later.
As we always say it, it’s better to be prepared than to regret making the wrong choice, and if you don’t make sure you’re getting a laptop with plenty of ports – you’ll have a lack of connectivity problem that won’t only slow you down, but will even be able to stop you from doing some school work.
We highly recommend you get a laptop that features at least a few USB ports, HDMI port, micro card slot, and even ethernet and CD/DVD drives (if necessary).
With the level of modern technology, getting a laptop that’s thin and yet features great connectivity definitely isn’t a problem!
Frequently Asked Questions
A: At this point in time, the OS you choose is really more of a personal preference issue. Most programs are available in a multitude of OS options, and there are emulators for running tools in other operating systems. Windows computers tend to be available with higher-end specs, especially in terms of graphics cards and processor speed.
A: Going with a Chromebook can be an excellent way to both save money and get a lighter, more portable laptop. There are big downsides to consider, though. While you can download Android apps with Chromebooks now, you still can’t install Windows programs.
In many cases, that may not matter. If your courses don’t use any high-end software, there’s no reason to shell out the extra cash.
A: One big issue to keep in mind for a school laptop is longevity. Whether you are attending a two-year tech school, getting a four-year degree, or even going beyond that, you want a computer that will last. Budget laptops may be necessary when you factor in the costs of tuition and books, but they aren’t good long term options.