How to buy a laptop for college students – 2023 School Year

Updated on January 14, 2023

There are some colleges in the US which offer free laptops to students, however, the percentage of colleges currently doing that is minimal. Therefore, for you the student starting a new semester, the next thought is how to buy a college laptop.

When it comes to how to buy a college laptop, first take a look at your curriculum. Based on the courses and the program demands, you can then focus on specifications such as software, processing speed, connectivity options, etc.

But, most students find themselves asking whether a laptop is really necessary when tablets exist. This then brings about the subject of debate on which is better for college use. (More on that later)

We have spent hours researching online and find these best laptop for college students. Check them out before you making your purchase.

How To Buy A Laptop For College Students 2023

To ensure you make the right buying decision, it is essential that you approach the process strategically. Utilize the following steps: 

  1. First, examine your course of study
  2. Pinpoint the major needs a laptop should satisfy your course of study
  3. Match the needs to laptop specifications
  4. Create a budget based on specs & other buying factors
  5. Choose a shopping website or visit a retailer

Examine Your Course Of Study

The course of study also known as the academic discipline in colleges is broadly classified into four main areas. These are:

  1. The natural and applied sciences comprising of Chemistry, Biology, Engineering, etc.
  2. The business discipline comprising of Economics, Accounting, etc.
  3. The social sciences comprising of Political Science, Sociology, etc.
  4. The humanities comprising of Arts, Architecture, Communications, etc.

Requirements of Each Course of Study

Every course has its own demands and this is based on their nature. The following chart breaks down what each academic discipline deals with:

Natural & Applied SciencesReading & research
Creating & interpreting data
Diagrammatic representation of data
BusinessUse of business software
Lots of statistical data
Analysis & reporting focus
Social ScienceKeeping abreast of historical and present-day news
A lot of research & writing
Drafting of thesis
HumanitiesCreativity & design Presentation
Use of graphics, videos & image
Requirements Of Each Course Of Study

Matching The Requirements to a Laptop Specification

For courses like chemistry and engineering, you need a system with software or programs for interpreting statistical data while for art courses, you want to make sure the laptop has a high-end processor to load video editing software and CAD drawings. 

For business students, there will be lots of modeling and use of accounting business software so you need a large enough RAM space.

Here is the list of our laptop buying guide based on major:

Create a Budget Based On Specifications and Other Preference Factors

Before you create a budget for your college laptop, you need to bear in mind that certain specifications will have their own unique costs. For example, if you want to customize certain features on the laptop, it does not come free of charge.

Apart from that, based on the fact that its intended use is for college, other factors such as the ones below are important:


As a college student, chances are you will find yourself moving around a lot from your dorm to the lecture room, library, and other recreational areas. 

If you have a lunch break in between courses, would you prefer to go back to your dorm to drop the laptop before heading to the cafeteria?

…the laptop needs to be lightweight such that its presence is not felt or viewed as a burden in the course of other activities….

This is where portability comes in. Based on the frantic pace of college life, the laptop needs to be lightweight such that its presence is not felt or viewed as a burden in the course of other activities. 

Five basic categories of laptops are on the present day market and they include chromebooks and ultrabooks, ultraportables, thin and light, desktop replacements and luggables. Out of the listed five, only the first three fall into the portable range based on dimensions:

Chromebooks & UltrabooksUltraportablesThin & Light
Width9 -13.5 inches9 -13 inches11 – 15 inches
Depth8 -11 inches8 – 9 inchesLess than 11 inches
HeightLess than 1 inch0.2 – 1.3 inches0.5 – 1.5 inches
Weight2 – 3 lbs2 – 5 lbs3 – 6 lbs


College courses are known to last between 6 months to 6 years depending on your program. Therefore, your focus should be on investing in a laptop that can make it for a majority of the discipline’s duration.

So, how can you tell whether or not a laptop is durable? The first thing is to look at the materials used to make the body. The popular ones include:

PlasticDoes not dent
Wide range of finishes
Generally cheap
Warps/distort under extreme heat
Does not dissipate heat properly
Chassis flex
No chassis flex
More expensive than plastic
Carbon FibreThe best material for laptops
AluminumGood heat dissipator
Easy to dent and scratch
TitaniumBalances weight and strength well
Resistant to corrosion
Easy to scratch
PolycarbonateShock resistant
Attractive finishes
Easy to scratch


Generally, the functions a laptop can perform depends on components such as RAM, Processor and Graphics Card. Now, as a college student, you have to factor in how this comes into play for you.

Firstly, you need a system that can take notes during lectures. You also need to save course materials and work on projects.

When you merge these important aspects with the nature of your course, the capabilities in terms of fast processing, smooth transition between applications and display quality become important.

Using the type of courses within the various academic disciplines as a basis, we drew up the basic performance requirements for a college student:

 ChemistryAccountingPolitical ScienceArts
Display size Between 11″ to 15″ At least 15.6″ 15’’ to 17’’ 8GB or better
GraphicsIntel UHD Graphics 620 or betterIntegrated Intel HD Graphics 620 or betterIntel HD Graphics 610 or betterNVIDIA GeForce 1080 or better
Processor At least Intel i5 processor Intel Core i5-i7 5th generation or higher At least Intel i5 processor Intel i5 or better
Storage Type HDD or SSD HDD or SSD SSD SSD
Storage Size Minimum of 256 GBMinimum of 256 GB Minimum of 256 GB Minimum of 500 GB
RAM Size8 GB or more8 GB or more8 GB or more16 GB or better


As a college student, you are going to be constantly on the move. Therefore, your laptop needs to have features that are compatible with your mobility.

You should be able to attend online lectures if necessary, print out or exchange files with other students through the presence of File Sharing features to connect with other devices or systems.

When purchasing a laptop, consider the presence of both wired and wireless connection features.

USB PortWifi
Network PortBluetooth
Headphone Jack

Usage Time

How long your laptop can last without constant charges is also a major factor for college. There might be times when you do not have access to an energy source in a lecture room. But, that does not mean your laptop should power off as a result.

Batteries are meant to serve as backup energy sources when there is no means of charging. A typical college students schedule cannot have more than 8 hours for lectures. Therefore, when browsing through options, the minimum battery life should be 8 hours.


…How efficient you can be with the laptop will depend on the input features such as the keyboard, pen, mouse and trackpad among others….

Your laptop is going to be an important tool in college, therefore it must be comfortable for you to use. How efficient you can be with the laptop will depend on the input features such as the keyboard, pen, mouse and trackpad among others.

Examine the type of keypad on the laptop especially the spacing in between the keys. For the trackpad, what you will be examining is the sensitivity whether it responds rapidly and if the size is adequately proportioned to the laptop.

Apart the trackpad, you may consider buying a laptop with added features such as a pen and mouse.

For graphics design students, a laptop with a pen or touch screen would be compatible with their discipline. On the other hand for accounting students, what they will be on the look out for is a numerical laptop which mostly comes in 15.6’’ display size.

Lawyers will prefer a keyboard that is active for long hours of typing while engineering students will want a touchscreen to write out complex equations.


A question you need to ask yourself when purchasing a college laptop is “how good does the display need to be”. To answer this question, your course of study needs to come into play.

If your primary function involves use of spreadsheets or typing, then there might be no need to worry about display quality. However, if you are in humanities and studying an arts course, a laptop with a high pixel density is a necessity.

There are 4 things to look for in the display of a laptop:

  • Resolution: Do not go for laptops with screen resolutions of sub-1080p. If you are not enrolled in a course making use of images or graphics, a standard HD laptop should suffice.
  • Matte or Gloss: weighing the benefits of matte and gloss against one another is akin to asking to choose between brains and beauty. Gloss indicates eye catching graphics while matte disperse the light on the display screen of a laptop making it good for outdoor use.
  • Color gamut: this is what tells you how vivid your display will be. Again, students in the humanities will have to factor in this feature as it affects the representation of images on a laptop. But, even without being in a humanities discipline, having a laptop with good enough quality for a little leisure movie watching does not hurt.
  • Brightness: your laptop needs to be bright enough to see in a dim light setting and be dimmable in bright light settings. Different laptops use nits to measure its brightness capabilities. The average nit of your laptop should be 300 while 500 is extremely good.

Operating System

…The OS you choose will affect your buying options and user experience…

The most popular operating systems in the laptop market include Windows, MacOS and Chrome OS. The OS you choose will affect your buying options and user experience.

How? In terms of buying options, laptops with Windows OS are more common and you have a wide range of options with the likes of HP, Dell, ASUS etc.

Also, it is easy to make customizations to the system and the connectivity options are limitless. You also have access to the digital assistant Cortana. Windows offers a wide range of products for various budgets.

MacOS however is an Apple product and apart from Apple itself, no other company has a license to use the software.

Therefore, there are limited connectivity options as Mac systems are made to only be compatible with other Apple products. The digital assistant available on this OS is Siri. Apple products are also expensive and most students cannot afford the luxury.

ChromeOS is more of an android operating system for laptops. Most of its support comes from the Chrome browser and other Android applications. It is quite limited in offerings but works well with other Android devices. Chrome laptops are affordable.


…you should go for brand names as you can be sure of getting warranties on products and product support…

There are different popular brand names and at the same time, there are unknown names which offer good products. In terms of trusted sellers, you should go for brand names as you can be sure of getting warranties on products and product support.

For unknown brands, the same cannot be said for them, although you can be sure to get a good deal for a price lesser than what a well known brand will offer.

Best Place To Buy Laptop For College Students

After deciding on the laptop you want, the next thing to do is figure out the best place to buy it from. You have two choices and that is to purchase from an online store or walk to a tech/departmental store.

The two options have their benefits:

Shopping WebsitePhysical Store
Discounts and deals
Easy to browse through catalogue
Price comparison
On hand tech support
Personal sighting of item being purchased
Get the product immediatelyafter paying.Test the laptop
ConsCannot see or test the product prior to purchase
Might bear shipping costs
Time consuming
Hard to compare store prices

What Is The Best Laptop For College Students?

The best laptop for college students is one that conveniently offers a solution to the demands of your academic discipline.

Apart from that, it needs to be travel friendly and durable to last a good majority of the duration of the course.

Brands such as Apple, HP, Dell and Acer among others offer such features in their laptops.

Tablet vs. Laptop For Collge

Both sets of devices have their advantages. However, considering the fact that the aim of use is for studying in college, we compared each feature using the intended use as a basis and a laptop comes out as the best option.

Display SizeSmallBig
Memory SizeLimitedExpandable
Productivity ToolsBased on availabilityComes preinstalled with basic software like Microsoft Office
Battery LifeUp to 7 hoursUp to 12 hours

Is a Laptop Necessary for College?

It depends on the school and your academic discipline. Most schools make a laptop a compulsory tool to have. But, if the school does not demand for it, your academic discipline might heavily rely on its use such that it becomes a necessity to have it.

However, even without these two reasons, we currently live in a tech-enabled environment such that it would be rare to find a college not optimizing devices such as laptop for coursework.


When you know how to go about buying a college laptop, making a buying decision is a whole lot easier. You can eliminate the systems not relevant to you based on a criteria that aligns with your intended use.

However, note that based on the budget you come up with, you may end up sacrificing one feature or the other to keep your costs in line. But, ensure the feature sacrificed is not one that will affect the performance you require from the college laptop.

Article by:
Sarah Adedun
Sarah Adedun is a technology enthusiast. When she is not reviewing tech products, you can find her sharing personal thoughts on Medium and researching ways to merge Finance and Technology together.

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