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Whether you are studying online or on campus, a laptop is an essential tool for any college student; however, your needs may vary depending on your field of study. English and history majors may only need internet access and a word processor, while film or audio engineering students may require higher-end machines with advanced graphics and sound capabilities. Regardless of their discipline, most students consider factors such as portability and battery life.

This guide explores the best laptops for college students and outlines a few major factors to consider when shopping. Financing options and school programs that provide laptops for students are also discussed.

We compared dozens of top laptop rankings to compile a list of the 15 most popular options for students. Our methodology considers factors such as price, portability, and technical features that can affect a student's life.

What Are the Best Laptops for College?

School Location Price Description Toggle

Acer Aspire 5

Price: $437

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 15.6-inch 1080p
Weight: 3.97 pounds
Processor: AMD Ryzen 3 3200u/Ryzen 5 3500u/Ryzen 7 3700u
RAM: 4GB
Battery Life: Up to 7.5 hours
Storage: 128GB

Highlights

One of the best laptops for college, the Acer Aspire 5 comes with Windows 10 preinstalled. Other features include an aluminum body and a narrow screen bezel.

Recommended for

The Acer Aspire 5 is one of the best college laptops for liberal arts majors and other students who do not need the fastest processing speeds. The laptop can easily handle the most common productivity software and entertainment apps.

Pros

  • Long battery life
  • Includes both USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports
  • Solid-state hard drive

Cons

  • No RAM or hard drive upgrades available
  • Integrated graphics result in slower processing speeds
  • Underpowered speakers
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Acer Chromebook 15

Price: $418

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 15.6-inch 1080p
Weight: 4.4 pounds
Processor: Intel Celeron N3350 Dual-Core
RAM: 4GB
Battery Life: Up to 12 hours
Storage: 32GB

Highlights

The Acer Chromebook 15 is one of the best laptops for students looking for a sub-$500 model. With Chrome OS preinstalled, learners need not worry about expensive software upgrades.

Recommended for

This laptop may appeal to undergraduates who need a computer for light productivity work, social media, and internet streaming.

Pros

  • Excellent battery life
  • Affordable purchase price
  • Additional cost savings by using Google Docs for assignments

Cons

  • Ships with one of the slower Intel processors
  • Cannot handle graphically demanding programs
  • Awkward keyboard layout
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Apple MacBook Air

Price: $982

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 13.3-inch 4K
Weight: 2.8 pounds
Processor: Intel Core i5
RAM: 8GB
Battery Life: Up to 12 hours
Storage: 128GB/256GB

Highlights

Apple produces some of the best laptops for college students interested in photo editing and graphic design. Apple's intuitive software also makes multitasking easy. The aluminum unibody makes the MacBook Air a durable device.

Recommended for

Students who use Adobe software products or proprietary Apple software to complete class assignments should consider the Apple MacBook Air.

Pros

  • Lightweight and slim
  • Touch ID security
  • 4K display

Cons

  • Higher price point
  • Integrated graphics
  • 720p front-facing camera
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Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch

Price: $1,230

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 13.3-inch 4K
Weight: 3.02 pounds
Processor: Intel Core i5
RAM: 8GB/16GB/32GB
Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB

Highlights

The Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch features the Touch Bar — a slim OLED touchscreen that changes functionality depending on the application. This feature makes the MacBook Pro one of the best student laptops for undergraduates who multitask between assignments and use smart keys for productivity.

Recommended for

Students who can afford to spend more than $1,000 on a laptop and use graphically demanding software for class assignments should research the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch.

Pros

  • Comprehensive AppleCare+ coverage optional
  • Touch Bar
  • Customizable RAM and processor speed

Cons

  • More expensive than comparable laptops
  • Unable to upgrade the internal RAM or hard drive
  • Keys have a short travel distance
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Asus Chromebook Flip C434

Price: $597

Specs

Type: 2-in-1 laptop
Display: 14-inch 1080p
Weight: 3.3 pounds
Processor: Intel Core M Family
RAM: 4GB/8GB
Battery Life: Approximately 8-10 hours
Storage: 32GB

Highlights

The Asus Chromebook Flip C434 allows users to switch between laptop and tablet mode effortlessly. The laptop's weight and size make it less cumbersome in students' backpacks.

Recommended for

The Asus Chromebook Flip C434 may appeal to students looking for a laptop that allows them to take and annotate notes without using a keyboard.

Pros

  • Sturdy aluminum body
  • Thin screen bezel
  • Backlit keyboard

Cons

  • Small hard drive
  • Underpowered processor
  • Hinges wear out quickly
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Asus Zenbook 13 UX333FA

Price: $950

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 13.3-inch 1080p
Weight: 2.62 pounds
Processor: Intel Core i5
RAM: 8GB
Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
Storage: 256GB

Highlights

This versatile laptop provides excellent hardware features at a competitive price point. The Asus Zenbook 13 comes preinstalled with Windows Home.

Recommended for

The Asus Zenbook 13 is one of the best student laptops for learners who do not need a top-of-the-line processor. As such, photography, graphic design, and engineering students may want to consider other laptops.

Pros

  • Thin screen bezel
  • Excellent viewing angles
  • Facial recognition login

Cons

  • Unreliable trackpad
  • Awkward keyboard layout
  • Weak speakers
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Dell XPS 13

Price: $990

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 13.3-inch 1080p
Weight: 2.67 pounds
Processor: Intel Core i5
RAM: 8GB
Battery Life: Up to 19 hours, 46 minutes
Storage: 128GB

Highlights

The Dell XPS 13 features a 3.4GHz processor. The included solid-state hard drive allows users to access data rapidly.

Recommended for

Its impressive processor and excellent display make the Dell XPS 13 one of the best college laptops for students who use graphically demanding programs to complete coursework. The laptop may also appeal to learners who enjoy gaming.

Pros

  • Thin and lightweight
  • Multicore processor
  • Backlit keyboard

Cons

  • Older model
  • Facial recognition software prone to malfunction
  • Keyboard not adequate for users with larger hands
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Google Pixelbook Go

Price: $649

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 13.3-inch 1080p
Weight: 2.33 pounds
Processor: Intel Core M3/Intel Core i5/Intel Core i7
RAM: 8GB/16GB
Battery Life: Up to 12 hours
Storage: 64GB/128GB/256GB

Highlights

The Google Pixelbook Go allows users to customize the processor, RAM, and storage. The laptop comes with antivirus software preinstalled.

Recommended for

The competitive price point and Chrome OS make the Google Pixelbook Go one of the best college laptops for students whose coursework does not require the fastest processor.

Pros

  • Thin and lightweight
  • Grippable design
  • Large trackpad

Cons

  • Slower processor in the base model
  • Cannot replace the hard drive
  • Playing media drains the battery quickly
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HP Envy 13

Price: $1,050

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 13.3-inch 1080p
Weight: 4.3 pounds
Processor: Intel Core i5
RAM: 8GM
Battery Life: Up to 14 hours
Storage: 256GB

Highlights

The HP Envy 13 provides many of the same specs as much more expensive laptops. Users report smooth multitasking and better-than-average speakers.

Recommended for

Excellent hardware features at a relatively affordable price make the HP Envy 13 one of the best laptops for students trying to save some money.

Pros

  • Solid-state hard drive compensates for slower processor
  • SD card slot included
  • Fast startup

Cons

  • Heavier than most laptops
  • Short battery life when multitasking
  • Screen washes out when using laptop outdoors or in a bright room
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Huawei MateBook 13

Price: $875

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 13-inch 4K
Weight: 2.86 pounds
Processor: Intel Core i5
RAM: 8GB
Battery Life: 6 hours
Storage: 256GB

Highlights

This versatile laptop features an excellent display for its sub-$900 price point. Working alongside 8GB of RAM, the multicore processor can handle multitasking and graphically demanding programs.

Recommended for

The Huawei MateBook 13's specs make it one of the best student laptops for most undergraduates majoring in a liberal arts field. Learners interested in Apple laptops should consider the MateBook as an affordable alternative.

Pros

  • Sharp 4K display with 4.4-mm bezel
  • Advanced cooling system
  • Touchscreen

Cons

  • Poor battery life
  • Limited availability in the United States
  • Underpowered compared to the only slightly more expensive Huawei Matebook X Pro
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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Price: $1,599

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 14-inch 1080p
Weight: 4.6 pounds
Processor: Intel Core i7
RAM: 16GB RAM
Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
Storage: 512GB

Highlights

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon features plenty of RAM and a spacious hard drive. The laptop also includes a fingerprint reader and a quad-core processor.

Recommended for

Impressive hardware specs and a classic design inherited from the IBM ThinkPad make this laptop popular among students majoring in business.

Pros

  • Large internal hard drive
  • Built-in HDMI port
  • Touchscreen

Cons

  • More expensive than other laptops with similar specs
  • Small trackpad
  • Poor sound quality
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Lenovo Yoga C940

Price: $1,230

Specs

Type: 2-in-1 laptop
Display: 14-inch 1080p
Weight: 2.98 pounds
Processor: Intel Core i7
RAM: 12GB
Battery Life: Up to 12 hours
Storage: 512GB

Highlights

This 2-in-1 laptop easily transitions between laptop and tablet modes. Excellent battery life means that students can use the Lenovo Yoga C940 throughout the day without needing to carry a charging cable between classes.

Recommended for

Lenovo sells one of the best student laptops for undergraduates who need a device that can handle productivity work, multimedia entertainment, and graphically demanding applications. Learners who want to keep data secure can do so by enabling the fingerprint reader.

Pros

  • Fingerprint reader
  • Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 ports
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Lacks an SD card slot
  • Overheats
  • Comes with unnecessary bloatware
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Microsoft Surface Go

Price: $494

Specs

Type: 2-in-1 laptop
Display: 10-inch 1080p
Weight: 1.0 pound
Processor: Intel Pentium Gold
RAM: 4GB/8GB
Battery Life: Up to 9 hours
Storage: 64GB/128GB

Highlights

The Microsoft Surface Go is one of the best laptops for college students thanks to its compact and lightweight design. Its keyboard detaches completely, allowing students to shed excess weight if they plan to take notes using the included stylus.

Recommended for

The Microsoft Surface Go may appeal to undergraduates who need a reliable device for light productivity work, web surfing, and multimedia streaming.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Excellent battery life for a small 2-in-1 laptop

Cons

  • Interface changes in tablet mode
  • Smaller screen may result in eye strain
  • Keyboard not full sized
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Microsoft Surface Pro 6

Price: $695

Specs

Type: 2-in-1 laptop
Display: 12.3-inch 1080p
Weight: 1.7 pounds
Processor: Intel Core i5/Intel Core i7
RAM: 8GB/16GB
Battery Life: Up to 13.5 hours
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB

Highlights

The Microsoft Surface Pro 6 features numerous hardware upgrades and better battery life compared to the Microsoft Surface Go. Users also report a much sharper screen and a better viewing angle than less expensive Microsoft products.

Recommended for

Undergraduates researching the best laptops for college should consider the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 if their classwork requires additional RAM and a faster processor.

Pros

  • Many hardware upgrade options
  • Excellent battery life for a 2-in-1 laptop
  • Kickstand allows for different viewing angles

Cons

  • Cramped keyboard
  • Some software not compatible with the included stylus
  • Graphically demanding software freezes randomly
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Samsung Chromebook 3

Price: $244

Specs

Type: Traditional laptop
Display: 11.6-inch 1080p
Weight: 2.54 pounds
Processor: Intel Celeron
RAM: 4GB
Battery Life: Up to 11 hours
Storage: 64GB

Highlights

The Samsung Chromebook 3 features a spill-resistant keyboard and preinstalled antivirus software. The laptop's Chrome OS works with popular software suites, including Microsoft Office.

Recommended for

One of the best college laptops for students on a budget, the Samsung Chromebook 3 provides a reliable workstation that serves learners well — both inside and outside of class.

Pros

  • Competitive price point
  • Screen can tilt 180 degrees
  • Excellent viewing angles

Cons

  • Underpowered processor
  • Smaller storage than the average laptop
  • Large screen bezel
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How to Choose the Right Laptop

The average student spends close to 75% of their time engaging with technology; therefore, it is important to feel comfortable while working on a laptop. All enrollees should consider the following factors when choosing the right laptop for college.

Size and Weight

College students typically prioritize laptop portability. Whether opting for smaller or larger devices, learners should consider the tradeoff in size, power, and performance. Light, small, and simple laptops may work fine for basic tasks like word processing. However, some students may prioritize screen size and faster processing power.

Unless you work in a computer science field or require a large screen and high performance for detailed tasks like design work, an 11-13-inch laptop under five pounds should suffice.

Battery Life

All students should consider battery life when choosing a laptop. Most batteries last 10-14 hours. Smaller computers tend to offer longer battery lives since they work more efficiently, while higher-performing laptops use more power and may perform less efficiently than their smaller counterparts. Laptops sport an average battery life of 8-10 hours on the low side and 12-17 hours on the high side.

Display and Resolution

Students should consider whether they need a large display for their college experience. Individuals who mostly use their computer as a web-browsing and word processing tool may not need a large display. However, since displays have advanced in recent years, even lower-priced models feature high-resolution displays. A 1080p or 1920x1080 resolution is typically suitable for students. Higher resolutions come with higher price tags.

RAM

In computers, random access memory (RAM) determines how many programs can run simultaneously. Most laptops and tablets start with 4GB of RAM, which suffices for web browsing and word processing. Upgrading to 8GB of RAM lets you comfortably run many programs at once.

Newly released computer programs typically require increased memory use, but your computer's RAM will stay the same; therefore, your computer may slow down over time. Four gigabytes of RAM may get the job done when running simple applications, but eight gigabytes makes for a better long-term investment.

Processor

As its name implies, a processor handles many of the major processes for a laptop, functioning as one of the most important components. In general, most users can get by with an entry- or mid-level processor, such as an Intel i3 or i5. However, students using more demanding applications, such as graphic or video editing, may benefit from higher-level processors like an Intel i7 or i9.

Hard Drive and Storage

All of the digital information you create is stored on your computer's hard drive. Hard drives vary in size and quality. A solid-state drive (SSD) contains no moving parts, and computers with SSDs are faster and more stable than those with standard hard drives. SSDs often cost more, but the upgrade in speed and performance may warrant the price. SSDs typically run 3-4 times faster than regular hard drives.

If your budget allows, opt for an SSD. If you pick a regular hard drive, look for the most storage available at your price point. Standard hard drives typically offer at least 128GB of storage, although students may want at least 250GB of storage.

Operating System

Most laptops run on either Windows or Mac OS, which both offer compatibility and full functionality. In general, Windows PCs cost less and offer more customization, while Macs are more expensive and feature proprietary software.

For students performing basic tasks, such as email and word processing, either operating system will work just fine. However, Macs may be the best laptops for college students performing specialized operations, such as video editing.

Price

As with most electronics, laptops vary widely in price and quality. In general, less expensive models use less powerful hardware that offers lower performance, while more expensive models feature faster processors, accelerated graphics cards, larger hard drives, and more RAM.

For most students, an entry- to mid-level laptop (often priced from $300-$600) should meet any requirements associated with college classes. However, certain specialized fields may require more advanced hardware.

Traditional or 2-in-1 Laptop?

By combining the features of a laptop and a tablet, 2-in-1 devices offer some distinct advantages over traditional laptops. These devices feature two main designs, using either a detachable keyboard or a rotating hinge that allows users to fold the keyboard behind the screen.

The versatility of a 2-in-1 device offers some obvious advantages. Students might use the device as a traditional laptop for taking notes during class, and then switch to the tablet mode to read a digital textbook for homework. For those who travel frequently or need to complete assignments on the go, a compact 2-in-1 laptop can offer greater portability and flexibility.

These versatile features often come at a higher price than traditional laptops, and 2-in-1 devices may also feature lower-end hardware due to their reduced size and increased flexibility. A 2-in-1 laptop may prove useful for students who want to combine the functionality of a laptop with the convenience of a tablet.

Can't Afford a New Laptop?

Cash-strapped students can pursue alternatives to buying a new laptop. However, remember that lower up-front costs may not equal lower overall costs down the road, and students need reliable computers that can last for at least four years. Some alternatives to retail purchasing can carry hidden costs, which may outweigh any discounts you receive in the short term. With that caveat in mind, consider the following avenues:

School Sponsored Programs

Given the essential role technology plays in modern education, many colleges now offer laptops to incoming students, often for free or at a reduced cost. Some schools may include laptops in the cost of tuition, while others offer them free of charge. Certain colleges may lease laptops to enrollees for the duration of their education, and others allow learners to keep their laptops after graduation.

Not all colleges provide laptops; it pays to check with admissions departments to determine what type of technology accommodations a school may offer new students.

Leasing

Learners can lease or rent computers until they have paid their full value, at which point they assume ownership. These leases often resemble car or house payments, charging interest in addition to the property's value. Students can expect to pay off their laptop's full value within two years.

Some companies offer a same-as-cash clause, which allows those who are leasing to avoid interest charges if they pay the amount due within a specific time period. If you are confident you can meet this deadline, this could make for a solid short-term solution. Without a same-as-cash clause — or if you fail to pay the loan on time — high interest rates can kick in. Paying exorbitant "convenience" charges can quickly add up to more than the computer is worth, so approach these vendors with caution.

Student Financing

Computer manufacturers may offer direct financing programs, with some structuring payments specifically for higher education. Lenovo, Dell, and Apple each offer discounted pricing on products for college students. Some schools negotiate pricing and payment options for their enrollees. However, as with any financing offer, read the fine print and understand your total cost before signing.

Direct Purchasing

The open market offers opportunities for low-cost computers, and many college students conclude their searches with eBay or Craigslist purchases. Learners should exercise caution in these situations, as most third-party sites conduct little-to-no policing of their vendors.

Before you begin your search, identify your most important features. Build awareness of typical market pricing or resale value on particular models. Finally, exercise the utmost care when buying from individuals on these sites.

Other Laptop Buying Options

Popular Student Deals

Microsoft Student Deals

Microsoft offers many deals for students. These include 10% discounts on Surface series laptops and machines with Microsoft Office 365 at no extra charge. Microsoft features many inexpensive, student-friendly laptops.

Apple Student Deals

Apple offers several popular products at reduced prices for learners, including MacBook laptops, iMac desktops, and iPad tablets. Students who trade in eligible Apple devices can also receive credits toward a new MacBook.

Best Buy Student Deals

Best Buy offers rotating deals on computers and other home electronics products. Discounts may provide significant savings on select laptops and tablets, as well as certain mice, keyboards, and headphones.

Lenovo Student Deals

Lenovo offers discounts to students, teachers, and school administrators. ThinkPad laptops and other devices qualify for these discounts, and all orders include free shipping.

Taking Care of Your Device

Technology requires basic maintenance. Whether your tuition includes the cost of a laptop or you purchase one yourself, you need the device to last through your time at school. Protect your financial investment and avoid aggravation by caring for your device.

Keep the following in mind as you use your new computer:

Warranty

Standard manufacturer warranties for new computing products last one year. Since you plan to use your laptop for 2-4 years, you might want to consider purchasing an extended warranty. Evaluate options for theft and accidental damage, which standard insurance policies generally do not cover. Some schools that lease or sell laptops to students also offer additional insurance.

Data Backup

Avoid the classic college nightmare of working tirelessly on a paper or project that inexplicably disappears right before you finish by backing up data on your hard disk or through a cloud service. You can also make extra copies of important material on a flash drive.

System Updates

Apple and PC products periodically update their operating systems. Each update works to repair errors in previous versions and introduces features that make the software run more efficiently. Keeping your device up to date helps it run as smoothly as possible.

Cleaning

All computers — and especially portable devices — gather dirt, dust, and grime from constant use. Regular cleaning keeps your device functioning optimally.

  • Never use harsh chemicals like bleach-based, kitchen, or bathroom cleaning products on your computer. Use a lint-free cloth, like chamois or the cleaning cloth that comes with a pair of glasses.
  • Carefully wipe plastic surfaces with a computer cleaning solution, an even mixture of white vinegar and water, or plain water.
  • A can of compressed air cleans crumbs, lint, and dirt from between crevices and under the keyboard. Remember to keep the can upright and tilt the keyboard toward it for safer use.
Virus Protection

Many new computing products include built-in virus protection software as limited-time, bundled services. Schedule regular system scans at convenient times and respond immediately to virus definition update notifications. Antivirus programs vary in terms of their specifications; to better understand your options, check out PCMag's Best Antivirus Protection for 2020 breakdown.

Additional Resources

Online Colleges Offering Free Laptops

This guide lists more than a dozen top online U.S. colleges that offer laptops and tablets to students. Learners can also explore tips and a general overview of today's best laptops for college students.

College Planning Guides

These planning guides cover the fundamentals of college planning, including some financial tips for students planning to buy laptops for their coursework.

Financial Aid Guides

BestCollege's comprehensive financial database includes a detailed rundown of scholarship types and recipients, a step-by-step guide for filling out the FAFSA, and resources for Spanish-speaking students.