Veronica With Four Eyes

Questions To Ask When Choosing A Laptop For College

I received a message from a reader asking if I had any tips for choosing a laptop for college, because they were interested in finding the “best” laptop for their soon-to-be college student. While I can’t recommend a specific laptop brand or model that would be considered the “best” laptop for college since colleges and major programs can vary with their tech requirements, here is a list of questions that can help students find the best laptop for their needs, factoring in details such as operating system, storage, screen size, and more.

How much storage do I need?

When it comes to choosing a laptop for college, my recommendation is to buy as much storage as you can afford. My current laptop is 1000 gigabytes, also known as one terabyte (1 TB). Of course, there are options for expanding storage with external drives, SD cards, and cloud storage, but I recommend spending the money for storage upfront when possible.

Computers with HDD storage are generally cheaper and have more storage space, while computers with SSD storage are faster and have better battery life. Personally, I prefer to choose a laptop with an SSD for the improved battery life, and purchase as much storage as I can afford for the laptop model I’m interested in.

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Will I be bringing my laptop to class? What about outside of the classroom?

A lot of the classes in my data science major were offered in computer labs, so students didn’t usually bring personal computers to class- a lot of students had laptops that were larger or less portable since they weren’t bringing them to class often, and their laptops didn’t fit on the smaller lecture-hall sized portable tables. This wasn’t the case when I was an IT major, as students would have to bring their own laptops for in-class assignments and activities and often chose laptops that were portable and could be used in a variety of classrooms. These smaller and lightweight laptops were easier to carry in a backpack, which was helpful since students often had to carry a lot of items for class.

On the topic of screens, I personally prefer to have a slightly smaller laptop screen size, around 13 or 14 inches, because this is easier for me to carry, and I can view the entire screen within my field of vision. Since I usually have the laptop screen closer to my face in class compared to a desktop computer or TV screen, I’m fine with having a smaller screen if it means my laptop is more portable, compared to a 17-inch screen that might be easier to see with large print but that I can’t rest on a desk. I reserve the larger screen sizes for external monitors- more on that in a later section.

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Does my college or major require/recommend a specific operating system?

Some colleges and/or majors require or recommend specific operating systems or computer models for students, as there may be specialty software that is restricted to a specific operating system. For data science, all of the software for my classes could run on Windows, Mac, or Linux, but not on a Chromebook, and some professors offered recommendations for computer specifications if students were looking to get a new laptop. Students who rely on assistive technology or accessibility settings may require a specific operating system in order to use essential software- for example, the JAWS screen reader is only available on Windows.

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What applications or programs will I be using for class?

When thinking about what applications or programs I use (or will use) in my college classes, I try to divide them loosely into the following categories:

  • Tools that are proprietary or exclusive to one operating system or device, such as JAWS being exclusive to Windows.
  • Tools I can synchronize on multiple operating systems or devices. For example, I can download the IDEs used in my data science classes onto a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer, as well as run certain IDEs in my web browser.
  • Productivity applications like word processing and notetaking apps. I use Microsoft Office applications because they are free for students at my college and work across all of my most-used devices.
  • Other specialty applications. For me, this includes things like calculators, digital scanners, brainstorming tools, reading apps, and other tools that I use across multiple classes.

After thinking about what applications I use (or will use) on a regular basis, I check their device requirements so I can ensure that my laptop will be able to run whatever applications I need. For screen readers like JAWS, this includes choosing a laptop with a strong video/graphics card.

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How will I use my computer in my dorm?

Hunching over a laptop screen can lead to back and neck pain, not to mention eye strain. This is one of the primary reasons why I prefer to use a desktop computer, but students can also connect their laptop to an external monitor and other tools like an external keyboard and mouse when at their desk- I prefer to have a larger monitor at my desk to enlarge my smaller laptop screen. I use a Surface Dock to connect my laptop to an external display when at my desk or use a wireless display option to duplicate/mirror my laptop’s screen onto a smart TV.

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Are there any peripheral or external devices I will be using?

There are a few different peripheral or external devices that can be used with a laptop computer. While I don’t necessarily use all of these options simultaneously, some examples of peripheral devices that I might use with my laptop during class include:

  • External keyboard (wired or wireless)
  • External mouse (wired or wireless- wired mice are required for tests)
  • Camera or webcam for zooming in on information presented at a distance
  • Video magnifier for enlarging content
  • USB or external drive for storing information
  • Scanner or scanning pen

One of the items I considered when choosing a laptop was ensuring that there enough USB slots for accommodating at least my keyboard, mouse, and one other item. Another option is to carry a USB hub that can provide additional ports for connecting items.

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What is the battery life? Can I charge my laptop during class?

Using multiple applications can drain the battery life of a laptop quickly, so it’s important to consider how often the device will need to be charged and if it can be placed in a location where it can be charged easily- portable battery packs often do not provide sufficient charging power for laptops. Since I often had breaks between classes, I would charge my laptop in my dorm, and didn’t worry about my laptop battery running out during class. If I had to charge my laptop during class, I would sit near an outlet and ensure that the charging cord did not create a tripping hazard for other students or the professor- many of my classes had convenient charging areas for students to access.

Avoid charging laptops inside backpacks or cases, as this can pose an overheating or fire risk.

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Can I get any discounts or funding?

Here are a few of my tips for getting discounts when choosing a laptop for college:

  • Look for student or education discounts, which may be offered at certain times of the year or through store websites.
  • Membership warehouse clubs may offer discounts on laptops and other technologies, as well as extended warranties and discounts on accessories.
  • Some college bookstores also offered discounted technology, which can be picked up on campus or ordered online for delivery.
  • Look at cash back or rewards offers. When I purchased a few accessories from the Microsoft store, I was able to get some rewards points that turned into a gift card, as well as additional cash back from my credit card.
  • Consider buying a refurbished laptop, which has been repaired, tested, and restored to manufacturer specifications by a trained technician, and can provide additional cost savings while still having a warranty. However, I would avoid buying items sold as-is without a warranty
  • For students with visual impairments, vocational rehabilitation may pay for some or all of the cost of a new laptop that is used for college classes and/or reaching employment goals
  • Are you interning at a tech company, or know someone who is? They might be able to get discounts on technology or other products, even if it isn’t for a device from their company. For example, an employee at Tech Company A was able to get a small discount by showing their badge when buying a tablet at Tech Company B, which paid for dinner and dessert for two later that night.

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Does my laptop support my favorite hobbies?

Lastly, when choosing a laptop for college, it’s important to ensure that the laptop not only lets a student work hard, but lets them play hard and enjoy their favorite computer-based hobbies. This can include (but isn’t limited to!):

  • Playing games
  • Watching and streaming video content
  • Drawing and digital art
  • Running a blog
  • Working on freelance projects
  • Writing
  • Talking to friends on audio and/or video chat

When one of my friends was looking at getting a laptop for college, they were considering settling for a model that worked well for their classes, but wouldn’t let them play video games or work on digital art. I reminded them that they would likely be a point of frustration for them in the future, because these are things they enjoy doing, and that they should spend the extra money to ensure that they can relax and still do their favorite things even when away from home.

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Summary of questions to ask when choosing a laptop for college

  • How much storage do I need?
  • Will I be bringing my laptop to class? What about outside of the classroom?
  • Does my college or major require/recommend a specific operating system?
  • What applications or programs will I be using for class?
  • How will I use my computer in my dorm?
  • Are there any peripheral or external devices I will be using?
  • What is the battery life? Can I charge my laptop during class?
  • Can I get any discounts or funding?
  • Does my laptop support my favorite hobbies?


Learn how to choose a laptop for college and what to look for in terms of storage, screen size, operating system, accessibility, and more.