One of the questions I am frequently asked by students and teachers alike is about what laptop is best for college, and how to choose a laptop that will last through college. While it’s no secret that I love my Surface Pro and my HP Sprout desktop computer, I also recognize that my setup may not be the best for everyone, and that some degree programs may require different computers or entirely different operating systems. Today, I will be sharing questions to ask when choosing a laptop for college. I won’t be recommending any specific laptop, but rather helping students narrow down what they will need their laptop to be able to do.
Should I get a laptop or desktop computer?
I use both a desktop and a laptop computer in college because I have a speciality desktop computer that has a built-in magnifier, 3D scanner, and a large screen that I feel comfortable using for a long period of time. In addition, I have chronic back pain that makes it difficult to carry a laptop that would be capable of doing all of the same things that my desktop does. For students that choose to only have a laptop, I recommend having an external monitor in your dorm to plug the laptop into when working for long periods of time.
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What software will I be using for my degree program?
Some colleges or degree programs require students to buy a specific laptop or use a specific operating system for their coursework, as the software they will be using can only run on one operating system. As a data science major, I wasn’t told to buy any specific computer or operating system, as all of the software we would be using could run on Windows, Macintosh, or Linux systems, but not on a Chromebook, as we would be using specialty software in different classes. Another friend who graduated from a fine arts degree program was told they needed to have a MacBook since they would be working extensively with Apple products in the classroom, while a different friend’s computer science program required Windows.
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How often will I need to bring a laptop to class?
About half of my data science classes are held in computer labs where students can access any software they need during class time, with professors posting notes after class. Since I can configure accessibility settings on my computer in the computer lab, I rarely use my laptop in class.
For many of my IT classes, we didn’t use computer labs and students were expected to take notes or write code using a specific program. I would bring my laptop to every class and use it for almost the entire class period.
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What apps can I use to support my studies?
Besides the required software for my classes, I use lots of different apps to make sure I am successful in my classes. These include but are not limited to:
- Note-taking apps
- Digital scanners
- Word processors
- Cloud storage
All of the applications and software I use to support my studies is made by Microsoft, so for me it was a natural choice to use a Windows computer- though it’s worth noting the apps I use are available on other operating systems as well.
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Will I bring the laptop outside of the classroom?
My Surface Pro has attended quite a few different school-related events with me, including guest lectures, conferences, labs, and even bus rides. Some students even use their own personal computers for their internships, which was not the case for me but may be common in other fields. Make sure that whatever laptop you choose can be used in environments outside the classroom if necessary.
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Is there any assistive technology I need to use?
Once upon a time, someone came to me asking how to install JAWS on their Macintosh computer, as they had purchased a MacBook for college. Since JAWS is only available for Windows, I had to explain to them that they would need to use VoiceOver as their primary screen reader. A few hours later, they exchanged their MacBook for a different Windows computer, and felt much more comfortable since they were already familiar with JAWS.
If you rely on assistive technology products such as JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver, ZoomText, or similar, make sure that whatever laptop or operating system you choose can support the software you need.
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Am I going to use external devices with my laptop?
Some students prefer to use an external keyboard, external mouse, or both with their laptop computer. If this is the case, make sure that your computer has adequate USB ports or other technology to support external devices. I also like to make sure that my laptop can be connected to an external display, which is helpful for bad vision days or when I am presenting something in class or for a meeting.
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How much storage will I need?
I work with a lot of large files in my classes and frequently rely on my computer’s large hard drive and RAM to be able to work in lots of applications at once and to be able to submit high-resolution files. All of my electronics have the largest internal storage and RAM amounts that was available at the time of purchase, though I frequently use cloud storage for my files in the form of Microsoft OneDrive.
Can my laptop be used for extracurricular or fun activities?
I frequently use both my desktop and laptop computer for activities not related to school, including running my own website, editing videos, digital art, talking to friends on video chat, and using streaming services. Some of my friends also use their computers for gaming, so it’s important to check to make sure your computer can support any leisure activities you might be interested in.
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I’m glad that I was able to pick out the perfect desktop and laptop computers for college, and that these devices are still going strong five years later. While I did not start college as a data science major, I did know that investing in a Windows computer that can run several apps at once with high efficiency would help me to be successful in any technology-related degree that I planned to pursue. I hope this post is helpful for students picking out a computer!