Buying a laptop (or any kind of computer) for college is a rite-of-passage for every graduating high school senior. It signals the end of working on public school computers or the family desktop. I still remember going to Best Buy after my high school graduation to pick out the perfect technology companion for my college career.
After four years of living with my choice and seeing the experiences of my classmates, I’ve realized some facts about what makes a good laptop for college vs. what looks good in stores but is actually inconvenient to use on campus. Here is everything I’ve learned about choosing the best laptop to begin your stint in higher education.
Portability is key. That 18-inch monster of a laptop may seem impressive on its stand at Best Buy, but it gets real tiring to lug around for any extended period of time. Take it from someone who purchased such a laptop: you will get very annoyed (and sweaty) carrying around what is essentially a full desktop computer around campus. Aim for a modest 11-13 inches, or 15 inches if you really want a bigger screen.
Be conscious of your academic needs. As a pseudo-engineering major (I study information systems but through the business school) I cannot begin to recount the times I’ve seen students in CSE (computer science and engineering) courses struggle to complete project/ homework assignments because they can’t get the correct program to work on their Macs. The problem becomes even more difficult because most professors only have experience with PCs, and so oftentimes the only help available is to ask other students. If you know that your major has certain requirements, such as compatibility with various coding software for example, choose function over form to make your life easier.
Budget your bag space. If you plan to carry around your laptop everywhere, chances are you’ll be stuffing it into your backpack everyday instead of putting it in a special laptop case. If you buy a laptop that is too large in terms of dimension or too thick, you either won’t be able to fit it into your bag or you won’t have space for anything else. Similarly, be conscious of the weight because although a laptop may not seem heavy when held by itself, it will feel like a ton of bricks on your back after trekking for a mile across campus (laptops are generally the heaviest item in a backpack).
Research all possible computing options. Do you really need a laptop or is a tablet enough? Do you want your laptop to be able to convert to a tablet (ie Windows Surface or Lenovo Yoga)? With all the competing products on the market today, you don’t necessarily have to buy what is popular or what is expected. Computer science students may be better suited for PC laptops in order to run coding programs, but graphic design majors may prefer tablets that allow them to draw with a stylus. Your laptop or tablet will become your constant companion so choose one that best fits your needs. Not only will you get more value, but it’ll save you the trouble (and money) of eventually having to buy another piece of technology just because your first didn’t do what you needed.
Think about the long term. As a graduating senior or incoming freshman, the future can seem well-off and completely unpredictable. The condition of laptops after many years is definitely not high on anyone’s list of thoughts when first coming in to college, but it can save money in the long run. The types of computers that are popular/ convenient for college campuses are not always the same as those used in industry. It’s best to choose a laptop that can carry over into the long term (in other words, one that won’t quickly outlive its use or go out of style). Upgrading is pretty much unavoidable for every form of electronic, but that doesn’t mean they all have the same lifespan.
A laptop is an investment, and there is no doubt that some sort of computing device is required for your tenure as a student. I wish that I had really put more thought into what I needed instead of what I wanted, and I’m hoping that my experience serves as guidance for what to look for in this exciting (but also confusing) time. Also remember that OSU has plenty of computer labs on campus, so for those days you forget your laptop or just don’t want to bring it to campus, you always have resources available.
Picture source: http://www.keystroke.ca/blog/?p=339
Academics, Advice, Author, Campus Life, Personal, Student Life