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Choosing a laptop (or alternative) for college

Stack of various laptops

Jason Keller
February 02, 2018

Do I need a laptop for college?

I’ll just say it right off the bat: You might not need a laptop for college. Any decent school has computer labs available to students. Having a laptop, however, can make your life much easier. 

If you're in the market for one, which one do you get?

What kind of laptop should I get?

The simplest (and most frustrating) answer to this question is that it depends on your needs. You may be a history student, and your needs may be research and writing. Or maybe you’re a STEM student, and you need to run heavy programs.

So your choice depends on your major. 

For the vast majority of people attending college, your needs are going to be basic: Something that lets you access the internet, install your standard suite of productivity applications and last a few hours on battery. In all cases, no matter what you’re majoring in or studying, I'd recommend picking a device that has at least 4 GB of RAM. I’d also get a cheap USB Ethernet adapter with your purchase. You’ll thank yourself when the residence hall Wi-Fi goes down. 

For STEM students

This next portion goes out to the prospective STEM students reading this. Much of the same advice from above applies to you, but you also have other things to consider. You’re going to be crunching some serious data, rendering large projects and bouncing from program to program, which means you’ll need some better hardware. A device with 8 GB of RAM and a bevy of ports is a good place to start. 

Mac or PC?

Many gallons of ink and nerd blood have been spilled over this conflict, which is why I’m not going to really pick a side on this one. Both have their merits and are worthy of consideration. PC has the most software support, and for most major programs, there’s a Mac version. What your decision boils down to is that you should choose whichever one fits your needs and requirements. 

What are the alternatives?

As I mentioned before, it is not necessarily required for you to have a laptop for college. It makes life easier, to be sure, but there are alternatives out there: 

  • Using your college’s computer labs
  • Using a tablet
  • Bringing or building a desktop
  • Refreshing an old laptop
  • Only using your phone (although if you make it through college only using your cell phone, I’ll be amazed)

Do I need antivirus software?

Yes. But here’s the catch: Don’t pay for it. 

My personal recommendations: Windows Defender from Microsoft is a good, free antivirus solution. If you’re on a Mac, Sophos Antivirus is also good.

Further reading



Logical Increment’s Laptops page

Tech Radar’s best laptops for college students


is a senior at UNC and is planning to graduate in December 2018. He is studying journalism and writing, with an emphasis in news and multimedia. He has a passion for marketing, technology and writing, and hopes to work in marketing after he graduates. When he's not at work, he likes to listen to music, read, study, write and spend time with friends.