Do You Need a Laptop for College in 2022? (Guides & Tips on Choosing)

Last Updated on July 3, 2022 by David Shaw

college laptop

Attending college is an integral part and milestone of everyone’s academic journey. When it comes to navigating college, laptops may seem like a necessity for students, but in reality, that might not be the case. In this article, we will discuss whether do students need to buy a laptop, and guides to choosing the perfect college laptop.

Laptops can still be an optional choice in order to attend college. Although it’s not compulsory, getting a laptop is extremely useful to assist you for college tasks and work. Since many intructors rely on technology and internet to conduct classes, a personal laptop will be of great use in college.

However, getting the right laptop for youself can be confusing given the number of choices on the market. In order to provide you the best information and guide on laptops to save you time and money, here’s a handful of helpful points and answers to your question when looking for a laptop.

Can You Survive College Without A Laptop?

As of 2022, you absolutely can still survive college without a personal laptop! Colleges and universities today do not impose the requirement of laptops as classes are still conducted physically. That said, homework assignments, quizzes, or examinations are still commonly conducted physically in class unless it is an online class (both aynchronous or synchronous). Even with tech-savvy subjects like computer science, campuses still provide students with in-class lectures that are equipped computers and internet connections.

However, there’s a caveat — although laptops are not mandatory in college, more university instructors are heavily incorporating and relying on the use internet and technology in their classes, which means you’ll have to use a computer to access class materials. Today, you can expect many professors to upload lecture recordings, assign work and upload class materials on the internet for students to access.

Given that the logistics and information of the course and further resources can be easily uploaded by lecturers through the internet, laptops are just a useful tool to help students conveniently access them. With that said, the main purpose to buy a laptop for college today is just to provide another level of convenience for students to navigate through classes.

Unless you take fully online classes (asynchronous), it would be a necessity to invest in a laptop as classes and assignments are conducted comprehensively through the internet.

– You Can Still Access free Computers or Laptops In College

Fortunately, you can expect almost all college campuses across the US readily equipped modern computers throughout the library, computer labs, or student center halls, and many other facility departments. If you can make use of these free resources, you should not have a problem navigating through college without a personal laptop computer. If you feel that’s not enough, some campuses even let you rent or lend laptops for dirt cheap prices or mostly for free!

How To Choose The Right Laptop

Given the plethora of laptop choices to choose from, we must first understand some basic of laptop computers. In order to make sure you maximize the investment of a laptop for your personalized type of use, these are the specifications and features that you should look for in a laptop:

Battery Life – Students are always on the go navigating around different parts of the campus and classes, therefore a good battery life can be really helpful to keep them too reliant on charging ports. A good tip is to opt for laptops which has a battery life between 10-15 hours or more of continuous use from a single charge.

Size and Weight – A laptop’s size and weight might sound like a compromise at first, but the real struggle of heavy laptops comes when you bring them around in a backpack. If you choose a bulky laptop, not only will your back hurt from carrying it, but also be more prone to sustain external damages. To save yourself some trouble, choose laptop sizes within the dimension of 14-inch and below 5 pounds (2.3kg) if you carry around your laptop a lot.

RAM (Random Access Memory) – In a nutshell, a computer’s RAM determines the number of tasks it can handle at a given time. Typically offered in 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB specifications, more RAM allows you to run more software tasks on your computer simultaneously without slowing down your laptop’s performance.

For example, a higher RAM allows a computer to run a lot of Google Chrome tabs, or several application software at the same time, all without causing a drop or slow in performance. As a rule of thumb, when buying a laptop for school use, only opt for 8Gbs or 16Gbs of RAM, not lesser than that. Here’s also an article on how much RAM do you need for college.

Memory Storage – A laptop’s memory storage is straightforwardly easy to understand and choose from. Laptops these days come with built-in Hard Disk Drives (HDD) or Solid-State drives (SSD) you can choose from at a minimum 256Gbs of storage. What are the differences between SSD and HDD? SSD is significantly faster than HDD in read and write speeds. In simpler terms, SSDs do a better job at launching, copying, and accessing files as they can process more information at a given time compared to HDDs. Most laptops today come with an additional empty memory slot for easy additional memory hardware installation.

Processor (CPU) – A processor is somewhat similar to the engine of a car. The better a computer’s processor, the more amount of information is processed in the unit of Giga Hertz. With Intel ruling most of the market’s processor chips in the industry, any edition from the i-5, i-7 core of 8th generation and above or similar AMD performing chips should be enough.

Graphics card (optional) – Although you find most laptops built-in with a basic graphics card, opting for a better graphics card will only be applicable for students who study Visual Effects for 3D image rendering or playing games. It would be helpful to know that a graphics card is not helpful for tasks like video editing, Photoshop, or AUTOCAD as they are CPU intensive and do not rely on the function of graphics cards (GPU).

How Much Should You Spend on Laptops? (Best Budget Laptops)

budget for laptop

To keep things brutally honest, laptops within the range of $600 are more than enough for homework and daily personal web-browsing use, and spending beyond $1500 for a laptop would be far from necessary for school use. Apart from looking at the hardware specification of laptops, it is also important to choose one that has solid built quality.

Computer RAM for College Newbies- How Much Do You Need in 2022?

Additional quality features you should look for in a laptop:

  1. Good keyboard and trackpad size and quality
  2. Good display screen quality e.g. Brightness, IPS display, bezel thickness, etc.
  3. Good webcam, speaker, and microphone quality
  4. Ports and Adapter e.g HDMI, USB 3.0, USB-C, Ethernet Port
  5. Ergonomic mechanical design e.g. Laptop hinge, solid chasis, number of ports

Best Budget Laptops Under $800

Dell Inspiron 3000 – 15.6″ LED-Backlit Display – 16GB RAM – 256GB SSD – Windows 10

Pros: Solid Keyboard & Trackpad Built Quality, Good Webcam & Microphone, Thin, Affordable price.

Cons: No USB-C port, Soft speakers, Large Size, Short Battery Life.

Microsoft Surface 2 – 13.5″ PixelSense Display – 8GB RAM – 255GB SSD – Windows 10

Pros: Strong Battery (14+ hours), Solid Keyboard & Trackpad Built Quality, Great Webcam & Microphone, Touchscreen compatibility, Compact Size.

Cons: Limited ports, Soft Speakers

Dell XPS 13 7390 – 13″ InfinityEdge Touchscreen – 8GB RAM – 256GB SSD – Windows 10

Pros: Strong Battery (12+ hours), Thin bezels, Good Display quality, Touchscreen compatibility, Compact Size.

Cons: Soft speakers, Bad Keypad built quality, No USB 3 ports

Acer Aspire 5 – 15.6″ Full HD IPS Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Windows 10

Pros: Various Ports (USB 3, USB-C, HDMI), Good Keyboard & Trackpad Built Quality, Affordable Pricing, Strong Battery (9+ hours)

Cons: Large size, Decent Display quality, Decent Webcam & Microphone, Weak Performance.

Best Higher End Laptops Under $1200

HP Pavilion x360 14 Convertible 2-in-1 Laptop

Pros: Bright Displays, Numerous Ports, Touchscreen and Stylus compatibility, Solid Keyboard & Trackpad Built Quality, Loud Speakers.

Cons: Short Battery Life, Slightly Heavy, Glossy Screen.

Microsoft Surface 4 – 13.5” Touch-Screen – 8GB Memory – 256GB SSD – Windows 10

Pros: High Performance, Strong Battery Life (17+ hours), Solid Keyboard & Trackpad Built Quality, Great Display quality, Affordable Price

Cons: Limited Ports, Poor webcam quality, Thick bezels.

Apple MacBook Air – M1 Chip – 13” Retina Display – 8GB RAM – 256GB SSD – macOS

Pros: High Performance, Strong Battery Life (17+ hours), Solid Keyboard & Trackpad Built Quality, Great Display quality, Lightweight, Great Speakers.

Cons: Limited Ports

Best Overall Value For Price (Our Top & Special Picks)

Dell XPS 13 (Top Pick) – The Dell XPS 13 is our top pick because it offers the best overall built quality and the most convenient size for the price you pay. With a modern, humble, and professional exterior look, it is also capable to handle demanding tasks. Additionally, being able to tweak subtle hardware modifications like adding RAM or storage, it becomes an easy choice among students for its value.

Apple MacBook Air (Top Pick) – The 2020 Macbook Air lineup has the cleanest and modern design and finishes on the market. Other than its superb overall built quality, its durability, quality control, and customer service just give consumers another assurance and reason to buy it. By investing in the 2020 MacBook Air, you will not be disappointed in many aspects without a doubt. If you ever want to upgrade, MacBooks also have a great resale and trade-in value compared to any other laptop.

Lenovo Legion Y540 (Special Pick) – The Lenovo Legion Y540 is our special pick because it is currently the best budget gaming laptop in the market. At such a cheap price, it does not compromise on its built quality and ergonomic design. Along with its industrial-professional exterior look, it easily disguises the power it can really deliver compared to most high-performance laptops, making it an ideal choice for college students who play computer games.

Razer Blade Stealth 13 (Special Pick) – The Razer Blade Stealth packs all the features and standards you can find similar to MacBook, with the additional capabilities to handle all AAA title games or GPU intensive software. If you need a laptop that has the best build quality, with gaming and high-performance capabilities, Razer Blade Stealth can do it all.

Should I Choose Desktop Over Laptop?

professional dim lights study setup

There are only really 2 reasons to choose desktop over laptops, and that is is upgradability and performance. Unlike laptops, desktops are easily customizable and can perform as well certain laptops at a cheaper cost.

Upgradability-wise, installing or customizing hardware components like the CPU, RAM, or storage drives for desktops should not take you more than 10 minutes of installation. As the case for laptops, upgrading its CPU is virtually impossible, while the options to upgrade RAM or Storage are only available across certain laptop models.

Given the technical limitations in a laptop’s design, assuming you have similar CPU and GPU specifications in both form laptop and desktop forms, you will find that desktops usually always outperform laptops. This is achievable mainly because desktops always do a better job at dissipating heat and efficiently convert more voltage into power.

Hardware CustomizationReadily availableVery limited/ Not available for some
UpgradabilityEasily upgradableLimited / Not available for some
Lifetime/Durability10+ years3-8 years
PriceAdjustableFixed by manufacturer
Resale value (after 3 years)~70% of Original price~50% of Original price

If you like the idea and flexibility of customizing computers for better performance by trading off convenience of portability, desktops are definitely for you. Or if you prefer just working on the go with a portable device, laptops would be an excellent tool for students to increase their productivity.

Are iPads A Good Substitute For Laptops in College?

ipad with accessories

Unlike the intent of the earliest iPad models, the improvements made towards recent and upcoming iPad models are built to rival and replace laptops in certain aspects of their functionality.

Equipped with processors and features that even outperform most high-end laptops today, newer iPad models are even compatible with external gadgets like Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboards to function more similarly to laptops. As we will see in the coming improvements, tablet manufacturing companies like Apple are not only making the iPad a good substitute for laptops, but also a powerful device that is compatible to work across its Mac and Macbook models.

Additionally, given that more big companies like Microsoft and Google are willing to offer iPadOS their products like Microsoft Office, Google Maps, and more on the App Store, it proves that there is a growing market potential for iPad to substitute laptops.

With only more improved iPad models to come, it is very safe to say that iPad is a good substitute for laptops given that it is more user-friendly and easier to use compared to laptops or desktops.

You might have heard of 2-in-1 laptops meant to also function like tablets, but their popularity and applicability tend to fall short of tech consumer’s expectations compared to iPads today.

Best iPad models that are good substitutes for laptops:

2020 Apple iPad Air (4th Generation)10.9-inch – 256GB – A14 Bionic Chip – Liquid Retina – 12MP Wide camera – Compatible with Apple Pencil (2nd Gen) & Magic Keyboard

2021 Apple iPad Pro11-inch – 256GB – M1 chip – Liquid Retina display with ProMotion – 12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras – Compatible with Apple Pencil (2nd Gen) & Magic Keyboard

2021 Apple iPad Pro12.9-inch – 256GB – M1 chip – Liquid Retina XDR with ProMotion – 12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras – Compatible with Apple Pencil (2nd Gen) & Magic Keyboard

Apple Magic Keyboard – (for 11-inch iPad Pro & iPad Air 4th Generation)

Apple Magic Keyboard – (for 12.9-inch iPad Pro – 4th Generation)

Related questions

Does a computer’s operating system matter for college students? A computer’s operating system will not matter for college students. Windows and macOS can virtually run all software and programs you need for college just fine. The only drawback of macOS is the limitation to run certain games, other than that, macOS offers more security compared to Windows operating system.

Can you get a free laptop for college? Certain colleges or universities do offer to give away free used and new laptops for students who need them. Check with the campus technological departments to try your luck to get used laptops for free.

Best laptop brands for students? Apple, Dell, Microsoft, HP, Acer, Lenovo, Asus are among the top brands of laptop manufacturers in the market. When looking for a laptop brand, these brands emphasize their customer service, quality control, and affordable pricing.

David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

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