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How to Select a Laptop for College

Your laptop could be one of the most important purchases you’ll make for college. You’ll be using it to complete assignments for most, if not all, of your classes, so you need one that performs well and that you’re comfortable using. To make sure that you choose the right one, here are the factors you need to consider.

Screen Size

Most laptops have screen sizes anywhere from 11 inches to 17 inches. The most common screen size used to be 15 inches, but smaller laptops have been gaining popularity because of their sleek style and portability.

Since you’ll probably be taking your laptop with you to school and occasionally using it at your desk, you don’t want anything too cumbersome. A laptop with a 13-inch screen strikes a good balance, as it’s easy to carry around but still has a screen large enough for most tasks. If you’ll be using your laptop for graphic design or video editing, you may want to opt for a larger screen.

Battery Life

You don’t want your laptop dying in the middle of class, and there won’t always be a conveniently located outlet. Laptop batteries usually last at least eight hours and can last 12 to 14 hours if you keep the screen brightness down and don’t perform intensive tasks. Your laptop’s size also plays a role here, as laptops with smaller screens tend to use less power.


Display resolutions on laptops have been getting better by the year, and even with a low-end laptop, the display will likely have at least a 1366 x 768 resolution. Many laptops now offer 1080p, which you should get if you’re performing tasks that require a high resolution, such as graphic design.


More RAM means better performance from your laptop, and you’ll be able to run multiple programs at once without lagging. The standard amount of RAM for basic laptops is 4GB, and this works if you’re sticking to simple tasks – typing documents, browsing online, and streaming videos. If you need to run two or more programs simultaneously or you plan on using your laptop for intensive tasks, 8GB will better suit your needs. Keep in mind that as technology advances, programs require more memory. While 4GB of RAM may be fine now, it could be insufficient in the future.

Hard Drive

There are two types of hard drives: regular hard drives and solid state drives (SSD). SSDs don’t have any moving parts, so they provide superior performance at a greater cost.

Like with RAM, you don’t need to spend more now, but it is a smart investment. The industry is transitioning to SSDs, so regular hard drives will soon be obsolete. If you choose an SSD, look for one with at least 128GB of storage. With a regular hard drive, you should get at least 250GB of storage.

Operating System

The operating system that you choose is entirely up to you. You may already know which operating system you like, but if you’re undecided, it’s a good idea to try both out. A library may have both Windows and Mac computers available, or an electronics store is another option. Either option will work fine for college, so you should go with whichever one you’re more comfortable using.

The Alternative Option – Chromebooks

An inexpensive alternative to a laptop is the Google Chromebook, which is essentially a laptop that uses the Google Chrome operating system. There are different models available ranging from $199 to just over $300, along with the high-resolution Google Pixel which has a starting price of $1,299.

Chromebooks have two advantages over most laptops. The obvious one, except in the case of the Pixel, is that Chromebooks cost less than laptops. Updates and data backups are also done automatically, so you don’t need to handle that yourself.

The downside of Chromebooks is their much more limited functionality. Chrome is an excellent browser, but if you need to use another one, you’re out of luck. Many programs aren’t available on Chromebooks, with Skype being one of the most notable. If a class requires you to use a certain program and you can’t install it on your Chromebook, it’s going to be a big inconvenience. Another issue is that many programs on a Chromebook require an internet connection and don’t function when you’re offline.

Final Thoughts

Laptops aren’t as expensive as they once were, but they’re still a big purchase, especially when you’re choosing a laptop for school. Carefully consider your needs before you pick one, and when in doubt, go with the more advanced option so you have a laptop that will continue to perform well in the future.