There are so many new products students need for that first year of college, and all that shopping can feel overwhelming. Even as seniors, heading back to school always requires some serious shopping. Even when it comes to something simple like the best college backpacks or notebooks, there is a huge range of choices, and that can stress out even the most informed consumers. And when it comes to back-to-school shopping, few purchases are more important than selecting the perfect college laptop.
Today, every student needs a laptop, and the best laptops for college students can cost upwards of $2,000. That being said, choosing your computer shouldn’t be as hard as choosing which school to attend. So how do you choose the best laptops for college? We’ve got some specific product recommendations below, as well as some general advice on the types of features and specifications you’ll need. And to make things as easy as possible, we’ve ranked the top laptops from brands like Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Lenovo and HP.
We’ve also got more specific shopping guides to help you find the perfect device for your college experience:
- The Best Back-To-School Laptop Deals
- Why the M1 MacBook Air Is the Best Laptop of the Year
- The Top 10 Laptops of 2021, Ranked and Reviewed
- The Best Small Laptops of the Year
- See The Top Deals on Apple Products
The best laptops for college students will accomplish every task you need to accomplish (writing papers, browsing the Internet for research or wasting time online), but we’ve identified a number of computers that will do all of that especially well. Even better, these laptops should last throughout a typical four-year college career. And if you’re looking to surprise a college student, a laptop makes one of the best gifts for students you could give.
What To Look For in College Laptops
Given the fact you will be carrying the laptop to and from class, having something that doesn’t weigh a ton is critical. Luckily, the days of brick-sized laptops are long, long gone. But you may want to pay special attention to super-lightweight models or the best Chromebooks if you’re looking to really minimize the amount weight in your backpack. On the other hand, if you are going to school for graphic design, coding, filmmaking or have any multimedia courses on your schedule, you’ll want to go with a beefier and more powerful laptop.
When shopping for the best laptops for college, you’ll want to look for the following features:
- Lightweight and Portable: The lightest laptops, like the LG Gram 16 and M1 MacBook Air, weigh about 2.6-2.8 pounds. In terms of screen size, the sweet spot is generally 13-15 inches.
- RAM and Storage: In general, you’ll want at least 8GB of RAM and 265GB of storage. However, if you need to use your computer for more than just streaming and word processing, we recommend investing in more computing power and memory.
- Processing Power: Right now, the M1 Chip from Apple is the gold standard when it comes to processors. It’s an order of magnitude faster than previous generations of chips from Apple and Intel. That being said, if you aren’t an Apple fan, look for a college laptop with a 10th generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor.
- Battery Life: All-day battery life and quick-charging are great features if you’re moving from class to class or from the dorm to the library all day. The top laptops tend to offer about 12-18 hours of battery life on a full charge, though your mileage will vary.
Finally, if remote learning is on the syllabus, you’ll want to make sure you choose a college laptop that comes with a built-in camera and microphone for video conferences. Additionally, you may want a bigger screen or vivid display if you’re going to spend a lot of time watching streaming content or gaming.
1. Apple M1 MacBook Air
When selecting the best laptops for college students, one laptop is the clear winner — the 2020 M1 MacBook Air. Even though this computer came out in 2020, we would still call it the best laptop of 2021. With all the great design and user-friendly features you’ve come to expect from Apple, the newest MacBook Air is seriously impressive. Oh, and it’s on sale.
As a college student, you are running between your classes, work and home non-stop, and the Apple Air M1 is one of the lightest laptops you can find. Despite the compact size, this is also one of the fastest and most powerful laptops for sale in 2021. In fact, it’s so fast that there’s little reason to upgrade to the MacBook Pro, which traditionally offers a more serious upgrade in computer power. However, the new M1 chipset from Apple is redefining speed and performance. The new chip doesn’t even need a fan to keep it cool, so you get a lighter and slimmer laptop that’s super fast. And if that sounds too good to be true, the Air M1 sips battery. You can expect around 18 hours of battery life on a single charge. This laptop receives an A+ from the SPY team.
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Apple Air M1
2. Dell XPS 13 Laptop (2020)
At its most affordable configuration, the 2020 Dell XPS 13 provides a 10th generation Intel Core i5 processor and 256 GB of storage. Just 0.58 inches tall, this Dell laptop is incredibly thin and portable, and it weighs just 2.65 pounds, which is great for those who are commuting to class. For those who are taking online classes, even though the new XPS 13 is slim, they didn’t skimp on webcam performance. It has a four-element design to reduce noise and keep everything in the frame looking sharp. It only has two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a microSD card reader, but if you don’t need a million ports, this laptop will certainly be your classroom workhorse. We eagerly await the 2021 version to see what new magic Dell has in store for us.
Dell XPS 13
3. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Gen 8 Laptop
For students who need a true workhorse for their classwork, the ThinkPad X1 Gen 8 now has a 10th generation Core i5 Intel CPU for faster processing than its predecessors without compromising what made this laptop great in the first place. The keyboard is still incredibly comfortable to type on, and the chassis is as durable as laptop chassis come. And by some laptop voodoo, Lenovo kept the heft down to an incredible 2.4 pounds, making it not only a powerful laptop for college students but a super lightweight one as well.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Gen 8
Starting at $1,314.00
4. Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2
If you think you can get buy with a Chromebook instead of a full laptop, then we recommend buying a Samsung product. The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 is the newest addition to the Samsung Chromebook family and one of the most stylish options on our list. Designed with a QLED display, the contents on the screen look incredibly sharp, whether you are working or secretly watching Netflix during that boring history class. It’s compact and only weighs 2.7 pounds making it great for the student who is always on the go.
In terms of firepower, it can’t compete with traditional desktops or laptops, but it does come with an Intel Core i3 Processor, 8GB of Ram and 128GB of storage, which is more than the typical Chromebook. Normally priced at $700, right now you can buy the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 for just $350, making it the best laptop alternative of the summer.
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Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2
5. Acer Chromebook Spin 713
This isn’t your average Chromebook. It has a great-looking display with a 3:2 aspect ratio that is more square but adds more vertical workspace for you to use. It also has one of the more comfortable, well-backlit keyboards available on any laptop. There’s even an HDMI port for connecting to additional displays. We told you this isn’t your average Chromebook.
Read more: Best Tablets for College
Acer Chromebook Spin 713
6. Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1)
BEST APPLE UPGRADE
Historically the MacBook Pro has been the more powerful sibling to the Air, and while that is still true, the value of the Air when you consider price and power is just too good of a deal. Don’t get us wrong, the MacBook Pro with the New M1 chip is an incredible machine, especially if you are going into any sort of content creation like graphic design or photo, film, or music editing. In fact, for more intense editing projects, you may want the extra power that the Pro provides. It is a little heavier and more expensive, but both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with M1 chips are nothing short of awesome.
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Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch M1
7. Microsoft Surface Pro 7
BEST WINDOW LAPTOP
A two-in-one laptop combo as versatile as the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is a great tool for any student to have in college. Welcoming in new USB-C connections and a speedy new processor, the new Surface Pro 7 has even more utility than previous generations. And if you’re the go-getter type (you know, the 18 hours a semester type), the lengthy 12-hour battery life will be able to hang with you all day long. This laptop has as much drive as you. Even better, you can currently save 22% on this top-rated laptop, which makes it one of the best laptops under $1,000.
Microsoft Surface Pro 7
8. Lenovo Flex 5 Laptop (2021)
The Lenovo Flex is priced like a mid-tier laptop, but the specs say otherwise. First off, you get two-in-one capabilities with a convertible touchscreen display. Then there’s 16GB of RAM that can handle running multiple design programs simultaneously as well as 1TB of storage for under $850. Not to mention it’s only 3.3 pounds, so carrying it from class to class won’t wear your shoulders out.
Lenovo Flex 5 (2021)
9. HP Spectre X360 14 Convertible Laptop
If you have the coin, the Spectre X360 14 is one of the best two-in-one laptops available. Equipped with a stunning OLED display, whatever you are working on or watching is going to look awesome. There’s plenty of connectivity as well along with an ultra-comfortable keyboard and oversized trackpad making it great for use even without a Bluetooth mouse. And if you want something with beefed-up security, a fingerprint reader, as well as facial recognition, will surely ease those concerns.
HP Spectre X360 14
10. Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
If you’re a PC purist (or just very Apple-averse), then the Microsoft Surface 3 is your best bet for a college laptop. The Microsoft Surface 2 is a little cheaper, but the Surface 3 is overall a stronger laptop for relatively the same price. At a light 2.79 pounds, it probably weighs less than a textbook and can slip right into a bag with ease. You’ll be able to keep your charger at home, too: the Pro 2 boasts an all-day battery life running normal applications, but if you need to get your Netflix on when you get home, you can charge it up to 80% in just one hour. Thanks to the Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM and sharp 13.5-inch display, this is one of the best laptops for college students under $1,000. This laptop lacks an HDMI port but does have both USB-C and USB-A ports. Plus, there are several fun colors to further differentiate yourself from the Apple set, should you choose.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
11. Acer Swift 5
At 2.18 pounds, the Acer Swift 5 is even more lightweight than the slender PixelBook Go. But it doesn’t skimp on connectivity in favor of being portable. You’ll find an always handy HDMI port, USB-C, USB-A and a headphone jack. Unfortunately, there isn’t a microSD card reader available. Along with connectivity and portability comes power in the form of a 10th generation i7 processor and 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. That’s impressive. You can expect to get through your whole work or school day with about eight and a half hours of battery life, depending on use. This is a pretty powerful laptop for college students for around $1,000.
Acer Swift 5
12. Razer Blade 15
BEST GAMING LAPTOP
If you fall under the category “broke college student” you should stop reading here. But if you have the means and you love gaming, the Razer Blade 15 is a powerful laptop for school, so much so that it can also double as a gaming laptop (for those extracurriculars). It boasts an OLED screen for sharp and vivid colors, as well as a comfortable and quiet keyboard. At 4.5 pounds, it is a bit heavier than most in this lineup, but all that power needs to go somewhere, right? Thanks to its sharp display, back-lit keyboard, and powerful components, the Razer Blade 15 is the best laptop for college students who love gaming.
Razer Blade 15
13. LG Gram 16
We recently reviewed the LG Gram 16 and were totally blown away by how well it performed and how absurdly light it is. However, in exchange for those features, you’re going to end up paying a pretty hefty premium, as the Gram is just under $2,000. That’s a lot for a student laptop, but it’s great if you’re willing to make a long-term investment. Under three pounds, the 16″ display is truly incredible to behold and it’s got plenty of ports for all of your needs.