There are so many new products students need for that first year of college, and all that shopping can feel overwhelming. Each little selection comes with a huge range of choices that stress even the most informed consumers. While decking out your dorm room or first apartment can be an expensive endeavor, few purchases are more important than your college laptop.
Today, every student needs a laptop, but it shouldn’t be a decision that rivals trying to figure out which school to attend. So how do you choose the best laptops for college students?
If you are going to school for graphic design, coding or have any multimedia courses on your schedule, you’ll want to go with a beefier and more powerful laptop. Something with at least 8GB of RAM and 265GB of storage. Likewise, 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.
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.
1. Apple MacBook Air (M1)
As a college student, you are running between your classes, work and home non-stop. The Apple Air M1 is one of the lightest laptops you can find, and one of the fastest and most powerful. 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. Oh, 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.
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. It is incredibly thin being 0.58 inches tall and portable weighing only 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.
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 gen 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 2.4 pounds, making it not only a powerful laptop for college students but a lightweight one as well.
4. Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2
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 not the most powerful, with an Intel Celeron CPU, but it doesn’t need to be since Chrome OS is way less intensive than Windows. It’s compact and only weighs 2.7 pounds making it great for the student who is always on the go.
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
6. Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1)
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.
7. Microsoft Surface Pro 7
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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.
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.
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.
10. HP Envy x360 – 15T Touchscreen Laptop
Whether you’re actually heading back to school or getting ready for another semester of remote learning, a powerful laptop is absolutely essential, and this computer fits the bill. The HP Envy has a 360-degree hinge and comes with the HP Pen, which means you can write notes and draw directly on the touchscreen. With enough processing power to get you through the school year, plus a wide-angle HD Camera for video conferences, this laptop has everything you need at a price you can afford. Not only is this one of the best college laptops of 2021, but it’s also one of the best laptops under $1,000.
11. Asus VivoBook S13
With the VivoBook S13, you get all the little extras found in a premium laptop without having to pay a premium price. For instance, a fingerprint reader and full HD display are great additions to see at this price point. Plus, the 13.3-inch display utilizes NanoEdge technology to really make the contents of the screen look vibrant. Even with its large screen size and connectivity, it still maintains a slim profile and is overall lightweight making it ideal for commuters.
12. Asus VivoBook S15
The Asus VivoBook S15 is an affordable laptop option with plenty of connectivity for all of your additional hard drives, thumb drives and SD cards. You’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, a microSD card reader, one USB 3.0, USB-C and an HDMI connection. It does omit Thunderbolt 3, but there’s still plenty of connectivity on this laptop compared to most new ones. The laptop tips the scales at four pounds, so you certainty compromise portability for connectivity. And for online learners, the HD Webcam and Harman Kardon audio will ensure that you see and hear everything clear as day.
13. 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.
14. HP Envy x360 13 (2020)
There’s a lot to like about the HP Envy x360 13 2020 model. For starters, the 360-degree hinge allows you to adjust the screen from laptop to tent mode and even set it flat against the ground. And since it only weighs 2.92 pounds, all that multi-use ability is portable, too. There’s decent connectivity including two USB Type-A ports, a USB-C port and a microSD reader. A sweet, unique feature is the shutter on the webcam. When you’re done using it or want a little privacy, just click the shutter button by the power button to close the shutter. That can come in handy when you’re trying to quickly eat a snack, but not in front of the entire class.
15. 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.
16. Google Pixel Go
This affordable Chromebook has some rare features that aren’t often found on a typical Chromebook. The new Pixel Go welcomes a 1080p camera into the design, which is great for online classes and conference calls. The hush keyboard is as quiet as it is comfortable. Great for those late nights when you need to keep studying but don’t want to wake up your dorm roomy. On top of that, it’s lighter than the MacBook Air and more affordable, too.
17. Acer Aspire 5 Slim Laptop
This laptop is great for students not only because of its affordable pricing but also because of its above-average performance. You’ll be able to get through your whole school day on a single charge — no need to take your lunch break sitting by a wall outlet. And you can configure this laptop in a myriad of ways, ranging anywhere from $490 to roughly $700. When you shoot for around $500, you get plenty of storage space in 256GB and enough 8GB RAM to tackle any school project.
18. Razer Blade 15
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.