Best Mac Laptop For College Students

Posted By admin On 15.02.22

A student who’s accustomed to taking notes on an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil might be able to use that along with a desktop Mac like an iMac or a Mac mini, but most people should focus on Apple’s laptops. Shop for cheap mac laptops for students at Best Buy. Find low everyday prices and buy online for delivery or in-store pick-up.

Most students looking for a new MacBook should pick up the MacBook Air. It's less expensive than other MacBooks, more powerful, and has a bigger display than the 12-inch MacBook while remaining lightweight. And though it might not be as powerful as the MacBook Pro, it should provide enough power for the average student to get through their day.

Our pick

MacBook Air (2018)

Hits the sweet spot of power, portability, and price.

More powerful than the 12-inch MacBook and more mobile than the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air sits in the Goldilocks zone of Apple's portable Mac lineup, offering enough power for most everything you'll want it to do without the bulk of a MacBook Pro. Features Touch ID for easy, yet secure, authentication.

Who should buy this computer?

College students who want a Mac for writing papers, doing research, surfing the web, light photo editing and just entertaining themselves should get the MacBook Air. It should also be a great computer for you when your academic career is over and you're headed out into the world.

Is it a good time to buy this computer?

The current MacBook Air came out in October 2018, so now is a great time to buy this Mac. Some solid discounts are popping up at retailers like Amazon, and we're likely many months away from a potential refresh. It's been a while since Apple refreshed any of its Macs in less than a year.

Reasons to buy

  • Great balance of price and power
  • Light and portable
  • Retina display
  • Touch ID

Reasons not to buy

  • Limited customization
  • Butterfly keyboard may irk some

The MacBook Air is a great Mac for students, successfully riding the line between power and portability

For students, portability is a chief concern when it comes to buying a computer. Whether you're walking through your high school's hallways to your history class or sprinting across a college campus to make it your next lecture on time, you don't want to be lugging around a heavy computer. You want something fairly light. At the same time, you don't want a computer that's underpowered. The MacBook Air occupies the happy medium of that ideal. It's more powerful than the MacBook and thinner and lighter than the MacBook Pro.

For the longest time, the MacBook Air was Apple's thin-and-light computer. Many credit MacBook Air with paving the way for the 'ultrabook' genre of computers that gained prominence in the early part of this decade. But Apple has since introduced the 12-inch MacBook, which debuted with a Retina display and was even thinner and lighter than the Air. Surely, if portability is your main concern, you should get the MacBook, right?

Apple Computer For College Students

The MacBook Air sits in the happy medium between the portability of the MacBook and the power of the MacBook Pro.

Well, let's take a look at the modern MacBook Air. It now also (some would say 'finally') has a Retina display, without adding any bulk. And no, it's not as small as the MacBook, but it's almost as light. The MacBook Air comes in at 2.75 lbs, less than a pound heavier than the MacBook's 2.03. You're not making much of a sacrifice on weight. If the footprint of the computer is a concern, check out the MacBook, but you're gaining only about half-an-inch each on width and depth, so maybe the larger Air won't present much of a size problem.

The other consideration the MacBook versus the MacBook Air is power. While the MacBook Air's eighth-generation Intel processor won't really keep up with those found in the current generation of MacBook Pro, it's more than a match for the 7th-generation processors found in the MacBook. For everything from web browsing to photo editing, the MacBook will find itself outmatched by the Air, all while the MacBook Air is priced at least $100 under the current MacBook.

Speaking of power, the MacBook Pro is probably overkill for most students. Sure, some will be able to take advantage of its more powerful processors available to it, but if most of what you're doing is writing papers, putting together presentations, or doing research on the web, you probably don't need the level of power a MacBook Pro offers. And again, you'll be saving a bit of money if you get the MacBook Air, which is always something to consider.

Ultimately, when looking at the current MacBook lineup through the lens of a student, the MacBook Air successfully rides the line between the thin-and-light MacBook and the powerful MacBook Pro. It will meet the needs of most students, and should still be a great Mac to have when you're ready to leave academics behind and head off into the world.

Alternatives to the MacBook Air

The MacBook Air might be the best MacBook for most students, but different people have different needs. If you're looking for more power, then check out the MacBook Pro. It'll be a more capable machine for almost everything you want to do, with more expensive models offering an ever-increasing amount of power for tasks like photo and video editing, app development, scientific programs, illustration, and music production. It will last longer than the MacBook Air and perform at higher levels the entire time.

If you're looking for more of a budget option, unfortunately, you're going to have to settle for something older from Apple. It's still a MacBook Air, but it lacks the Retina display of the newer model, and its processors are older. But, it still has all-solid-state storage, which means a lot when it comes to boot times. If budget is your chief concern and you still want a Mac, the older MacBook Air that Apple still sells should work just fine, if not quite as well as the new model.

More power

MacBook Pro

More power for whatever you need to do.

More powerful and versatile than the MacBook Air, the Pro lineup offers more customization options so you get the exact machine you need for photo and video work, scientific programs, music production, or other intensive tasks.

The MacBook Pro offers a lot of customization options that allow you to create the computer you need. Offers everything from a seventh-generation dual-core Intel processor to an ninth-generation, eight-core i9 beast, configurable up to 32GB of memory with AMD Radeon graphics for the most intensive tasks. If power is what you want, that's what you'll get with the MacBook Pro.

Value pick

MacBook Air (2017)

A capable computer for the money.

While it hasn't seen anything other than a spec bump in the last couple of years, the 2017 revision of the MacBook Air is still a capable machine. It may lack Thunderbolt and a Retina display, but it'll still get you through most of your tasks without hassle.

Apple quietly bumped the specs on the MacBook Air in 2017, introducing a couple of new processors to choose from. Despite its lack of Thunderbolt 3 ports or a Retina display, the older MacBook Air should still be able to meet most of your needs. It even still has an SD card reader, something many Mac owners thought was lost to the ages (or at least the Mac).

Bottom line

If you want an excellent 'medium' Mac laptop, get the MacBook Air. Offering enough power to meet most of the needs of student life while being almost as portable as a MacBook, the Air strikes a great balance between the other offerings in Apple's laptop lineup.

It's also among the most affordable of the portable Macs, especially when you start getting into the upper echelons of what that MacBook Pro has to offer and even compared to the 12-inch MacBook.

Our pick

MacBook Air (2018)

Hits the sweet spot of power, portability, and price.

More powerful than the 12-inch MacBook and more mobile than the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air sits in the Goldilocks zone of Apple's portable Mac lineup, offering enough power for most everything you'll want it to do without the bulk of a MacBook Pro. Features Touch ID for easy, yet secure, authentication.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Joseph Keller is a senior writer at iMore. An Apple user for more than a decade and a half, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Rene Ritchie has been covering the personal technology industry for a decade. An outspoken analyst and critic, he writes at iMore.com/vector, podcasts at applepodcasts.com/vector, and you can find his show at youtube.com/vector. Follow him @reneritchie on Twitter and Instagram

We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.

Dock it!

Bye-bye dongles! Here are the best docking stations for your MacBook Pro

Need to connect all the things to your MacBook Pro with USB-C ports? Dongles be damned. Get yourself a docking station instead!

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown

  • Best Overall:Acer Aspire E 15 at Amazon, “The ideal mix of value and performance that's built to last.”
  • Best Rugged:ASUS Chromebook at Amazon, “A rugged computer that’s capable of being repeatedly thrown in your backpack.”
  • Best 2-in-1:Acer Chromebook R 11 at Amazon, “A laptop that can handle both homework and extra-curricular internet use.”
  • Best Lightweight:ASUS ZenBook S at Amazon, “A 2.2-pound, 0.5-inch thick design made from aerospace-grade aluminum.”
  • Best Apple: MacBook Air at Amazon, 'It's portable, offers great battery life, boasts a gorgeous display, and packs more than enough power to spare.'
  • Best Value:Dell XPS 13 at Dell.com, 'Has the performance and memory to handle a last-minute essay and a stream of your favorite Netflix series at the same time.'
  • Best Budget:HP 15 at Amazon, “The trade-off in power and ability is well worth the extra heft.”

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Acer Aspire E 15 E5-576-392H

4.5

Best Macbook For College Students 2018

The latest Acer Aspire model is the ideal mix of value and performance that's built to last through all your college years. It’s also significantly cheaper than most high-end laptops, which college students can truly appreciate. First off, it contains an 8th-Generation Intel Core i3 processor, 6GB dual-channel memory, and a 1TB hard drive. It also features Intel Turbo Boost Technology for smooth video streaming and high-speed performance, along with a long-lasting 13.5-hour battery. The hardware should satisfy the needs of most college students, but if your workload is particularly demanding, then upgrading the memory or hard drive is a simple process — just open the easy-access compartment in the bottom of the laptop to replace the parts.

The Acer Aspire is built for both work and entertainment. The 15.6-inch screen features full HD resolution, although the color isn't as vibrant as some of its competitors. This model is also on the heavier side at 5.27 pounds. However, it comes with a DVD drive, SD slot, and has port space for USB 3.0, 2.0, Type-C, as well as Ethernet and HDMI inputs. As an added bonus, you can even charge your USB-connected devices when the laptop is powered down.

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best Acer laptops.

Best for Durability: ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS02

3.7

The ASUS Chromebook C202 is a rugged computer that’s capable of being repeatedly thrown in your backpack. It has a spill-resistant keyboard, a reinforced rubber bumper to protect it from minor drops and scratches, and nano-molding technology on its edges and corners to reduce the impact of falls. In a drop test, the Chromebook C202 was capable of withstanding a fall from as high as 3.9 feet — and that's particularly impressive given it only weighs 2.65 pounds.

The C202’s 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 display even comes equipped with anti-glare technology, so you can work while you catch some rays on the quad. With a 180-degree hinge, you can also manipulate the laptop into whatever angle you like. On the inside, it packs an Intel Celeron N3060 Processor ( 2M cache up to 2.48 GHz) and 16GB of flash storage. The Chromebook runs on, you guessed it, Chrome OS, so you can download and edit files via Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Like other Chromebook models, the C202 also employs automatically-updating anti-virus protection so you don't have to worry about accidentally downloading any malicious software when you're surfing the web.

Interested in reading more reviews? Take a look at our selection of the best ASUS laptops.

Best 2-in-1: Acer Chromebook R 11

4.4

Every college student needs a laptop that can handle both homework and extra-curricular internet use — like those early morning hours when you’re five hours deep into a Netflix original series. The Acer Chromebook R 11 gets an A+ for both. The convertible, 360-degree laptop/tablet runs on Chrome OS, so you can download apps — both productive and just for fun — from the Google Play Store and use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides to complete your classwork.

Mac

With an Intel Celeron N3150 Quad-Core Processor 1.6GHz with Intel Burst Technology up to 2.08GHz combined with 4GB of onboard memory and 32GB of internal storage, the Chromebook R 11 multitasks with ease. Built-in virus protection — which updates itself automatically — also safeguards your files, so you don't have to worry about crashes or data loss. And once you’ve submitted your report or finished your online quiz, you can flip the screen all the way back to enjoy your favorite games and shows in tablet mode on its 11.6-inch HD IPS touch display with 1366 x 768 resolution. The battery life is rated at about 10 hours, so it’ll last you a full day of classes and then some. You also get 100GB of free storage on Google Drive for two years, so you won't have to worry about storing important documents or photos.

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best 2-in-1 laptops.

Best Lightweight: ASUS ZenBook S

4.5

The ASUS ZenBook S is one of the most rugged and portable laptops out there, with a 2.2-pound, 0.5-inch thick design made from aerospace-grade aluminum. It’s got a neat backlit, tilting keyboard, too, that can angle your typing surface by 5.5 inches. This function also allows for additional airflow which helps keep the machine cool — in tandem with a copper-alloy heat pipe and liquid-crystal-polymer fan — so it won't sound like a rocket ship when it's working hard. Add in a headphone jack and three USB-C ports (with two that can handle Thunderbolt 3 cables) and you’ve got some serious connectivity in this highly portable device.

The ZenBook S also comes with Alexa integration for voice commands and a lithium polymer battery that can last up to 9 hours without a charge. You can gear it up with either an i5 or i7 Intel CPU for some serious power in exceptionally small form, and you can outfit your ZenBook S with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM for a smooth, multi-app running experience. If you’re looking for something a little different, you can opt for the laptop in Deep Dive Blue or Burgundy Red. Media-types will dig being able to add a 4K glossy touchscreen as an option, with HD glossy non-touch or HD anti-glare screens as the other two.

Best Apple: MacBook Air

Since their conception, MacBooks have been extremely popular laptops among college students and, for most, Apple’s MacBook Air is the one to buy. It’s slim, it’s portable, offers great battery life, boasts a gorgeous display, and packs more than enough power to spare for the needs of most college programs. In short, Apple has taken a formidable MacBook for college students and made it even better, with a screen that is, rest assured, easy on the eyes.

Under the hood, you’re still getting a 1.6GHz 8th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU that can burst up to 3.6GHz when you need it, plus 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD. If all you’re doing is writing essays, this base model will likely be more than enough, but you can bump both the RAM and the SSD up to 16GB or 1TB, respectively, if you have a few extra bucks to spend. Of course, it goes without saying that your course load will help determine this as well, but remember that there are also a pair of Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, so keeping some high-speed external storage on hand back in your dorm room is always an option, too.

At only 2.75 pounds and 0.61 inches thick, it’s portable enough that it won’t weigh you down, and its 12- to 13-hour battery life means it will easily keep you going all day long without needing to worry about toting a charger around. Apple has also built-in its T2 security chip, along with Touch ID, which will keep your work encrypted and also help protect your MacBook should it ever get lost.

Or you could step up the processing power with one of the best MacBook Pro models of 2019. Your choice.

Best Value: Dell XPS 13

Packed with power, the Dell XPS 13 is a lightweight, portable laptop with the performance and memory to handle a last-minute essay and a stream of your favorite Netflix series — at the same time. Weighing just 2.7 pounds, the laptop can be outfitted with the new 8th Gen Intel Quad Core processors, meaning performance isn’t impacted when multiple applications are running. The screen has a 4K Ultra HD resolution with 8 million pixels and 1500:1 contrast ratio for a stunning visual experience. The 400-nit brightness and anti-reflective screen let students use it either inside or out, while the 21-hour battery life allows it to last between long days of classes and late-night study sessions.

A new HD webcam located at the front and center of the top of the frame delivers crystal-clear images, temporal noise reduction, and better video quality for calls back home or with friends across the country. Sleek and sophisticated, the laptop is available in frost, rose gold, or platinum silver colors.

Best Budget: HP 15-BS013DX

3.6

If you have a $500 budget to play with, you'll have no trouble finding a value laptop suitable for college students. Right now, our favorite is the HP 15-BS013DX which delivers a 15.6-inch touchscreen, an Intel i3-7100U processor, a 1 TB hard drive (AKA tons of storage), and a full 8 G of RAM to keep things responsive and smooth. The Intel HD Graphics 620 card will run some decent games when you need to take a break from your studies, too. Add Bluetooth, two USB 3.1 plugs, and an HDMI port, and you’ve got a killer machine that will feel equally at home in the coffee shop as in the class (or dorm) room.

While it might be a bit unwieldy at 15' x 10' x 0.9' and 4.5 pounds, the trade-off in power and ability is well worth the extra heft. Reviewers on Best Buy really like the features included (touch screen, more RAM, etc.) for the price — especially if you'll be doing little more than surfing the web, streaming videos, and typing up Word documents.

Tested by

How We Tested

We bought five top-rated laptops for college students that our reviewers tested for more than 100 hours. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using these laptops, from their operating system to their durability. We’ve outlined the key takeaways here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.

What to Look for in a College Laptop

Operating system -Apple’s Macs are known for having an intuitive interface that’s sleek and ideal for designers, while Windows PCs are capable of more customization and are often better suited for productivity.

Which Mac Laptop Is Best For College Students

Portability -If you need something that’s easy to toss into your backpack, you might prefer a smaller and lighter model like a two-in-one. However, if you’re mostly working in your dorm, a larger laptop might not be so cumbersome. For creative or design students, a larger screen is likely necessary.

Budget -Between buying textbooks and planning spring break, college doesn’t come cheap. If you’re looking to save a few dollars on a laptop, you can still get plenty of premium features, like a cutting-edge processor or advanced security features. If you’ve got some cash to spare, you might be more comfortable splurging on a MacBook, which has unrivaled displays.

Test Results: Acer Aspire E 15 E5-576-392H (Best Overall)

4.5

What We Like

  • High-quality display

  • Extensive battery life

  • Good speed

What We Don't Like

  • Heavy

  • Internet connectivity issues

  • Lots of pre-installed software

This laptop came highly recommended by our testers as an overall good value. “It offers a great-quality display, relatively high speeds, an easy setup, and a great operating system (Windows 10),” remarked one of our reviewers. Our testers also enjoyed the long battery life. In terms of negatives, one of our reviewers reported “frequent issues with internet connectivity,” which didn’t happen with another laptop, and also didn’t like all of the pre-installed software. But while one of our testers wished the laptop were more lightweight, she declared, “For an everyday budget laptop, this is a great choice.”

Test Results: ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS02 11.6-Inch (Best for Durability)

Best Apple Laptops For College Students

3.7

What We Like

  • Very portable

  • Great value

  • Impressive battery life

What We Don't Like

  • Limited features

  • Screen on the smaller side

One of our testers liked the “no frills” approach this Chromebook takes to give students exactly what they need for class. She said, “For the price, this has everything you need for school or home — docs and sheets, a camera, Internet access, and durability.” This laptop’s battery life also gets an A+ from our testers: “For school, I'm positive this computer would last a full day,” said one, “and likely have time for homework back at home.”

Test Results: Acer Chromebook R 11 Convertible, 11.6-Inch HD Touch Screen (Best 2-in-1)

4.4

What We Like

  • Stylish design

  • Intuitive touchscreen

  • Google integration

Our testers loved the fact that this laptop was integrated with Google, reporting that it made it easier for them to power through daily tasks. One of our reviewers also raved about its speed and responsiveness, saying it was “intuitive” and a “joy” to use. However, one of our testers did experience some ghost clicking, which caused the cursor to click on things when the user didn’t mean to. (This can usually be remedied by restarting the computer.)

Test Results: ASUS ZenBook S (Best Lightweight)

4.5

What We Like

Best Laptop For College Students

  • Very portable

  • Crisp screen display

  • Comes with case

Our testers loved that the ZenBook S was slim and portable: “You can easily hold it in one hand or carry in a small bag. I liked how it felt compact,” one wrote. Our reviewers also reported that the laptop has a crisp screen display, great-quality sound, and impressive battery life. One of our testers summed it up: “I felt the computer met and exceeded expectations for working quickly and being easy to use.”

Test Results: HP 15-BS013DX (Best Under $500)

3.6

What We Like

  • Attractive design with some premium touches

  • Includes a touchscreen

  • Good battery life

  • Big hard drive

What We Don't Like

  • Bloatware

  • Touchscreen could be easier to use

  • Display resolution is only 1366 x 768

Our tester felt that this laptop’s battery life was good compared to similar models. He also liked its design but wished that its touchscreen was more pleasant to use: “Something about the glossy screen causes the finger to stick and skid across instead of sliding smoothly,” he said. Other negatives were that it comes with too much bloatware and that it doesn’t have a full HD display. Overall, he thought that “you can get better overall specifications and performance for less money, but this is a budget-priced laptop that performs well enough.”