A Parent’s Guide to Buying a Laptop for their Student

As college approaches, many students will need a laptop for classes. The laptop will become a constant companion: a repository for papers, a research tool and a source of entertainment or creative expression. Because of this, it’s important to find a laptop that balances the basics with the individual interests and needs of your child. Below are several factors to consider, along with specific recommendations you can take with you into the store or while browsing online.


Depending on the other supplies your student needs for class, a new laptop could be the biggest purchase you make. When you are considering price you’ll also want to think about longevity—will your child be able to use this computer through college and beyond? You may save money getting a machine that can only handle typing a paper and checking email, but your student’s chosen path could easily require a new machine within two years, especially in art or engineering programs. Also consider your child’s track record and the odds that this computer may be lost, damaged or stolen in the first few months. Keep price in mind as you weigh the importance of all other factors. You can purchase a decent laptop for around $400.


Here, you’re mostly thinking about portability. If your student is pursuing an online bachelor degree, he or she may prefer a large screen and high performance to an ultra-portable model. Other students may carry their computers with them to every class, so portability becomes more important. Laptops can range from under three pounds to over seven pounds; you’ll probably get the most value by landing somewhere in the middle.

Web and media capabilities

Almost every use of a laptop requires an Internet connection. Consider choosing a machine with a built-in wireless card; students can use an Ethernet cable to hook up directly, but if they plan to work outside of the library or in the park a good wireless card is essential. Also make sure the laptop has a DVD drive and a USB port—these are a must.

Memory and hard drive

Memory dictates how many programs can be running at once. For most students, multitasking is key, so you’ll want at least 256 megabytes. You can pay a little more and go up to 512 if you think it’s necessary. You might even look into DDR2 memory, which will use less battery life—it’s not available on all PCs, but might be worth the investment. The hard drive, on the other hand, handles actual storage. An English major may be able to store thousands of papers with 30 gigs of space where a graphic designer will be saving multiple versions of very large files and may need a bit more. If you aren’t sure, opt for a little less space. External hard drives are becoming increasingly affordable, and many files can be stored online.

Battery life

Both in the traditional setting and as part of an online bachelor degree, your student will need to use a laptop on the go. Battery life can be as long as four hours; balance that requirement with price and performance. A backup battery can be useful to extend usage time for the laptop.

These days, there’s a laptop available for every budget. Research different styles and manufacturers, and ask your student what will work best—with a little time and effort, you’ll be able to find the perfect laptop for your student’s college journey.