College Computer Shopping 101

We Need a What?

My sister-in-law contacted me recently to ask for advice on purchasing my nephew a computer for college – he was accepted at Rockford University this Fall. Many parents will be faced with this expense when sending their kids off to college.


Before you go out, after reviewing the sales circulars, and make the mistake of purchasing the cheapest one you can find, do your own homework. Check with the college/university first to make sure they do not have any specific requirements. Often times they may have a promotion where you can buy the particular make/model they specify thru the student bookstore to procure for your aspiring College student.  Following the School recommendations (if there are any) may save a lot of time and money down the line.

peopleDepending on the College Major, and software required, a basic computer laptop may not meet the requirements if, for example, it needed a specialized graphics card. After all, who’s going to run AutoCad on a $250 Walmart laptop?

Laptops are often recommended over desktop computers. Even though Desktop computers are more upgradable and stand less chance of being stolen, laptops can be put in a backpack and carried back and forth between class and home a lot easier.  Tablets are nice but have limitations.

The brand name of the computer is less important than the capabilities. The amount of memory you need will vary greatly depending on the software you are installing and what you wish to do with your computer. One computer can last thru (4) years of college if configured appropriately from the outset.

If there are no specific school requirements try to buy the most powerful computer you can afford in the 13″ category – think 8GB RAM and the most powerful CPU offered (touchscreen optional, but nice). 13 inches is a reasonable size to lug between classes, sits comfortably on a desk for note taking and in class work, and should be more than able to perform most everything the average student will need. The 13 inch class seems to draw a premium so if money is tight look to a 15 inch laptop.

No one wants to pay a $500 repair bill every time Junior spills beer on the laptop so stress the importance of responsibility, and consider an extended warranty so you can eek out every last drop of service from the laptop. Laptops are expensive, somewhat delicate, and expensive to repair and you want your purchase to last 4 years in a difficult environment.

Print This Carry That

college-laptop-classroomYour student-to-be will have access to printers in classes and libraries, but a small printer is almost a must for the dorm room. Think wireless when shopping for one which allows a wireless connection without being tethered to USB cables. Laser is cheaper in the long term, but inkjet printers have color capability and often scanners which would demand a huge premium on a laser printer.

Another factor to take into consideration is your student’s living arrangements. You will need to find out what is required to connect to the school’s network. System requirements can vary from building to building even on the same campus. Off campus check with the landlord about what internet options are available, then follow up with the provider to verify price and availability.

Another mostly mandatory accessory is a backpack or messenger bag designed to carry (and protect) a computer. If you want the computer to have a chance at surviving the average young adult at college you don’t want them throwing it into a regular bag with 20 pounds of books before they sprint across campus to class. Nor do you want them using the laptop as an umbrella during a rain storm on the way back to their dorm.

Software is the New Black

Almost every student will be writing papers, making presentations, and creating spreadsheets to track the amount of cash left to party each weekend. The defacto software for most any college student is Microsoft Office and as far as software goes it can be pricey. Look to the college’s bookstore for Office and any class required software. If your college doesn’t provide software, or Academic Discounts for students, look to third parties like Academic Superstore to save some money.

Have fun shopping!


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