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Best Laptops for College Students

Updated January 2024
Bottom line
Pros
Cons
Best of the Best
Apple 2023 Macbook Air 15-inch
Apple
2023 Macbook Air 15-inch
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Best all-around laptop
Bottom Line

With its slim build, sleek appearance and incredible visuals, this MacBook Air with a powerful M2 chip offers an excellent combination of portability and performance.

Pros

College students are sure to love all this Mac has to offer. It features a high-end M2 chip with an 8-core CPU for fast performance, a 15.3-inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone and a battery life that lasts up to 19 hours.

Cons

The display refresh rate is only 60 Hz.

Best Bang for the Buck
Apple M1 MacBook Air
Apple
M1 MacBook Air
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Best Bang for the buck
Bottom Line

Although it’s an older model, the MacBook Air 2020 is an excellent budget-friendly Apple laptop for students who don’t need advanced capabilities.

Pros

This affordable laptop features a fast M1 chip and 8GB of memory for efficient multitasking. It’s excellent for streaming HD content and working on school projects such as spreadsheets and essays.

Cons

It only has two USB-C ports.

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3, 2023)
Apple
MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3, 2023)
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Best for editing photos and video
Bottom Line

Not just for writing term papers on, the Pro is a high-performance laptop with plenty of processing power for running graphic editing software.

Pros

The M3 chip and 18GB of RAM make this one of the most powerful and fastest laptops. It’s perfect for students who need to edit photos and videos, and the crisp Liquid Retina display renders dazzling visuals.

Cons

The FaceTime camera is mediocre.

Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Pro
Samsung
Galaxy Book 3 Pro
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Best for its power and portability
Bottom Line

Power and portability are at your fingertips with this elite-performance notebook from Samsung. Its slim build is ideal for students on the go.

Pros

Although it has a slim, lightweight profile, the metal chassis makes it durable and gives it a premium look. We tested various apps, including Microsoft Word and Excel, and it was able to run several programs simultaneously without lagging.

Cons

The screen bezels are thick.

Asus ROG
Asus
ROG
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Best gaming laptop
Bottom Line

If you’re an avid gamer looking for something that lets you game at a high level wherever you are and that you can use for schoolwork, we can’t recommend this computer enough.

Pros

This model is a powerful laptop for gamers and students who need a fast computer. It has several features gamers would want in a laptop, including a fully customizable RGB keyboard, Nvidia RTX 4060 8G GDDR6 graphics card and a ROG Nebula display that ensures fast and smooth refresh rates.

Cons

It gets hot, and the display isn’t as bright as we would like.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.About BestReviews 
HOW WE TESTED

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Models
Considered
60
Consumers
Consulted
24
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Researched
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Buying guide for best laptops for college students

College is challenging no matter what discipline you’re studying, but having a reliable laptop can make your academic journey more manageable. Every college student should have a personal notebook for doing schoolwork and keeping track of their assignments. However, with so many laptops available, picking the right one can be challenging.

We spoke with our tech expert, Jaime Vazquez, a self-proclaimed gadget nerd with vast knowledge and expertise on all things tech, about what to look for in a quality laptop, how to test one thoroughly and how to make helpful comparisons.

The BestReviews Testing Lab researched and tested a range of laptops. During testing, we set each one up, transferred necessary files and data from older units and tested various features for functionality and performance. We evaluated them for speed, multitasking efficiency, visuals and additional features, including fingerprint sensors, stylus pen responsiveness and keyboard customization, to find the best fit for students. 

Ultimately, our top pick is the 2023 Macbook Air 15-Inch, which provides the right balance of top-notch performance, reliability and portability that college students need.   

Which laptop is best for college students?

2023 Macbook Air 15-Inch 

Best all-around laptop

Product Specifications

Processor: M2 Chip 8-core CPU | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 1TB | Display: 15.3-inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone | Battery Life: 19 hours | Operating System: macOS | Ports: MagSafe 3 charging port; two Thunderbolt ports; four USB ports | Webcam Resolution: 1080p FaceTime HD camera

This laptop is advertised as having specs and performance similar to the MacBook Pro, and we found it to be a worthy consideration for anyone who wants a more affordable Apple laptop.

During our testing, the 15-inch display delivered dazzling visuals, lifelike details and rich colors, making it one of the best laptops for graphic editing and streaming HD content. The M2 chip is 12 times faster than Intel-based MacBooks, which allowed it to run multiple programs without noticeable lag and switch between apps effortlessly. It boasts a 1080p full HD front-facing camera suitable for FaceTime calls with other Apple users.

This is considered the “baseline” or entry-level Apple laptop, but it’s a high-performance machine with plenty to offer students. With adequate care, this laptop should last any student throughout their academic career, and its slim build makes it one of the best for traveling or commuting to and from school.

Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

Best bang for the buck

Product Specifications

Processor: Apple M1 chip | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Display: 13.3-inch LED Retina display | Battery Life: 18 hours | Operating System: macOS | Ports: one Thunderbolt 3, one USB 4, one USB 3.1 Gen 2 | Webcam Resolution: 720p HD

Although this MacBook Air was launched back in 2020, it’s still considered one of the best laptops and offers a terrific combination of performance and functionality. Its compact and lightweight design makes it one of the best laptops for working while traveling and isn’t burdensome for students who have to commute to campus.

The M1 chip has an 8-core processor that provides 3.5 times faster performance than its predecessor, and 8GB of memory makes multitasking a breeze. The 13.3-inch Retina display renders crisp text and rich colors, making it a suitable laptop for graphic editing and streaming HD content. 

We have to recommend this laptop to anyone who wants an Apple computer but doesn’t want or need the advanced specs or functionality of the more expensive MacBook Pro. Although not as powerful as the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air is more than adequate and at a much lower cost; it’s a no-brainer for Apple enthusiasts who want a fast and lightweight laptop.

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3, 2023)

Best for editing photos and video

Product Specifications

Processor: Apple M3 chip | RAM: 18GB | Storage: 512GB | Display: 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display | Battery Life: 18 hours | Operating System: macOS | Ports: Three Thunderbolt 4 | Webcam Resolution: 1080p HD

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better laptop than this MacBook Pro. It has an advanced M3 chip for elite performance and blazing-fast processing speed, making it one of the best computers for running high-powered software. It’s an excellent laptop for photo and video editing, and the graphics card also makes it suitable for gaming.

With 18GB of memory, you won’t ever find yourself lagging or notice a decrease in productivity when running multiple high-powered apps simultaneously. It has a 1080p HD camera and provides a clear image and superior picture quality during FaceTime calls.

This laptop is perfect for students who need a powerful computer for advanced workflows. It renders 3D content and allows students to work on and develop transformer models. The battery life is also impressive, lasting up to 18 hours on a full charge, and the screen delivers outstanding visuals.

Samsung Galaxy Book 3 Pro

Best for its power and portability

Product Specifications

Processor: Intel Core i7-1360P Processor | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 1TB | Display: 3K AMOLED | Battery Life: 20 hours | Operating System: Windows 11 Home | Ports: Two Thunderbolt 4, one USB 3.2 | Webcam Resolution: 1080p Full HD camera

This laptop has a metal chassis, giving it a durable build and feel, and the tapered lower chassis reminded us of the 2021 MacBook Air. During testing, the keyboard was responsive and felt nice to the touch, and the display’s color contrast was excellent when running various gradient tests.

We tested the efficiency of the Galaxy Book 3 Pro at multitasking by opening and running various apps simultaneously. The tested apps were Chrome, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Edge, and we experienced minimal lag or hangtime while we were opening or switching between them. It also offered outstanding performance when we ran multiple apps at the same time. Accessing data was quick and effortless thanks to the fast SSD, and voice transmission during video calls sounded natural.

This laptop’s slim build and sleek design make it excellent for working or gaming on the go. The keyboard felt great, and the battery supported fast charging, getting it from zero to 100% in under two hours.

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

Best gaming laptop

Product Specifications

Processor: AMD Ryzen 7 | RAM: 8GB  | Storage: 512GB | Display: 14-inch QHD | Battery Life: 16 hours | Operating System: Windows 11 | Ports: Two USB-A, one USB-C, one USB-C support DisplayPort | Webcam Resolution: 720p HD

Students should undoubtedly focus on their schoolwork, but some might enjoy playing PC games on their laptops during downtime. Any computer on this list can run PC games, but some are better than others, and the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is the best of the bunch thanks to its blazing-fast AMD Ryzen processor.

This gaming laptop boasts an Nvidia RTX 4060 8G GDDR6 graphics card for running graphics-intensive games and rendering impressive visuals, and AMD SmartShift Max technology enhances gaming performance. The ROG Nebula display minimizes brightness and ensures fast and smooth refresh rates while reducing input lag. Plus, it has a single-zone RGB backlight you can customize.

Any gamer will be pleased with this laptop, but its high-performance processor suits students who also need to run high-powered programs. 

Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus

 

Best budget Chromebook for college students

Product Specifications

Processor: Intel 13th Generation Core i3 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Display: 14-inch LCD IPS | Battery Life: 10 hours | Operating System: Chrome OS | Ports: 

One USB-A 3.2, two USB-C 3.2 | Webcam Resolution: 1080p HD

This laptop boasts several premium features you might not expect a Chromebook to have, making it an excellent bargain pick. 8GB of memory puts it alongside other premium laptops, as you can run several apps without experiencing significant lag, and the i3 processor makes it suitable for basic computing tasks.

It has a slim, lightweight build for improved portability, and the 14-inch display makes it excellent for watching your favorite movies and shows on the go and working on spreadsheets. Chrome OS runs smoothly, and although you can mostly only access files online, the user experience is more fluid and intuitive than macOS or Windows, the primary operating systems of other laptops.

We recommend this laptop for students who want something simple for everyday schoolwork, projects and other basic computing tasks. Plus, it has a 1080p full HD front-facing camera that’s excellent for video calls, group project conference calls and taking selfies.

Acer Chromebook Spin 714

Best Chromebook for college students 

Product Specifications

Processor: Intel Core i5 | RAM: 8GB  | Storage: 256GB | Display: Full HD | Battery Life: 10 hours | Operating System: Chrome OS | Ports: One USB 2.0, one USB 3.0 | Webcam Resolution: QHD 2K

If you’re willing to spend a bit more on a Chromebook, this one has all the trademarks of an efficient laptop for working on the go, including a midgrade processor for running basic programs and 8GB of memory for efficient multitasking.

DTS Audio provides distortion-free sound, and the built-in speakers are impressive, considering it’s a laptop. The Corning Gorilla glass touchscreen looks fantastic, and the hinge allows you to switch between laptop, tablet and tent modes. It boasts military-grade durability that guarantees it lasts a long time, and the built-in QHD webcam offers stunning picture quality during video and conference calls.

A Chromebook might seem a bit lackluster compared to our other recommendations, but we highly recommend this one for any student who wants a simple device to keep up with schoolwork. It doesn’t pack the same processing power as other high-end laptops, but for the price, this lightweight computer is an excellent choice for any student, especially for those who have to commute to school on public transit.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

Best laptop for creative students

Product Specifications

Processor: 13th Gen IntelFootnote Core i7-13700H | RAM: 16GB; 32GB; 64GB | Storage: 512GB; 1TB; 2TB | Display: 14.4-inch Touchscreen PixelSense Flow DisplayFootnote  | Battery Life: 19 hours | Operating System: Windows 11 Home | Ports: Two USB-CFootnote with USB4Footnote / Thunderbolt 4t, one USB-A 3.1 | Webcam Resolution: 1080p Full HD camera

This laptop has a two-in-one design that lets you set it up like a canvas, which is excellent for sharing content on your screen with others. The large touchpad provides responsive haptic feedback, and you can lay the screen flat to use it in Studio Mode, which is great for drawing and editing.

The 14.4-inch touchscreen is large enough to stream HD TV shows and movies comfortably, and the crisp visuals make it one of the best for watching bright, colorful content. It comes equipped with a high-end graphics card, which is perfect for PC gamers, and the powerful processor allows games and other apps to run smoothly,

We like this laptop a lot, and although it’s pricey, it might be the perfect laptop for art students or anyone who wants a versatile two-in-one laptop for school work or gaming on the go.

HP Elite Dragonfly 13.5-Inch Chromebook

Best for its power and durability

Product Specifications

Processor: Intel Core i3 CPU | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB | Display: 13.5-inch diagonal 2K touch display | Battery Life: 13 hours | Operating System:  | Ports: Two Thunderbolt 4 with USB Type-C 40Gbps signaling rate, one USB-A | Webcam Resolution: 5-megapixel

This laptop has a 13.5-inch IPS touchscreen with a 2K resolution, making it an excellent notebook for streaming HD TV shows and movies and running graphic editing software. The haptic trackpad with multi-touch gesture support is highly responsive, and the fingerprint sensor adds an additional layer of security.

The full-size backlit keyboard is perfect for students, and the stereo dual speaker setup sounds surprisingly good, given that it’s a laptop. It’s not explicitly designed for gaming, but the Intel UHD graphics card makes it sufficient to play several PC games.

We recommend this laptop for any student, whether high school or college. The only drawback is that the memory might not be sufficient for running multiple high-powered apps simultaneously. However, for most students, lag won’t be noticeable. It’s an excellent laptop for nearly all school tasks.

Lenovo Yoga 7i 16

Best convertible laptop

Product Specifications

Processor: Intel Core i5 | RAM: 8GB  | Storage: 512GB | Display: 14-inch full HD | Battery Life: 13 hours | Operating System: Windows 11 Home | Ports: One USB 3.2 Gen 1, Two USB 4 Type-C Thunderbolt 4 | Webcam Resolution: 720p HD

What we like most about this laptop is its two-in-one design, which lets you use it like a tablet, making it great for note-taking. It boasts 16GB of RAM, making it better than other lightweight computers at multitasking, and the Intel Core i5 processor is powerful enough to run various apps, including editing software, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Quickbooks and more, without noticeable lag.

The touch-sensitive screen means you can work on your computer more freely and flexibly, and the full HD resolution makes it perfect for watching your favorite content. It also has a built-in Alexa feature so you can get help from the virtual voice assistant if you need it, and it comes with a free three-month trial of Xbox Game Pass.

We love this laptop’s versatility; its compact design makes it a no-brainer for students. It’s a terrific laptop offering elite performance and everything you need to succeed in school.

Key laptop specs

It’s important to focus on the technical specifications of your new laptop. The right choice can help you “future-proof” your investment as much as possible so it lasts as long as possible. Here are the vitals that matter most.

Screen size

Most laptops aimed at the college crowd feature screen sizes between 11 and 15 inches on the diagonal. The screen size essentially determines the overall size of the laptop, so if you’re planning on taking it with you everywhere, it’s worth considering how big a laptop you’re willing to lug around. A 13- or 15-inch model would probably appeal to most people.

Weight

Laptops can weigh anywhere from 3 to 7 pounds. While that range might not sound huge, the weight of your laptop will definitely make a difference after a full day of carrying it from class to class. 

CPU

The central processing unit (CPU) is the chip responsible for all operations on a laptop. Some CPUs are faster and more capable than others. CPU speeds from different manufacturers can be difficult to compare because of fundamental differences in architecture. 

The most common CPUs for laptops are made by Intel and come in three classes, each faster than the last: i3, i5, i7 and i9. Intel periodically upgrades each line, so take note of which generation is included with your potential selection. For example, a laptop with a seventh-generation i5 CPU is a solid middle-of-the-road choice.

RAM

A laptop’s random access memory (RAM) controls how many tasks the computer can take on simultaneously. This is incredibly important since without enough RAM, even the fastest CPU can seem sluggish. More RAM doesn’t actually speed up how quickly data is processed, but because it controls how much data gets processed at a time, it has a big impact on how fast a laptop feels. Many laptops come with 4GB of RAM, but if you want a laptop that’s still going to feel fast after a few years of use, get one with at least 8GB, if not 16GB.

Choosing your OS

Different laptops come with different operating systems, and while there are significant differences in the look and feel of each OS, all of them are more than sufficient for college students. Here’s a look at what makes each OS unique.

Microsoft Windows

Microsoft Windows is the most widely used operating system across college campuses. It’s often found on budget and moderately priced laptops. Because Windows is so ubiquitous, it’s pretty easy to get tech support for a Windows laptop. 

macOS

macOS is found only on Apple laptops. These laptops tend to cost between 10% and 30% more than comparable models from other brands. The best part about OS X is what you don’t experience; crashes, viruses, and random slowdowns are far less prevalent on Mac laptops than competing Windows models. If you need the most worry-free laptop available and you don’t mind paying a premium, consider getting a laptop from Apple’s MacBook product family.

ChromeOS

ChromeOS is Google’s operating system built on the popular web browser, Chrome. While it can take some time to get used to doing everything through a browser, Chrome laptops can do everything that traditional laptops can, and thanks to solid support and updates from Google, Chrome laptops are among the most secure available.

Laptops for college students: prices

Durable laptops can cost a little more than traditional models, so before you jump on an advertised bargain, know what you’ll get for your money.

Inexpensive

Costing between $199 and $499, budget laptops don’t typically age well. While a lot of laptops in this price range can seem like good bargains, the reality is that they feel slow and ineffective out of the box. What’s more, underpowered hardware doesn’t age well. If you need a laptop that can support your lifestyle as a college student, don’t go for the cheapest one you can find; the frustration isn’t worth it.

Mid-range

For $500 to $999, expect to encounter capable machines with respectable hardware under the hood. Machines in this price range won’t have the latest and greatest hardware, but they will still be fast enough to competently handle the most common tasks. Laptops in this price range will definitely feel slow after a few years of use, but they will always excel at the basics like web browsing and word processing.

Expensive

Between $1,000 and $1,500, you’ll find laptops that have bleeding-edge hardware and are still remarkably light. In this price range, you’re essentially paying for three things: portability, speed and longevity. If you want to be certain that your laptop will fit easily in a bag, will still feel fast in a few years and will withstand its fair share of bumps and dings, you’ll need to pay top dollar.

Tips

  • Experiment with different laptop weights before you decide. To get a sense of how it feels to carry around a laptop, find several books of varying weights between 3 and 7 pounds. Carry each book around in a bag or backpack to get a sense of your ideal laptop weight. While 7 pounds may not sound like a lot, lugging a 7-pound laptop around all day could wear on anyone. Do some experimenting to find the right laptop weight for you. Your shoulders will thank you later.
  • Look specifically for a laptop with a headphone jack if you need it. Not all laptops include headphone jacks anymore. If a headphone jack is important to you, focus your search on laptops that include one. More and more gadgets are foregoing 3.5-millimeter headphone jacks altogether, forcing users to get Bluetooth wireless headphones instead. Unfortunately, these don’t deliver the same level of audio quality as a traditional wired connection. If you’re an audiophile, pay close attention to laptop specifications; you may have to hunt around a little to find one with a headphone jack.
  • When you turn your laptop on for the first time, run system updates before doing anything else. All computer operating systems rely on regular updates in order to defend against new and ongoing security threats. It’s best to bring your new laptop up to speed with the latest virus definitions and bug fixes right away. Resist the urge to start personalizing your laptop the moment you open the box. Safety first!

How we analyzed

We have a team of testers who test products in a real-world environment to provide valuable information to shoppers. Before pushing a product into the BestReviews Testing Lab, we do our best to consult experts in the field who can offer helpful insights before we do our own testing. 

For our best laptops for college students buying guide, we asked Jaime Vazquez, a tech enthusiast with years of experience what the key things to look for when shopping for a high-quality laptop. We tested numerous laptops before narrowing down our picks to the ones above. Each laptop was unboxed by a tester and set up with the appropriate credentials and profiles. Testers then proceeded to test various aspects of the computer, including its performance when running various common apps such as Word, Excel and Chrome, webcam video quality, display resolution and battery life.

FAQ

Q. What do I need to do to get Microsoft Word on a new laptop?

A. Microsoft’s word-processing application, Word, is typically not included with most laptops. To install it, you’ll need to get a copy from Microsoft or an authorized vendor, then download the software setup file. Microsoft also offers web-based options known as Office Online and Office 365. Before you make a choice, check with your college’s IT department. In many situations, colleges are able to provide free copies of Microsoft applications to registered students.

Q. How big of a hard drive will I need if I want a laptop that will last through college?

A. The amount of storage you’ll need depends on the content you plan to store on your laptop. If you think you’ll only use it to write papers, develop computer code or stream an occasional movie, a budget model with 256GB of storage would probably suffice. If you plan to store large files (movies, TV shows, personal videos) or you’re studying a field that requires lots of data storage, get a laptop with as much storage as you can afford.

Q. Should I get an external hard drive to back up my laptop?

A. Yes, you should have an external hard drive for system backups and for keeping copies of large files. Cloud-based backup and file storage services are great for small files like pictures and documents, but they quickly become unwieldy when it comes to larger files like system backups or downloaded movies. Even with a speedy internet connection, it’s typically faster and more convenient to back up your laptop’s operating system as well as your largest files using an external hard drive.

Our expertise

BestReviews reporter Kevin Luna has extensive experience with many laptops and has used high-performance computers by brands such as Asus, Acer, HP, Dell, Lenovo and Apple. He’s written about consumer electronics for several years and is knowledgeable about what makes a good laptop, including factors such as processing power, memory, display resolution, camera resolution and a user-friendly interface. Using his computer knowledge, he can accurately gauge what features and functions specific demographics value the most when shopping for laptops. 

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