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Best Laptops for College Students

In our tests, these models score high marks for performance and battery life

Illustration of the best laptop for college students

Laptop makers like Apple, Dell, and HP are already offering back-to-school deals on some of their best models, giving consumers several opportunities to save a buck. But is it the right time to pounce?

For many people, the answer is yes.

According to Gap Intelligence, a research firm, laptop prices typically reach their lowest point of the year in late July and throughout August, and during the Black Friday holiday shopping season.

Consider Apple: It recently introduced a new version of its popular MacBook Air, a 13-inch notebook that does quite well in our ratings. It starts at $1,099, though college students can get it for $999—and Apple will throw in a pair of Beats Studio 3 Wireless headphones, free.

HP has models like the high-end Spectre x360 and more modest Pavilion on sale for several hundred dollars off. (HP, as you might expect, also has deals on printers this time of year.) And Dell is offering about $200 off select laptops, including models that have done well in our ratings, like the Inspiron 15 and the G3 15, a gaming laptop that’s powerful enough to run hit games like “Apex Legends” without breaking a sweat.

For college students (and their parents), it might make sense to go for a gaming model because they’re generally powerful, well-built, and will probably last all four years before students start running into problems like running out of storage space or finding that apps aren’t as responsive as they once were.

“Four years is kind of a long time, so you want something that will last,” said Dustin Downs, a PC market analyst at Gap Intelligence. “You don’t want to have to replace the laptop in two years because it starts slowing down.”

Unlike microwaves and twin-sized sheet sets, a computer is a deeply personal purchase, and it makes sense to do your homework before you reach for your wallet.

Take time to consult your school's website for guidelines. University IT departments often provide a list of computer requirements and links to exclusive student discounts from manufacturers. Business and engineering students, for example, may have to use Windows-based software that doesn't work on an Apple computer unless they partition the hard drive or use virtualization software like Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion. Those in creative fields such as film and design may find themselves in need of macOS.

Be careful, though. School requirement lists aren't always up to date. Case in point: More than a few strongly recommend laptops with optical drives for CD/DVD use, even though that technology has largely vanished from laptops in recent years (though you can always buy an external CD/DVD drive that connects to the laptop via USB).

Below are some of the best laptops for college from companies including Apple, Asus, and HP. Most feature solid-state drives, which are speedier and more reliable than a traditional spinning hard drive but are a little more expensive.

Each laptop has at least 8GB of memory, with 16GB on the most expensive models. According to Antonette Asedillo, who oversees computer testing for Consumer Reports, you can get by with 4GB of memory for basic web browsing and word processing. But if you find yourself doing tasks beyond that, you'll wish you had spent the money to upgrade.

“Definitely err on the side of more," she says, "because upgradable RAM is becoming rare.”

All use an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor. The i5 can handle most everyday tasks including web browsing, video streaming, and photo editing via the Photoshop app. The i7 is better for demanding tasks, such as 4K video editing and top-tier gaming.

Best of all, these laptops come recommended by our testers, who grade them on nearly 200 data points. To make sure each one is just like the one you might take home, we purchased every last model from a retailer.