Some students struggling to figure out how to pay for college are considering enrolling in a school that offers use of a free laptop. In fact, a variety of public and private colleges are now providing students with their own laptops, some of which have to be returned upon graduation, but others that can be kept when the student completes their degree.
Laptops have quickly become an essential tool for many college students. This mobile technology allows students to connect from wherever they might be, to take and store notes, create flash cards, and even brainstorm for that next great project or essay. With social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram, students can additionally keep in touch with their friends and family through their laptop. In fact, the Pew Research Internet Project reports that 70 percent of community college students own a laptop, 88 percent of undergraduate students do and 93 percent of graduate students own them, as well. This compares to just 52 percent of laptop-ownership among non-students.
Students enrolling in one of the schools listed below, or other schools that have established laptop programs, may be able to use a provided system to take online courses or an online degree program. Since laptop programs change regularly, be sure to check the guidelines during the admissions process.
Colleges Offering Laptops that Students Can Keep
All first-year students to this Pittsburgh, Penn., school receive a 13-inch MacBook Pro that is theirs to keep upon graduation. As well, the laptop comes with a 4-year AppleCare warranty coverage, 4-year SafeWare theft protection and helpdesk repair services. However, the cost of the computer necessitates a technology fee, which is currently $375 per semester. The school provides undergraduate and graduate education to students, as well as online courses and programs in areas like Business, Health Sciences and Nursing. Additionally, two new undergraduate completion programs have recently been made available online, including a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration and a Bachelor's degree in Psychology.
Students enrolled at CollegeAmerica, with seven locations in the central and Western U.S, including Cheyenne, Denver and Phoenix, receive a laptop that is theirs to keep upon graduation. Although the laptop is available to undergraduate students, this does not extend to students working on a completion degree. Students can enroll in a variety of campus programs, such as an Associate degree in Accounting or a Bachelor's degree in Health Information Management, or pursue one of more than 30 degree programs offered online, including Associate, Bachelor's and Master's degrees.
Indiana State University
Incoming freshman with at least a 3.0 are eligible to receive a Lenovo ThinkPad T440 during that exciting move-in weekend on campus. The university's Students Support Computer Center can provide tech support and software assistance up until graduation and the laptop stays in the student's hands when they are done with their degree. The university, located in Terra Haute, offers undergraduate and graduate degrees on campus, plus more than 30 Bachelor's and Master's degrees that can be completed almost entirely online or, in some cases, may require a few visits to campus.
Freshman students or students transferring in with less than 30 credit hours are eligible to receive a free iPad or MacBook Pro. Showing a long-standing commitment to tech access, the college, located in Rochester Hills, Mich., has made laptops available to students since 2008. The laptop warranty is put directly in the student's name and students can claim the laptops as their own after just six semesters. Those who fail to complete six semesters at the school are expected to return the laptop or to purchase it at a pro-rated cost. Rochester College provides a wide scope of undergraduate campus programs to its students including in Business, English, Graphic Design, Nursing and 13 other disciplines. Students can also enroll for online courses, which are offered through the Moodle learning platform.
Seton Hall University
Students arriving for orientation at this South Orange, N.J., college will receive a free laptop loaded with wireless capabilities and software needed to start their college education. In their junior year, they receive an upgraded laptop, which is the actual laptop that they get to keep upon graduation. Side note: As of the 2014-15 school year, the laptop being distributed to incoming students was the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga Business Ultrabook. The university, founded in 1855, has a campus enrollment of about 10,00 students and offers approximately 80 majors. More than 20 online programs, primarily for certificates or Master's degrees, are also available in disciplines such as counseling, healthcare administration, strategic communication and leadership, and others.
Southern Nazarene University
Full-time undergraduate students enrolled at this university, in Bethany, Okla., receive a Fujitsu Lifebook S752. The laptops are distributed to students when they attend the school's New Student Institute. While students are not required to pay tech fees for this laptop, they can upgrade to another computer, but at a cost. Upgrades are $650 for a 13-inch MacBook Pro, $1,000 for a Fujitsu 734, or $1,450 for a 15-inch MacBookPro. Students can keep their laptops upon graduation from the university, which offers undergraduate and graduate education as well as online Bachelor's degrees in Organizational Leadership and Nursing, and three online MBAs. Individual courses, ranging from astronomy to sociology and many other disciplines, can also be found online.
All students enrolled in this college do receive a laptop that is theirs to keep upon graduation. Although laptops are not offered to graduate students or those enrolled in a completion program, they are fully available to those pursuing undergraduate education. With nine locations primarily located in Utah or Idaho, the college offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields as varied as Business, Healthcare, the Graphic Arts, and Information Technology. Degrees are available online in similar fields, but offered through the affiliate school of Independence University.
St. John's University
Every full-time freshman or transfer student to this New York university receives a free laptop during their orientation, which they can use the entire length of their program. Student options include three different types of Lenovo ThinkPads or the availability to upgrade to an Apple MacBook for $400. Tech services are available at each of the university's four campuses in Manhattan, Oakdale, Queens, and Staten Island and students do get to keep the laptop upon graduation. The school offers both undergraduate and graduate education, but also provides educational programs online in fields as varied as Accounting, Criminal Justice, Liberal Arts, Library Science, and many others.
Students at Ursinis College, located in Collegeville, Pa., receive a laptop their freshman year, and then an upgrade to another laptop when they become juniors. The college has been making laptops available to students since 2000, and students have the option to "acquire" them upon graduation, although these exact details are not specified. The private liberal arts college, founded in 1869, offers more than 60 courses of study, including in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and awards Bachelor's of Arts and Bachelor's of Science degrees in a broad range of disciplines.
West Liberty University
Any full-time freshman student who has received the Pell Grant can receive a Windows-based notebook with a 15-inch or larger screen, or alternatively select an iPad depending upon their major. Students who are not Pell Grant recipients should not despair: They just need to pay a one-time fee of $200 to the university to obtain their laptop. A one-year warranty comes with the laptop, which students are able to keep after completing one year's worth of study. However, students registered for less than 12 credit hours per semester do have to return their laptop or pay to keep it at a pro-rated cost. Founded in 1837, the university, located in West Liberty, W. Va., is considered the state's oldest higher education institution and offers more than 60 programs of study in the Arts, Business, Education, Liberal Arts, the Sciences, and Professional Studies. Students can also enroll in courses offered completely online using the school's WINS system.
Freshman students enrolling in an engineering program at this Chester, Pa., university, may be eligible for a free laptop through the school's laptop scholarship program. However, there are stipulations: Students must have graduated from high school with at least a 3.5 GPA and been in the top 20 percent of their class. Founded in 1821, the university provides programs in the liberal arts, sciences and professional fields that lead to Associate, Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral degrees. Online courses are also available and these come in a 14-week format using a delivery platform known as WebStudy.
Colleges Offering Laptops that Must Be Returned Upon Graduation
Students at this Waltham, Mass., school have the choice of three computers: HP's Elitebook 840G1, a Lenovo X1 Carbon or a 13-inch MacBook Air, but with a $125 upcharge for the Bentley and a $300 upcharge for the Apple. This private school, west of Boston, offers undergraduate and graduate-level education, as well as online courses. The online courses offered vary, but include undergraduate and graduate level coursework in areas such as Business, Computer Information Systems, Economics, and Marketing.
Although this Los Angeles-based school offers campus learning, laptops are only available to students who are enrolled in online programs. These laptops provide students with the software they need to access the school's online library, complete homework assignments, communicate by e-mail with instructors, and do research. The laptop type is not specified, but students enrolled in various types of programs may be eligible. This school offers online certificates and diplomas in a variety of fields, as well as online Associate degrees in Alcohol and Drug Counseling, Business Management and Accounting, Healthcare Management, and Homeland Security.
Lawrence Technological University
Students enrolled in Arts and Science, Engineering or Management programs at this Southfield, Mich., school may be eligible to receive a Lenovo Yoga Ultrabook that comes pre-loaded with the software needed for their program. This laptop, which requires a $500 student deposit, features a 256 GB solid-state drive and 8 GB of memory. The school offers learning opportunities ranging from undergraduate degrees in Architecture and Biology to Doctoral education in Business Administration and Civil Engineering, but also has nearly a dozen Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees or graduate-level certificates available online.
Wake Forest University
At orientation, all undergraduate students new to this North Carolina school receive a computer, although the type is not specified, that is loaded with a suite of software applications. As might be expected, students are responsible for the computer, and subject to certain fees or charges if it should become damaged, lost or stolen. Students can also upgrade at a cost to a better laptop or convertible ultrabook. While the laptop can be used by the student during their undergraduate years, ownership is retained by the school. Wake Forest, a liberal arts school, offers undergraduate, graduate and online programs. A Master of Arts in School Counseling, Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Master of Arts in Human Services are all offered online.
Winona State University
Located in Winona, Minn., this school provides either the Apple MacBook Pro 13 or the HP EliteBook 13 to students, but at a fee of $465 per semester. Technical support is available for the computer, but students may be held responsible for loss or damage, and the computer must be returned upon graduation. The school, which enrolls about 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students, offers more than 80 programs and also offers single courses online. Most of the online education coursework is delivered using the Desire2Learn platform.
Best Student Laptops
If you are attending a school where a free laptop is not an option, you may want to consider investing in one for yourself. Among the features to consider are battery life, portability and RAM, according to Louis Ramirez, senior tech editor for DealNews.com, which also offers a list of best laptop deals of the week. "Battery life and portability are important because as a student, you're always on the move and don't want a laptop that can't survive a long lecture," he said. "RAM is also important -- perhaps more so than processor speed -- because the more RAM you have, the more apps you'll be able to run simultaneously on your laptop. 4GB is standard these days, but also look for machines with 6GB or 8GB. Anything higher will be overkill for the average student."
Before deciding what kind of laptop to purchase, figure out what you'll be using your laptop for the most, suggested Ramirez. If that's basically to write papers, do online research and browse social networks, a middle-of-the-road system should suffice. However, if you expect to have school tasks that are more intensive, like working with HD video or editing photos, it might be better to choose a laptop with more RAM and a current-gen processor such as the Core i5 by Intel, he said. If your budget allows for it, you may also want to opt for a 1080p screen, Ramirez advised.
Also take a look at the types of tech devices you already own. If that's an iPhone or an iPad, it may be best to go with a Mac to maximize your syncing capabilities. If you are not committed to a specific ecosystem, or find yourself surrounded by Windows-run machines, then it may be better to opt for a Windows 8.1 laptop, according to Ramirez. For students who are consistently connected and feel more comfortable working from the cloud, a Google Chromebook could be the optimal choice. "These machines start at $199, but heavily rely on an always-on Internet connection since most of your apps/work will be saved to the cloud," he said.
So what laptops could work best for the college student? Here are five laptop models specifically recommended to OnlineColleges by the DealNews experts and that include budget, mid-level and higher range laptops:
- Lenovo Flex 10 Signature Edition 11" Laptop: Priced at $329 through the Microsoft store, this laptop is not only inexpensive, says Ramirez, but also relatively small in size, making it portable. Specs include 320 GB of hard disk drive and a four-hour battery life.
- Dell Inspiron Celeron 12" Touch Laptop: At a cost of $400, this ultraportable laptop is excellent for the price, according to Ramirez. It features an Intel Celeron Dual Core N2830 Processor, and has won rave reviews from PC Mag for excellent battery life and overall performance, according to Ramirez.
- HP Split x2 Haswell 13" Detachable Laptop: Available for $525 through Hewlett-Packard, this laptop has mid-level specs and a trendy and convertible nature. Since it's detachable, it also provides the functionality of a tablet, but all within the purchase of one system.
- Apple MacBook Air 11.6" Laptop: The current 2014 MacBook Air typically sells for $899, but buying it refurbished, at $769, can keep a few extra dollars in your pocket. Available through the Apple store, refurbished models come with the same one-year warranty as newly-purchased laptops and a 14-day return policy.
- Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro Haswell 13" Laptop: While having a higher price at $1,299, this convertible system can be utilized as a laptop, tablet, tent or stand. It features a 13.3-inch display, a 512 GB solid-state drive and battery life that lasts up to nine hours.
Of course, there are other considerations to think about when making a laptop purchase, such as your spending maximum and the availability of Wi-Fi connection where you study.
- Cost: If you are looking for a laptop to write papers, play the occasional game, and stream movies from Netflix, you should be able to find a laptop for approximately $400, according to Ramirez. This would typically result in a 14- or 15-inch machine with a minimum 4GB of RAM, at least 500 GB of hard drive and an Intel current generation Core i3 or Core i5 processor. "You can easily find laptops under $300 these days, but you might have to make some compromises, such as opt for a smaller screen or a less powerful processor," he said.
- Wi-Fi: If your laptop doesn't come with built-in Wi-Fi, then just go ahead and put it right back, Ramirez said. "Wi-Fi is a standard feature that every laptop has these days," he said. "There are various stand ards (speeds), but 802.11n is the most common. The newer Wi-Fi standard is called 802.11ac, but if the machine you like doesn't support it, that shouldn't be a deal breaker. Without an 802.11ac router, an 802.11ac-compatible laptop is no different than one with 802.11n WiFi."
- Extended Warranty: It may not be necessary to look for a laptop available with tech support, but the short-term warranty the laptop comes with may be valuable. "Today's college students are tech savvy, so it's likely they'll be able to troubleshoot most of their problems. That said, if your hard drive dies on you through no fault of your own, a good warranty should be able to bail you out," Ramirez said. "Most new purchases should have a minimum 90-day warranty. Macs typically feature a one-year warranty." And instead of spending extra money on an extended warranty, Ramirez recommends taking preventative steps to protect your computer. These include downloading a free anti-virus app or ad-block to keep malicious software from your laptop, avoiding placing your laptop in your backpack and then throwing your backpack on the ground, and never leaving your laptop unattended on campus or elsewhere.
Inexpensive Ways to Obtain a Laptop
While some colleges allow you to keep your laptop after graduation, others may ask you to give them back, which means that you may just want to start your college education with one of your own. There are many outlets for finding inexpensive laptops, with several listed below:
- Students can find second-hand laptops for sale on Craigslist (craigslist.org) usually at affordable rates. Although product satisfaction is never a guarantee, students may be able to find a laptop with the specs they are looking for.
- Think about a refurb, particularly when it comes to a Mac laptop that comes with a warranty."Refurbs are either used or returned machines that Apple re-tests, repackages, and sells again at prices that are 15% to 20% cheaper than their in-store prices," said Ramirez. "We like Apple refurbs because every Apple refurb comes with a one-year warranty, which is the same warranty that Apple offers with its new systems."
- Rent-A-Center offers a RAC Flex Plan that allows you to make regular payments toward a laptop, leading to you owning at the end. The number of payments and length of payment varies upon the system and the plan, but you can upgrade as you want (although a new contract is needed) and also freeze your payment plan.
- Timely shopping can also be important, according to Ramirez, and depending on the time of year, you may be able to find a solid laptop that costs $300 to $400. Black Friday is often the best time of year to look for a deal, followed by the back-to-school season, running from about July through early September, he said. Holiday shopping could lead to good deals, too. "If you're shopping during the holidays, that $400 laptop might cost closer to $300 or it might simply provide better hardware specs," Ramirez said.
- Finally, consider buying a 2013 model. Technology from just a year ago will still be able to meet all, or most, of your requirement needs, but allow you to hold onto a little more of your money. "Don't be afraid to buy last year's model," Ramirez said. "For instance, the differences between the 2014 MacBook Air and the 2013 MacBook Air are very minimal, yet the latter is likely to see better sales/discounts. The same applies to Windows machines like the Lenovo Yoga 2 versus the just-released Yoga 3."
Laptop, iPad & Smartphone College Productivity Apps
After you receive your laptop from your school or purchase one on your own, you may want to search for apps to help make college life easier. This includes apps that assist with everything from note-taking to project planning, and better tracking of your time. It's no small fact that many college students work to help offset the costs of tuition and to pay for essentials while in college. In fact, a 2013 article from CBS News indicates that 71 percent of the country's undergraduate students worked while in school, with approximately one in five working a whopping 35 hours a week or more. Take a look at the suggested apps below to find ways to better manage your tech devices, your studies, and your time.
- JumpCut: This app is devised to simplify the cut-and-paste process with text and to provide you with easy clipboard history access. For Macs. Free.
- Notebooks: An easy way to help keep track of notes, create documents, and manage lists, this app gives you the ability to organize and store records and notes. Available for Macs and Windows. Free.
- Prey: This open source application allows you to track a laptop whether it has been accidentally left somewhere or stolen. For iOS, Android, Windows and other operating systems.
- PdaNet: Students needing to tether to the Internet can use this app for gaining online access. For Macs and PC. Free for a limited version.
- SelfControl: Helpful to students who simply cannot stop looking at Facebook or their Twitter feed when they should be studying. This app allows them to temporarily block access to specific websites, even after they restart their computer. For Macs. Free.
- inClass: Described as the app that reinvents "going to class," this app allows you to take multimedia notes, including audio, text, photo and video, and to be alerted to upcoming assignments and classes. Free.
- iStudiez Pro: Students having trouble making it to class may want to try this app. In the "today" view, students can see what classes or activities they have already done, what they are doing currently (including how much scheduled time is left) and what is coming up next. Available for $2.99.
- Inkflow Visual Notebook: With its bright colors and images, this app may be best for students who learn or think visually. It allows them to capture their ideas and thoughts visually and then to rearrange them through the touch of their fingers. Free.
- MindMeister: Any student who takes notes with picture maps or does planning and thinking through bubbling may find this app useful. Great for organizing ideas and can be synced with an online account. Free.
- Timeli: This app gives students the ability to easily track projects, papers and essays. With a quick glance, students can visually see when their schedule is busiest. What college student doesn't want to know when they'll have time off over the weekend? Free.
- Smart Voice Recorder: Students can record lectures, discussions or group brainstorming sessions with this mobile phone app, which also skips the silences during recording. For Android. Free.
- Dark Sky: Students can use their app as their own personal weather station, gaining details about the temperature, wind speed, and visibility for their actual location. For iOS. $3.99.
- StudyBlue: Students can create their own flashcards or quiz themselves, or look through the 250 million plus student-developed flashcards and study guide sets already available. For iPhone Android. Free.
- Pocket: Whether collecting articles, pages or videos, this app helps students keep things organized. Students can save items directly from a browser or from other apps such as Flipboard and Twitter. For iPhone and Android. Free.
- Evernote: Whether it's writing, presenting or finding saved information, Evernote enables students to collect and organize their work in one simple place. Do everything from tracking a schedule to developing a storyboard or setting goals. For iPhone and Android. Free.
- About Bentley's Online Learning Program. Bentley University. https://online.bentley.edu/hybrid/
- College for Continuing and Professional Studies. Chatham University. http://www.chatham.edu/ccps/
- "College Students and Technology," Pew Research Project. http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/07/19/college-students-and-technology/
- HP Split x2 - 13-r010dx Detachable Laptop. Hewlett Packard. http://store.hp.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/PDPStdView?catalogId=10051&urlLangId=-1&langId=-1&productId=501139&storeId=10151&jumpid=ba_r329_hhoaffiliate&aid=38293&pbid=NKa3hZyYoHA&aoid=35252&siteid=NKa3hZyYoHA-O3m1JnQs2Agn7q6KTenocg
- iPad or MacBook Pro. Rochester College. http://www.rc.edu/admissions/undergrad-admissions/macbook/
- Indiana State University 2014-2015 Laptop Award. Indiana State University. http://www.indstate.edu/2014laptop/ScholarshipLaptopSpecs.pdf
- Laptops and Scholarships. Widener University. http://www.widener.edu/responsive/academics/schools/engineering/laptopscholarship.aspx
- Laptops for CollegeAmerica Students. CollegeAmerica. http://www.collegeamerica.edu/tuition-financial-aid/laptop
- Laptops for Stevens-Henager College Students. Stevens-Henager College. http://www.stevenshenager.edu/tuition-financial-aid/laptop
- Laptop Models. Seton Hall University. http://www.shu.edu/offices/technology/laptop-models.cfm
- Laptop Program. Southern Nazarene University. http://snu.edu/laptops
- Laptop Program. St. John's University. http://www.stjohns.edu/about/administrative-offices/operations/information-technology/laptop-program
- Laptop Program. Ursinis College. http://ursinus.edu/netcommunity/page.aspx?pid=467
- Laptop Program FAQ. West Liberty University. http://www.westliberty.edu/it/student-technology-serv/student-laptop/laptop-program-faq/
- Lenovo Flex 10 Signature Edition Laptop. Microsoft. http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/productID.295781900?srccode=cii_5784816&cpncode=32-414667106-2&WT.mc_id=US_datafeed_PriceGrabber
- LTuZone. Lawrence Technological University. http://www.ltu.edu/ehelp/arts_science_laptop.asp
- Interview with Louis Ramirez, Senior Tech Editor, DealNews.com.
- Macbook Laptop Program. Chatham University. http://www.chatham.edu/macbook/
- "More Students Working (A Lot) in College," CBS News. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/more-students-working-a-lot-in-college/
- Online. Stevens Henager College. http://www.stevenshenager.edu/online/our-programs
- Online Classroom. Widener University. http://www.widener.edu/academics/schools/eics/continuing_studies/online/
- Online Courses. West Liberty University. http://www.westliberty.edu/distance-education/list-of-online-distance-ed-courses/online-courses/
- Online Programs. Seton Hall University. http://www.shu.edu/academics/online-programs.cfm
- Online Programs and Courses. Indiana State University. http://www.indstate.edu/online/programs.shtml
- Programs and Majors. St. John's University. http://www.stjohns.edu/academics/schools-and-colleges/online-learning/programs-and-majors
- "So Much Better than Credit," Rent-A-Center, http://www6.rentacenter.com/flex-better-than-credit
- Online programs. Wake Forest University. http://counselingdegrees.wfu.edu/online-programs/
- Tech Academy. Herzing University. http://www.herzing.edu/files/HU_Tech_Academy_CCN_DCN_CMN_DMN_DNS_00050_0911.pdf
- The ICDC College Experience. ICDC. http://ww2.icdccollege.edu/about-us/icdc-college-experience
- Welcome to Lawrence Tech Online. Lawrence Technological University, http://www.ltu.edu/ehelp/arts_science_laptop.asp
- WSU Online. Winona State University. http://www.winona.edu/wsuonline/