Best Laptops for College Students 2021: Buying Guide & Reviews

Features
Best Overall
Lenovo IdeaPad 3
Best Mac
Apple MacBook Air
Best Budget Laptop
Acer Aspire 5
Business / Engineering
Dell XPS 15
Image
2021 Newest Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15.6" HD Touch Screen Laptop, Intel Quad-Core i5-1035G1 Up to 3.6GHz (Beats i7-8550U), 12GB DDR4 RAM, 256GB PCI-e SSD, Webcam, WiFi 5, HDMI, Windows 10 S + Oydisen Cloth
2020 Apple MacBook Air with Apple M1 Chip (13-inch, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage) - Silver
Acer Aspire 5 Slim Laptop, 15.6 inches Full HD IPS Display, AMD Ryzen 3 3200U, Vega 3 Graphics, 4GB DDR4, 128GB SSD, Backlit Keyboard, Windows 10 in S Mode, A515-43-R19L, Silver
Dell XPS 15 - 15 Inch FHD+, Intel Core i7 10th Gen, 16GB Memory, 512GB Solid State Drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti 4GB GDDR6, Windows 10 Home (Latest Model) - Silver
Price
$649.99
$949.99
$419.00
$1,659.00
Prime Eligible
-
Hard Drive
256 SSD
256GB SSD
128GB SSD
512 GB SSD
RAM
12 GB
8 GB
4 GB
16 GB
Processor
3.6GHz Quad-Core
Apple M1 chip
AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
5 GHz 6-Core
Battery Life
4 hours
15 hours
7.5 hours
9 hours
Backlit Keyboard
Operating System
Windows
macOS
Windows
Windows
Weight
4.07 lbs
2.8 lbs
3.97 lbs
8.75 lbs
Best Overall
Features
Lenovo IdeaPad 3
Image
2021 Newest Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15.6" HD Touch Screen Laptop, Intel Quad-Core i5-1035G1 Up to 3.6GHz (Beats i7-8550U), 12GB DDR4 RAM, 256GB PCI-e SSD, Webcam, WiFi 5, HDMI, Windows 10 S + Oydisen Cloth
Price
$649.99
Prime Eligible
Hard Drive
256 SSD
RAM
12 GB
Processor
3.6GHz Quad-Core
Battery Life
4 hours
Backlit Keyboard
Operating System
Windows
Weight
4.07 lbs
Best Mac
Features
Apple MacBook Air
Image
2020 Apple MacBook Air with Apple M1 Chip (13-inch, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage) - Silver
Price
$949.99
Prime Eligible
Hard Drive
256GB SSD
RAM
8 GB
Processor
Apple M1 chip
Battery Life
15 hours
Backlit Keyboard
Operating System
macOS
Weight
2.8 lbs
Best Budget Laptop
Features
Acer Aspire 5
Image
Acer Aspire 5 Slim Laptop, 15.6 inches Full HD IPS Display, AMD Ryzen 3 3200U, Vega 3 Graphics, 4GB DDR4, 128GB SSD, Backlit Keyboard, Windows 10 in S Mode, A515-43-R19L, Silver
Price
$419.00
Prime Eligible
-
Hard Drive
128GB SSD
RAM
4 GB
Processor
AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
Battery Life
7.5 hours
Backlit Keyboard
Operating System
Windows
Weight
3.97 lbs
Business / Engineering
Features
Dell XPS 15
Image
Dell XPS 15 - 15 Inch FHD+, Intel Core i7 10th Gen, 16GB Memory, 512GB Solid State Drive, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti 4GB GDDR6, Windows 10 Home (Latest Model) - Silver
Price
$1,659.00
Prime Eligible
Hard Drive
512 GB SSD
RAM
16 GB
Processor
5 GHz 6-Core
Battery Life
9 hours
Backlit Keyboard
Operating System
Windows
Weight
8.75 lbs

Are you looking for a new laptop for college? Want to have a great looking laptop that is both functional and stylish? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Laptops are one of the required school supplies for college students now. We can help you find a great new laptop from our research finding the best laptops for college students. The laptops on this list are great for both in-person and online school so don’t worry if college goes virtual this semester.

Preparing for college can be stressful enough without having to decide which laptop to buy. Since most colleges require a laptop these days, it is necessary that you buy the right laptop with the right specs. Most colleges will give you the required specs of the laptops they allow, but we’ve gone a step further with this article to recommend laptops that not only meet the requirements of colleges, but generally exceed them.

Given that most college students need to be mobile, we will keep this list to only laptops, but you can certainly get a desktop for college as well when you need more computing power in your dorm. The following guide of best laptops for college students is geared towards students who need lightweight laptop options to take to class, but anyone is free to read our guide.

Overall Best Laptops for College Students 2021

LaptopProcessor | RAM | StoragePrice
1. Lenovo IdeaPad 3Intel® i5 | 12GB | 256GB SSD$649.99
2. MacBook AirApple M1 | 8GB | 256GB SSD$949.99
3. Acer Aspire 5AMD Ryzen 3 | 4GB | 128GB SSD$419.00
4. HP Spectre ×360Intel® i7 | 16GB | 512SSDPrice not available
5. Asus Chromebook FlipIntel Core M5 | 4GB | 64B SSD$549.66
6. MacBook ProIntel® i5 | 8GB | 256GB SSD$866.86
7. Google PixelbookIntel® 8th Gen | 8GB | 64GB SSD$649.00
8. Surface Laptop 2Intel® i5 | 8GB | 128GB SSD$779.99
9. ASUS ZenBookIntel® i5 | 8GB | 256GB SSD$1,889.99
10. Surface Pro 7Intel® i5 | 8GB | 128GB SSD$2,139.00

What makes a great laptop for college students?

A great laptop has great specs for several main features including battery life, storage, type of keyboard, and more. Below are our recommendations for great laptop features if your primary purpose for using the laptop is for college classes.

Recommended laptop features for college students

Storage: These days, at least 250GB is ideal. If you travel a lot, you may want to look into an SSD drive upgrade.

Webcam: Historically webcams were not as much of a concern unless you wanted to Skype mom. Nowadays, a webcam is a must for all virtual classes. All of the laptops on this list have built-in webcams included.

Battery Life: Most laptops these days have plenty of battery life, but we recommend looking for one with at least 4 hours of battery life. This is especially important if you plan to take your laptop to class. Older classrooms don’t usually have enough outlets.

Keyboard: The most important factor for a keyboard is comfort. The amount of click is personal preference so you may want to try a few to see which ones make typing easiest. We highly recommend getting a backlit keyboard so you can continue using your laptop while your roommate is sleeping.

Weight: You’ll likely be lugging your laptop from class to class, so choose something lightweight (less than 4lbs) so that your back doesn’t hurt.

Touchscreen/Writing Tablet: If you plan to take a lot of handwritten notes, you may opt for a writing pad or touchscreen instead of writing with pen and paper. Some schools, especially art and engineering programs, require a touchscreen of some kind.

RAM: Buy at least 4GB, but more than 8GB is preferred.

Software: Buy Windows or Mac OSX. Your school may have a requirement for this.

Processor: You should get an Intel i5 or better these days.

Graphics: Getting a discrete is recommended, but not necessary.

Don’t forget to buy a new backpack and accessories for your new laptop!

Best Laptops for College Students

1. Lenovo IdeaPad 3

Lenovo Ideapad 3
The Lenovo Ideapad 3 is our favorite laptop for college students

The Lenovo Ideapad received a major upgrade this year with the model 3 which makes it #1 on our list of college laptops. The laptop now features 12GB of blazing-fast DDR4 Ram, a 256GB SSD, and a very comfortable keyboard.

Lenovo is known for making quality, lightweight laptops. The Ideapad has always been one of their most value-driven laptops available making it perfect for the budget-conscious college student.

It comes with a 3.6GHz Intel i5 processor, 12GB of DDR4 RAM, a 256GB SSD, and great battery life.

Even with all of these features, the Ideapad weighs a mere 4.08lbs and is only 0.8 inches thick, so your backpack won’t be weighed down by this laptop.

2. MacBook Air

MacBook Air
MacBook Air – Great for Mac lovers

The MacBook Air is the most portable laptop on this list. While it is one of the more expensive laptops, it weighs only 2.95 lbs, making it the lightest laptop on this list and a great choice for college students on-the-go. It has everything a college student needs and the Mac OS makes it extremely simple to use. Plus, it is super sleek and will definitely draw the envy of your classmates.

The 2020 MacBook Air features a 13.3-inch display, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD, an all-new Apple processor (Apple M1 chip), and up to 18 hours of battery life. The MacBook Air doesn’t have a retina display so as to limit the amount of extra weight added from a bigger battery and graphics processor.

We recommend the MacBook Air if you want a lightweight laptop that features the Mac operating system. The asking price of ~$900 may be off-putting, but if you love the Apple ecosystem, this is the laptop for you.

3. Acer Aspire 5 Slim Laptop – Best Budget Laptop

Acer Aspire 5 - A great budget laptop
Acer Aspire 5 – A great budget laptop

Another great laptop for teachers, the Acer Aspire 5 has everything you’d expect from a great laptop for writers at a reasonable price. This is a great laptop for teachers on a budget.

An AMD Ryzen 3 3200U, 4GB RAM, 15.6-inch display, a 128GB SSD, backlit keyboard, and Windows 10 operating system. This touchscreen is cheaper than the Asus ZenBook which makes it a great buy. The wide palm area is ideal for writers. It comes with a generous 7.5 hours of battery life.

4. HP Spectre ×360 – Best 2-in-1 for College

HP Spectre x360 15 Premium 2 in 1
HP Spectre x360 – Best 2-in-1 for college

While the exterior casing might be the first thing you notice about the HP Spectre, the insides are amazing as well. HP’s 2-in-1 flagship laptop got a major (and really needed) refresh this year offering superior power and capabilities to make it one of the best writing laptops out there.

First and foremost, the keyboard is extremely comfortable. It will let you write for hours without fatigue. Second, the Intel 10th generation processor will make sure you have plenty of computing power to handle any writing or content creation application.

The battery life did decline slightly this year, but the laptop should still last over 12 hours.

5. Asus Chromebook Flip

While it may not pack the same power as the other laptops on this list, the 2-in-1 ASUS Chromebook doesn’t need to since it makes up for it in portability. It has a 12.5-inch screen touchscreen that converts to a writing tablet,  4GB of RAM, and an Intel M5 processor.

It only has 64GB of flash storage which is plenty since you can store everything else in the cloud. The tablet runs on Chrome OS so like the Pixelbook you will need to be ok with using Google Docs.

The battery lasts for up to 10 hours which should give you plenty of time to study at the library with no external power.

6. MacBook Pro

macbook pro - best laptops for collegeWhile the older models of the MacBook Pro were bulkier, the new MacBook feel slimmer and is much more powerful than the previous model. The return of the magic keyboard, which has been completely redone and returns to the old butterfly-style keys, makes writing one MacBook once again an enjoyable experience.

The MacBook Pro 13.3-Inch Retina Display, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD, and up to 12 hours of battery life. It is also one of the lightest laptops on this list. It has a backlit keyboard for writing in low light and a spacious palm rest.

We recommend the MacBook Pro if you prefer the Mac OSX operating system environment or prefer a really great screen resolution. The asking price may be off-putting, but if you love the Apple ecosystem, this is the laptop for you.

7. Google Pixelbook Go

The Google Pixelbook Go is a great laptop for any college student. It has an extra long battery life (12 hours), a backlit keyboard with Hush keys for quiet typing, and weighs just over 2lbs. Our only concern is that your college may require software, such as Microsoft Office, that will not run on this.

The Google Pixelbook Go packs a 13.3 inch full-HD touchscreen, an 8th Gen Intel processor (M3, i5, or i7) and 8 or 16GB of RAM depending on the configuration you choose. The backlit keyboard with Hush Keys means you can write day or night without slowing down or waking anyone up. The laptop also has no fan so you won’t have to worry about it being noisy when the processor gets busy.

The only downside to this laptop is that it runs on Chrome OS so you need to be comfortable using Google Docs and other Google products for your content creation.

8. Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 laptop is a consistent favorite amongst our readers. It’s stylish, lightweight, and features an amazing keyboard.

This laptop features a 13.5-inch touchscreen, an Intel i5 processor, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 128GB solid-state hard drive. It also only weighs 2.8 lbs so it won’t weigh down your backpack. Add to that 14.5 hours of battery life and you have a great laptop for writing.

9. ASUS ZenBook

One of the higher-priced laptops on this list, the ASUS Zenbook laptop that comes in two models: a regular laptop and a 2-in-1 (the Zenbook Flip).

This laptop version features a 13.3-inch multi-touch (yes, you can tap it!) screen, an Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. It even has a backlit keyboard and it is the lightest laptop on this list. Obviously, the main differentiator between this laptop and the others on this list is the touchscreen. This is a huge benefit for college students who want to archive their work immediately in real-time on their laptops.

If you’re looking for a laptop on which you can handwrite notes, this is the laptop for you!

10. Microsoft Surface Book Pro 7

Microsoft really knocked it out of the park when the developed the Surface Book. It is a beautiful laptop that is perfect  for college students who love touchscreens. While a lot pricier than most of the laptops on this list, it definitely makes up for it with value. We do only recommend this laptop for serious college students though due to the price.

Being a Microsoft laptop, the Surface Book comes preinstalled with Windows 10. The base model comes with a 12.3-inch touchscreen, an Intel i5 processor, 128 GB of solid-state storage, 8GB RAM, and up to 10.5 hours of battery life. The keyboard disconnects from the screen, allowing you to use it as a tablet as well.

The best part about this laptop is the screen. The included pen works seamlessly with the laptop, making this is the best touchscreen we have on this list. If you enjoy writing on laptops or tablets, this is the laptop for you.

Best Laptops for Business Students (Accounting, Finance, and Marketing)

LaptopProcessor | RAM | StoragePrice
1. Dell XPS 15Intel | 16GB | 256GB SSD$1,341.17
2. Lenovo Thinkpad X1Intel® i5 | 8GB | 256 SSD$1,149.00
3. MacBook ProIntel® i5 | 8GB | 256GB SSD$846.54

1. Dell XPS 15

The Dell XPS packs the power needed by modern business students whether you’re crunching large amounts of data in Excel, running statistical models, or writing beautiful copy. While the price may seem a little steep, the Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and  256GB SSD will age well during college. This is great laptop for both undergraduate and graduate school business schools.

For a laptop of this caliber, the 5.51 lbs weight won’t weigh down your backpack and the 6-8 hours of battery life will get you through several classes.

2. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

The Thinkpad by Lenovo is a classic business school laptop. It’s functional, powerful, and sturdy. While older models of the Thinkpads looked like bricks, they have become much more stylish over the last five years.

The X1 in particular features a blazing fast i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and a drop-proof 256GB SSD. It also features a backlit keyboard so you can continue working into the night even when your roommates are asleep.

It features a rapid charge battery which can power your laptop for over 15.5 hours.

3. MacBook Pro

macbook pro - best laptops for collegeIf you’re a Max fan, the all-new MacBook Pro is a great business school laptop.

The MacBook Pro 13.3-Inch Retina Display, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD, and up to 12 hours of battery life. It is also one of the lightest laptops on this list. It has a backlit keyboard for writing in low light and a spacious palm rest.

The new MacBook Pro reverted back to the magic keyboard, which has been completely redone and returns to the old butterfly-style keys, makes writing on MacBook once again an enjoyable experience so you can quickly churn out your college essays.

Best Laptops for Engineering Students

LaptopProcessor | RAM | StoragePrice
1. Dell XPS 15Intel | 16GB | 256GB SSD$1,341.17
2. HP Spectre ×360Intel® i7 | 8GB | 512 SSD$849.00
3. Microsoft Surface Book 2Intel i7 | 16GB | 256GB SSD$1,699.00

1. Dell XPS 15 – Best Laptop for Engineering Students

The Dell XPS packs the power needed by modern engineering students and doesn’t disappoint on other key features. While the price may seem a little steep, the Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and  256GB SSD will age well throughout four years of college.

Most engineering software requires intense processing power and memory which this laptop definitely delivers on. For a laptop of this caliber, the 5.51 lbs weight won’t weigh down your backpack and the 6-8 hours of battery life will get you through several classes.

2. HP Spectre ×360

Noted above as an overall great laptop for college students, the HP Spectre x360 makes a great laptop for engineering students. It packs up to 16GB RAM, a 256GB SSD and Intel Core i7 processor.

The Intel 10th generation processor will make sure you have plenty of computing power to handle any engineering software and the battery life should be plenty to get you through class.

3. Microsoft Surface Book 2

Microsoft specifically designed the Surface Book 2 for creatives and engineers alike. The i7 processor provides plenty of power for CPU intensive engineering software and the 2-in-1 feature makes this laptop highly portable.

The 17-hour battery life beats every other laptop on this list and makes it the perfect laptop to take to the classroom without worrying about needing to plugin.

FAQs

How Much Storage Do I Need? Is 256GB Enough for College?

These days, 256GB of storage is plenty for college given how many cloud storage options are available including Dropbox, OneDrive, and iCloud. Many solid-state drives (SSDs) offer this level of storage as the default. If you rely on cloud storage, you can even get a laptop with 128GB and just back up your files when data gets too full.

Is 8GB Ram Good for College Students?

These days, 8GB of RAM is plenty for most college students. However, if you are an engineering or business student who plans to process a lot of data with your laptop, then you should consider 16GB of RAM. If you can avoid it, we recommend avoiding laptops with 4GB of RAM unless you are on a budget.

Conclusion

The above laptops are our favorite recommendations for college students. They will hopefully increase your productivity and comfort while you are studying for college. Don’t forget to get laptop accessories.

Prices last updated on 2021-04-26

1 COMMENT

  1. As a graduate student and junior qa engineer, I’m thinking of switching from Dell to Apple MacBook Air. Rather good in ‘best for portability’ category. I really need some advice

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