These days, simply completing an assignment at school is difficult without a computer. Educational institutions around the world have made classes more accessible and flexible for everyone, with the one expectation: that students have access to a computer. This expectation is even more important when it comes to online learning. While online schooling is typically more affordable, efficient, and convenient for students, a home computer or laptop is almost always necessary, and that comes with a price. Students today can expect to pay $500-$2,300 for a new laptop. To offset this significant cost, there are now many online colleges that offer laptops and tablets to students for free or at steeply discounted rates.
As technology continues to advance, having any computer is not always enough. For some students, the minimum technology requirements may exclude their personal computers from being useful. This is just another reason why online colleges that offer laptops are so helpful. While policies between the online schools offering laptops may differ, every school on this list does something to help. Some online colleges that offer laptops include the cost of the computer in the program tuition, whereas other schools ask that students return the laptops upon program completion. In different ways, each of these computer deals are available to help students manage the high cost of such equipment.
Online Colleges that Offer Laptops
Currently, there are several on-campus and online colleges that provide laptops to students. As online programs continue to become more prevalent, this number is bound to grow. Some of online colleges that provide laptops, such as Stevens-Henager College, actually give over ownership of the computers to the students, while other schools, including Wake Forest University and Villanova University, provide significant purchase discounts and even lend students laptops in certain cases. In all scenarios, these schools help students by providing them with a laptop for use in their coursework at no cost or at extremely discounted rates.
Some other colleges that provide students with laptops include:
- Ursinus College
- Chatham University
- Centenary College
- St. John’s University
- George Fox University
- Northwest Missouri State University
- Wentworth Institute of Technology
Are the Laptops Really Free?
Every school has a slightly different policy regarding free laptops. Some online schools that provide laptops give them to all incoming students, while others supply only students in certain programs with the technology. A few of the institutions charge a technology fee, which typically covers all internet usage and servicing fees but recovers some of the cost of the computer for the institution as well. There are also online colleges that offer laptops as part of the cost of tuition to ensure all students are prepared. To deter any students who wish to enroll only to get their laptop and then drop out, most of the institutions on this list require students to complete their program in order to maintain ownership of the laptop. Others allow students free usage of the device during their enrollment without ever providing true ownership. There are also some schools, like Wake Forest University and Villanova University, that simply offer discounted laptops to students enrolled in their programs.
Why Do Online Schools Give Students Laptops for Free?
Each of the colleges and universities on this list, especially the online colleges that offer laptops, have recognized that technological requirements can be a burden and a major obstacle for students when looking to enroll. By providing students with computers that meet the minimum requirements, these institutions eliminate those obstacles. This incentive gives the students a greater chance of success in an online college program. It also encourages greater participation and ensures that every student has equal flexibility and opportunity.
When Do Students Receive Their Free Laptops?
Generally, online schools that offer laptops provide them on the day the students officially become enrolled in courses at their institution. Some institutions require the students to pick up the laptops on their first day of classes, but those in online programs can make other arrangements. This prevents unnecessary shipping costs if students change their mind prior to starting classes.
Can You Keep the Laptop?
While the policies vary from institution to institution, the majority of free laptop programs provide students with computers as long as they are enrolled in a program. Some online colleges that offer free laptops request that the student return the device upon graduation, whereas others offer it for sale at a discounted rate. Most programs, however, transfer ownership of the laptop to the student once they have graduated. Until that time, the laptop remains the property of the school and any damages are the responsibility of the student. In all cases, if the student drops out or leaves the college prior to graduation, they are required to return the laptop.
Who is Responsible for Maintenance of the Laptop?
While the student is enrolled at one of these universities or colleges, the laptop remains the property of the institution. Therefore, all necessary software upgrades and maintenance are managed by the institution’s service department or covered under warranty. Any cosmetic damage or anything that is not covered under warranty is almost always the responsibility of the student to repair. Some institutions provide student computers with software upgrades at various points in their study as well.
What if Your Laptop is Lost or Stolen?
In the event the laptop is stolen, students are expected to file a police report. Some schools require the report to be submitted within a certain period of time, such as 10 days from the time of the incident. It is the student’s responsibility to file a report with the institution as well. Most schools charge a replacement fee or sell the student a replacement laptop at a discounted rate.
Even though receiving a free laptop for enrolling with a certain school is an enticing perk, the majority of schools still do not offer this type of incentive. Since laptops are a near necessity, that means that most students are responsible for purchasing their own. For even the most experienced computer users, understanding the difference between the countless laptops available and their respective performance and power is difficult to determine. To make this process easier, we have put together a short guide to help students identify and purchase the cheapest and best laptop for their specific educational purposes.
Determining Your Needs
The first step in purchasing a laptop at the best possible price is to determine what the computer is needed for. Create a list of all the intended uses and ensure that each prospective laptop can perform and support those duties. Students should check the minimum computer requirements at their institution of choice and choose a laptop that fulfills those demands as well. Even if students feel they won’t need the computer for personal use, it is wise to take those uses into consideration. For instance, this could mean choosing a computer with a serviceable graphics card for streaming or gaming, if those are potential uses.
Specifications to Consider
The computer platform is the environment in which your computer runs. For the purposes of this list, platforms refer to the operating systems, such as Windows-run PCs or Macs. While most schools allow and accommodate both platforms equally, certain programs still prefer one to the other. For instance, communications and arts programs often suggest Mac laptops, whereas professional studies programs suggest having a Windows laptop.
Every year, laptops get smaller and lighter, but weight and size are still major concerns when purchasing a laptop, especially for students. Portability is important because this is a laptop’s primary advantage over a desktop. Though there are some exceptions, the general rule is that the lighter a computer is the smaller the screen size and the less battery life it has. Portability is also a cost concern, as lighter laptops are typically priced higher. Consider how important battery life and screen size are to your purchase when making a decision.
In addition to size, other display considerations should be weighed, including resolution and graphics. The majority of laptops now come with high resolution screens that are capable of performing most tasks, but some students may require heavier duty resolution depending on their programs. Similarly, standard graphics cards are often more than enough for most students, but that depends on what the laptop will be used for.
Memory doesn’t refer to space available on the hard drive but to Random Access Memory (RAM). The more RAM a computer has, the faster it will open applications and the quicker it will run when multiple programs are running at the same time. These days, the minimum RAM students should look for is about 4GB of DDR3 memory. Conversely, anything more than 8GB should be considered overkill.
- Processor Speed
The processor is the brains of the computer. It handles the majority of the work going on behind the scenes. The main competitors in the processor market are Intel and AMD. While these two can be difficult to compare because they use such different names and models, almost all processors these days are multi-core processors. This essentially means that processors provide enhanced performance and reduced power consumption. The recommended current requirement is an Intel Core i5 processor, though an Intel Core i3 processor, available as a minimum in almost all budget laptops, should be serviceable.
- Hard Drive
The hard drive is where almost everything is stored in the computer. Most standard-issue laptops have between 100 gigabytes and 1 terabyte of space, which is almost always enough for standard files, music, pictures, etc. For those who know they need more space than the average student, there are external hard drives and solid state drives as options, but there are additional costs attached.
Meeting School Requirements
Every school and program has different minimum requirements for computers. Before purchasing a laptop for school, students should ensure that their computer meets the latest requirements from their school of choice. These requirements change annually, so having the most up-to-date information is pertinent. Most of these details can be found on the institution’s website, particularly with online schools. Otherwise, students can call or email the technical support staff to get the necessary information. Students should note that, if the minimum requirements do change during the course of study, they are expected to update their computers as necessary.
Choosing the Right Laptop
Most often, the biggest question when it comes to buying a laptop for school is deciding between a Mac and a PC. The general rule is that Macs are typically pricier. If the student’s budget is the primary concern, then a PC will almost always be the answer. However, many users find Macs to be more user-friendly, stable, and predictable. They also have a higher resale value. Conversely, PCs, which run a Windows operating system, allow for more personalization and a larger software library.
For most buyers, the choice comes down to preference. Many people surround themselves with Apple products, which allow for seamless compatibility between devices. There are also some major differences in general usage. Though both laptops can manage pretty much everything these days, many users who plan on creating, editing, or designing anything art-related often choose a Mac, whereas users who plan on gaming or primarily using Windows products go with a PC.
Below, we have outlined the specs of some of the most popular types of laptops, including current Macs, PCs, and other models on the market.
|Name||Cost||Platform||Processor/Speed||RAM||Screen Size||Weight||Battery Life|
|Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch)||$2,500||MacOS||Intel Core i7-6820HQ/2.7 GHZ||16GB||15.6″||3.99 lbs||11:19|
|Dell XPS 13||$1,370||Windows||7th generation Intel Core i3 – i7||4GB-16GB||13.3″ FHD||2.7 lbs||13:49|
|Samsung Notebook 9 Pro||$1,400||Windows||7th generation Intel Core i7||8GB-16GB||13.3″ – 15.6″ FHD||2.9 lbs||6-8 hours|
|Asus Chromebook Flip||$500||Windows||6th generation Intel Pentium – Core m7||4GB-8GB||12.5″-inch FHD||1.96 lbs||10:46|
|Asus Zenbook UX305||$1,200||Windows||13.3-inch FHD||8GB||13.3″-inch FHD||2.6 lbs||9+ hours|
Like many large purchases, when it comes to buying a laptop, there are more expenses to consider than just the laptop itself. There are additional costs associated with all laptops, such as a laptop case, an external hard drive, USB, printers, other software, and headphones. These additions can easily add up to hundreds of dollars. Many laptops offer these items in packaged deals, so, if these additions are important, be sure to consider their value in the packaged deal.
Another major cost associated with laptops is the extended warranty or insurance. Since many manufacturer’s warranties only cover a limited time, such as one year in most cases, it’s very important to read through the fine print to know what is covered and for how long. Purchasing additional insurance or extended coverage may not be worth it if the laptop’s manufacturer’s warranty has exceptional coverage to begin with. Furthermore, many credit card companies extend warranties on big purchases free of charge as long as the credit was used to make the purchase. There’s also extended coverage through the stores, such as Best Buy accident insurance. These plans cover a huge range of issues with laptops, including things like accidental damage, batteries, and hard drives. Considering that the average battery costs $120 to replace and LCD screens cost an average of $300 to replace, a three-year coverage plan for less than $350 can be very worthwhile. At Best Buy and many stores like it, warranties good for up to five years are available.
The Best Time to Buy
According to a study on laptop sales by the NPD Group, laptop computers are refreshed in three different periods annually. During these refresh periods, the back-to-school season from June to August, the holiday season from September to December, and the beginning of February to April, laptop manufacturers release the new models. A consequence of this is the discounted prices of older models. Shopping for a new laptop during this period will provide you with plenty of budget options for laptops which were top of the line just weeks prior.
Depending on the platform desired, there are certain dates to pay attention to. Last year, Apple released its 12-inch MacBook refresh in May 2016 and the Macbook Pro 13-inch refresh in November 2016. New PC models are typically released during the back-to-school season, holiday season, and in the Spring. Some of these seasons, such as the holidays and back-to-school, provide additional discounts on top of the older technology discounts. Another great opportunity for savings is on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when stores offer huge deals on technology and other goods. Students should look out for packaged bundles from laptop manufacturers as well. These packages might include Apple offering an iPod and a printer with the purchase of a laptop, or a PC package that offers a free laptop case and other accessories with the purchase. It’s worth evaluating the cost of these items separately and determining if they need to be purchased on their own.
Additional Ways to Save on a Laptop
Outside of the technology refreshes and store discounts, there are plenty of other ways for students to save money when purchasing a laptop. Many schools and stores provide students with technology discounts or savings. Some higher learning institutions have savings worked into various scholarships or offer discounted laptops through the technology departments. Each of these avenues should be explored to find the best deal available.
- Laptop Scholarships and Grants
Colleges and universities understand just how important technology is to the students of today. That’s why, each year, new programs incorporate technology allotments into scholarships and grants. While some schools, such as Widener University and Indiana State University, offer scholarships specifically for purchasing laptops and iPads, others provide students with freedom to use the money how they wish, simply encouraging the student to consider using it to buy a new laptop. There are also scholarships available through several laptop manufacturers, including Apple and Dell, which provide technology grants as part of their scholarship programs.
- Student Discounts
Student discounts are everywhere. When it comes to buying a new laptop, nearly all the big manufacturers offer savings to students to help them succeed. After all, students are one of the primary markets for these companies, so providing discounts is a powerful way to secure a great deal of business. Some of the most popular programs include Dell University, HP Academy, and Apple’s “education pricing” program. When shopping for a laptop, ask about student pricing options from these manufacturers.
- Leasing a Laptop
Another option for students looking for a laptop is to lease one or participate in a rent-to-own program. Whether it’s through the school or a laptop manufacturer, these programs allow students to pay smaller monthly fees to gain access to a computer. While complete ownership of the laptop is not given to the student, meaning the student is responsible for damage or loss, this type of program is useful to get access to top of line technology without spending a large sum of money. The rent-to-own programs are also helpful for students who need or prefer to pay for the technology over an extended period time as opposed to all at once.
- Purchasing Refurbished or Used Laptops
One of the most popular ways to save money on a laptop is to purchase a refurbished or used laptop. These options are available directly from laptop manufacturers, schools, and the open market. While most schools and manufacturers offer quality assurances, students should take caution when purchasing a used laptop on the open market, as the quality of the technology can be difficult to determine prior to buying.
Some of the most reliable sites that sell refurbished laptops include:
- Apple (tests and certifies all refurbished products and includes a one-year warranty)
- Best Buy
- Dell Refurbished