For college students, a laptop is one of the most important academic tools as well as one of their key financial investments. Ideally, the best laptop for college is the one that lasts for an entire college career and has all the software needed to complete work well and on time, without having to struggle with glitches instead of assignments.
An entry-level laptop computer that will do the job can be had for $300, but you can get a college laptop with longer battery life, a faster solid-state drive and overall better performance for a few hundred more. With the current chip shortages, you might think it’s difficult to get your hands on a decent budget-friendly laptop for school. Luckily, it’s still possible to find laptops and two-in-ones with the latest processors from Intel and AMD. The only PCs you might have to wait for are those featuring the new powerful 11th-gen Intel Core processors that promise to increase performance in laptops for gamers. You’ll find a few models on this list with those processors, but more are expected to be available soon.
Most of our picks for the best laptops for college run between $500 and $1,000. If you’re looking for a more affordable laptop — or if you’re open to an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple’s MacOS — we recommend checking out the best Chromebooks for students. On the flip side, if you’re searching for a more powerful laptop for college, or a gaming laptop that doubles as a college laptop, we have some suggestions for those, too. So if you’re ready to upgrade your tech, keep reading for our list of the best laptops for college.
The newest, fanless Apple MacBook Air hits all the right notes for an Apple laptop (or any laptop computer, really). This powerful laptop is back to the old $999 starting price, and if you’re a teacher or student, you can take off an additional $100, thanks to Apple’s educational discount. Or, you can sign up for a free student deals account on Best Buy to get the price down to $800. The base model features Apple’s M1 processor with an eight‑core CPU, seven‑core GPU and 16‑core Neural Engine. Stepping up from the baseline MacBook model will bring you an eight-core GPU and double the storage capacity with a 512GB SSD, but you’ll be forking out an additional $250.
Like the previous Mac laptop models, the M1 Air has Apple’s Magic Keyboard, Touch ID, a Force Touch trackpad and a 13.3-inch Retina display. If you’re a college student, it’s hard to go wrong with the new MacBook Air.
Read our MacBook Air M1 review.
This thin 3-pound two-in-one is a solid Windows operating system choice for anyone who needs a college laptop for schoolwork. The all-metal chassis gives it a premium look and feel, and it has a comfortable keyboard and responsive, smooth precision touchpad. The 14-inch display gives you more room to work than competing 13-inch models at this price. As a two-in-one, you can use it as a laptop or tablet and it supports pen input with Lenovo’s optional Active Pen. Though it’s light on extra features compared with its premium linemate, the Yoga 9i, it does have one of Lenovo’s sliding shutters for the webcam that gives you privacy when you want it and a fingerprint reader for fast sign-ins. It also has a long battery life to boot.
Tired of trying to work on documents or spreadsheets on a small widescreen display? The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 uses one of Acer’s bright VertiView displays, a 13.5-inch 2,256×1,504-pixel touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. As the name implies, it gives you more vertical room to work, but it still has the width of a typical 13.3-inch laptop with a 16:9 ratio. Between that and its battery life, which lasted nearly 13 hours in our tests, it’s a great laptop for getting more work done in a day — and it’s still thin and light enough for an everyday carry.
The latest version of this Chromebook is the first to receive Intel’s Evo verification, which means you’ll be getting the best possible mobile experience with this model. It’s also the first with Thunderbolt 4 support, which lets you connect to multiple external displays as well as providing fast data speeds and networking. Read our Acer Chromebook Spin 713 review.
Read our Lenovo Yoga C740 (14-inch) review.
Gateway was known for low-cost desktops and laptops in the 1990s. Last year, the brand was revived for a new lineup of laptops and tablets sold exclusively through Walmart. Those models were recently updated with 11th-gen Intel processors and we tested both 15.6- and 14.1-inch models. The latter gets our vote as an inexpensive option for getting school work done while still being light enough to carry around campus for the day. The attention-grabber is the Intel Core i5 processor that provides reliable performance despite being paired with cheaper components. The keyboard is comfortable but not backlit and the touchpad isn’t the most precise. Also, the built-in fingerprint reader is hit-or-miss. Still, it has lots of ports so connecting a mouse or an external display isn’t an issue and the full-HD display is decent, too, all things considered. Plus, the battery lasted a couple minutes shy of 10 hours on our streaming video test.
A remarkable college laptop deal for simple tasks like email, word processing and much more, thanks to the new AMD Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors. This budget laptop has a backlit keyboard, a fingerprint reader and a USB Type-C port, too. The Acer Swift 3 is also an incredibly lightweight laptop — less than 3 pounds — for a machine that can be found for less than $700.
In addition to this Acer Swift, we’re also fans of the Acer Aspire 5, which has a larger 15.6-inch display. The Acer Aspire 5 is available in a variety of configurations starting as low as $405 but can go up to $711 if you want entry-level discrete graphics for basic gaming and content creation.
The Surface Pro remains the standard-bearer for Windows devices that work as both a Surface laptop and touch screen tablet, though this convertible laptop makes for a better tablet than it does for a laptop. (If you’re looking for the opposite in a student laptop, Lenovo’s two-in-one Yoga devices are better laptops than they are tablets.) In addition to the typical great performance and battery life you can expect, the seventh-edition Surface Pro finally gets a USB-C port. The Surface laptop’s super-portable size makes it an ideal student laptop for high school and college students who may be carrying a lot of gear. Though this company still sells the Surface laptop Pro without its essential Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen included, it can frequently be found for a relatively cheap laptop price — sometimes with one or both accessories.
Read our Surface Pro 7 review.
Dell streamlined its G-series gaming laptops, going from three models down to just one Dell laptop — and it’s all for the best. Instead of having to decode the various feature and quality differences between them, there’s just one chassis available with a variety of configurations starting at $833. All of the processors can be paired with up to a 6GB Nvidia RTX 3060, 8GB or 16GB of memory and up to 1TB of storage. They’re basically a more budget-friendly version of those from its Alienware division, but still capable of playing the latest AAA titles.