College is expensive including tuition, housing, and textbooks, not to mention food and other miscellaneous costs so students need a reliable laptop that’ll last for years of taking notes, writing papers at 3 in the morning, and editing slides for a group project. But choosing the right laptop can be more challenging than writing a thousand words on Proust.
We test dozens of laptops every year, and for this guide we’ve rounded up the picks from our other guides that are the best for students. A laptop’s price to performance ratio is the most important factor, followed by battery life, size and weight, keyboard and trackpad, and good-enough performance. Our top pick offers the best balance of all those factors for most high school and college students, whether they’re attending classes remotely or schlepping it to a physical classroom. Let’s exploce The Best Laptops for College Students below.
The Best Laptops for College Students
Lenovo Yoga 7i (14″)
Budget ultrabooks thin and light laptops with good performance and long battery life and a price tag in the $700 to $800 range are ideal for high school and college students because they provide the best value. These cheaper ultrabooks tend to make minor trade offs compared with ultrabooks in the $1,100 to $1,300 range: They may be a bit larger and heavier, may not last quite as long on a charge, may have worse build quality, or may lack convenient features such as a fingerprint reader or USB-C charging. But even with those drawbacks, budget ultrabooks still provide far better performance and overall quality compared with $500 laptops.
Most high school or college students shopping for a laptop to last through graduation should get the Lenovo Yoga 7i (14″). It’s powerful and portable enough to use for a full day of classes, and it has a solid keyboard and trackpad. Unlike most cheap ultrabooks, the Yoga 7i is sturdy and equipped with a fingerprint reader, and it comes with a USB-C charger, which you can use to charge more devices and is generally cheaper to replace than specialty non–USB-C chargers. Spending around $500 more for a better ultrabook like the Dell XPS 13 (9310) gets you a lighter, more compact laptop with longer battery life and a more enjoyable keyboard, but those small differences aren’t worth $500 for most students.
MacBook Air (M1, Late 2020)
If you prefer macOS to Windows 10, then go with the Apple MacBook Air. The biggest improvement to this year’s model is the new M1 chip, which delivers outstanding performance and excellent battery life, making the new MacBook Air the fastest ultrathin laptop ever. Best of all, the MacBook Air still costs only $999, and yet, you can unrivaled performance along with 14 hours and 41 minutes of battery life. This is a combination you’ll only find from the very best Windows 10 laptops, and even they can’t compete in head-to-head performance.
So why buy the MacBook Air instead of the Pro? While the Pro has better sustained performance, the MacBook Air is cheaper and is pin-drop silent because it doesn’t have a fan. And, of course, Apple’s least expensive 13.3-inch model is the most portable, coming in at only 0.6 inches thick and 2.8 pounds. But now the MacBook Air is slower to parity with the MacBook Pro than ever before. It has similar speed and battery life, the same 720p webcam, a comfortable Magic keyboard and two USB-C ports. Also, the 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600-pixel Retina display on the M1 model was improved with P3 color coverage, making it more vibrant than the previous panel.
Dell XPS 13 (9310)
If you’re willing and able to pay more, get an ultrabook. They have great keyboards, screens, and battery life, as well as enough power to do everything most people need a computer for, and they’re thin, light, and portable. Because great ultrabooks provide a better experience and last longer than cheaper alternatives, they can cost more than many students can spend on a laptop expect to pay between $1,100 and $1,300 for a great one that will last for years. But they lack the processing power to play high end games or to handle demanding tasks like video editing or 3D modeling.
The Dell XPS 13 (9310) offers the best balance of what makes an ultrabook great: It’s exceptionally light and compact, its battery will last through a full day of classes, and it has a good keyboard and trackpad. It also offers fast performance and a spacious screen with a taller aspect ratio that’s ideal for browsing the web and writing papers. It has only two Thunderbolt 4 ports that you can use to transfer data, connect an external display, or charge the laptop. We wish the XPS 13 also had a USB-A port, but it does come with a USB-C to A adapter, and if you need more ports you can get a USB-C hub or dock.