The Best Laptops For College Students In 2024

The life of a college student is a hectic one. Classes to attend, papers to write, tests to take, and tuition to pay — it’s a lot.

And while we can’t take all that stress off your plate — you’ll have to ace those tests on your own — we can help you check one stressful task off your to-do list: Buying the right laptop for college.

Mashable shopping reporters have reviewed dozens of laptops, and in this guide, we’ll give you our top hand-on-tested picks for the best laptops for college students (with more recommendations coming in future updates).

How do I choose a laptop for college?For the student lifestyle, portability, performance, and price are key. Because you’ll be hopping around from class to class on a tight schedule, you’ll need a laptop that you can carry around easily without weighing you down. You’re too young for back problems.

In terms of performance, you probably won’t need anything too fancy, but you will want a device with a CPU, GPU, and RAM that can handle multiple tasks at once. If you’re an art student who will be using your laptop to edit photos and videos, you should aim for something with higher processing power like the M3 Apple MacBook Pro.

As for price, college students already have a huge financial burden on their shoulders, so don’t buy something that’s going to make life even harder. There are plenty of affordable laptops that’ll do what you need them to do.

What are the best laptops for college?We’re excited to help you pick out your new college companion. Below, our hands-on-tested recommendations for the best laptops for college students in 2024.

Read Mashable’s full review of the 14-inch Apple MacBook Pro (M3).

Why we picked this:Apple’s M3-chip-equipped MacBook Pro is a powerhouse of a laptop that can handle all of your college-centric needs, from basic note-taking to demanding Adobe Suite projects. The new 14-inch screen feels just right compared to the usual 13-and-16-inch models and boasts a Liquid Retina XDR display that looks absolutely stunning. Mashable Tech Editor, Kimberly Gedeon, also praised the device’s audio output, saying that the MacBook Pro “arguably has the best set of speakers on the laptop market.” So, if you like to listen to music while you study, you’re in for a treat.

On top of the Pro’s sheer speed and power, it also has an incredibly long battery life, clocking in at around 17 hours on a single charge. Unfortunately, it’s not your cheapest option — the model our reviewer tested starts at $1,999. On top of expensive tuition payments, that might not be feasible for a lot of students (don’t worry, we have a more affordable MacBook coming up).

Who it’s for:The MacBook Pro (M3) is a great choice for students who need a laptop that can handle processor-heavy projects like video and photo editing. Its long battery life and crystal-clear speakers also make it a solid pick for anyone who likes to hunker down for extended study sessions. Finally, you may want this device simply because you’re already ingrained in the Apple ecosystem, and that’s okay, too.

Why we picked this:The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is a powerful device in its own right, but the name of the game here is versatility. As a 2-in-1 laptop, the Surface Pro 9 is extremely impressive. It’s a breeze to switch from laptop to tablet mode, and with the help of the computer’s 12th Gen Intel Core processor, you’ll get fast and smooth performance whether you’re in the lecture hall, posted up at the school cafeteria, or back in your dorm room. The Pro 9 is also the first Surface to offer 5G support.

The Slim Pen 2 is included with this laptop and tablet combo, and it makes taking notes an enjoyable activity rather than a chore. The ability to handwrite messages and convert them to computer text feels like magic, and pulling up your go-to note-taking app by clicking the pen’s tip is a neat trick. Art students will especially love the Slim-Pen-2-Adobe-Suite synergy. The kickstand is also improved and feels much more balanced in tabletop mode than any of its predecessors, but we still don’t recommend using it on your lap (it’s too unstable).

While we really loved the feel of the Pro 9’s detachable keyboard, it was a little bit flimsy, so you may want to pick up a carrying case to ensure its safety throughout the semesters to come. We also don’t love the angle that the laptop sits at while in tabletop mode for video calls. It makes you look downright awkward on the other end of the camera feed, so if you attend school virtually, keep that in mind (the camera quality is really good, though). Lastly, it doesn’t have a headphone jack (bummer), so make sure you have a pair of Bluetooth headphones or a 3.5mm-to-USB-C dongle handy.

Who it’s for:The Microsoft Surface Pro 9 is best for students who prioritize versatility above all. If you need a device that can do a little bit of everything, and do it well, look no further. It’s a laptop, it’s a tablet, and it’s a powerful productivity machine. The note-taking features also make it indispensable in the classroom.

Why we picked this:All work and no play makes college an absolute slog, but the budget-friendly Acer Chromebook 516 GE will help you do both. This affordable gaming laptop promises its users a fantastic cloud-based PC gaming experience and the ability to stay on top of schoolwork. After taking it for a spin, we can say that it definitely delivers.

At this price point, great gaming laptops are hard to come by, but the Chromebook 516 GE breaks that mold by offering top-notch performance during gaming and general use, a beautiful display, killer perks, and more for just $649 (we’ve even seen it on sale for only $499). During our testing, every game we booted up ran smoothly, save for a slight loss in fidelity (which is extremely common with cloud gaming). We experienced zero input lag or stuttering.

While we used Xbox Game Pass to test out the cloud gaming features, that’s not your only option. Along with your purchase, you can redeem three free months of NVIDIA GeForce Now at the Priority level, which grants you access to NVIDIA’s high-end cloud servers with enhanced resolution and frame rate. You get other perks, too, including three months of YouTube Premium, a year’s worth of Google One cloud storage, and a month of access to Boosteroid.

The Acer Chromebook 516GE is also a solid general-use laptop that’ll serve you well throughout your college career. The build quality feels durable and sturdy and features a nice RGB keyboard with anti-ghosting tech that’s ideal for taking notes, editing documents, and performing everyday tasks. You’ll also get a bevy of ports, including USB-C, HDMI, and Ethernet. But, the real showstopper is the laptop’s display. The 16-inch, 1600p screen looks fantastic and boasts clear, bright, and vibrant colors, and it supports a 120Hz refresh rate.

The only knock we have against the device? The battery life. It lasted around six hours for us (while using it heavily for gaming, so your mileage may vary).

Who it’s for:Students who have hobbies outside of schoolwork (which we assume is most of you) will appreciate the Acer Chromebook 516 GE’s equally great gaming and general-use features. It comes in at a budget-friendly price and goes on sale often, so if your budget is tapped out after purchasing your textbooks, this may be your best bet (you’ll save even more money once you redeem those membership perks we mentioned above).

Read Mashable’s full review of the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air (M1).

Why we picked this:We told you we’d be back with a more budget-friendly MacBook option.

Even though the Apple M1 MacBook Air came out way back in 2020, it’s still an excellent laptop to this day. The pint-sized overachiever is a no-brainer pick for college students who still want a MacBook but don’t want to shell out $2,000 for the M3 MacBook Pro.

One of the Air’s biggest draws is that it’s lightweight and portable, which fits in nicely with the fast-paced lifestyle of college students. Don’t think its small frame makes it a dud when it comes to power, though. On the contrary — the M1 MacBook Air has enough processing power for all of your basic school needs, including more demanding tasks like photo and video editing. We also love the quiet, fanless design, all-day battery life, and impressive build quality, something Apple users have gotten used to over the many MacBook generations.

The included ports are lacking in terms of variety (as is the case with a lot of MacBooks), and the quality of the webcam leaves a lot to be desired, but those two points become easier to look past if you’re dead-set on getting a MacBook under $1,000. Even better, this model is almost always on sale for around $749.99, making an already-great deal that much sweeter.

Who it’s for:Students who want to remain in the Apple ecosystem but don’t want to drop over $2,000 on a current-generation MacBook can still get an amazing college laptop in the M1 MacBook Air. It’ll perform all of your daily student-centric tasks and then some with flying colors, and it will hold up for years to come thanks to its future-friendly design.

Mashable Staff or contributors have hands-on tested every laptop recommendation in this shopping guide. Each pick earned a spot on our list for different reasons, but all of them share one thing in common: They fit effortlessly into the busy lives of college students. When choosing these laptops, we considered specs such as:

Processor: The central processing unit, or CPU, is responsible for how fast your laptop can complete a given task. High-end CPUs will be able to handle multiple demanding tasks at once, whereas more budget-friendly options may be better solely for basic tasks like web browsing and document editing.

Graphics processor: The graphics processing unit, or GPU, is responsible for rendering clear and detailed visuals. It’s especially important for gaming and photo/video editing, so if that’s something you’ll be using your laptop for, pay close attention to GPU specs while you shop.

RAM: A laptop’s RAM is where active application data is temporarily stored to assist the CPU. Essentially, if you have more RAM, you’ll be able to run more applications at the same time. Look for devices with a minimum of 8GB of RAM.

Storage: This is where your laptop saves long-term data like files and downloads. Keep in mind that SSD storage is faster than eMMC flash and regular hard drive storage. For students, we recommend starting at 256GB of storage and above, but you can probably get away with 128GB if you mostly use cloud storage or don’t normally have that many files saved on your device at once.

Battery life: Eight to ten hours is the “sweet spot,” but your mileage may vary. Generally speaking, the more battery life, the better.

Portability: Smaller laptops will be easiest to take on the go, but they are usually less powerful than their counterparts. Still, as a college student, you may care more about convenience than power.

Price: College ain’t cheap, and neither is a laptop. But unlike college, there are more affordable options for laptops. We kept that in mind when sourcing our picks.

Student-friendly features: Laptops that excelled in schoolwork-related tasks like note-taking, document editing, and running photo/video editing applications got higher marks during our testing period, and those are the recommendations you’ll find in this roundup. You’re already dishing out a pretty penny for a laptop, so you’re going to want one that can support and enhance your student lifestyle.

Fun stuff/extras: College can (and should) be fun. We sourced picks that have fun extras like cloud-gaming support, vivid displays for streaming services, and more so that you can take a break from the college grind every once in a while.

Frequently Asked Questions It’s up to your preference, but if you ask us, students will want to go for something on the more portable side. The M3 MacBook Pro sits at a great mid-point at 14 inches, but as long as you don’t go above 16 inches, you’ll be in a good spot. Anything over that may weigh you down while hopping from class to class.

When you’re shopping for a college laptop, we prioritize three factors: Portability, performance, and price. If you attend school in person, you’re going to need something that’s easy to take on the go. Being a college student comes with a tight schedule, and you don’t want a chunky laptop that’s tough to break out at a moment’s notice. Typically, that means a lightweight but high-performing laptop such as a MacBook Air or Microsoft Surface Pro. However, for pre-college education and online learning — or any setting where you primarily rely on cloud-based software and web browsing — a Chromebook is often a smarter alternative.

When it comes to laptop performance, you may not need a top-of-the-line processor, but you’ll certainly want something that can handle all of your schoolwork and side activities without crumbling under the pressure. You can’t go wrong with the M3 MacBook Pro (or a more budget-friendly MacBook Air) but if you want to save some money or just get an Apple alternative, the other picks on our list are great options as well.

And speaking of saving money, you’ll also want to make sure you buy something that’s within your budget, because tuition is already pricey enough. Remember this: Just because something is expensive, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be “better” for you. Don’t solely look at the price tag and make a choice based on that — think about your habits and what you actually need in a laptop, and use that to make a final decision.

We think that eight to 10 hours of battery life is a good number to shoot for if you’re a busy college student. But, if you can afford a laptop with a longer charge, go for it.

If you want your laptop to be able to handle multiple demanding tasks at once, we don’t recommend going below 8GB of RAM, with 16GB being ideal. When it comes to storage, we recommend starting at 256GB and above, but if you take advantage of cloud storage options, you can probably get away with 128GB.

Dylan Haas is a Lead Shopping Reporter for Mashable, where he covers all things gaming, pets, fitness, sleep, and shopping events like Black Friday and Prime Day. Before joining the team at Mashable, Dylan received a B.A. in Communications from Pace University and contributed to publications like Paste Magazine, Bandsintown, and others following a brief stint as a marketing and management assistant in the music industry.

When he’s not writing or testing products, you can find Dylan playing lots of video games, working out, spending time with loved ones (especially his dog, Stevie), or watching reality TV. Follow him on X at @iamdylanhaas, or send him an email at [email protected].