I often get asked for assistance with computer purchases, and never more frequently than for recent grads heading off to college. Of course, every situation is unique and different but there are several recommendations I always make when considering buying a computer for your college student, so here is the breakdown:
- Consider what your student is planning to study. If your student is planning a technical career she may need a much more powerful computer than one who is planning to study history or English. In particular, look on departmental webpages for recommendations regarding processor speed, memory, and graphics cards.
- Mac or PC – your student will let you know which they prefer. Check with the college campus and see whether the school publishes any preference or not. Either type will do a great job with general computing requirements, but a Mac is generally preferable if your student is planning to go into any type of graphic arts field, and a PC is better if your student is planning to major in the sciences. If your child tends to play a lot of computer games, stick with a PC.
- Think about how the student will be using the computer. Larger laptops are easier to use and tend to be more powerful, smaller laptops tend to be less powerful but are more portable. The trend has been to go smaller and smaller but I think that trend might be reversing now with the prevalence of smartphones and tablets for “on the fly” email checking, web searching, and note-taking.
- Consider investing in a 3 or 4 year extended warranty with accidental damage and theft protection. That is, if you want to only buy the computer once. Laptops break, especially if they are moved a lot, and college students are notoriously hard on their laptops. The most common hardware issues I see are failed hard drives and broken power supplies, both of which will be covered by a regular warranty. The next most common problem is accidental damage, usually water or other liquid spilled on the laptop, or damage from being dropped from a bed or stepped on. Buy the warranty direct from the manufacturer, not from the store where you got the computer, and expect to pay approximately 1/3 of the total hardware cost for 3 years of complete coverage. I particularly like Dell onsite warranties as they will come right to your student’s dorm room to do the repair.
- Check out the computers at your college bookstore but don’t assume that you are getting the best deal going that way. The exception is if your student wishes to buy Apple which is rarely discounted at retail outlets.
- On the other hand, don’t buy Microsoft Office or any other software until you see what kind of a deal the college has in place for academic software purchases. For example, at my son’s school Microsoft Office Professional, with a $499.00 retail purchase price, can be downloaded for free with a student email address. Contact your college’s IT department prior to making any software purchases.
- If you are looking to get the most bang for your buck, check out the online manufacturer’s outlets, available for most major brands. Apple, Dell, and Lenovo all sell refurbished computers that look and feel exactly like new, with the same warranty as new, for a significant discount in their online outlets. Dell and Lenovo often publish coupons that offer an additional discount – check Google or sign up at the outlets to have special offers emailed to you.
- Whatever you decide to purchase, make sure you put some sort of back-up system in place. Apart from schoolwork, college students usually have many gigabytes of music and priceless photo memories on their laptops. A portable hard drive for backup, or an annual subscription to a cloud backup service such as Carbonite or Mozy, will ensure that they don’t lose that information to a hard drive failure or a bad virus infection.
In over 16 years as ComputerMom I have assisted my clients with hundreds of new PC purchases. Feel free to call or email with questions and don’t forget you can drop off the new and old computers with me for system optimization and migration. For contact information please visit my website at www.thecomputermom.com.