When students start a college course or return to school, these days pen and paper aren’t the only tools they need for modern education.

Hardcover books, photocopies, handwritten assignments, and in-person courses are now often replaced or supplemented by e-books, distance learning platforms, virtual classes in Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and collaboration through mobile apps – all of which increase the student’s reliance on laptops, smartphones and tablets to work successfully both on campus and at home.

Also: The 6 Best Macs

The best laptop for school now has to go beyond what we might have expected before the pandemic. When buying a new device, there are more factors to consider: it needs to be reliable and ready for everyday use, it may need to be used in real-time video calls, and it may need to be suitable for programs, which require a lot of resources.

Below, ZDNET has compiled a selection of the best laptops for students with these requirements in mind.


  • Super light
  • Available to students
  • It has Apple’s M2 chip

  • It’s not as powerful as the MacBook Pro

Specifications: Display: 13.6 inches | Apple M2 chip | Memory: 8 to 24 GB | Storage: 512GB to 2TB SSD | Retina Display with True Tone | Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports | Webcam: 1080p | Colors: Midnight, Starlight, Space Grey, Silver | Custom options available

As ZDNet previously recommended in our review of gadgets for remote students, Apple’s MacBook Air is a lighter macOS option that could be an excellent option for students who need a machine powerful enough to run video conferencing applications and distance learning, but also weighs less than your average hardcover book.

The difference? The MacBook Air is designed to be lighter and thinner than the MacBook Pro, and while you may sacrifice some of the more powerful tech specs available as a trade-off, the Air is a more affordable option for students and will last them through their studies.

A $100 discount is available at the Apple Education Store.

MacBook Air


  • It has a lot of power and features
  • Great for creative apps like Adobe
  • It has Apple’s new M2 chip

  • An expensive option for students

Specifications: Display: 13, 15 and 16 inches | Processor: Apple M2 | Memory: 8GB to 24GB | Storage: 256GB to 2TB SSD | Webcam: 720p | Colors: Silver, Space Gray | Custom options available

MacBook Pros are a common sight on college campuses. They’re expensive — especially, perhaps, given the specs on offer — but they’re solid, fast workhorses that will last you through a college career. These are especially popular for creative applications, but you may find the device overheating if you run power-hungry games.

The 13-inch model is best suited for students, as it’s a powerful machine, yet small enough to travel with and fit on extendable tables in lecture halls.

You can take advantage of a $100 discount at the Apple Education Store.

An apple


  • Using a tablet or laptop
  • Great battery
  • Up to 256GB of memory

  • Apps from the Microsoft Store can only be installed in Windows 10 S mode

Specifications: Display: 10.5 inches, touchscreen | Processor: Intel Pentium Gold or 10th generation i3 | Memory: 4GB or 8GB | Storage: eMMC drive: 64GB, up to 128GB SSD | Intel Graphics | Web Camera: 5MP/8MP HD | Colors: Platinum, Black | Custom options available including LTE

A hybrid laptop option focused on mobility is Microsoft’s Surface Go 3. Starting at $399.99, the device consists of a removable 10.5-inch PixelSense touchscreen display, keyboard, stand and stylus. With an estimated battery life of up to 11 hours, the Windows-based device can be used as a traditional laptop or standalone tablet and weighs just 1.2 pounds.

The Surface Go 3 runs on Windows 11 Home and comes with Windows Hello biometric security, as well as a 5MP front camera and 8MP rear camera, which is enough for virtual classes on the go. This device should be considered useful not only for a college career, but also when a student enters the workforce.



  • Secure fingerprint reader
  • Long battery life
  • Comfortable keyboard

  • Webcam resolution could be better

Specifications: Display: 14-inch | Intel Core 11th Generation i5 | 8GB RAM | 256GB SSD | Graphics Intel Iris Xe | Webcam: IR & 720p HD with HPD | Windows 10 Pro 64 | Fingerprint Reader | Custom options available

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 is one of the heavier options that we recommend especially for students – especially those who require powerful processing power, creative applications and games.

This laptop is also an option for users who want a rugged laptop as Lenovo tests the ThinkPad line against various environmental conditions.

In terms of security, this laptop features a fingerprint reader and ThinkShield technology.

With a huge array of ports, a battery life of at least 15 hours, an anti-glare screen and fast charging technology, this versatile laptop will not only be a valuable addition to any dorm room, but it’s also great for free time, regardless whether it’s streaming or gaming. Useful key sub-features are also available for conducting conversations over video conferencing platforms.

Amazon | Getty


  • Stylish color options
  • Super long battery life
  • PixelSense touchscreen display

  • Not as many ports as other options

Specifications: Display: 13.5/15-inch, touchscreen | Processor: AMD Ryzen 5/7 up to Intel Core i7 | Memory: 8 GB, 16 GB or 32 GB | Storage: 128GB to 1TB SSD | Webcam: 720p HD, Windows Hello biometrics | BitLocker Support | Colors: Black, Platinum, Sandstone, Metal, Cobalt | Custom options available

For students who prefer the Windows 10 Home operating system and need power for high-end applications, whether for work or play, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 is an excellent choice.

Available in 13.5-inch and 15-inch PixelSense touchscreen options, the laptop is light enough to carry around campus and is also stylus compatible. Users can expect 16.5 hours or more of battery life, depending on usage.



  • Cheap laptop
  • Small and portable
  • Quality workmanship

  • No 5G
  • Disappointing speakers

Specifications: 11-inch display | Chrome OS | Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c processor | Graphics Qualcomm Adreno 618 | 4GB RAM | 64GB SSD memory | 1 microSD card reader | 5mp/8mp cameras | Up to 11 hours of battery life

As part of HP’s back-to-school sale, the HP Chromebook x2 is a laptop to consider if you’re on a budget. Saving $210, this device runs Chrome OS and is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile processor, Adreno Graphics, and comes with a reasonable 4GB of memory and 64GB of SSD storage.

In addition, this device contains a fingerprint reader for biometric security.


The Apple MacBook Air is the best laptop for college or back-to-school because of its durability, great portability, and sleek design. However, you get the best out of the device by going beyond its default specs.

Laptop for college


High spec?



Apple Macbook Air





Apple Macbook Pro




Microsoft Surface Go 3




Lenovo ThinkPad X1



1465 dollars

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop



HP Chromebook x2


Chrome OS

370 dollars

When deciding on a new laptop for college or distance learning, you first need to establish its primary purpose: just for writing essays? A one-stop shop for education and entertainment? A workhorse for power-hungry design programs?

While Macs – at least iMacs – are usually associated with powerful design programs, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops are robust machines for work and entertainment, while Chromebooks are generally suited for general tasks.

If the laptop is just for typing, surfing the web, and checking email, the more budget-friendly options on our list will be fine and should last through a college career.

Studies don’t last forever, though, and so if you’re willing to invest a little more in a machine that’s more future-proof and will last you for years to come, you should consider one of the laptops in our guide that sport higher specs. such as high RAM and modern graphics cards.

Choose this laptop for college…

If you need…

Apple Macbook Air

Portable, lightweight and stable workhorse

Apple Macbook Pro

A higher spec MacOS machine

Microsoft Surface Go 3

2-in-1, all-in-one computer for learning

Lenovo ThinkPad X1

A powerful, robust machine

Microsoft Surface 4 Laptop

A future-ready Windows laptop

HP Chromebook x2

Budget option

Going to college is an expensive endeavour, and it can be even more so when the course is a STEM or design qualification – but for many students, simply having a reliable, robust device for research and writing trumps spending a fortune on unnecessarily powerful specs. We rely on our years of reviews and testing to make sure we cover a range of requirements.

While premium — and more expensive — Chromebooks are available, these lightweight models are generally considered more budget-friendly alternatives to traditional Windows or macOS devices.

Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome operating system (OS) and are focused on mobile applications rather than traditional software. These laptops are used primarily for browsing, learning, and entertainment, but if you have specific software requirements, you should check for available support before investing in a Chromebook. However, it is also possible to use virtualization (VM) software to work around such limitations.

As software continues to evolve and become more sophisticated, more resources are required. The CPU controls the I/O circuits on your laptop and generally speaking, the higher end the CPU, the more efficiently your device will run. This can be critical when working with software that requires high levels of processing power.

Memory or random access memory (RAM) is short-term storage that “remembers” what activities are happening on the laptop. The more memory, the more responsive the device will be and the more a laptop can handle before running the risk of lagging, lagging or lagging.

The level of storage you need depends on the tasks your laptop is designed for. Besides software, which can take up gigabytes of space, storage is needed for files, including media – such as TV shows or movies – music, photos and documents.

Traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) are slowly being phased out in favor of solid state drives (SSDs), which are flash-based, use less power, and are significantly faster. However, they are also usually more expensive. Alternatively, eMMC storage cards, commonly found in Chromebooks, are a built-in form of storage suitable for these lightweight devices due to the small size of the hardware.

While we’ve done our best to showcase great back-to-school and college laptops, we can’t highlight every great product on the market. Also check out the options below:


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