The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Computer for School

Tips for finding the right PC for any student

Students need computers to conduct research, write papers, communicate with teachers, create multimedia presentations, and much more. How do you know which type of computer to buy? We've compiled our top tips to help you look for and purchase the best possible back-to-school PC for you or your child.

Check With Your School

Before shopping for a computer, check with the school regarding any recommendations, requirements, or restrictions there may be on student computers. Often, colleges will have recommended minimum computer specifications that can be helpful in narrowing down your search. Similarly, they may have a list of necessary applications that require specific hardware.

Elementary and middle schools, too, will have recommendations. Many tend to go with Chromebooks for budgetary reasons but every school has different reasons for using different types of laptops or desktops.

Some schools partner with computer companies that offer vouchers for students to get free or discounted laptops. It's worth asking your school or district if they have any agreements in place like this.

Desktops vs. Laptops

A Dell laptop next to a Dell/Intel laptop

Most desktop computers have more powerful components, giving them a longer lifespan than a laptop. They are also less accident-prone, harder to steal, and easier to upgrade. If buying a computer for a high school student, a desktop computer may be ideal so that you don't have to worry about it getting lost or broken.

That all said, laptops are preferable for college students due to their portability. Laptops are also better suited for cramped dorm rooms. Virtually all schools offer wireless networks so that students can connect to the web on their laptops anywhere on campus.

What to Look for in a School Computer

How powerful your PC needs to be depends on what you plan to use it for. An English major who mostly writes papers will fair well with a budget laptop, but an art design or computer engineering student will need a more powerful device. These are the specifications to look at when assessing a computer's capabilities:

  • Storage capacity: 1TB is more than enough for the average user. If you need more space, you can purchase an external hard drive.
  • Processor: Processing speed should only be a concern if you plan to run hefty programs like video editing software or online games. In that case, you'd want a processor that can clock between 3.5-4 GHz.
  • RAM: 4GB is now the standard for laptops, and that's plenty for most people. It's usually possible to install more RAM if you need it.
  • Connectivity: All computers come with a wireless adapter, but not all laptops have Ethernet ports. You should also consider the number of USB and HDMI ports available.
  • Webcam: Most laptops come with built-in webcams, but they vary in quality. You can always purchase a better external webcam if you need it.

PC Peripherals and Accessories

There are a number of accessories that you might need for your school PC:

  • Printer: While most teachers accept electronic documents, a laser printer is still a good investment for when you need hard copies.
  • Security devices: Computer security devices such as cable locks are a good idea for those who use their laptops in public spaces.
  • Carrier: A durable computer bag or backpack is a necessity for laptop users.
  • Mouse: Some laptop users prefer a compact mouse to the built-in trackpad.
  • Battery: A secondary or external battery pack can be useful for those who use their laptop for long periods of time away from a power outlet.
  • Software: Check college bookstores for software packages for students. For example, students can sometimes get major discounts on software such as Microsoft 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud.

What About Tablets?

iPad Air with hand holding it to show small size in comparison to hand.


Tablets can be used for browsing the web, taking notes, recording lectures, or even editing documents with a Bluetooth keyboard. The downside is that they do not use standard PC software programs. Fortunately, there are equivalent apps for programs like Microsoft Word that make it easy to share files between your tablet and laptop.

Tablets are especially useful for reading and annotating textbooks. You can even rent textbooks through Amazon Kindle. Still, given their limitations, tablets are not a suitable replacement for a PC.

What About Chromebooks?

Chromebooks are specialized laptops designed for online use. They are built around the Chrome OS operating system from Google. These inexpensive devices utilize cloud-based storage so that all your files are automatically backed up to your Google Drive.

Lenovo Chromebooks displayed in a fan view.


The drawback is that Chromebooks have fewer features than many traditional laptops. For example, they can't run the same applications that you would find on a Windows or Mac computer. As a result, Chromebooks aren't recommend for students who need to install software, but they are suitable for word processing and research purposes.

Hybrid Convertibles and 2-In-1 PCs

The Microsoft Surface Go, a hybrid laptop

If you can't decide between a tablet or a laptop, try a hybrid laptop. They look and function like traditional laptops, but the display can be flipped around such that it can be used like a tablet.

There are also 2-in-1 PCs, which are essentially tablets with a keyboard dock. They are usually cheaper and more portable, but they lack the power and functionality of a standard laptop.

How Much to Spend

The cost of computers ranges widely depending on the brand, model, and technical specifications, but here are some ballpark estimates for your various options:

 Hardware  Budget Mid-Range Performance 
Desktop  $500-$750 $750-$1,200  $1200+
Tablet $100-$500 $500-$1,099 $1,099+
Laptop   $500-$1,000 $1,000-$1,200 $1,200+ 
  • When is the best time to buy a computer?

    The best time to find deals on electronics is Cyber Monday. Many manufacturers also run back-to-school sales during the summer and fall months.

  • Where do I buy computer parts?

    Many desktop and laptop computers let you upgrade components like the memory, processor, internal storage, and graphics cards. You can find these replacement parts at major electronics retailers or online marketplaces like Amazon or Ebay. If possible, you should buy them new and not used; you should also check your computer's user manual or the manufacturer's website to ensure you're getting compatible hardware.

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