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The 6 Best Laptops For College - Summer 2023 Reviews

Updated
Best Laptops For College

If you're going off to college, you'll need a laptop that can handle your school workload. Depending on your program, the best laptop for students may be a simple Chromebook, an ultraportable Windows laptop or MacBook, or a powerful mobile workstation. Preferably, you want a portable, well-built device with enough battery life to get you through the day. As you'll be working a lot on the laptop, you should also look for a device with features contributing to a good user experience, like a sharp and bright display, a comfortable keyboard, and a responsive touchpad. It's also important to consider the port selection if you use multiple peripherals or external displays.

We've bought and tested over 90 laptops. Below, you'll find our recommendations for the best laptops for college you can buy. You can also see our recommendations for the best laptops, the best lightweight laptops, and the best 15-16 inch laptops.


  1. Best Laptop For College

    The best laptop for college we've tested is the Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2023), a newer version of the M1 Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2021). Like its predecessor, this is a premium model with a sleek, compact design, sturdy build, and all-day battery life. You can spec it with an M2 Pro or Max SoC (System on Chip), both of which can handle nearly every type of workload, making it an excellent choice for students in fields like graphic design, architecture, or engineering.

    In addition to incredible performance, this laptop provides a fantastic user experience with its sharp Mini LED display, comfortable keyboard, and gigantic, easy-to-use haptic touchpad. If screen real estate is more important than portability, you can get the larger Apple MacBook Pro 16 (2023). It's essentially the same device but has slightly better-sounding speakers and longer battery life. The only downside is its higher price.

    The Dell XPS 15 (2023) is also a great choice if you prefer or need Windows. Like the MacBook Pro, it's a premium model that provides a great user experience. You can configure it with up to an Intel 13th Gen Core i9-13900H CPU and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 discrete GPU, giving you plenty of processing power for intensive tasks. You can also play more games than on a MacBook because there's a wider selection of Windows games, and the NVIDIA GPUs let you access DLSS and Frame Generation, features that can dramatically boost performance in supported titles. Unfortunately, it has a bad 720p webcam and fewer ports, and its keyboard gets uncomfortably hot under load.

    See our review

  2. Best Upper Mid-Range Laptop For College

    Our best upper mid-range pick is the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022), the best laptop for students with a light workload like text processing, web browsing, and video playback. It has a gorgeous display that gets bright enough for use outdoors in broad daylight, a comfortable keyboard that you can type on all day, and a gigantic and responsive haptic touchpad. Its M2 SoC is plenty fast for general productivity tasks like text processing and web browsing, and it can also handle some light video editing. The downside is that it only has two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports with support for a single external display.

    An alternative would be the newly-released Apple MacBook Air 15 (2023). It's essentially the same laptop as the 13-inch model but with a larger 15.3-inch display and a few tweaks. You also get better speakers, a 35W dual USB-C charger, and an M2 chip with ten GPU cores. All this comes with a price increase of $200 USD over the 13-inch model. If you have a tighter budget but want to stay in the Apple ecosystem, there's the Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, 2020), which you can easily find for as low as $750 USD during the back-to-school season. It isn't as sleek as its M2 successor, but it's still a great laptop with incredible battery life.

    For Windows users, get the LG gram 14 (2023). It's also a high-end ultraportable laptop, and as its name suggests, it's incredibly light, even lighter than the MacBook Air 13. It provides a good user experience with a sharp display, a comfortable keyboard, and good thermal and noise handling. Its wide port selection includes two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4s, letting you connect up to two 4k displays at 60Hz with a single cable. Build-wise, although it feels sturdy, its lightweight magnesium alloy chassis just doesn't feel as rigid as the MacBook Air's. It also has a smaller touchpad and a dimmer display.

    See our review

  3. Best Mid-Range Laptop For College

    If you want something less expensive than the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022) but not overly cheap, check out the Lenovo Yoga 7i 16 (2023). This 2-in-1 convertible has a large 16-inch display, giving you plenty of room for side-by-side windows, making multitasking easier. While there's an FHD+ display option, we recommend getting a QHD+ panel, which looks sharper and gets brighter to combat glare. Don't worry about battery life; even the QHD+ model lasts over 12 hours of light use. There's Wi-Fi 6E, a fingerprint sensor and facial recognition camera, and a wide port selection that includes two Thunderbolt 4s and an HDMI. Its Intel 13th Gen CPUs can easily handle general productivity tasks; however, don't expect to do anything overly intensive due to thermal throttling. The webcam's video quality is decent; the image looks fairly detailed but has an unnatural tint, and the microphone picks up some background noise.

    Another mid-range laptop worth mentioning is the Acer Chromebook Spin 714 (2022). It's also a 2-in-1 convertible, but it has a smaller 14-inch screen and runs Chrome OS. If you like taking handwritten notes, it supports pen input and comes with a stylus that you can dock into the side of the laptop for transport. Its Intel 12th Gen CPU has more processing than you'd ever need on a Chromebook, but know that Chrome OS is limited in the type of applications you can install, so make sure you can do everything through a Chrome browser or an Android app. Unfortunately, this model is getting hard to find because there's a newer 2023 version, which we haven't tested but expect to perform similarly. The upgrades include faster Intel 13th Gen CPUs and a 1440p webcam, but it no longer comes with a stylus. You can see the 2023 model on Amazon and Best Buy.

    See our review

  4. Best Budget Laptop For College

    The best budget laptop for students we've tested is the Acer Swift 3 14 (2020). Acer's Swift models aren't exactly considered budget, but because this is an older model from 2020, the price has decreased considerably, making it a great option for those on a tight budget. It's compact and lightweight, and its battery lasts over 13 hours on a full charge. You get a nice FHD IPS display, a decent keyboard, and a wide port selection that includes two USB-As, one USB-C/Thunderbolt 4, a full-size HDMI, and a headphone jack.

    Spec-wise, you can get this laptop with an Intel 11th Gen Core i5 or i7 CPU, up to 16GB of memory, and up to 512GB of storage. The Intel 11th Gen CPUs are a few years old but are still adequate for general productivity tasks like text processing, web browsing, spreadsheets, and video playback. Our only major complaint is the webcam's video quality; the image looks underexposed, and the microphone sounds staticky.

    See our review

  5. Best Cheap Laptop For College

    Our best cheap pick is the Lenovo Chromebook C340 15 (2020), a 2-in-1 convertible with a 360-degree hinge. You can configure it with an Intel Core i3 or Pentium Gold CPU, which are both powerful enough to provide a smooth experience on Chrome OS. However, you can only get a maximum of 4GB of memory, which means it may stutter if you have too many applications or Chrome tabs open. Battery life is excellent at around 12 hours of light use, more than enough to get through the day.

    Of course, as it's a cheap model, there are a few compromises. First, the display doesn't get very bright; it's fine for most indoor settings but not well-lit environments or outdoors. Second, keyboard backlighting is only available on models with an Intel Core i3 and 64GB of storage (model 81T90002UX). If you're new to Chrome OS, know it has limitations as to which types of apps or programs you can install, so you need to ensure that it suits your needs.

    See our review

  6. Best Gaming Laptop For College

    If you want a device you can also game on during downtime, get the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022). It has a nice 120Hz QHD display with support for variable refresh rate to reduce screen tearing when gaming. It gets bright enough for use outdoors in broad daylight and has full DCI P3 coverage, meaning you can use it for your color-critical work. Its AMD Ryzen CPU and dedicated GPU are powerful enough to provide a smooth gaming experience, and they can also handle other demanding tasks, making the laptop suitable for students in technical fields like 3D graphics. The battery lasts around 10 hours of light use; however, if you do more intensive stuff that requires the dedicated GPU, you can expect it to be closer to an hour and a half.

    See our review

Notable Mentions

  • Lenovo Slim Pro 7 14 (2023): The Lenovo Slim Pro 7 14 (2023) is also a good Windows alternative to the Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2023) if you find the Dell XPS 15 (2023) too expensive. However, you can only get up to 16GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050. See our review
  • Acer Swift 14 (2023): The Acer Swift 14 (2023) is a good alternative to the Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2023) for those who don't need lots of graphical processing power, like programming or music production students. Its keyboard and touchpad aren't as good as the Apple laptop's, and you can only get a maximum of 32GB of memory. The battery lasts around nine hours of light use, enough to get through a typical school day but still much shorter than the Apple model's twelve hours. See our review
  • ASUS Zenbook 14 Flip OLED (2023): The ASUS Zenbook 14 Flip OLED (2023) is a great alternative to the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022) if you prefer a Windows 2-in-1 convertible. It has a nice 2.8k OLED display with stylus support and a pen in the box. It also has a wider port selection that includes two Thunderbolt 4s, and unlike the MacBook Air, it supports multiple external displays. However, its battery life is shorter at around eight hours of light use, and the screen doesn't get as bright to combat glare. See our review
  • Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 (2022): The Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 (2022) is a good alternative to the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022). It's available in a 13.5- or 15-inch size, so you can choose the one that suits you best. It's a better option if you need to connect multiple external displays since the Apple model can only output to a single external monitor. However, its speakers don't sound as good, and its battery life is shorter. The Microsoft model's display gets bright enough for use in most indoor settings, but it isn't nearly as bright as the Apple's, so if you plan on working in a sunny environment or outdoors, the Apple laptop is still a better option. Also, the Microsoft laptop doesn't handle reflections well. See our review
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 8 (2021): The Microsoft Surface Pro 8 (2021) is a good alternative to the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022) if you need a 2-in-1 tablet. It's an especially great option if you're in a program that requires you to draw with a stylus. However, like the keyboard, you need to buy the stylus separately, making the overall cost of the device much higher than the Apple laptop. See our review
  • Dell Inspiron 16 2-in-1 (2023): The Dell Inspiron 16 2-in-1 (2023) is a good alternative to the Lenovo Yoga 7i 16 (2023). It has a slightly sturdier build and doesn't throttle as much as the Lenovo; however, it doesn't support Thunderbolt 4 or USB4, and its battery life is shorter. See our review

Recent Updates

  1. Sep 20, 2023: Minor text changes to include the Dell XPS 15 (2023) as an alternative to the Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2023). Replaced the Dell Inspiron 16 2-in-1 (2023) with the Lenovo Yoga 7i 16 (2023)) because the Lenovo has Thunderbolt 4 and longer battery life and is available with a sharper, brighter QHD+ display.

  2. Aug 22, 2023: Replaced the Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2021) with the Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2023) because the M1 model is no longer available. Replaced the Acer Chromebook Spin 714 (2022) with the Dell Inspiron 16 2-in-1 (2023) because the Acer is hard to find. Added the Acer Swift 3 14 (2020) as a budget pick and moved the Lenovo Chromebook C340 15 (2020) to a new 'Best Cheap' category because the prices are more in-line with their respective categories.

  3. Jul 28, 2023: Small text changes to include the Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, 2020) as a cheaper alternative to the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022). Added the ASUS Zenbook 14 Flip OLED (2023) and the ASUS Chromebook CX5 14 (2021) as Notable Mentions.

  4. Jun 30, 2023: Minor text changes to add the Apple MacBook Air 15 (2023) and the Dell Inspiron 16 2-in-1 (2023) in the text. No change in recommendations.

  5. May 31, 2023: Verified that all picks are still valid. Minor text changes to add the LG gram 14 (2023) as an alternative to the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022). Added the Microsoft Surface laptop 5 (2022) as a Notable Mention.

All Reviews

Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best laptops for college students to buy. We factor in the price (a cheaper laptop wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors, and availability (no laptops that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).

If you prefer to make your own decision, here's the list of all of our laptop reviews, sorted by price from low to high. Keep in mind that most laptops are available in various configurations, and the table only shows the results of the model we tested, so it's best to see the full review for information about other variants.