If you're going off to college, you'll need a laptop that can handle your school workload. Depending on the program you're in, you can go with a simple Chromebook, an ultraportable Windows laptop or MacBook, or a powerful mobile workstation. Preferably, you'd 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 that'll contribute 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 plan on using multiple peripherals or external displays.
We've bought and tested over 50 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 business laptops, and the best Chromebooks.
The best laptop for college we've tested is the Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2021), a premium device that needs little introduction. It feels exceptionally well-built, is easy to carry around, and has incredible battery life. You can spec it with an M1 Pro or m1 Max SoC, both of which are more than powerful enough to handle nearly every type of workload, making it an excellent choice for students in fields like graphic design, architecture, or engineering. The memory and storage aren't user-replaceable, so make sure to get enough to suit your needs upfront.
You get a sharp, color-accurate Mini LED display with full sRGB and DCI P3 coverage, a keyboard that's comfortable to type on all day, and a gigantic and responsive haptic touchpad. It gets a bit hot under load, but the fans never get really loud, so you don't have to worry about causing too much noise in a quiet classroom or library. If you want more screen space for multitasking, the larger Apple MacBook Pro 16 (2021) is the obvious choice. It's essentially the same device and available with the same M1 Pro and M1 Max processors as the 14-inch model. Its larger chassis also means you get a larger battery that lasts even longer. It's a little more cumbersome to carry around, though, and it's also more expensive, so it's up to you if the tradeoffs are worth the bigger screen and battery.
If your workload consists mainly of text formatting, web browsing, and video playback, you probably don't need all the processing power the Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2021) offers. If that's the case, the Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, 2020) is a much better choice and our pick as the best laptop for students in the upper mid-range price segment. It's super compact and feels incredibly well-built, and the battery lasts easily through a typical school day. The display looks sharp and provides just enough space for light multitasking, though it isn't Mini LED like the MacBook Pros and only goes up to 60Hz. You still get a comfortable keyboard, an amazingly smooth and responsive touchpad, and a fingerprint sensor for quick logins. The main downsides of this laptop are that it only has two USB-C ports and can only output a video signal to a single external display.
At this time, Apple has released the M2 MacBook Air, which exists alongside the M1 MacBook Air. This new model has a new design, a more powerful chip, and a better webcam; however, it's also more expensive. We haven't tested it yet, and we'll update the article once we do.
If you prefer or need to work on Windows, go with the Dell XPS 13 (2021), our runner-up pick. It's also a well-built 13-inch laptop with a bright display, comfortable keyboard, and responsive touchpad. Its battery life is shorter than the MacBook Air's but still enough to get through a typical eight-hour day. Dell managed to squeeze a webcam with Windows Hello facial recognition support into the XPS 13's incredibly thin bezels; however, the image quality is decent at best and not as good as the M1 MacBook Air. It also has two USB-C ports, but they support Thunderbolt 4, allowing you to connect up to two 4k displays at 60Hz.
For our mid-range pick, we chose the Lenovo Yoga 7i 14 (2021), a 2-in-1 convertible Windows laptop with a 360-degree hinge. It has a sleek and compact design, exceptionally long battery life, and packs enough processing power to handle most general productivity tasks. You can flip the screen into tent mode for presentations and media consumption or use it as a tablet. It supports pen input if you want to take notes or sketch, but you have to buy the stylus separately. Our main complaint with this laptop is that the display doesn't get very bright, meaning you may have trouble with visibility in well-lit settings or outdoors in broad daylight.
If you're okay with spending a little more, the Lenovo Yoga 9i 14 (2021) is also a great option. Its higher price tag gets you a brighter display, better-sounding speakers, and a Wacom AES stylus that you can store in a charging slot at the back of the device. Its battery life is shorter but still enough to get you through a typical day of light use. There are some design and feature differences between the Mica and Shadow Black; you can check out our full review for the details.
The best laptop for students in the budget category is the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 (2021). It's an ultraportable available with AMD Ryzen 5000-series CPUs, which are capable of handling most general productivity tasks like text formatting, web browsing, and video playback. It sports a 15.6-inch, 1080p display that looks reasonably sharp and provides enough space for split-screen multitasking. The keyboard feels spacious and gives satisfying tactile feedback, though it can be tiring to type on for long periods because the keys require a fair amount of force to actuate. As for the touchpad, it's just okay; it's small but tracks reasonably well. Not all models have a fingerprint sensor built into the power button, so if it's something you want, it's best to check the specs before buying.
If you're shopping on a very limited budget and want something cheap, go with a Chromebook. Our choice is the Lenovo Chromebook C340 15 (2020), a 2-in-1 convertible. You can configure it with an Intel Core i3 or Pentium Gold CPU, both of which are 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 a bit if you have too many applications or Chrome tabs open at once.
The Chromebook C340's battery life is excellent at around 12 hours of light use, more than enough to get through the day. If you're considering buying this laptop, know that Chrome OS has many limitations as to which types of apps or programs you can install, so you need to make sure that it suits your needs.
Everyone needs a break from studying once in a while, so why not get a laptop that can double as your gaming device? We recommend the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022). It's a 14-inch compact laptop with a 120Hz QHD display and an all-AMD system, featuring the AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS and the AMD Radeon RX 6700S or 6800S discrete GPU. The keyboard doesn't cause fatigue when typing for extended periods, and the touchpad is large and responsive. The webcam is decent and doubles as a Windows Hello camera for facial recognition. The battery life is great, as the system can switch to the integrated graphics in lighter workloads, though you'll have to use it plugged in most of the time when gaming.
Games run smoothly at 1080p or 1440p with high settings and load quickly, thanks to its fast PCIe NVMe SSD. By the way, the display has full DCI P3 coverage, so it's a great option for students who need a color-accurate display for their schoolwork.
Aug 02, 2022: Restructured article to better match user expectations. Removed the Lenovo Yoga 9i 14 (2021) and added the Lenovo Yoga 7i 14 (2020) as the 'Best Mid-Range Laptop'. Replaced the Acer Swift 3 14 (2020) with the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 (2021) as the 'Best Budget Laptop' because the Lenovo is cheaper and easier to find. Removed the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (2020) because it's hard to find and added the Lenovo Chromebook C340 15 (2020) as the 'Best Cheap Laptop'.
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.