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 55 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 students 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 (System on Chip), 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 it's best to get enough to suit your needs upfront.
Its Mini LED display is one of its best features. It's sharp and color-accurate, and it covers the entire sRGB and DCI P3 color spaces, making it suitable for color-critical work. You also get 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 loud, so you don't have to worry about causing too much noise in a quiet classroom or library.
The larger Apple MacBook Pro 16 (2021) is the obvious choice if you want more screen space for multitasking. 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 school workload consists only of lighter tasks like text processing, web browsing, and video playback, you probably don't need the Apple MacBook Pro 14 (2021)'s processing power. If that's the case, get the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022), Apple's entry-level MacBook, and the replacement for the well-received Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, 2020). This new model has a fresh new design with a slightly larger display and thinner bezels, a better 1080p webcam, and a more powerful M2 SoC. The display is brighter this time around, enough for use outdoors in broad daylight. The keyboard feels spacious and comfortable to type on, and the touchpad is just as responsive and even larger than its M1 predecessor. It still has two USB-C ports, but there's now a dedicated MagSafe charging port, which frees up the USB-C port you would otherwise use for charging.
Although this is a fantastic device that we wholeheartedly recommend, it's still an expensive laptop, even more expensive than the older M1 model. There's good news, however, as Apple will keep selling the Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, 2020). Of course, there are a couple of tradeoffs, like its older design (it's still pretty sleek-looking if we consider the whole laptop market), a slightly dimmer display and worse 720p webcam, and a less powerful but still capable M1 SoC. These compromises are fairly minor, so it's up to you to decide whether it's worth paying more for the M2 model.
If you prefer or need to work on Windows, the Dell XPS 13 (2021) is the closest direct competitor to the MacBook Air. It's also a well-built 13-inch laptop with a bright display, comfortable keyboard, and responsive touchpad. It gives you roughly ten hours of battery life, which is about the same as the M2 MacBook Air. 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 or M2 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.
Our mid-range pick is the Acer Swift 3 14 (2020). This thin and light model is very portable, feels well-built, and has a near 14-hour battery life. Its 14-inch display gives you just enough room for light multitasking, and it's flicker-free, which helps reduce eye strain. The keyboard feels decent to type on though it's a little cramped, and the touchpad is reasonably responsive, albeit on the smaller side. You can configure it with an Intel 11th Gen Core i5 or i7 CPU and up to 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage.
Naturally, there are some drawbacks. The first is that the display doesn't get very bright. At 279 cd/m², it's only bright enough for use indoors, meaning you may have some trouble with glare in well-lit rooms. Second, the webcam is bad as the captured image looks soft and underexposed, and the microphone sounds staticky, so it's not the best for video calls. Other than that, it's a good option if you don't want to spend too much on a premium model but don't want to go too cheap.
The best laptop for students we've tested 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 feels well-built despite its affordable price, and it's very portable, thanks to its thin and light design. The battery lasts long enough to get through a typical school day of light productivity. Unfortunately, you can't charge the laptop via its USB-C port, so you'll have to use the barrel plug power adapter.
The display is a 15.6-inch, 1080p panel. It looks reasonably sharp, gets bright enough for use in most indoor settings, and provides plenty of space for split-screen multitasking. We highly recommend getting the IPS panel over the TN because TN panels typically have worse color reproduction and viewing angles. 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.
Its 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, just know that it has limitations as to which types of apps or programs you can install, so you need to make sure that it suits your needs.
If you need a device that can handle your school workload and provide a good gaming experience in your downtime, get the Razer Blade 14 (2022). It's a premium 14-inch model with a solid aluminum chassis and a sleek, stylish design. Its AMD Ryzen CPU and NVIDIA discrete GPU deliver smooth gameplay in graphically-intensive AAA titles, and they're powerful enough to handle demanding tasks like 3D modeling and animation. It has a spacious and tactile keyboard with per-key RGB lighting, a great port selection that includes an HDMI 2.1 port, and a fast Wi-Fi 6E wireless adapter for low-latency online gaming. The battery lasts a little over an hour when gaming, which is short but fairly typical for any laptop with a powerful GPU, so you'll need to keep the charger close by. The power adapter is rather bulky, though the laptop is compact and lightweight.
Oct 17, 2022: Replaced the Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, 2020) with the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022) because the newer model has a slightly larger and brighter display, better performance, and a better port selection. Replaced the Lenovo IdeaPad 5 15 (2021) with the Acer Swift 3 14 (2020) because the Lenovo is discontinued and hard to find. Replaced the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022) with the Razer Blade 14 (2022) because the Razer doesn't get as hot or loud under load, and it has a display with a faster refresh rate.
Sep 12, 2022: Verified accuracy of picks; no change in recommendations.
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.