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 65 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 mobile workstation. It feels exceptionally well-built, has an incredibly long battery life, and is easy to carry around. You can spec it with an M1 Pro or M1 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. It gets a little 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.
In addition to its incredible performance, the MacBook Pro 14 also provides a fantastic user experience. It has a sharp Mini LED display with full DCI P3 coverage, a comfortable keyboard, and a gigantic, easy-to-use haptic touchpad. The speakers are among the best on the market, and the same goes for the webcam. If screen real estate is more important than portability, you can go with the larger Apple MacBook Pro 16 (2021). It's essentially the same device but has a 16-inch display, slightly better-sounding speakers, and a larger battery. The only downside is its higher price tag.
The last thing to know about the MacBook Pros is that Apple has released the M2 version and no longer sells the M1 models on their website, so if you're shopping now, just get an M2 model unless you can find the M1 at a deeply discounted price. These new models are essentially identical to their predecessors, just with a faster processor, HDMI 2.1, and increased memory support (up to 96GB).
If your school workload consists only of lighter tasks like text processing, web browsing, and video playback, get the Apple MacBook Air 13 (2022), a sleek and portable laptop with all-day battery life. 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 blazingly fast, and it doesn't even need active cooling, so you don't need to worry about loud fan noise in a quiet classroom. The main downside is that it only has two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 with support for a single external display.
While the M2 Macbook Air is a fantastic device that we wholeheartedly recommend, it's still an expensive laptop, even more expensive than the older M1 model. The good news is that Apple still sells M1 MacBook Air alongside the newer model. Of course, there are a couple of tradeoffs, like its older design, slightly dimmer display, and a less powerful but still very capable M1 SoC. These compromises are fairly minor, so it's up to you 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. Battery life sits around ten hours of light use, which is about the same as the M2 MacBook Air. The webcam's image quality is decent at best and not as good as the M1 or M2 MacBook Air, but it supports Windows Hello for quick logins via facial recognition. Although it's also limited to two USB-C ports, both USB-Cs support Thunderbolt 4, allowing you to connect up to two 4k displays at 60Hz with a single cable.
The Acer Chromebook Spin 714 (2022) is our pick for the best laptop for students in the mid-range category. This 2-in-1 Chromebook has a nice 14-inch display, giving you just enough screen real estate for multitasking, and it supports pen input so that you can take notes with a stylus. The stylus comes with the device, and there's a charging slot in which you can dock it for transport. The keyboard feels spacious and tactile but can be a little tiring after an extended period. As for the touchpad, it's on the smaller side and can be slightly janky when performing some gestures, but overall, it's satisfactory. Port selection is decent; you get one USB-A, two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4, and an HDMI port.
This laptop is available with various Intel 12th Gen. CPUs, from a Core i3-1215U to an i7-1260P. However, you may have trouble finding the exact configuration you want due to availability. The Core i5 model with 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage seems to be the easiest to find in stock, and it's more than adequate for students with a light workload. Battery life is outstanding; you can easily get through a full day with plenty to spare. If you're new to Chrome OS, just know that it's more limited than Windows or macOS in the types of applications you can install, so you need to make sure you can do all of your schoolwork through a Chrome browser.
Windows users, you have two options. If you want to stick with a 2-in-1 convertible, go with the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i 14 (2022). If you just want a clamshell laptop, the Acer Swift 3 14 (2020) is a good choice, too. Both laptops feel well-built and are easy to carry around. The IdeaPad Flex 5i has a better keyboard and touchpad, and it's available with faster Intel 12th gen. CPUs; however, its battery doesn't last nearly as long as the Swift 3.
If you're shopping on a limited budget, the best budget laptop for students we've tested 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 a bit if you have too many applications or Chrome tabs open.
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 want a device you can also game on during your 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 it has full DCI P3 coverage, which means 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 it 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. You get Wi-Fi 6E wireless connectivity as well as a Windows Hello IR camera for quick logins via facial recognition.
Mar 10, 2023: Minor text changes. Replaced the Acer Swift 3 14 (2020) with the Acer Chromebook Spin 714 (2022) because the Spin 714 provides a better user experience overall. Replaced the Razer Blade 14 (2022) with the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022) because the ASUS is cheaper and has longer battery life. Added the LG gram 17 (2021) as a Notable Mention.
Feb 10, 2023: Minor text changes to provide more information about the M2 Apple MacBook Pro 14 and 16. removed the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 (2021), as it's nearly the same price as the Acer Swift 3 14 (2020) but isn't as good.
Jan 13, 2023: Minor text changes to improve clarity and readability. No change in recommendations.
Dec 14, 2022: Verified accuracy of picks; no change in recommendations.
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.
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.