What kind of computer is right for your college student?

Over the next month, countless students are getting ready to head off to college for their freshman year. Whether they’re typing up essays, conducting research, or procrastinating on Netflix, every college student needs a computer in order to get the most out of their education.

But choosing the right option isn’t always simple. And with the wide variety of options and cool features on the market, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

To narrow down your search and find just the right computer for your college student, here are some questions you should ask before buying a computer for college:

“What are the options?”

If you were a college student preparing to head off to campus 10 or 15 years ago, you probably had no choice but to get a desktop for your room or a bulky laptop. But now with the rise of tablets and much smaller laptops, college students have an array of attractive options.

And while your college student’s smartphone might not be a good primary tool, it’s worth keeping it in mind as a supplementary device alongside any other computer you buy.

“What’s the budget?”

We’ll be honest: computers aren’t always cheap. But as technology advances, you can find computers that are capable of quite a lot but don’t break the budget.

If your budget is fairly limited, you probably want to opt for an “all-in-one” option — a computer that is portable and versatile. It may not be the ideal option for any single task, but it boasts very good performance across many tasks.

If your budget is a bit bigger, you may opt for multiple devices. Maybe your student wants a larger desktop for their dorm room, then a smaller laptop or tablet to take with them to class for note-taking and other on-the-go tasks.

“How will the student be using the computer?”

Your college student may not have it all figured out as you head to college. Maybe they haven’t declared a major yet and maybe they don’t even know what classes they’re going to take during their first semester.

But before buying a computer, talk with your student about their academic interests. Will they be writing a lot of essays? Conducting involved research? Working in tech-driven STEM fields? Exploring art classes or taking multimedia courses?  Also, speak with college counselors and department heads to see if they have technology recommendations for your student’s field of study.

If they’ll be writing and researching quite a bit, you’ll probably want to opt for a Mac or PC that can handle a lot of files. It’s also a good idea to choose a big keyboard that’s easy to type on. And because they might be heading to different libraries and study rooms to write and research, they’ll also want something portable.

For art or multimedia courses, Macs are a tool favored by designers for a reason. They boast powerful graphics and come fitted with relevant art-inclined tools. You can also opt for a large monitor or a tablet, which many artists have come to prefer.  The Microsoft Surface edition of computers has also gained in popularity with users in creative fields.

“Where will the student be using the computer?”

Overall, this is a question of mobility. Will you be taking notes in the classroom? Watching filmed lectures in your room sometimes? Studying at the library or in the student center?

No matter where your studies take you, make sure you have a computer that supports your needs and preferences. You never want some computer limitation to get in the way of making the most of a college education.

“How can the student make the most of the computer and keep it protected?”

Computers are an important, expensive piece of hardware, so you’ll want to keep it protected at all costs. To make sure the computer is free of viruses and outside attacks, you’ll want to invest in a powerful antivirus software. And in the event of an issue, be sure to back up your files and protect your data.

To deal with the risk of physical damage, make sure to buy a protective case. Getting a warranty or computer protection plan can help out if the computer is dropped or something is spilled on it.

As you decide on a computer for your college student, be open-minded. College is an exciting time for intellectual and social exploration. Look for a versatile option that supports the many disciplines and opportunities available to your college student on campus.