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Online College Tech Guide: Laptops, iPads & You

Online College Tech Guide: Laptops, iPads & You

In today’s college world, technology is front and center. Laptops, smartphones, iPads, and other tablets are must-haves for college success. This guide breaks down all of the tech, including a list of schools that give away free laptops and tablets to ensure student success.

These days, going to college without up-to-date tech makes about as much sense as paddling across the ocean with a teaspoon. It’s frustrating and slow—if not entirely impossible! This is especially the case if you’re completing an online degree program.

Fortunately, this “technocessity” doesn’t have to present a financial impediment for you. Use our guide to learn about best options for obtaining laptops and other technology free or at a discount. In addition, you’ll also find some great tips for choosing the tech gear that best suits your needs. Keep reading to be tech-ready in no time.

Free Laptop? Yes, Please!

The number of tech accessories required by the modern college experience can be quite daunting. For example, if you’re studying online, you’ll most likely need noise-cancelling headphones, a supplemental monitor, and a camera setup. For in-person classes, you might want a Bluetooth mouse or keyboard and a portable charger for your devices.

But these are just the basics—the sheer volume of handy, fun gadgets out there can leave your head spinning! While it’s easy to get distracted by these extras, there’s one item you absolutely cannot do without—a decent laptop. Don’t fret, though; we have you covered with a list of schools that offer this essential item as part of your tuition. Keep reading to learn more.

American National University

American National University is a private institution that specializes in distance learning. It’s fully accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission and has learning sites in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Right now, domestic students who enroll in the school’s information technology program receive a free laptop

Auburn University at Montgomery

Auburn University is a public institution located in Montgomery, Alabama. Courses are available on campus, online, and in blended formats. Currently, the school is offering a free laptop to incoming freshmen for spring 2023. In addition, the university has a laptop loaner program for other students who need a device.

Bethel University

Bethel is a private Christian university located in McKenzie, Tennessee. Classes are offered both in person and online, and it boasts a favorable student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1. Laptops are given to students in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Professional Studies, however you must claim your device during your first semester or risk forfeiting it. 

Bryant University

A private, nonprofit school located in Smithfield, Rhode Island, Bryant University issues laptops to all new students. Their policy states that the laptops are technically university property, but students are bestowed permanent ownership once they graduate or pay for the computer. While in school, students do retain full administrator authority over the device. 

The California State University

The California State University System is comprised of 23 campuses across the state. Of these, 14 participate in the CSUCCESS digital equity program that provides laptops and tablets to students. Details for each participating campus vary; use the search tool on the main site to locate specific program information.

Chatham University

Featuring three beautiful, distinct campuses in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Chatham University offers its students unique in-person attendance experiences. However, because flexibility is a priority, many programs are also offered online. The Undergraduate 1:1 Program provides all first-year undergraduates with laptops; students own the equipment upon graduation. 

Dakota State University

Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota, is a public institution that prides itself on being one of the most technologically advanced campuses in the Midwest. The school’s Wireless Mobile Computing Initiative provides all full-time freshmen with a new laptop in the fall semester. The device belongs to the student after four years of participation in the program. 

Delaware State University

Dover is home to the main campus of Delaware State University, but the school has four other campuses across the state. This public institution is proud of its emphasis on research as well as its designation as one of the nation’s top Historically Black Colleges and Universities. New full-time students receive an iPad through the Digital Student Universe program.

Full Sail University

Full Sail University is a private school in Winter Park, Florida, that emphasizes project-based learning. It has received awards for many of its programs, including game design, music, graphic design, and animation. Through the Project LaunchBox program, students receive a technology kit customized for their degree that includes a laptop and other accessories. 

Indiana State University

Terre Haute, Indiana, is home to this public school, which offers courses both in person and online. Laptops are provided to Pell-eligible students through the Sycamore Technology Award. International, online-only, and returning students are ineligible; all other full-time students who meet the application and FAFSA deadlines are automatically considered. 

Moravian University

Moravian University is a private, nonprofit school located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. 

It’s the sixth oldest college in the country and the first open to women. The school’s technology policy is quite generous—all new undergrad students receive an Apple MacBook Pro and an iPad.

Northwest Missouri State University

Northwest Missouri State offers its programs at two campuses—one in Maryville and the other in Kansas City. Students benefit from the school’s small student-to-teacher ratio and focus on experiential learning. The laptop program provides devices to all students, with the exception of those enrolled in online professional programs. 

Seton Hill University

Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, is a private, nonprofit Catholic institution that remains deeply committed to its religious traditions. Its Mobile Learning @ The Hill program provides MacBook Air laptops to all traditional, full-time bachelor’s degree students as well as to students in many of its graduate programs.

St. John’s University

This Catholic university in Queens, New York, welcomes individuals of all faiths. The school’s religious roots drive its commitment to volunteer service, and its students are enriched through personalized learning experiences. Students who opt in to the university’s Academic Computing Initiative Program are issued a laptop to use until they graduate. 

Strayer University

Dr. S. Irving Strayer founded Strayer Business College (now Strayer University) in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1892. Since then, the school has expanded to more than 50 locations around the nation, and its robust online programs offer working professionals the flexibility they need to further their education. Strayer’s laptop offer is extended to all new or returning bachelor’s students. 

University of Arkansas Grantham

As an exclusively online school geared toward adult learners, the University of Arkansas Grantham understands the needs of its students. Affordable tuition and a generous laptop program help students successfully pursue their studies. All degree-seeking students are eligible for laptops. 

University of Minnesota Crookston

This public university in the University of Minnesota System features a diverse student body, study-abroad opportunities, and individualized attention for students. The laptop program provides all full-time, on-campus students with devices after they complete at least six credits. Laptops are eventually gifted to graduates who meet specific requirements.

Valley City State University

Valley City State University is one of 11 schools in the North Dakota University System. A 13:1 student-faculty ratio facilitates a learner-centered model of instruction in over 65 areas of study. Its laptop initiative provides all full-time students with a current-model laptop; part-time students are eligible under certain circumstances.

Wake Forest University

Wake Forest is a private university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, that prides itself on its dedication to philanthropy. To meet the needs of its students, the school offers technology grants for laptops to incoming undergrads, who receive funds based on need, merit, or athletics during their first two years.

College Laptop Buying Guide

Okay, so you know you need a laptop for school. If you can’t get one for free, you’ll have to buy one, and that’s a rather sizeable purchase. (Those nickels and pennies you found in the sofa last week just won’t cut it.) Before you spend all those dollars, you should carefully consider your tech needs and seek a device that will best suit them. To help guide you, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best laptops to address specific concerns. Ponder the questions below and check out the recommended laptops to see which one is a good fit for you. 

  • Which laptop has the best battery life?

    Although there are some very expensive laptops out there with great battery life, PC Mag lists the much more affordable Apple MacBook Air with M1 as its top pick for 2022. When tested, its battery lasted over 14 hours. This impressive endurance enables you to conduct your studies anywhere—the coffee shop, the park, your comfy bed—while rarely having to worry about finding an outlet or being encumbered by a cord. This device’s other desirable features include a slim, lightweight body; retina display; and fanless design. The M1 chip is also much faster and more efficient than previous technology, so it cuts down on frustrating lags in performance. 

  • Which laptop is the most portable?

    As a busy college student with a demanding schedule, you’ll want to maximize productivity by keeping your laptop close at hand. But you don’t want to break your back by lugging around a behemoth all day! You need to consider portability. That’s where the HP Pavilion Aero 13 shines. It’s ultraportable, weighing just 2.2 pounds, so you’ll hardly even notice it in your bag. And this isn’t its only great feature; Laptop Mag sings its praises as one of the best laptops under $800. 

  • What’s the best hybrid or touch-screen laptop?

    If you want the touch-screen function of a tablet without sacrificing the efficiency of a physical keyboard, a hybrid laptop might be the perfect fit for you. Some of these two-in-one wonders have detachable keyboards while others feature 360-degree rotating hinges that prop the device up when you’re using it as a tablet. Most are compatible for use with a stylus, so they’re perfect for drawing or taking notes by hand. If you’re convinced a hybrid is for you, check out the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5. According to PC Mag, an outstanding display and high-quality cameras make it an excellent value. 

  • What’s the difference between Mac and PC? Which is better for me?

    You will likely encounter the terms “Mac” and “PC” quite a bit as you shop for a laptop, and it’s important to consider the differences between these two categories. One of the most obvious differences is the operating system (OS). Apple Macs come preinstalled with the latest Mac OS, and PCs come with the newest version of Microsoft Windows. Opinions differ about which is better, so it all comes down to which one you find the most user friendly and which is used most at your school. Macs offer fewer device options than PCs, but Mac devices are designed to work cooperatively with each other. There are other differences, but you must decide for yourself which type of computer best suits you. 

  • Which laptop has the best longevity?

    Most people consider a laptop to be a major purchase, so they don’t want to throw their money away on a device that will go to digital heaven in a few short years. For the cost, you need something that will last at least four years (but hopefully well beyond that). The Lenovo ThinkPad E15 was selected by What in Tech as the longest-lasting laptop of 2022. It features speedy performance, ample memory, and a long battery life, too. 

  • Which is the best all-purpose laptop?

    Laptops don’t have to be all work and no play. If you’re a gamer or someone who likes to stream music or videos, laptops can do it all for you. In general, a laptop that can handle gaming will be more than sufficient for your schoolwork, too. You’ll find that there are some very expensive and bulky options, but if you’re looking for great value and versatility check out the Dell G5 15—a powerful, capable laptop under $1,000. A thorough review of its specifications and options is available on CNET.

Other Tech Resources for College Students

Tech for students doesn’t end at laptops. You’ll find innumerable clever gadgets, thingamajigs, and whatsits out there that can make your college experience easier (and more fun). Some accessories like webcams, headphones, and speakers take priority, but if you have a little more money to spend, you can also snag some neato extras. Find examples of some of these items below, and learn about a few discount programs that can help you get your tech at a lower price.

Amazon Basics 6-Outlet Surge Protector

This surge protector has an energy rating of 790 joules. When the red light is on, you know your devices are being actively protected. 

Anker Portable Charger 313 Power Bank

Charge your phone and tablet with this slim, lightweight portable charger. It delivers a tailored charge and features short-circuit protection and temperature control.

Apple Education Pricing

Apple offers discounts to college students. Redeeming this savings is simple—just visit the education store, select your product, and check out as usual. You may need to provide your student ID, so make sure you have it handy.

Arae Adjustable Laptop Stand

This stand features seven angles and an anti-slip rubber pad. The design allows for efficient heat dissipation, plus the ergonomics ensure your comfort. 

HP OfficeJet 200 Portable Printer

This wireless printer is compact enough to fit in your backpack. You can use the HP ePrint app to print even without a network.

Kindle Paperwhite

Instead of lugging textbooks and novels around, read digitally with the Kindle Paperwhite. It’s waterproof and features a glare-free display and adjustable warm light. 

KODAK Step Wireless Photo Printer

Printing photos is easy with this compact, inkless printer. It’s compatible with any phone or tablet, and the free Kodak app allows you to edit and customize your photos. 

Logitech Blue Snowball USB Microphone

This microphone offers professional-level sound quality for Zoom meetings, streaming, and recording. It doesn’t require you to install a driver and is compatible with Mac or PC. 

Logitech Brio 4K Webcam

This ultra 4K HD resolution webcam features auto light adjustment, noise cancellation, and three field-of-view presets. It’s integrated with Windows Hello to allow you to sign in without a password.

METRO Universal Stylus Pen

Compatible with all touch screen devices, this universal stylus provides a satisfyingly smooth drawing and writing experience. Purchase includes eight replacement rubber tips. 

Oontz Angle 3 Bluetooth Speaker

Not only is this speaker waterproof, but it also offers excellent sound quality in a small package. With a battery life of 20 hours, you won’t find yourself looking for an outlet very often.

Sabrent 4-Port USB Hub 

Add four ports to your device with this USB hub. It can be rotated up to 180 degrees, and its lightweight design makes it super portable. 

Samsung Education Offers Program

Access Samsung’s student savings by registering for the program with your school email address. Some discounts are up to 30%. 

Seagate Portable External Hard Drive

Backing up your files is easy with this hard drive—just drag and drop. It’s compatible with Mac and PC, and no software is required.

Seenda Backlit Bluetooth Keyboard

This rechargeable keyboard is capable of pairing with three devices at once. Working in the dark is no problem since it’s backlit. Plus seven backlighting colors add fun and beauty.

SideTrak Swivel Attachable Portable Monitor

Increase your productivity with a supplemental 12.5” monitor that attaches to your laptop. It’s compatible with Mac, PC, and Chromebook and it doesn’t require you to download software.

Soundcore Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Enjoy 40 hours’ playing time with these noise-cancelling headphones. They also feature memory foam earcups and a built-in microphone for hands-free calling.

TANTUU Ring Light

Good lighting is essential for video conferencing. This portable ring light clips on your monitor and has three settings for white, warm, and natural light. 

Tecknet Bluetooth Mouse

The Tecknet mouse offers smooth tracking on almost all surfaces and is available in five colors. Its ergonomic design makes it comfortable to use. 

TeqHome Laptop Desk

If you like to work from your comfortable bed, this laptop desk is perfect for elevating your computer. It features two silent cooling fans and fits computers up to 15.6”. 

Dell Computers Student Discount

If a basic laptop is what you need, Dell has been in the game a long time and makes a solid product. Check out and take advantage of their student discounts.

Microsoft Products Discount

Microsoft is a longtime leader in tech with its Office 365 products and tools leading the pack in function and practicality. Many students can get Office 365 for free and Microsoft also offers deals for students on their other products as well, including surface tablets.

College Tech FAQs

So far, you’ve read about schools that offer free laptops, learned how to choose the laptop that best suits your needs, and discovered supplemental tech gadgets to make college life easier. Despite all of that info, you may still have some questions. That’s okay, there’s a lot to consider! Keep reading for answers to some frequently asked questions about college tech. 

  • 1. Can I rent a laptop?

    Yes, you can rent a laptop from some institutions. For example, Rock Valley College has a laptop rental program that enables students to use a laptop for the semester with the option to renew. Although computers are rented on a first-come, first-served basis, the program is open to all current students. If your school doesn’t have a program like this, you can still rent from a private company, such as Grover. They ship your tech to you, and after you’ve completed your minimum rental period you ship it back. If you still need the device, you may extend your rental or even buy it.

  • 2. Can I check one out from the library?

    Yes, this is another great option for getting your hands on a laptop. Some universities, such as The University of Arizona, have a technology lending program. The school’s complete technology library is viewable online, so students can see which laptops and accessories are available. Public libraries may also offer laptop rentals. For example, the Dallas Public Library loans Chromebooks and hotspot bundles for a period of 30 days. The loan is renewable as long as there isn’t a pending request. This site contains a list of other U.S. public libraries that offer this service. 

  • 3. Are there other programs I can use to get a laptop for cheap?

    Many programs work to provide laptops to underserved populations and those in financial need. For example, through the Dell Scholars Program, 500 students are selected each year to receive a laptop, a scholarship, and other supports. Specific criteria are available on the program website. Another program that provides laptops to low-income students is Laptops 4 Learning. The application process requires a video; other program details are available on the terms and conditions page. Lastly, the Connect All program sells recycled laptops. Anyone can purchase one without having to prove financial need. 

  • 4. What other technology is “nice to have” for students?

    Although you can probably get by with just a laptop, a few bonus items can definitely make your academic life easier. In conjunction with your laptop, a decent printer, smartphone, and tablet will afford you flexibility in your studies and help you complete your projects with greater ease. The HP DeskJet 2755e is a good option for an affordable wireless printer. Your purchase includes six free months of instant ink subscription, and you can print, scan, and copy from your phone. If you need a new smartphone, Android Central’s top pick for students is the Google Pixel 5A. Lastly, a solid tablet for students on a budget is the Galaxy Tab 8A. Its long battery life and expandable storage will serve you well.

  • 5. What software will I need and how much does it cost?

    Almost all schools require students to have access to Microsoft Office. Although downloading it can be expensive for nonstudents, Microsoft offers this software suite free to students. To redeem your copy, simply visit the Microsoft Office website and enter your school email address. Another software program that might come in handy is VLC Media Player. It’s free and is compatible with desktop and mobile operating systems. To download it, visit VideoLAN and follow the instructions. Most schools also list their tech and software recommendations for students, so check your school’s website for this information. Here’s an example of a tech recommendation list from Cornell University. 

  • 6. What’s my best option for repair and maintenance?

    If you have a laptop that was issued by your school, repairs are most likely also covered by the same program. For example, Seton Hill maintains and repairs the laptops issued to students. However, if you own your laptop and are responsible for repairing it, consider a service like Best Buy’s Geek Squad. The store offers drop-off repairs, but some services—like virus removal and PC tune-up—can be completed remotely. Similar services are offered by My Computer Works. Their base plan costs $34.95 per month and offers same-day response for a single device.