Choosing the Right Mac for a College-Bound Student

by Sarah Dobson on February 24, 2020

Do you have a child heading off to college soon? As you know from their high school experience, the average 21st-century student needs a computer for just about everything these days. However, your college-bound student is going to need more than just a basic computer; they’re going to need one that’s stable, powerful, and chock full of the features they need to succeed in school. Fortunately, Apple’s Mac computers will do the job and then some.

Portability is a must for your college-bound child. Whether they’re toting their computer from their dorm to the classroom or using it after class at a local coffee shop, being able to easily carry their PC is critical. If you’re on the hunt for a lightweight computer that’s equally powerful and reliable, we’re here to help narrow your search down to the best Macs for college students.

How to Find the Best Macbook for College

Step 1: Don’t buy anything without first checking with the college.

Many college departments have specific requirements based on the software that students have to use in their classes. Generally, these revolve around processor type, amount of RAM, and storage space. Luckily, most current Macs should meet the requirements.

Don’t worry If your child’s college department requires the use of Windows because all Macs can run Windows with no problems, either by restarting in Apple’s Boot Camp or by using virtualization software like Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion. With a Mac, you get the best of both worlds!


Step 2: Determine whether you should purchase an iPad or MacBook for college

Colleges often specify—and students usually prefer—laptops instead of desktop machines. Although the iMac is a great machine with a gorgeous screen, it’s too big and unwieldy for the transient lifestyle of the typical college student.

A laptop is much easier to pack during moves, and it can be taken out and about on campus every day. A student who’s accustomed to taking notes on an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil might be able to use that along with a desktop Mac like an iMac or a Mac mini, but most people should focus on Apple’s laptops.

Step 3: Choose the right MacBook model

Choosing from Apple’s laptop line comparing and contrasting price, performance, and portability. Your options are slimmed down to three distinguished laptops: the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro (13-inch and 16-inch).

While your child may try to pressure you into buying the latest Macbook model available, there are plenty of older options that fit the bill (figuratively and literally). When you opt for an Apple computer, you can rest assured knowing that no matter what model you choose, it will perform perfectly in any academic setting.

Need some expert insight on the best Macbooks for college? Here are our top picks:


  • If portability is paramount, look at the MacBook. The MacBook is Apple’s smallest and lightest laptop, and it has a great Retina display. Unfortunately, it’s also the least powerful and has only a single USB-C port for charging and connection to peripherals. That said, if your college-bound child is going to be dashing from classroom to classroom, the lightweight design may be worth it. Prices range between $1300 and $2000.
  • If you’re looking for something more affordable, consider the MacBook Air. It lacks a Retina display and weighs almost a pound more than the MacBook—it’s still less than 3 pounds!—but it has a beefier processor, lots more ports (including Apple’s much-beloved MagSafe 2 power jack), and a lower price. Expect to pay between $1000 and $1600.
  • For better performance, look to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which is a touch smaller than the MacBook Air and weighs just a bit more, but features much more powerful dual-core processors, includes a gorgeous Retina display, and provides Thunderbolt 3 ports for charging and expansion.

    You can save a few hundred dollars by passing on Apple’s snazzy Touch Bar, which provides additional interface controls and a Touch ID fingerprint unlock button. The price of the 13-inch MacBook Pro ranges between $1300 and $3000, though it’s easy to keep it below $2500.
  • The ultimate performance comes from the 15-inch MacBook Pro, which has quad-core processors and a much larger Retina screen, along with four Thunderbolt 3 ports for charging and expansion. It’s still not huge, but at 4 pounds is the heaviest of Apple’s laptops. It’s also the most expensive, with prices ranging from $2400 to over $4000 for a fully tricked-out machine.

Pro-tip: Beyond getting your child the best MacBook for college, you’ll also want to protect their new laptop. Laptop backpack carriers will not only protect their notebook, but they will also help keep your college-bound student’s books and other school essentials organized and within reach.


Go with the MacBook if size and weight are more important than speed. For maximum performance, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is top of the line but could be heavy to lug around every day. You could compromise with the MacBook Air, which is quicker than the MacBook and smaller than the 15-inch MacBook Pro, but the sweet spot goes to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which provides the best overall combination of price, performance, and portability.

Simply Mac: Simply the Best Place to Buy a MacBook for College Students!

Visit a Simply Mac location to explore different Mac computers and discuss options with one of our expert technicians. We know that college is expensive. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get your child the best MacBook for college to help them succeed in school. We offer financing options that can help you get the perfect new MacBook, iPad, or other Apple computer.