Learning isn’t only textbooks anymore. A computer is an important tool for a college freshman, enabling the student to do anything from research to taking courses without leaving home. It will also likely be one of the most expensive purchases that you will make. You want to save money where you can, while still making sure you buy the computer to best fit your needs. You also don’t want to forget other tech tools, including flash drives and printers.
Choosing a computer
Desktop computers used to be the likely choice of cash-strapped college students because they were a cheaper alternative than laptop computers. Laptops have come down in price and it is possible to find a laptop with a price comparable to a desktop computer.
Money will be a big deciding factor. Macs may be the computer of choice for studies that involve graphics or design, but they are priced considerably more than Windows-powered laptops.
Use is another factor. Some majors or schools may require a specific type of computer. Also, if you plan to do tasks like word processing and spreadsheets, you may want to upgrade the memory so you can multitask. More memory is a necessity if you will be doing any graphic design work or heavy gaming.
Another factor to keep in mind includes display size. Select a display size that fits your needs, but remember that a larger screen may also mean more cash. It also means a heavier computer, definitely something to consider if you are lugging it between classes.
Also think about how you plan to hook up to the Internet. Most laptops these days come with Wi-Fi. You also want a network card in case a network connection is required.
No matter what you do, if you have a laptop, the day will likely come when the power runs out. Consider buying a second battery and keep it charged so you can stay unplugged longer. When shopping for batteries, read the reviews and focus on how long the batteries are expected to last. Some batteries are not built as well as others and do not last as long. Cheap isn’t necessarily better.
Today’s printers are jack-of-all-trades. You can print, scan and copy all on one machine. Printers are available for under $40, though if you want a Wi-Fi compatible printer, that’s going to raise the price, but not a lot. Decide how important it is to have the Wi-Fi option. Also, printers are often cheaper because the company will make its money selling you cartridges. Read reviews and try to figure out how long cartridges last and find out how much they are to replace. This is especially important if you are buying a color printer. If you don’t need color, it’s much cheaper to only have to buy black ink cartridges. Lastly, make sure the printer is compatible with your computer.
Need more workspace when you’re back in your dorm room or apartment? Consider buying a second monitor. This option can give you more room with which to work. It also lets you multitask, or finish your assignments while catching the latest series online that you don’t have time to watch on TV. Extra monitors can be found online for less than $150.
Let’s face it—even a laptop isn’t always convenient. A flash drive can help. Flash drives let you save items from one computer and transfer them to another computer. It can offer extra storage space that’s convenient for tasks such as doing some of your work at home, and then loading up the flash drive in your buddy’s laptop to continue. It’s another way for the college student to have options and be mobile.
A computer isn’t all about schoolwork. Having the right computer can also put you in touch with friends and family members. Consider buying a headset that includes a microphone. It will make communicating on programs like Skype a breeze and keep you in touch with the people who matter the most.
Technology hasn’t killed the telephone, but it provides several ways to communicate with friends and family for less if not for free. If you plan to use programs like Skype and Windows Messenger to communicate, consider buying a webcam so they can see your charming mug. Make sure what you buy is compatible with your computer system. (Also, many computers now come with a webcam built in.)
Computers usually come loaded with software, but that doesn’t mean it has what you want or need. A word processing program is a definite need. Laptops often come with a trial version of a word processing program like Microsoft Word that requires you to buy it after so many uses.
Budget-weary college students may also want to try free options such as Google Docs, a free program that lets you share documents with other users using Google programs.
There’s nothing like a virus to bog you down when the pressure’s on. Make sure your computer is protected against viruses. Virus software differs in both price and how much it protects against. Your computer may come with a trial version of an anti-virus program like Norton. Consider buying it once the trial period ends. While there may be some sticker shock, it’s better than the shock of a virus crashing your computer the week before a big project is due.
Not everyone will need a laptop. If you are planning on just watching videos and sending email, you may want to go with a tablet, which is easier to carry and more convenient to watch in locations such as a transit bus or subway. Most operate on Wi-Fi now too.
Discounts for students are available for both computers and programs. Apple offers discounts for students, while some Windows makers may also offer a discount or have back-to-school sales. Popular software programs sometimes come with a student version that is cheaper than the main version. Be ready to prove you are enrolled as a student.
Keep these things in mind while preparing for your freshmen year.