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Written by: Staff Writer
The increasing role of technology in higher education has made computers a necessity. Many colleges now provide free laptops or tablets for all incoming students. These technology programs differ, so students should understand exactly what their prospective school offers.
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Some colleges offer free laptops, with the cost included in the price of tuition. Others provide laptops at greatly reduced prices. Schools may offer the same device to every student or provide options based on each learner's budget or academic major.
This page provides an overview of online colleges that offer laptops. The following sections detail common practices for technology programs and important factors to consider when selecting a device. This guide also includes information on resources to help students pay for laptops, including scholarships and direct discounts from technology companies.
Are the Laptops Online Colleges Offer Completely Free?
While many colleges offer free laptops for students, the specifics of these technology programs vary by institution. Some schools provide all students with free laptops and set no additional requirements. Other schools charge a technology fee to cover the cost of the laptop, which students often pay over multiple semesters. While these schools do not offer laptops for free, they provide the technology at a greatly reduced price.
In most cases, students own their laptops. However, some schools rent laptops for the duration of a student's enrollment and require the laptops to be returned after graduation. While most schools offering technology programs provide laptops to all incoming students, some institutions only offer devices to learners in certain academic programs. Students researching online colleges that offer laptops should identify any special requirements for receiving a device.
What Colleges Offer Free Laptops?
Some online colleges that offer laptops set eligibility requirements, but most provide laptops for all students. However, learners should research each school's laptop program to ensure they qualify. Below are some online colleges that offer laptops for new students.
Colleges That Offer Free Laptops
- Bethel University
Bethel University offers laptops to all incoming full-time students. If students do not pick up their Bethel laptop during their first semester, they forfeit possession of it. Students using Bethel laptops have many resources available to help them with their computing needs.
- Widener University
Widener University awards eligible engineering students brand new laptops. Requirements for this school's laptop scholarship are continued full-time enrollment in one of the engineering degrees and meeting one of the following academic requirements: a combined SAT score of 1310 or higher, an ACT score of 28 or higher, or a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher.
- Seton Hill University
Through the Mobile Learning @ The Hill Program, Seton Hill University offers all traditional full-time undergraduate students MacBooks. This program has garnered Seton the distinction of being an Apple Distinguished School. The high caliber of their program allows the university to offer on-campus AppleCare support, which includes loaner laptops.
- Chatham University
Chatham University offers Macbook Air packages to all incoming first-year students. The package includes a laptop, a backpack, a laptop case, various protection plans, and repair services. While graduate students are not eligible for the Macbook Air package, Chatham does offer financial assistance to graduate students needing a laptop to meet the graduate laptop requirement.
- St. John's University
Eligible students at St. John's University may participate in the Academic Computing Initiative Program and receive a portable computing device for use during their studies; the school charges a laptop fee to the student's account every semester. The students may keep the laptop as long as they remain enrolled full time at the University and abide by the terms and conditions.
- Northwest Missouri State University
Northwest Missouri State University provides full-time undergraduate and graduate students with a fully-loaded laptop. The cost of the laptop is included with tuition, and the university estimates that the laptop program, along with the textbook rental program, saves students $7,300 over the course of four years of study. The program also includes technical support.
- Wentworth Institute of Technology
The laptop program — for full-time matriculating undergraduate and master's of architecture students at Wentworth Institute of Technology — provides laptop options tailored to each major. Faculty select the laptop for each program based on the specific needs of their students.
- Stevens Henager College
Stevens Henager College provides laptops to undergraduate students to provide the tools for success at their institution and to remove what can be a financial obstacle for some students. The new laptop is reserved for students to use while they are in school, but they can be kept after graduation. Students in the School of Graphic Arts receive a MacBook.
Colleges That Offer Free Tablets
- Seton Hill University
As part of the Mobile Learning @ The Hill Program, Seton Hill University gives iPads to all traditional full-time undergraduate students. Apple recognized Seton Hill as an Apple Distinguished School for this program. This partnership allows the university to offer on-campus AppleCare support.
- Long Island University - Brentwood
As part of an initiative started in 2013, Long Island University – Brentwood offers iPads free of charge to new full-time criminal justice undergraduate students and at a discounted rate of $250 to new part-time criminal justice undergraduate students. Students are eligible as long as they are making satisfactory payments to their account and submit required documentation.
- Saint Mary's University of Minnesota
Students receive iPads as part of Saint Mary's University of Minnesota's fully online graduate degrees and to demonstrate the school's commitment to mobile learning. The iPads are fully integrated into the course curricula and come loaded with Engage, the university's main app, as well as other productivity apps like Adobe Connect.
Colleges That Offer Discounted Laptops
- Villanova University
Villanova University's purchase program allows students to purchase Dell and Apple computer equipment at a discount through Villanova's partnerships with the vendors Connection and Apple. Connection offers seven choices of laptops and two choices of monitors for Villanova faculty and students, while Apple offers three types of laptops, two all-in-one desktops, two GPUs, and four iPads.
Colleges That Offer Laptop Rentals
- Northwest Missouri State University
Northwest Missouri State University provides full-time undergraduate and graduate students a laptop for school use. The cost of the laptop is included with tuition, and the university estimates that the laptop and textbook rental program saves students $7,300 over the course of four years of study.
- Drexel University
Students at Drexel University are able to borrow laptops from a service desk or a laptop kiosk in their libraries. The only costs incurred to students result from late fees, or fines issued for violating the terms and services. If borrowers stick to the rental period and follow the terms and conditions, this service is available for free.
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How to Choose the Best Laptop for Online College
College students often need a laptop to complete coursework. However, a learner's specific technology needs depend on their field of study and class format. This section highlights several factors to consider when choosing a device, including hardware and software requirements.
Consider What Hardware You Need
General tasks, such as word processing, email, and video conferencing, do not generally require high-end hardware. However, coursework in technical fields such as graphic design, video editing, and computer science may require students to run demanding programs. Learners in these fields often benefit from faster processors, additional RAM, and plenty of hard-drive space.
Even casual users may consider more powerful laptops. However, these machines are often larger and less portable. Less powerful devices often boast a slimmer design and longer battery life.
Consider Online Classes
When choosing hardware specifications, students should also consider their class formats. For example, students in synchronous online programs that require frequent video conferencing need a laptop with a better camera. However, learners in asynchronous online programs may not need a webcam.
Also consider where and how you plan to complete coursework. Students who travel frequently may choose a laptop with long battery life. However, learners who study primarily at home may prioritize a larger screen size over battery life.
Consider Any Specialty Software
Most academic majors do not require demanding computer software. An accounting major might use QuickBooks and Excel, while an English major may only need Microsoft Word. However, programs in fields such as software engineering and graphic design may require more specific hardware and software.
Demanding, industry-specific programs such as Photoshop and Final Cut Pro need more powerful computer hardware to run effectively. Learners should choose a laptop capable of running any software that may figure prominently into their field of study.
When to Consider an iPad or Tablet
An iPad or tablet lacks the power and versatility of a laptop, but these compact, portable devices offer other advantages. For example, students may find a tablet to be convenient for reading digital textbooks or watching video lectures during commutes.
Additionally, a tablet can be ideal for completing coursework in certain fields. Learners studying digital animation or visual art may use a tablet's touch screen and a stylus for drawing. Students may also use a tablet and stylus to take notes.
Other Resources to Help Pay for Laptops
Even if your college does not offer free laptops for students, many organizations offer student discounts on laptops and other devices. Learners may apply for scholarship funds toward a laptop, and some scholarship programs award laptops rather than funding.
The following list highlights 10 resources available to help college students afford laptops, with offers from major technology companies including Apple, Microsoft, and Best Buy.
Best Buy College Student Deals: Best Buy offers student discounts on a variety of electronics, including laptops. Students can create a Best Buy account and sign up for student deals to receive significant discounts on popular laptop brands, including Apple and Lenovo.
Apple Back to School Student Discounts: Apple offers a variety of discounts for college students, including reduced prices on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Students can save hundreds of dollars on laptops and qualify for a 20% discount on the AppleCare+ protection program.
Notebooks for Students: This nonprofit organization provides refurbished laptops to grade school and college students. Notebooks for Students acquires most of its laptops from large corporations. The organization offers heavily discounted devices, and available brands include Apple, Dell, HP, Toshiba, and Lenovo.
Dell University: Dell offers significant discounts for students through its Dell University program. Students can access reduced prices, free shipping, financing options, and premium technical support. Dell University offers discounts on Inspiron, XPS, and Alienware laptops, along with other electronics and accessories.
Dell Scholars: Dell administers a scholarship for high school juniors and seniors enrolled in an approved college readiness program. The scholarship awards up to $20,000 and a new Dell laptop. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and have a minimum 2.4 GPA.
Jack Kent Cooke College Scholarship Program: This full-tuition scholarship supports high-achieving high school seniors who demonstrate academic achievement and significant community involvement. The scholarship covers up to $40,000 of tuition and expenses, which may include a laptop and other technology.
Microsoft Education: Microsoft offers an assortment of student discounts on products including laptops, tablets, and the Office 365 software suite. College students can save hundreds of dollars on Microsoft products and accessories, including the Surface Go, Surface Pro, and Surface Laptop.
Lenovo Student Laptop and Tech Deals: Electronics manufacturer Lenovo offers discounts for students and teachers, including savings on Thinkpad laptops. Lenovo customers can also take advantage of flexible financing options, including no-interest payment plans.
Acer Student Discounts: Acer provides college students with free shipping and a 10% discount on laptops and other electronics. To qualify for the discount, students must register with Student Beans, an affiliated online retailer that offers discounts to college students.