Buying the college computer

college computerIn most circles the question is not whether or not your student buys a computer but which type of computer to buy. You’ll need to compare costs, speed, hard drive size, RAM and warranties. Three other important questions need to be considered as well:

While it is true that colleges have multiple computer labs on campus, college students are notorious for working into the wee hours of the night to complete papers and projects. Most parents feel it’s more efficient, and safer, for students to complete these late night assignments in the privacy of their own dorm room or apartment.

Desktop or laptop? Desktop computers are usually cheaper; however, some colleges require that all students purchase laptops through the college. While students have choices, this requirement ensures that all students have the proprietary software required by the university. The school my son, Michael, will attend does not have such an edict; however, the university bookstore only sells laptop computers. When he registered for classes he learned that some freshman English composition classes mandate a laptop so that students can collaborate using peer editing software.

We had originally recommended that he purchase a desktop computer for cost reasons and since it would be more secure, i.e., harder to steal. When he surveyed current college students, however, he learned that most students no longer purchase desktops. Most campuses are now wireless so students prefer the portability of laptops. If you decide on a laptop computer, be sure to compare the weight of each computer. We saw models that ranged from 3 to 5 pounds. Carrying both books and a laptop to class may be a burden for some students’ backs.

student on computerMac vs. PC? Some departments within the university recommend a particular type of computer and specific software applications. Engineering students may be required to purchase a PC and Computer-Assisted Drawing (CAD) programs while Fine Arts students are required to purchase Macs and graphic arts programs. For clarification on these recommendations check the web sites of the college’s tech department or the departmental office.

Purchase through the college or YOYO (You’re On Your Own)? With our first son the computer was a generous gift from an aunt and uncle. Unfortunately, he found that repairs were cumbersome; his warranty required that he ship his desktop computer to a service center for all repairs. With such a warranty the university Tech Dept. could not help him when he had computer problems. If purchasing on your own, ask all of your technically-inclined friends for their advice and recommendations. Approach your best tech support person at work for recommendations. They keep current on the strengths and weaknesses of computers, and their parent companies. Go to the public library and look up articles that compare different models of computers. PC World and MacWorld are just two of the publications that can assist you.

Our freshman will be purchasing his laptop through the university. Not only will they pre-load software needed for classes but the usual one year warranty has been extended to three years (at no additional cost). More importantly, he will receive a loaner computer anytime his computer can’t be fixed in 15 minutes. For us, the extended warranty and the loaner program cinched the deal.


Financial Decisions