A great laptop is the beating heart of the college environment. New and returning students need something that can keep up with heavy multitasking or specialized work, and they need something with a battery that can last through long lectures. Having a great display and speakers for watching TV and movies in the evening can’t hurt either, and in some cases a discrete GPU might be required for work or for play.
The right laptop for college will change based on the type of enrollment and the required workload, which is why we’ve included many different levels of performance and price; there are even some great laptops within the budget range that will still fare well at school. These are the best laptops for college students heading back this year.
Lenovo’s 7th Gen Yoga 9i 14 refresh has solved a bunch of the issues that we had with the 6th Gen model, making it our top pick when it comes to the best Windows laptops. In his Yoga 9i 14 (Gen 7) review, Executive Editor Daniel Rubino says “it showcases the best of what a Windows 11 laptop can be in 2022.”
First and foremost, the display has been bumped up to a taller 16:10 aspect ratio for more screen real estate. There are multiple display options available, including 1920×1200 (FHD+) with 400 nits brightness, Dolby Vision, and 100% sRGB color. Stepping up to 3840×2400 (UHD+), you get an OLED screen with 100% DCI-P3 color VESA DisplayHDR 500, and Dolby Vision. Last but not least is the 2880×1800 (2.8K) OLED screen with 100% DCI-P3 color, 400 nits brightness, VESA DisplayHDR 500, and Dolby Vision.
All of these displays are touch enabled, and the convertible design of the laptop makes it easy to spin the screen around for tablet mode. A Lenovo Precision Pen 2 with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt detection is included with each laptop. This only adds to the PC’s versatility; if you’d rather jot down notes by hand than type things out, this laptop can easily accommodate.
The touchpad is 45% larger than the previous generation, and the keyboard is still comfortable during long days of typing. There’s even a column of one-touch Function keys for easier shortcuts. The all-metal body is joined by a rotating soundbar hinge that is louder than ever. This keeps audio unmuffled no matter how you’re using the laptop. Dolby Atmos makes it ideal for watching TV and movies. The laptop’s 1080p camera means you can conference with confidence, and the IR sensor allows for secure logins through Windows Hello.
The Yoga 9i 14 (Gen 7) isn’t all show. Processors got a bump up to 12th Gen Intel Core, RAM is now faster LPDDR5x-5200MHz, and the SSD uses PCIe 4.0 for incredible speeds. This laptop isn’t going to hold you back when it’s time to hit a deadline. Ports include dual Thunderbolt 4, two USB-A 3.2 (Gen 2), and a 3.5mm audio jack.
The inclusion of Wi-Fi 6E for use on the 6GHz band with the best Wi-Fi 6E routers also makes this a fantastic laptop for online classes. Check out our collection of the best Lenovo laptops if you like this idea but want something just a bit different.
What about college laptops for specific areas of study?
Lenovo’s Yoga 9i 14 (Gen 7) has what it takes to get a new student through a general workload, and it has the chops to deliver quality video and sound during study downtimes in the dorm. It’s fairly pricey, but it should remain relevant through years of school as long as the student’s major doesn’t change and require something with more specialized hardware.
If you’re looking for something a bit different when a major does change, we’ve collected more of the best laptops for engineering students, best laptops for computer science and programming students, best laptops for students on a budget, and more.
Best laptop for engineering students
Engineering students can’t just sit down and use any old laptop while studying. There are specific programs (like 3D design software) used by engineering students that require quite a bit more horsepower than your usual Ultrabook can deliver. That’s why landing a PC with a discrete graphics card (GPU) and able processor (CPU) is so important.
With these performance demands in mind, you also want to be sure your engineering student isn’t lugging a massive workstation or gaming laptop back and forth across campus. Something fairly thin and sleek won’t take up as much room in a bag, and it will be much more convenient throughout the year.
Something like Dell’s XPS 15 (9520) checks all the boxes, and it’s also a great pick for art and design students who need to use software like Blender, Unity, or Adobe.
Dell’s XPS 15 (9520) is the latest powerhouse 15-inch Ultrabook from Dell. It has up to a 12th Gen Intel Core i9-12900HK CPU with 14 cores, NVIDIA RTX 3050 Ti discrete GPU, 64GB of DDR5-4800MHz RAM, and 2TB of M.2 PCIe NVMe storage. You get ray tracing and DLSS capabilities from the GPU, and the massive 86Wh battery holds its own during a long day of studies.
The 15.6-inch display comes in three different flavors. The most affordable has a 1920×1200 (FHD+) resolution, boosted by the taller 16:10 aspect ratio. It’s non-touch, it has an anti-glare finish, and it hits 500 nits brightness. Next up is a 3.5K OLED display with touch, anti-reflective finish, and 400 nits brightness. If you’d like the most pixels possible, the UHD+ version is touch with 500 nits brightness and anti-reflective finish. All screens offer Dolby Vision, and all have a thin bezel around all four sides.
Quad speakers (two on top, two on the bottom) pump out quality audio, there’s an IR camera and fingerprint reader for extra security, and the entire thing is just 0.73 inches (18.5mm) thin. Check out more of the best Dell laptops if the XPS 15 isn’t quite what you’re looking for but love what Dell is doing with its PC lineup.
Best laptops for computer science and programming students
Computer science and programming students spend long days in front of a screen analyzing and creating code; they can work to complete projects from just about anywhere, and they don’t want to be slowed down when testing their creations. Finding a laptop that’s powerful enough to handle the workload, portable enough to carry around everywhere, and long-lasting enough to not require charging every couple of hours is key.
With these qualifications in mind, Dell’s XPS 13 Plus (9320), HP’s Spectre x360 13.5, and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 are all top picks for computer science and programming students.
The XPS 13 Plus (9320) is a fantastic pick if you want to stick with a non-convertible PC. In his Dell XPS 13 Plus (9320) review, Executive Editor Daniel Rubino noted, “The Dell XPS 13 Plus, like previous XPS 13 laptops, has again set the bar for design. There’s no way to get around that, and it’s undeniable.”
Major changes to the laptop for this generation include a new keyboard and touchpad, improved webcam, more speakers, and better performance. The keyboard now stretches from edge to edge thanks to larger keycaps, with almost no space between the keys. Below, the touchpad hides beneath a full glass palmrest for a seamless look. Instead of a real physical click, the touchpad uses haptic feedback for a natural feel. The keyboard now has capacitive function buttons to boot.
Underneath the keyboard are two extra top-firing speakers to join the down-firing audio. Although the camera is still set at a 720p resolution, the RGB and IR portions are now separated for a better overall image.
Performance is stellar thanks to Intel’s 12th Gen mobile CPUs, nearly doubling what the previous XPS was capable of in some cases. LPDDR5x-5200MHz RAM is much faster, as is PCIe 4.0 storage. You’re going to be able to cut through any standard work with this laptop, and the battery will get you through a day of lectures.
Displays are the same as the previous generation, with multiple FHD+, UHD+, and 3.5K OLED options. We’ve used a bunch of these screens and they all look great thanks to plenty of brightness, accurate color reproduction, and Dolby Vision in the high-end panels. This is the best Dell laptop out there right now, and it will make a great partner for college students.
If you’re not looking to spend quite as much, the Dell XPS 13 (9315) is a more affordable alternative that continues the traditional design and feature set. Check out our XPS 13 Plus (9320) vs. XPS 13 (9315) comparison for more details.
In his Spectre x360 14 review, Executive Editor Daniel Rubino said that anyone who wanted a Surface Laptop built as a 2-in-1 with an OLED display should check out the laptop from HP. It has now been refreshed for 2022, with HP combining its 13.3- and 14-inch versions and coming up with the Spectre x350 13.5.
This is another convertible PC that can be used as a tablet or in tent and stand modes when you don’t need a notebook. The display has a tall 3:2 aspect ratio, with up to a 3000×2000 resolution with OLED and anti-reflective finish. The OLED display offers HDR 500 and 100% DCI-P3 color reproduction. You can stick with FHD+ if you’d also like HP’s Sure View privacy filter. Thanks to the convertible design, this laptop is a great digital inking companion. The active pen can now stick to the side of the laptop with built-in magnets.
Due to the taller aspect ratio, HP had plenty of room around the keyboard to play with. The touchpad is enormous for easy pointing, and the keyboard is comfortable for all-day typing binges. The laptop has quad speakers, with two on the top and two on the bottom. No matter how you’re using the laptop you’re going to get unmuffled audio. For video conferencing, the camera has been bumped up to 5MP with IR for a better picture and security. The camera supports auto-framing, filters, noise removal, and automatic backlight adjustments.
As for performance, the Spectre x360 13.3 has been bumped up to Intel’s 12th Gen U-Series CPUs with Intel Evo certification. This should provide excellent battery life, as these chips don’t suck up as much power as the 12th Gen P-Series versions. You’re also getting up to 32GB of LPDDR4x RAM and up to 2TB of M.2 PCIe 4.0 storage.
Need something a bit larger? The HP Spectre x360 16 we reviewed is also a great pick with gorgeous 16-inch displays and modern performance hardware.
Executive Editor Daniel Rubino noted in his Surface Pro 8 review that Microsoft finally fixed a lot of the blind spots with the Pro lineup with the most exciting update ever. Compared to older Surface Pro models, the Pro 8 comes at you with a more rounded chassis, thinner bezel around a larger display, ambient color sensor for the 120Hz screen, better IR and RGB cameras, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support, larger battery, and dual Thunderbolt 4 ports.
That’s a lot of new stuff, and it all pays off. The Pro 8 looks a lot more like a modern tablet, but its built-in kickstand allows it to operate as a laptop when a Type Cover is attached. It’s also fantastic for inking, and there’s even a slot for the Slim Pen 2 in the new Type Cover design. There’s even haptic feedback for the pen in some apps. If you love jotting down notes and sketches while in class, this laptop will be up for it.
The larger 13-inch display makes it easier to multitask, and the 2880×1920 resolution is super crisp. The Pro 8 is using Intel’s 11th Gen Core CPUs, with up to 32GB of LPDDR4x RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage.
Best college laptops for students on a budget
Heading back to college isn’t an affordable endeavor. Tuition, lodging, books, travel, and more unseen costs quickly add up, and tacking an expensive new laptop onto the rising costs isn’t always possible.
Luckily, there are plenty of great laptops for college students below $1,000. You might even be able to find a college laptop under $500 that can get the job done, especially if your student isn’t yet getting into a specific area of study.
The ASUS VivoBook 15 does a lot right and qualifies as one of the best college laptops under $500. If you have a bit more money to spend, something like the XPG Xenia 14 or HP Pavilion Aero are some of the best college laptops under $1,000.
The XPG Xenia 14 is one of the most surprising laptops I reviewed last year. It’s not completely unique due to the fact that it’s using a reference design chassis, but that doesn’t subtract from its qualities. It’s one of the lightest laptops I’ve ever used, weighing in at 2.14 pounds (970g) and measuring just 0.6 inches (15mm) thin. Its magnesium alloy construction isn’t as durable as full metal, but I’ve had no problems carrying it around with me in a bag. It’s holding up well.
Typing is comfortable thanks to 1.3mm key travel, and the touchpad is absolutely enormous. It’s easy to sit down and work for long stretches of time on this laptop. Thunderbolt 4, dual USB-C 3.2 (Gen 2), two USB-A 3.0, HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm audio, and an SD card reader make it easy to operate without dongles. There’s even an SD card reader for removable storage. For added security, an IR camera sits above the display.
Performance is no slouch here despite the compact build. Intel’s 11th Gen Core CPUs can keep up with multitasking, and the PCIe 4.0 SSD is incredibly quick. Battery life should go for about 10 hours on a charge, too. If that wasn’t good enough, the 16:10 display has a 1920×1200 (FHD+) resolution, 98% sRGB color reproduction, and more than 350 nits brightness.
If you want to get the most out of your hard-earned money, the HP Pavilion Aero 13 is an impressive laptop with an even more impressive price tag. It starts at about $550, but you’d never guess the price by looking at it. It weighs in at just 2.2 pounds (0.99kg) with an all-metal chassis and sleek lines. In his Pavilion Aero 13 review, Executive Editor Daniel Rubino states that it’s “the best sub-$1,000 laptop you can buy right now.”
The keyboard is outstanding, and the touchpad makes good use of space below. Whereas some budget PCs skimp on camera and audio, here they’re both perfectly usable in a college environment. Performance is excellent thanks to AMD Ryzen 5000 mobile CPUs, as well as up to 16GB of RAM and up to a 512GB M.2 PCIe SSD. Integrated Radeon GPU power is a bit underwhelming, but at this price you shouldn’t expect to be playing too many intensive games.
HP didn’t cheap out on the screen either. The 13.3-inch display has a 16:10 aspect ratio with FHD+ or QHD+ resolutions available. Both have a matte finish to eliminate glare from overhead lights or sunny spaces, and there’s thin bezel for a modern look. How did HP make such a great laptop and price it so low? We don’t really know.
Buying a sub-$500 laptop isn’t easy, especially when it’s going to be used for schoolwork. You still need something reliable with a decent set of features to get you through the year. With all this in mind, the ASUS VivoBook 15 is one of the best college laptops under $500. It’s not going to compete with other, more expensive laptops in this roundup, but it has the fewest blind spots when compared to other sub-$500 competition.
I reviewed the ASUS VivoBook 15 late last year, stating, “With generous port selection, fingerprint reader, decent camera, comfy keyboard, and expected performance, the VivoBook 15 makes a strong case for itself in the sub-$500 market.” The display and audio aren’t overly impressive, and the SSD is slow, but the keyboard with number pad is comfortable thanks to 1.4mm key travel, there’s a fingerprint reader for added security, there are plenty of ports for connecting accessories, and the whole thing is fairly lightweight and compact.
The VivoBook 15 is available with either a 10th or 11th Gen Intel Core i3 CPU; the newer version adds some cost, but you might still be able to snag it for less than $500. These i3 chips aren’t going to beat any performance records, but they will be enough to handle general note taking and word processing, video streaming, and web browsing. If you need something super affordable and can live with slower performance, this laptop’s supporting features should make college life easier than a lot of what the competition can offer.
Best laptop for art students
Having the right performance hardware to handle required software, the right display to handle precise color and inking, and an overall high-end design will help you breeze through the college year as you head into art school. If there’s one laptop that immediately comes to mind as ideal for art students, it’s the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio.
Not only does this laptop check all the above boxes, it also has a custom design that allows for the 120Hz display to fold forward and down to act as a sketching and drawing table with the Surface Slim Pen 2. If you’re headed to art school, this is definitely a laptop worth considering.
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Studio is a successor to the Surface Book, ideal for professional designers and creators, as well as the STREAMi (Science, Technology, Research, Engineering, Arts, Maths, innovation) sector. This includes college students who are heading in for an art degree.
In his Surface Laptop Studio review, Executive Editor Daniel Rubino said, “This design highlights the best of 2-in-1 PCs in an exquisitely premium package. It pushes boundaries with that high refresh 120Hz display and embraces haptics. The design is both unique, but also functional.” It brings modern ports, comfy keyboard, and one of the best touchpads in a PC today.
The Laptop Studio looks like a standard notebook laptop at first glance. It opens to a clamshell design, but it’s the first Surface product to use a “pull-it-forward” display. You can set the display up for “stage” mode, where the bottom of the screen comes forward to cover the keyboard. If you pull it forward again, it lies down flat at a slight angle to make for easy sketching and drawing.
The 14.4-inch touch display has a 2400×1600 resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate that makes inking feel natural. The Surface Slim Pen 2 has almost no latency at all, and there are haptics to simulate force feedback in supported apps. And with the 3:2 aspect ratio, it’s an ideal size for use as a tablet. Color accuracy hits 100% sRGB, 81% AdobeRGB, and 88% DCI-P3, with about 500 nits brightness. You also get Dolby Vision for supported content.
You can get the Surface Laptop Studio with up to an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-11370H CPU, 32GB of LPDDR4x RAM, NVIDIA RTX 3050 Ti or RTX A2000 discrete GPU, and 2TB of upgradeable M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD storage.
Buying the right college laptop for your student
It’s a fantastic time to be choosing a laptop for you or a loved one to take to college. The Windows hardware ecosystem has never been stronger, and whatever your specific needs or budget, there’s something to suit. Ultimately, the Lenovo Yoga 9i 14 (Gen 7) is the best of all worlds, and is the one we’d be packing in our own bag for general classes and dorm life.
Its convertible design, soundbar hinge, and high-end displays with Dolby Vision make it superb for watching TV and movies, while the 12th Gen Intel Core performance will make short work of studies. It can even be used to jot down notes and sketches thanks to the included active pen. It also just looks fantastic and it’s easy to use on a daily basis.
Any of the alternatives are also great buys depending on what you’re looking for, and there has never been a better time to be buying a laptop to spend the next few years doing important work on. Or to help you relax a little after class.