Is your child heading off to college soon? They’ve undoubtedly been using a computer throughout high school, though now is a good time to look at getting them a new one, especially if theirs is old or unreliable, is shared with other family members, or was a school loaner. If you haven’t been keeping up with Apple’s Mac lineup, you might be unsure which model is the best choice.

First, check with the college before buying. Although this is less common than in the past, some college departments have specific requirements based on the software students use in their classes. Generally, these revolve around processor type, amount of RAM, and storage space. Current Macs should meet or exceed all those requirements. More problematic is if the college requires a Windows machine; if that’s the case, see if the requirement is based on specific Windows-only software needs or is just a general desire on the part of the IT staff to maintain a homogeneous support environment. Second, see if the college provides access to educational pricing—most will—to save a few hundred dollars off the prices listed below. Regardless, Apple often has a Back to School offer.

Aim for a laptop over a desktop Mac. Students lead nomadic lives and need to get work done in multiple places on campus, so having to head back to the dorm to use an iMac or Mac mini will be limiting. Plus, they often need to work during breaks, so they need a Mac that’s easy to bring home. A student accustomed to taking notes on an iPad with a keyboard and Apple Pencil might be able to use that in conjunction with a desktop Mac, but most students should get laptops.

In the past, deciding which model was best for a given student was more challenging, but Apple’s move to the speedy and power-efficient M-series chips makes the decision easier. We see three primary scenarios:

Regardless of which laptop you decide on, you’ll have to pick a processor, amount of memory, and storage capacity:

For most students, the best choice for a Mac likely to last across four years of college would be the 13-inch or 15-inch M3 MacBook Air with a 10-core GPU, 16 GB of memory, and 512 GB of storage. Although the 15-inch size has a larger screen, it’s also heavier and takes up more space in a backpack, so consider portability when making your final choice. Be sure to budget for AppleCare+, too; it’s almost guaranteed that some mishap will befall a student laptop, and AppleCare+ covers up to two incidents of accidental damage every year.

We recommend having conversations with your child to find out what they think they’ll need—and be sure to compare against the college’s recommendations—but if you have any questions after that, feel free to contact us.

(Featured image based on an original by Apple)


Social Media: Which Mac is best for a college student in 2024? Our short answer is either the 13-inch or 15-inch M3 MacBook Air, although students with significant processing needs (like audio or video editing) might consider the 14-inch MacBook Pro.