Most college students head off to college these days with a computer. Although a personal computer may not be absolutely necessary since most colleges have computer labs for student use, it is definitely a convenience to have your own computer.
There used to be arguments in favor of laptops and desktop computers, but we’re past that now. Laptops are the way to go for almost all students, and some even use just a tablet. Your student should think carefully about how they plan to use the computer. They should talk to other students who are planning to attend the school, as well as to students currently attending. The college may also have an official recommendation from its technology center.
Check with the college about specific requirements and/or recommendations for computer specifications. They know what has worked best in the past, and what they are able to support. Consider their suggestions carefully. Some colleges may have a plan that provides a discount on computers purchased through them. Your student should also investigate whether the college supports both Mac and Windows operating systems before they make a final choice.
In addition to the basic computer, there are a few things that your student may want to consider. Some accessories are definitely luxuries, and others may be closer to necessities. This will vary by individual, major, and institution. Something considered an essential for one student may be on the luxury scale for another. You may need to help your student think carefully about how they use, or may use, their computer at college. Here are a few things for your student to consider beyond the basic computer itself.
- Printer: Many students come to college without a printer. Students can usually print papers in a computer lab or library. Students may be charged a minimal fee for printing, or the costs of printing may be included in tuition. The downside of not having a printer, however, is that printers in labs or libraries sometime have problems — and those problems seem to occur just when the paper needs to be printed on the way to class. Public printers also often have several students waiting to use them. If your student chooses to use college printers, they will also need to be able either to send their document to the printer, access it in the cloud, or carry the document on a USB drive. Drives can be lost. With the cost of printers relatively reasonable, or sometimes even included with the purchase of the computer, your student may want to consider bringing one to school.
- USB drive: Your student may need a USB drive or flash drive to carry computer files with them. They may need to transport a document, or may need to take a PowerPoint presentation to class or to a group meeting. Students can often access documents from the cloud, but that will depend on consistent and reliable internet. A flash drive to back up important documents on the computer so a crucial paper or project won’t be lost is a good safety net.
- External drive: It may be an important investment for your student to have an external hard drive and to back up their computer regularly. Faculty members are not always entirely sympathetic to late papers when they hear ”My hard drive crashed.” More importantly, your student will not want to start a project over again from scratch because of a computer problem. They should also keep all assignments throughout their college career since they may need them later for various reasons such as putting together a portfolio to display their work. Regular back-ups on an external drive are crucial and a good back up even for documents saved in the cloud. Some colleges may offer students space on a common drive, so your student should also ask about that option.
- PowerPoint: Your student will almost certainly be required to do presentations in their college classes using PowerPoint or some other presentation format.
- Presentation Remote: This is a luxury item, but might be something to consider as a holiday or other occasion gift for your student. If your student finds they are doing many presentations (this may depend on your student’s major), having a presentation remote that allows them to move away from the podium or computer will give them many options.
- Computer lock: Your student might want to consider a good computer lock. This will help prevent theft. You might also remind your student to be sure to always lock their room door — even if they are only gone briefly.
- Special software: Depending on your student’s major or field of study, they may need specialty software. Your student can ask about this before they head to school, or they may want to wait to see what is truly necessary. If the software is expensive and your student has access to a computer lab, they may want to use the college software first to see whether they need to purchase it. There are often student discounts available on software packages.
If your student has questions once they arrive on campus, the campus computer center or technology center is a wonderful resource. They can answer questions and often help with minor repairs or problems. It is one of the places on campus that your student should locate early.
This list is certainly not intended to be either comprehensive or technical. It is intended to help you help your student think about their technology needs. It is important to remember, too, that your student may not need everything immediately. They may want to arrive at school with the basics and then see what they feel is missing. College bookstores are often well stocked, there are probably computer stores close by, and holidays will be arriving in a few months. As your student completes their work during the first few weeks, they can think about what is, or is not, working for their computer needs.