Online Colleges That Offer Laptops

It’s almost impossible to get through college, particularly an online program, without your own computer. You can use a computer at a local library, but curriculums are now designed under the assumption that most students have a personal computer. Distance learners without one are at a stark disadvantage, as it’ll be harder for them to watch lectures, complete assignments and connect with classmates and professors.

Laptops are particularly convenient. They’re lightweight, portable and just as efficient as desktop models. In an online program, you’ll do the vast majority of your work online, and if you have a laptop, you’ll come to appreciate the convenience it affords. You’ll be able to study in coffee shops and in bookstores, with friends and when you’re on the road.

Quality laptops were once prohibitively expensive for most students, and they’re still not exactly cheap. Some online schools, however, help by offering free or subsidized laptops to their students. If you’re interested in pursuing an online degree, and are intrigued by the possibility of a discounted computer, be sure to take a look at the following schools.

Tablet and Laptop Programs

  • Rochester College: Freshman and transfer students are eligible for a free MacBook pro or iPad. In order to qualify, you must be enrolled as a fulltime student and have completed fewer than 30 credits. Upon graduation, students may keep the laptop or tablet, as the ownership and warranty will be registered in their name. Students who accept this offer are required to sign a program agreement stipulating that they must remain enrolled as a full-time student for six semesters. Students who sign the agreement and leave Rochester before completing six semesters will be required to pay the prorated cost of the device.
  • Seton Hill University: New full-time students at Seton Hill receive an iPad Mini, while first-year undergrads get a 13 inch MacBook Air. The iPad is eligible for upgrade after two years. Seton Hill technically owns the devices, but no restrictions are placed on its usage and students are gifted it upon graduation. The laptop has a 1.7GHz processor, 8Gb of RAM and a 256Gb hard drive, while the iPad contains 32Gb of storage. Seton Hill charges a $1000 technology fee in addition to regular tuition.

Laptop Only Programs

  • Centenary College: Part-time and full-time students at Centenary are eligible to receive a free Mac or PC laptop. Students must sign a laptop agreement, and they may be eligible to keep the laptop upon graduation. The cost of the laptop is covered by a technology fee built into the tuition – $325 for a PC and $475 for a Mac per semester. The PC laptop is a Toshiba Satellite C55 with a 15.6-inch screen, compared to the MacBook Pro’s 13.3-inches. Both laptops have 4Gb RAM, a 500Gb hard drive, DVD multi-drive, HDMI/VGA out ports, antivirus software and the 2013 version of MS Office Suite.
  • Wake Forest University: Incoming students are eligible to receive a free Lenovo ThinkPad Ultrabook with 8Gb RAM, 256Gb SSD, Windows 8.1 and Microsoft Office 365. The computer comes preloaded with all necessary programs and applications for classwork. Wake Forest owns the device, but students may purchase it from the school upon graduation for $300. Any damages up to $500 will be covered by the student. The school also offers an insurance policy to students that covers costly damage charges.
  • Full Sail University: This online college attracts students hoping to work in the entertainment and media industry. Each student receives a MacBook Pro loaded with the most popular software tools in the industry. Programs vary depending on your area of study but can include Adobe CC, Vectorworks, Final Cut Pro X, SynthEyes, ZBrush and Auralia. Full Sail charges a technology fee along with tuition, most of which covers the cost of the MacBook and software. Though this fee varies based on your degree program, undergraduates can expect to pay between $3,000 and $10,000 for their preloaded MacBook.
  • Northwest Missouri State University: Full-time students at NMSU receive a free laptop to use throughout the duration of their enrollment. The laptop is a 14-inch HP EliteBook 840 G1 configured with 4Gb RAM, 128Gb SSD, Windows 7 Pro and MS Office 2013. The replacement fee for a lost or damaged laptop is $1500.
  • Stevens-Henager College – Murray: Incoming students receive a free laptop to use throughout their time in school. Students who drop out or transfer must return the laptop, but graduates are allowed to keep theirs. All laptop fees are built into the tuition price.
  • College America: Students receive a laptop, the price of which is built into their tuition. The computer comes with all required programs and software pre-installed. Graduates are allowed to keep their device.

Tablet Only Programs

  • St. Mary’s University of Minnesota: Online graduate students at Saint Mary’s benefit from a mobile learning curriculum that has been curated for the iPad. The iPad comes with the St. Mary’s app, where students can collaborate on group projects, attend virtual office hours, organize coursework and read textbooks. iPad costs are structured into the tuition price.

There are a few important factors to consider before enrolling in a program offering a laptop: First, the cost of the laptop may be factored into your tuition and fees, so be sure to research your tuition breakdown to know what you’re paying for. Similar to scholarships, you may have to consistently satisfy academic benchmarks to meet the requirements set forth for free laptops. Some schools limit free or subsidized laptops to students in certain programs or majors, so make sure that your program offers one for you if you need it. Finally, check whether your program allows you to keep the computer upon graduation. Most will, but some require you to return the device.

Buying a laptop is a lot like buying a car: mistakes are expensive, and you’ll be happiest with your purchase if you value your needs above style points. If you’re planning to buy your own laptop, there are plenty of factors to take into account as you shop around. Below are a few important considerations:

  • Weight: If you’re going to be carrying your laptop around all day, you may want to consider purchasing a relatively light model. Be careful though: the lightest models on the market are either expensive or less robust than standard computers.
  • Battery life: A laptop with poor battery life isn’t too different from a desktop computer. It’s a paperweight without an outlet nearby, which defeats the purpose of portability. Try to buy a laptop with at least six hours of battery life.
  • Wireless functionality: Make sure your laptop has proper wireless abilities. That means dual band, 5GHz, 802.11a or 802.11ac capabilities.
  • Ram/processing: Today’s average laptops and tablets come with 4GB of ram on average. Storage space can come in an SSD (solid state drive) format, hard disk drives or from a cloud platform. 500GB will be more than enough for standard schoolwork, but if you’re planning on downloading music, movies or other multimedia, you should consider upgrading or purchasing an external drive for ample storage.
  • Platform: Your choice of operating system generally boils down to personal preference, as both Windows and Mac devices offer top quality performance and capabilities. Consider your specific needs with your computer, research both platforms and, if possible, try both systems yourself to see which one you like using.
  • Cost: A good laptop will cost about $500 before factoring in any add-ons. If you opt for larger storage, better screen resolution and stronger technical capabilities, you could pay upwards of $2000.

There are several laptop models to consider, and the price variation between them is just as diverse. Particularly if you have a small budget, it’s important to get the most bang for your buck. That’s not the same as buying a cheap computer: some inexpensive models run too slowly to function or break quickly, necessitating a replacement. Conversely, expensive laptops can sometimes be out of your budget, and may be subject to some of the same problems. Try to strike a balance between a cheap laptop with a short shelf life and a top-of-the-line model. You should also know that you can buy a laptop without paying the entire cost upfront.

Below, we’ve covered a few ways you can purchase a computer without bludgeoning your budget.

  • Leasing: Students can rent or lease a laptop until they’ve paid the full value of the device. These agreements are generally structured with interest and other fees, so be sure to read the fine print on any contract. Lease and rental companies such as Aarons, Rentex and Rent-a-Center offer many top models from leading brands. Keep in mind that pricey laptops are inadvisable for students with unpredictable incomes: if you can’t consistently afford your monthly payments, your laptop will be considerably more expensive in the long run as you absorb late fees and escalating interest rates.
  • Finance: Financing a laptop is similar to leasing, but it is credit-based and the interest rates are generally lower. This is an excellent option for young adults who wish to build valuable credit, but it carries similar risks to leasing in that missing payments will make your laptop exponentially more expensive in the long run. As always, be wary of any and all exorbitant convenience fees and hidden charges.
  • Student Financing: When you’re in college, you’ll be offered discounts on all sorts of products and services, including laptops. Major brands like Lenovo, Dell and Apple all offer student discounts, and some colleges negotiate exclusive discounts and deals on behalf of their students.
  • Direct Purchase from Online Seller: There are plenty of laptops available on the secondhand market, through eBay, Craigslist and other sources. Used laptops are more affordable than newer models, and you can get a great deal on secondhand models if you know where to look. When purchasing, make sure you do your homework: don’t buy a laptop sight unseen, and ask for references from prospective sellers. If it seems too good to be true…

Like any expensive purchase, laptops require maintenance and care to consistently perform at their peak over an extended period of time. If you don’t regularly update your software or keep your hard drive clear of any suspicious programs or viruses, your computer may have a short life. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your computer:

  • Warranties: Most laptop manufacturers bundle their products with a standard one year warranty. Since most students will use their laptop for two to four years, an extended warranty may prove useful. You can tailor warranty programs to cover theft and accidental damage, which most standard insurance plans do not protect. Depending on planned usage and potential concerns, a custom extended warranty may be your best option.
  • Data Backup: In the digital world, backups are vital. We have all heard horror stories about disappearing papers and deleted projects. You can avoid these by regularly backing up your data. It’s important to diversify your backup sources — use backups on an external hard drive, a USB, cloud storage and your internal hard drive, and the next time your computer inexplicably shuts down during crucial work, you’ll be able to fix it.
  • System Updates: Always update your operating system whenever prompted to. These updates are important in keeping your computer running optimally as they repair glitches, vulnerabilities and errors. Regardless of your preferred operating system, keeping your laptop upgraded and up-to-date is a must in order to get the most out of your product.
  • Cleaning: Your laptop will live in a case, carrying the dust, crumbs and gradoo from classrooms, cafes and wherever else you may take it. Do your best to keep your computer clean. Dust your keyboard with compressed air and brushes and wipe your screen to keep it looking vibrant. Remember to only use lint-free cloths and screen approved cleaning agents, as some household cleaners can leave streaks or damage your device.
  • Virus Protection: The first line of defense from your laptop’s most dangerous enemies comes from antivirus programs. These are absolutely necessary, as otherwise your computer can become saddled with destructive viruses and malware. Most new laptops come bundled with proprietary antivirus software, but these programs are often available for a limited time before they expire, and require costly subscriptions. To better understand your options for antivirus protections, read PCMag’s breakdown of 2015’s Best Antivirus software.