Back to School: College Computing Essentials

These days, a computer is an essential item for every college student. But with so many options out there, it's easy to go overboard and spend way too much on computer features and extras that you don't need.

Here are some things to consider and ways to keep your computing costs down:

Mac or PC?: We would never take sides in this debate. The good news is usually either one will work fine for most college students. Some programs do require a specific type of computer, though, so it's important to check on that before making your purchase. For example, many graphic design programs require a Mac.

Check your school's recommendations (and special deals):
Many schools have a section on their Web sites advising students about their computer needs. This may even be broken down according to specific majors. Also, check to see if your school offers any special discounts for major vendors – many schools do.  

Use school resources: Many schools now offer free or low-cost printing to students at on-campus computer centers, which can save you the cost of buying a printer. Computer labs often offer workstations with programs such as design software, which may spare you the expense of buying those pricey programs yourself.

Laptop or desktop?: Laptops tend to be more expensive and can get damaged or stolen more easily, but their portability and convenience are big advantages for college students. 

Bigger isn't necessarily better:
Students who will live on campus must keep space limitations in mind. "I would suggest a monitor no larger than 17 inches," says Jonathan Lucia, director of residence life at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama. Not only do big computers take up too much room, Lucia points out that most residence hall furniture has surfaces that would not support anything larger and heavier than that.