Best laptops for college in February 2024: Student laptops for every budget and major

Picking the best laptop for college is a critical choice, as it will be one of the most vital tools for a student. No matter the college major, a laptop can help you ace your exams and classwork, and then let you unwind by watching streaming content or maybe playing some games. Now depending on your course of study, the exact needs will differ, but even after narrowing that down finding the best college laptop can feel like extra homework. 

We're over halfway through the school year and whether you are scouting ahead earlier for the 2024-2025 school year or you need to upgrade right now, our continuously updated list of the best college laptops is just the resource you need. 

What are the key things to look for when buying a laptop for college? Make sure it has long battery life and fast CPU performance. A thin-and-light won't cut it for every major, but even if you need a more powerful laptop we'll try to avoid weighing you down too much. And if you prefer to take notes by hand, a 2-in-1 laptop gives a blended laptop and tablet experience.

Without further ado, here are the best laptops for college, including one college laptop under $500 to make sure you can still make your tuition payments.

The Quick List

Got to get to class? Here's a quick rundown of our picks for the best laptops for college, follow the links to the full review if you want to know more about one.

Best college laptop overall

M2 MacBook Air

(Image credit: Future)
The best college laptop for most people

Specifications

CPU: Apple M2
GPU: Apple M2 GPU
RAM: 8 GB
Storage: 1TB SSD
Display: 13-inch, 1664p
Size: 12 x 8.5 x 0.4 inches
Weight: 2.7 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Elegant redesign
+
Good performance
+
Excellent battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Only two ports
-
SSD somewhat slower than M1 Air

The MacBook Air M2 is the best college laptop for most people in 2024. Starting at $1,099, but often available for under $1,000, the outstanding keyboard, excellent performance, and remarkable endurance tick all the boxes for college laptop shoppers.

To be exact, the MacBook Air M2 lasted 14 hours and 6 minutes in our battery life test, combine that with its typical discounted pricing and it gives college students the most bang for their buck.

Why buy the MacBook Air instead of the Pro? If you need more sustained performance or longer battery life, then by all means the MacBook Pro 14 M3 is an excellent option that you'll spot a little further down this list. The main tradeoffs are weight and of course the higher starting price at around $1,500.

As long as macOS isn't a dealbreaker for you, the MacBook Air M2 is the best college laptop for most people, and if you need a little more screen real estate you can always check out the MacBook Air 15 M2.

See our full Apple MacBook Air M2 review.

Best college laptop under $1,000

Asus Zenbook 14 OLED UM3402Y review: Beauty and brains with all-day endurance.

(Image credit: Future)
The best college laptop under $1,000

Specifications

CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 7730U
GPU: AMD Radeon Graphics
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 512GB PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe M.2 SSD
Display Size: 14-inch, OLED 2.8K
Size: 12.35 x 8.7 x 0.67 inches
Weight: 3.06 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Stunning, colorful 14-inch OLED display
+
Excellent audio
+
Lightweight
+
Battery life
+
Sturdy, gorgeous design

Reasons to avoid

-
Fingerprint collector

The Asus Zenbook 14 OLED (UM3402), packed with an AMD Ryzen 7 7730U CPU, blew us out of the water with over 11 hours of battery life, solid performance, an attractive design, a sharp 2.8K OLED touchscreen, all at a palatable price tag. This is one of those rare laptops that ticks just about every box that you are going to care about.

If you aren't a macOS fan this is easily the best laptop for college under $1,000 and if your laptop doubles as a content consumption device this obliterates any of the MacBook Air models. If you are an engineering student or doing any content creation this laptop may come up a little short on power, but if some presentations and papers are the heaviest lifting your laptop will do in college this has you covered.

See our full Asus Zenbook 14 OLED (UM3402) review.

Best laptop for college under $500

Acer Chromebook Spin 714 review

(Image credit: Future)
The best laptop for college under $500

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i3-1315U
GPU: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics
RAM: 8GB
Storage: 128GB eMMC
Display: 14-inch 1920 x 1080 touchscreen
Size: 12.4 x 9 x 0.8 inches
Weight: 3.6 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Speedy AI-infused performance
+
Great keyboard
+
Excellent design
+
Sturdy hinges

Reasons to avoid

-
Display could be brighter
-
Could be lighter

The best college laptop won't do you much good if you can't pay for tuition, so if you're a bachelor of arts student that needs to keep things affordable, look no further than the sub-$500 Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus. While memorizing that long name may feel like an assignment, you'll appreciate everything it has to offer for typically less than $400.

As long as you don't need any specific Windows software for your major, Chrome OS is going to handle everything you need to do without a problem. While you may remember underpowered Chromebooks from grade school or middle school, times have changed and the Flex 5i benefits from an AI-infused Intel Core i3-1315U chipset that will keep your productivity tasks running smoothly.

As the name suggests, the Flex 5i is a 2-in-1 laptop, which makes it perfect for streaming content, whether it's lectures or Netflix, in tent or presentation mode. The 14-inch OLED touchscreen display could be brighter, but our reviewer found binge-watching content on it to be a great experience.

We found the keyboard to be "clicky, super responsive, with excellent bounciness" in our testing and while you can of course fall back on the touchscreen, the touchpad is spacious and accurate as well. Speaking of that touchscreen you can also run Android apps if there's something that Chrome OS can't handle natively.

For around $400 the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus is an easy recommendation for budget-conscious college students.

See our full Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook Plus review.

Best long-lasting college laptop

MacBook Pro 14-inch M3 in silver open on a reflective black desk with the lid facing you

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)
Best long-lasting college laptop

Specifications

CPU: M3
GPU: M3 (integrated)
RAM: 8GB/16GB/24GB
Storage: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Display: 14.2-inch, 3024 x 1964 pixels
Size: 12.3 x 8.7 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 3.4 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent overall performance
+
Incredible endurance
+
Solid gaming performance
+
Stunning design
+
Comfortable keyboard

Reasons to avoid

-
No Face ID
-
Distracting notch

The MacBook Pro 14 M3 finally brings the updated Apple design to the most affordable "Pro" MacBook, starting at $1,599. That antiquated design was the one thing holding back a recommendation for the MacBook Pro 13 in 2023, so now you get all of the outstanding performance and battery life without sacrificing those new ports and superior display.

The MacBook Pro 14 M3 powerful enough to handle virtually any course load including software engineering and other computing intensive majors. Best of all, returning to the specific category we are talking about here, despite all that power it still crushes it when it comes to battery life with an incredible 17 hours and 16 minutes on our battery test, which simulates real-world usage.

If you have any remote courses the upgraded 1080p webcam is also vastly superior to the 720p camera in its predecessor. The comfy keyboard and actual gaming performance for one of the first times on a MacBook are the icing on the cake.

The MacBook Pro 14 M3 finally gives us a better entry point into the modern MacBook Pro design at a more palatable price. If the MacBook Air M2 just can't quite cut it for you, this is the clear upgrade option and one of the longest lasting laptops on the market. If you really need to "Max" things out the MacBook Pro 16 (M3 Max, 2023) does outlast the Pro 14 by about 40 minutes, but at $3,499 it's Ivy League pricing that you can skip unless you need the added performance too.

See our MacBook Pro (14-inch, M3, 2023) review

Best 2-in-1 laptop for college

Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 8 on a desktop

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)
Best 2-in-1 laptop for college

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i7-1360P
GPU: Intel Iris Xe
RAM: 16 GB
Storage: 512 GB SSD
Display: 14-inch, OLED, 2880 x 1880-pixel touchscreen at 90Hz
Size: 12.5 x 9.1 x .6 inches
Weight: 3.1 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Breathtaking 2.8K OLED display
+
Great productivity performance
+
Blisteringly fast SSD
+
Loud and impactful audio
+
Decent battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Display could be brighter

The Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 8 this year is back with a vengeance this year delivering one of the best 2-in-1 laptops we've had the pleasure of using and unquestionably one of the most mesmerizing displays. Those would be strong qualifications already, but on top of that it gives you excellent performance, otherworldly SSD speeds, and over 10 hours of battery life. Lenovo earned an "A" for this one.

While it's not going to be able to keep pace with engineering or some computer science majors, the vast majority of college students would love to tote this little 3.1-pound powerhouse around campus. At around $1,500 it isn't exactly cheap, but it's worth the price of admission.

See our full Lenovo Yoga 9i (Gen 8) review

Best 17-inch college laptop

LG Gram 17 (2023)

(Image credit: Future)
The best 17-inch college laptop

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i7-1360P
GPU: Intel Iris Xe
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 1TB
Display: 17-inch, 2560 x 1600 pixels
Size: 14.9 x 10.1 x 0.7 inches
Weight: 3.2 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Great battery life
+
Extremely light for 17-inch laptop
+
Awesome surround-sound audio
+
Rival-beating color accuracy
+
Varied I/O options

Reasons to avoid

-
Fingerprint-attracting chassis
-
Quiet speakers

The LG Gram 17 earned our Editors' Choice badge and 4.5 out of 5 stars with our reviewer particularly blown reviewer by its lightweight design, excellent battery life, and gorgeous 17-inch display.

For college students that value color accuracy; whether you are doing graphic design, illustration, photo editing or video editing the LG Gram 17 is an outstanding choice. Even if your course of study doesn't need it, you are still going to love the big accurate display, the rich speakers, and if you are a casual gamer the RTX 3050 inside will let you dip your toe into anything but the most intense AAA titles.

If a big screen is important to you then there is no better college laptop than the LG Gram 17, it ticks that big screen box without making you regret it every time you have to carry your laptop in your bag thanks to its 3.2 pound weight.

See our LG Gram 17 2023 review

Best college laptop for engineering students

Lenovo Legion 5 Pro

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Momo Tabari)
The best college laptop for engineering students

Specifications

CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 7745HX
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070
RAM: 16GB of RAM
Storage: 1TB
Display: 6-inch, 2560 x 1600, IPS, 165Hz
Dimensions: 14.3 x 10.25 x 0.86-1.05
Weight: 5.5 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Exceptional performance
+
Decent color and brightness
+
Sturdy chassis and hinge
+
Perfect keyboard
+
Highly affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
Subpar battery life
-
Grainy webcam

The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro is among our favorite gaming laptops of 2023 and the same features that made it stand out there make it a fine choice for engineering students. The affordable price is a welcome start as a laptop with a dedicated GPU can climb north of $2,000 to $3,000 quickly, but the Legion 5 Pro is available for under $1,500.

Inside the Legion 5 Pro should tick the boxes for most engineering programs with an AMD Ryzen 7 7745HX CPU and an Nvidia RTX 4070 GPU. Are these the bleeding edge of performance? No, but they are plenty fast enough to handle any software or tasks that come your away. 

Sometimes affordable gaming laptops cheap out on other aspects of the laptop, but the Legion 5 Pro crushed a lot more than just the internal specs with an outstanding keyboard that our reviewer called her keyboard soulmate. It didn't skimp on the display either reaching 82.4% of the DCI-P3 color gamut and 319 nits of brightness. Those are unheard of marks for a gaming laptop at this price.

There are more beastly systems out there if you want to spend more or are close to graduation and looking to step up to something more professional, but for most engineering students the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro will get the job done and let you have fun gaming in your downtime.

See our full Lenovo Legion 5 Pro review.

How to choose the best college laptop

There are a number of factors students should consider before buying a laptop for college. 

The first is portability, which goes hand-in-hand with screen size. 13-inch and 14-inch laptops are popular among college students because they offer a good balance between screen real estate and portability. Ideally you'll stay below 3 pounds as well, although budget or more powerful systems may have you going higher.

Battery life is another key component of any good college laptop. If you plan to take the notebook to class or the library, don't count on there being an outlet!  Consider a laptop that gets at least 9 hours of battery life, which should be enough to get you through a couple of classes with enough juice to hit the library too.

When it comes to specs, we recommend buying a laptop with an Intel 13th Gen Core i5 CPU, AMD Ryzen 7000 series, or Apple M2. You should also look for at least 8GB of RAM (16GB if you can afford it) and a minimum of 256GB of storage. 

Don't be afraid to go with a Chromebook if you are looking to keep things affordable and don't have specific Windows or macOS software requirements. Chrome OS is completely capable of handling typical college laptop tasks and Chromebooks tend to be more affordable and require less support.

Other things that will help you punch up a successful report or research complex topics include a comfy keyboard and sensitive touchpad. And when it's time to relax, be sure to get a laptop with a vivid and bright display.

How we test college laptops

We put each laptop through extensive benchmark testing — both synthetic and real-world — before they end up in the hands of our reviewers. We evaluate each aspect of the laptop, including its performance, battery life, display, speakers and heat management.

In our benchmark testing, we use a Klein K10 colorimeter to detect the brightness and the sRGB and DCI-P3 color gamut of the laptop's display. For performance testing, we run the laptop through a gauntlet of benchmarks, including Geekbench 5.4 and 3DMark professional graphics tests. 

To determine real-world performance, we task the laptop to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution and to duplicate a 4.97GB multimedia file. Our real-world graphics test is the Sid Meier's Civilization VI: Gathering Storm benchmark with medium settings at 1080p and 4K resolution. 

We also run heat tests by playing a 15-minute full-screen video and measuring temperatures in different areas of the laptop. Last but not least, our battery test consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. For MacBooks and premium Windows 10 or Windows 11 laptops, a runtime of over 9 hours is considered a good result whereas gaming laptops and workstations that can stay powered for longer than 5 hours deserve praise. 

These tests are complemented with extensive hands-on testing from our reviewers who critique everything from the laptop's materials to the feel of its touchpad. 

Why Trust Laptop Mag

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.