Sure, you made it through college just fine without a computer. But times have changed and a computer is practically a necessity for all college students these days.
This year, the U.S. Department of Education estimates nearly 18 million students will enroll in American colleges and universities. And a new national survey of 2,200 college students, commissioned by Circuit City Stores, Inc., found that almost 62 percent of U.S. colleges and universities now require or recommend that students own computers, and almost 98 percent of respondents said they use a computer everyday while at college.
The Circuit City survey also found that nearly 90 percent of students said having their own computers helped them earn better grades.
With all signs pointing toward the need for computers for college students, the Better Business Bureau offers the following advice to help you find the best computer options for your college-bound child.
Talk to the college first.Before you do anything, ask the school about their network requirements and for any other recommendations they might have. Many schools have installed wireless networks that let students move around the library, dorms, or even outside, and still remain connected to the network. If you plan on getting a laptop, the BBB advises purchasing the wireless interface recommended by the school. Standards for wireless networks exist, but they vary, and interoperability can be a problem between different systems. Some colleges make it easy and post their system recommendations on their Web site.
Laptop or desktop? The best thing about a laptop is its portability. It can go with your child to the library, to class, or to the local coffee shop for a study session. Unfortunately, a laptop can cost more than a desktop computer. And if your child is prone to losing things, a laptop is much more likely to be misplaced or potentially stolen. A desktop computer, though bulkier and not transportable, is easier to upgrade and modify. However, the Circuit City survey found that eight out of ten students said they would choose a notebook computer over a desktop model.
PC or Mac? By now, most colleges are equipped to handle both PCs and Macs. The best advice is to go with what you know. If your child is already comfortable with a PC then go with a PC.
Make the computer fit the major. If your child has already selected a major you’ll want to make sure the computer is a good fit. While English majors may only need a basic computer to run Microsoft Word, an engineer-in-the-making might need more memory and a faster processor for running advanced, specialized programs. You’ll want to check with the specific department for advice on both software and hardware.
Bargain hunt. As with any big-ticket item, you’ll want to do your research to find the best deal. Many stores and companies offer discounts specifically for students and might throw in freebies like an iPod or printer. You’ll also want see if the college has partnered with any computer companies and can offer you a deal.
Don’t forget the extras. Of course, you could stop right there after buying the computer, but your student might also need a printer, a webcam, a wireless mouse, a digital camera or a thumb drive for easily moving files. The possibilities to spend more money are endless. Just don’t forget to buy anti-virus software.
For additional sound advice you can trust on how to be a savvy consumer, go to www.bbb.org.