Are you about to start your online college career? Did you know that many online college programs offer either free or deeply discounted laptops to their students? And others provide free iPads to those enrolled in their programs!
It goes without saying that you will need to have a reliable computing device throughout your years of study so that you can access lectures, learning management systems, word processing software, and more. Online colleges have become quite savvy about this and have started to create lists of “minimum requirements” that students’ computers must have in order for them to be involved in their programs. (*See below for an example). In addition, many of these Web-based degree programs have started to offer to send their new students a device that matches these computing requirements to make sure that the technology barrier is not one that prevents them from completing their education.
What’s the Catch?
Like every promise of a “free lunch”, or in this case, a “free laptop”, there are some strings and stipulations attached. The bottom line is that you can’t just sign up with an online program for a few weeks to score a free laptop. You must remain in the program, and graduate from it in order to be granted full ownership of your laptop with most schools. And while most online colleges with student laptop programs allow their alums to keep their laptops upon graduation, other schools such as Wake Forest University ask for them to be returned. One good way to think about this is that you will have a brand new laptop to use while you’re enrolled in school, after which time the life of the laptop will probably be nearing its end and you would want to purchase a new one anyway.
Is it Completely Free?
Yes. And maybe not. Be sure to read the fine print and consider all the factors involved. If the program promises a free laptop, then yes, you will receive it for free, however many schools that offer laptop programs are actually only offering steep discounts for students to purchase devices through their programs. And others do offer free laptops, but charge more in tuition to make up for it, so be sure to do a final comparison of the total costs involved before choosing.
Which Online Schools Are Offering Free Laptops?
There are many online colleges that are offering new students the opportunity for a free or low cost laptop. But as previously mentioned, there may be certain caveats involved. Here’s a segmented list of programs with laptop programs and their respective conditions for obtaining the devices.
Free laptops that may be kept after graduation
- Bethel University (Google Chromebook)
- Independence University Online
- Seton Hill University
- St. John’s University (choice of 3 laptops)
- Stevens-Henager College
Free laptops that must be returned upon graduation
Deeply discounted laptops that students will own
Note: Even if your online college is not listed here, most colleges and universities do offer some sort of discount for students to purchase both hardware and software that they will need during their course of study. Search their website for “computers” or “laptops”, or contact their student services department to find out if you have discounts available.
- Azusa Pacific
- Drexel University
- Full Sail University
- Liberty University Online
- Purdue University
- Southern New Hampshire University
- Villanova University
Online Colleges that Offer Free iPads
The emerging trend seems to be to offer new/incoming students an iPad, rather than a laptop at many online universities, and also universities which have online programs as well as on-campus ones. Here’s the current list of colleges offering iPads to students:
How to Choose a Quality Laptop for Back to School
If your online school of choice does not currently offer a free laptop or iPad initiative, fear not. There are many low cost options out there for a quality back-to-school device. Before you start shopping, however, it’s recommended that you locate your school’s minimum computing requirements (*see example below) so that you’re sure to purchase a machine that meets them.
- 5 budget laptops for college students: We name the best – This is an excellent article from the writers at PC World. It rates and reviews 5 low cost laptop devices, outlines pros and cons, provides images, etc.
- The Best Laptops for College Students – This article by PCMag offers a quickly scannable matrix of 10 recommended laptops that would be excellent for student use featuring a list of specs, price, and review information.
- 8 Laptop Buying Tips for Students – The writers at Laptop magazine provide an article packed with great advice for purchasing a device suitable for back to school.
- Best laptops for students: 10 we recommend – TechRadar rates and reviews ten machines that are low cost yet powerful enough to handle students’ computing needs in this article.
- The best back-to-school laptops – ZDNet, an authoritative technology review source, recommends 10 affordable laptop machines for students.
- 10 Best Back-to-School Laptops – The folks at the popular Mashable blog compiled a list of 10 student laptop devices that they recommend.
- Engadget’s back to school guide 2013: laptops – The Engadget blog has suggestions for students who are in the market for a new laptop ranging from low to very high cost.
Making the Choice: Laptops vs. Tablets
If you’re wondering whether to spend your back-to-school money on a laptop purchase, or go with the ultra-mobile tablet device instead, there’s a lot to consider. Not only will you need too consider the minimum requirements of your school, but also, you’ll want to think about what type of program you’ll be joining. If you’ll be studying any sort of graphic design, film making, or any course of study that would necessitate the creation of videos or major image creation/editing, you would want to go the way of the laptop. If you’ll be using this device mainly for accessing your files on the go, taking notes in class, and light schoolwork, you may choose the lighter, more mobile tablet. But for those who are still undecided and want to gain a clear picture of all of the pros and cons, here are several resources that discuss the issue:
- Laptop Vs Tablet: Two educators in the trenches duke it out. (Scholastic)
- Laptop vs. tablet: which is better to take with you to school? (Yahoo News)
- 10 Back-to-School Laptop Buying Tips (CIO Magazine)
- Tablets Vs. Laptops: Questions to Consider(Lenovo)
- Back to School tech: Laptop vs. tablet(Guelph Mercury)
- Should I buy a laptop or an iPad? iPad vs laptop(Tech Advisor)
- Should You Get Your Child an iPad or Laptop for School?(Mashable)
Example Minimum Computing Requirements
*These example requirements were taken from Kaplan University’s website here.
To enroll in classes online, you must have access to a computer with the following minimum requirements:
- A PC running a Microsoft Windows Operating System (XP, Vista, or Windows 7; please note, release candidate versions are not supported) or Mac OS X with the operating system’s minimum requirements for processor, memory, and hard drive (See the Microsoft or Apple website for minimum requirements)†
- At least 10.0 GB of free hard-drive space (additional space may be needed for multimedia files)
- 1024 x 768 monitor with a 16-bit or greater video card (24-bit preferred)
- DVD-ROM drive or CD-ROM drive
- Sound card with speakers and microphone (for selected courses)
- A Microsoft Windows® Operating System (XP, Vista, or Windows 7; please note, release candidate versions are not supported) or Mac OS X
- Microsoft Office 2007 or a more recent version of the Microsoft Office software suite; students also have the option of accessing Microsoft Office web applications through KU Campus§
- A current antivirus and antispyware application that is updated regularly
- Internet Explorer 8.0 or a more recent version, or Firefox 5.0 or a more recent version
- Adobe® Reader® 8.0 or a more recent version (free download)
- Adobe® Flash Player 9.0 or a more recent version (free download)
- Sun Java 2 SDK (Java 1.5) or a more recent version for PC (free download)
- Classic Java (MRJ 2.2.5) or a more recent version for Mac (free download)
- An Internet service provider (ISP)
- A dedicated, reliable 128 Kbps or faster Internet connection