We don’t want to ignite a Mac vs. PC debate. Answering if you really need a MacBook for college and which one you should choose—if that’s a yes—can save you hundreds of dollars. Let’s put brand aside and focus on the hardware and software without getting too technical.

Why would it be a good choice for students to get a MacBook? Is there a better way to afford it? We have covered these doubts and added our personal experience in this article so you make the best-informed decision.

Is getting a MacBook a good idea for the average student?

Apple is in a good place amongst the market and demographic of college students. I bought my MacBook pro for $1256 with a $150 BestBuy student discount when I was joining college at the time. I had to buy a Microsoft Surface Pro, which I think was around $400. Obviously, it’s a huge price difference, but I had just gotten my financial aid check and had money to spend.

Many college students want a MacBook, and many currently own one. The main reasons are that the software is responsive and smooth, the laptop has good storage capacity, it offers an epic battery life, and its durability is just over the top.

You can carry it around campus all day long without charging it time and again, which is basically what many are looking for in a laptop for school. In addition, it can fit into your backpack due to its thin and portable design.

MacBook on a table with a book

In order to get the Mac experience for college, you don’t always need to shell out over $1000 for it. Another great way of being part of this flagship is buying a refurbished MacBook, which is as good as its counterpart, fresh from a store at a discounted price (sometimes more than half of the price).

In short: yes, it’s a good idea to own a MacBook for student life. Being the 13-inch MacBook Pro, a MacBook Air, or any other model, you are covered with Apple’s laptop for years to come. The investment is worth it.

What to look out for to find the best MacBook for college

The process of choosing the best MacBook for college can be overwhelming. Have a look at the following highlights to help your decision-making process. After that, we will show you the most suitable refurbished models cheaper than factory-new ones—always with a warranty and in perfect working condition. Buying refurbished is the best way to save money when getting a student laptop for college.

  • Performance. An Apple MacBook is one of the best laptops you can find if you’re looking to get the most power in a portable package. For example, a MacBook Pro can run on Intel processors but also on the newest and most powerful M1 and M2 chips.
  • Battery life. Every student needs a laptop they can carry around campus most of the time without having to recharge. The MacBook can last up to fourteen hours on a charge, even while in use. It lasts six hours longer than the average portable laptop. The long-lasting battery makes them excellent laptops for college students.
  • Touch ID. The new ranges of MacBooks come with Touch ID. For instance, a MacBook Air has a fantastic Touch ID feature that includes a small sensor enabling you to protect your documents and settings. This is especially important when using the Mac in public spaces.
  • Display. Newer MacBooks have a Retina display and True Tone. You will most certainly use your Mac for countless hours, so it’s always better to benefit from a high-quality display and adapt your laptop’s screen colors to your surroundings. If you use it for graphic design, this becomes even more important.
  • Size and weight. You can choose between a wide range of sizes, and the weight is equally important to carry it around. If you want to prioritize portability, we recommend you go for the MacBook Air 13.3″. Conversely, if you need all the extra power a laptop can offer, you can choose bigger M1-based Macs.
  • Operating system. Since the macOS 13 Ventura announcement, it’s important to know if your new MacBook will be compatible with Apple’s latest operating system. Luckily, macOS 13 runs on MacBooks released more than five years ago. If you want to exclusively go for the cheapest MacBook for college, consider the compatibility of macOS 13 to be able to use the latest apps and receive the most recent security updates.

The 4 best MacBooks for college and education

The best MacBook for students highly depends on individual needs and frequently on budget. Here are four great choices you can consider.

1. MacBook Air 13″ M1 (2020)

The most popular MacBook for college

It’s no surprise that the M1-powered MacBook Air 13″ of 2020 is regarded as one of the best laptops for college students. Its 13.3-inch Retina display and its compact size make it perfect for students who want a more affordable MacBook for college without sacrificing significant power and speed. It also includes a Touch Bar.

Since the MacBook Air M2 of 2022 might be expensive, the M1 version could be an excellent choice to save money.

Pros

  • Compact design
  • Powerful and fast
  • Silent and without fans

Cons

  • The screen quality could be better
  • It only has two USB-C ports

Compare and purchase all refurbished MacBook Air 13″ M1 (2020) models here:

2. MacBook Pro 14″ (2021)

The best premium MacBook for college

The 14-inch MacBook Pro is more pricey than the MacBook Air. However, it offers a superb performance that the MacBook Air can’t match, especially for demanding tasks. Its larger size is helpful for graphic designers who use an Apple Pencil, and its long-lasting battery life offers ease of mind to carry it around without having to recharge every now and then.

Don’t also forget to read the pros and cons of owning a refurbished MacBook Pro if you’re inclined to buy it.

Pros

  • Over-the-top performance
  • Excellent screen quality

Cons

  • It can be expensive
  • The display notch is not for everyone

Compare and purchase all refurbished MacBook Air 14″ M1 (2021) models here:

3. MacBook Pro 16″ (2021)

The best large MacBook for college

Some students may need a larger screen for studying, such as graphic designers or programmers, being the main difference between 14-inch and 16-inch models of the same year. The 16-inch MacBook Pro also has more hours of battery life compared to the 14-inch equivalent. All in all, you’ll be sacrificing some portability, and it’s also more expensive.

Pros

  • Hard-to-beat performance
  • Large screen

Cons

  • Costlier than the 14-inch model
  • Not the most portable laptop out there

Compare and purchase all refurbished MacBook Pro 16″ (2021) models here:

4. MacBook Air 13″ (2019)

The best value for money 

If you want a MacBook for basic usage in college, there are plenty of them to choose from. We recommend getting a MacBook that is at least compatible with the most recent macOS 13 Ventura, portable, and still with a good performance. The MacBook Air 13.3″ of 2019 can be a perfect candidate, and you’ll save tons if you only need it for basic tasks.

Pros

  • Compatible with macOS 13 Ventura
  • Compact, thin, and portable
  • Low cost

Cons

  • 10 hours of battery life
  • It can struggle with the most demanding tasks

Compare and purchase all refurbished MacBook Pro 16″ (2021) models here:

How to save the most money getting a MacBook for college

As we’ve seen, some models seem to be an excellent choice for specific student profiles. Depending on which model you want to buy, the price range for a new MacBook can be at least $1000. For a college student, affording these expensive models can be difficult.

Apple gives student discounts which can help you out a little. You can get up to 20% off AppleCare+ and a gift card up to $150. However, the education pricing may not be enough. The most affordable option is to buy a refurbished MacBook, which gives you all the same benefits a new MacBook would provide with significant discounts.

Certified refurbished products always include a warranty, as is the case with the Apple Certified Refurbished program, where the company sells its own refurbished devices in the Apple Store that are hard to distinguish from factory-new items.

Why I generally recommend a MacBook

So, there is a big reason I love my MacBook: it’s never broken down on me. OK, not never, but the one time it did was when I spilled water onto and into the keyboard, frying it. And you know what? A day later, it recovered and started working as it normally did. Aside from that, no other problems. Moreover, when I hear about friends of mine having computer problems, it’s never a Mac.

The MacBook isn’t just a laptop; it’s a notebook.

MacBook on a table with handwritten notes

Takeaway

Getting a MacBook for college is a great idea, and there are several options to choose from, from the popular MacBook Air 13″ M1 of 2020 to the powerful and large MacBook Pro 16″ of 2021. If budget is your priority, consider getting the MacBook Air of 2019 that’s still compatible with the latest macOS 13 Ventura.

Whatever your choice, Apple’s MacBooks are reliable, have high durability, their design is fantastic, their RAM usage is efficient, and they have far less more glitches and inconvenient automatic updates when you are in the middle of an important task.

Do you want to save money even by getting one of the most recent refurbished MacBooks? Head on to our platform, start comparing specs and prices and create price alerts for the exact model you are looking for. You can also compare student discounts between our certified refurbishers.

On RefurbMe, we list hundreds of refurbished models with the best prices available in the market. A refurbished model is in perfect working condition, has been examined thoroughly, and includes a professional warranty. The only difference is the price tag and that you can find discontinued models no longer available in stores.

Good luck at college!

MacBook for College FAQ

Should I choose a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro for college?

It depends on your usage. If you need to focus on performance and want longer battery life, go for the 14 or 16-inch MacBook Pro. If you don’t use the laptop for heavy software or demanding tasks, a MacBook Air can feel more portable and lighter for college, and the most recent models are fanless, which means they are more silent—especially important in quiet public places like a classroom.

Is the 16-inch MacBook Pro good for college?

Yes, they are suitable for almost anything you want to do with them, especially if they have the most recent Apple chips: the M1 or the M2. While it’s true that 16 inches can feel a bit big for carrying it around campus, you also benefit from a larger screen to work with. Keep in mind that, since it has a larger screen, the MacBook Pro 16″ has a shorter battery life than 13-inch or 14-inch models.

Why do students choose a MacBook instead of a cheaper laptop?

There are indeed many students using a MacBook at college. It’s also true that many of them don’t use Apple laptops and got brands like Surface, Lenovo, MSI, or HP. So, the explanation might be that MacBooks can stand out more from these brands for their sleek design to an observer.

Anyhow, students who choose to buy a MacBook for college know that they are a good investment in the long run, both for studying and working with it afterward. They are a reliable piece of technology with efficient hardware and RAM usage that can make your daily tasks feel smoother than in Windows. At the same time, it offers a rich and seamless integration between Apple devices thanks to its ecosystem.

Should I buy an iPad Pro instead of a MacBook to study?

An Apple MacBook will be more useful than an iPad Pro, even if this tablet offers superb performance. A laptop will offer a better keyboard than those you can get as an accessory for the iPad and will include a separate number pad which is helpful for math, finance, and similar tasks. In addition, not all websites are perfectly optimized for the iPad, and the performance of a laptop like a MacBook Pro is hard to match.