- This article originally appeared on iMore and has been inducted into our Back to School guide
With back to school 2023 in full swing, a lot of parents and college kids are considering investing in a MacBook for school. But, unless you have a big budget, that can be costly since these Apple devices, which are among the best laptops right now, sit on the premium side of the market. However, that doesn't mean that you can't find one within reach that meets your or your kid's needs.
If you're on a tight budget, the best MacBook to go for is the one that's already on sale. Luckily, with all the back to school sales going on, you'll have options, especially if an older model is not out of the question. If you have a little more flexibility in your budget, then it's all about choosing the right model that meets your demands and also taking advantage of Apple's Student Discount, which could save you up to $150/£130 plus freebies.
To narrow down your options, there are also some things you need to know before hitting that buy button. This way, you're getting the best value for your money. MacBooks can be very expensive, but there are ways to get a quality Apple machine without breaking the bank.
Read on to figure out the best machine for you or your student and how to take advantage of things like student discounts to get the best value. Here are the 10 things you should know before you buy a MacBook for students.
Decide on a screen size first and portability
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Apple has two laptop lines, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Each product line is somewhat distinct for offering different screen sizes. Your first decision should be to decide on the screen size you want.
If you want a 13.3-inch model, you'll have to decide whether to get a MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro or a 14-inch MacBook Pro based on other specifications. Need one with a bigger display? The Air line has a new 15-inch MacBook Air that released this year while the Pro line has a 16-inch display on offer.
Along with screen size, be aware of the weight of the machine and how that could affect portability. All of today's MacBook models are lighter than past models. However, some remain heavier than the others. Especially for those on a large campus, there's a big difference in carrying a 2.8 pound MacBook Air 13-inch and 3.5 pound 14-inch MacBook Pro.
Buy as much processor speed as you can afford
Apple doesn't allow you to swap out parts on any of the current MacBook models. The good news is that Apple's M1 and M2 SoC are incredibly capable. Even the M1 chips will see most students through their schoolwork and projects without breaking a sweat, despite being older.
With this in mind, zero in on what you can afford and go with it, starting with the processor speed. Expect to pay around $200 more as you move up to a better processor. However, don't go overboard.
If you're only purchasing a new laptop to take notes and write reports, save yourself some money and purchase less. Conversely, if you're planning on doing creative work using an Adobe product or something like Final Cut Pro, go with a more powerful processor.
Same goes for RAM
Deciding how much computer memory to buy is also crucial. Random access memory, or RAM, is your system's short-term data storage. The larger the RAM, the quicker your computer can access data. Additionally, the more programs your system is running, the more memory you'll need.
Again, Apple doesn't let you change RAM on MacBooks after purchase, so you'll want to choose wisely.
How about storage?
With the advent of cloud-based computing, the amount of onboard storage on computers isn't nearly as significant as it was just a few years ago. With this in mind, I recommend not purchasing the minimum storage that's available on any given MacBook. That number, which currently stands at 256GB for the MacBook Air, probably isn't enough for most people over the long-term. Conversely, having over 1TB of storage on a laptop is perhaps too much for most folks.
Consider a portable hard drive
You should back up your MacBook regularly using the built-in Time Machine feature. For this, you should invest in an external storage. These come in various sizes and price points with many of the best portable SSDs often being on sale.
Get a case
MacBooks are beautiful devices. Unfortunately, they are also fragile. To protect your investment, be sure to purchase a case or bag.
Do buy AppleCare+
Buying a MacBook isn't cheap; replacing parts without a warranty is also expensive. Each Apple laptop comes with one year of hardware repair coverage. I recommend purchasing AppleCare+ to extend that coverage to three years. You can buy your coverage at the time of purchase or at any time during the first year.
Yes, education pricing is available
Year-round Apple provides discounts to qualifying higher-education students, parents purchasing on behalf of higher-education students, and faculty and staff at higher-education and K-12 institutions. In the lead-up to new school years throughout the world, Cupertino typically adds extra incentives to convince you to buy through them.
Promotions are available through Apple's online store, retail stores, and authorized campus stores.
But check Amazon, too
After years of bickering, Amazon and Apple began playing nice with one another at the end of 2018. Since then, Amazon has fast become one of the most popular places online to purchase Apple products, including a full line-up of current and past MacBook models.
Amazon has been aggressive when it comes to discounting Apple products. However, don't expect to see huge discounts on current models. Instead, the largest deals can be found on new past models, which are always marked as previous model.
At the time of this writing, for example, you should expect to pay hundreds of dollars less on an older MacBook than its original retail price. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide whether the older model has the specs that you need. Typically, however, Apple only offers minor hardware changes between products year-to-year.
A word of caution: Be on the lookout from Apple products on Amazon marked Renewed. These products are not new.
According to Amazon:
- "Renewed products work and look like new. These pre-owned products are not Apple certified but have been inspected and tested by Amazon-qualified suppliers. Box and accessories may be generic. All Renewed products come with the 90-day Amazon Renewed Guarantee."
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Bryan M. Wolfe is a staff writer at TechRadar, iMore, and wherever Future can use him. Though his passion is Apple-based products, he doesn't have a problem using Windows and Android. Bryan's a single father of a 15-year-old daughter and a puppy, Isabelle. Thanks for reading!
- Michelle Rae UyComputing Reviews and Buying Guides Editor