Best Mac for Students
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Best Mac for students overview
Students preparing to head back to school this fall or even embarking on a new college journey can benefit from having the right technology at their fingertips. Between desktop Macs, MacBook Pro laptops, and even iPads, choosing the perfect device for school can mean sorting through hundreds of different configurations.
AppleInsider is breaking down your list of options to find the best MacBook for students, whether you're a college student heading off to campus or the parent of a child in elementary school needing a budget-friendly Apple computer for remote learning. From the longest battery life to the lowest Apple prices on machines that offer best-in-class performance, we've got you covered.
Best performance laptop: 14-inch M2 MacBook Pro
The 14-inch MacBook Pro equipped with the M2 Pro or M2 Max chip is the best choice for class assignments that require a lot of power. Apple's 2023 update boosted performance for this model, making it ideal for students working on demanding projects like video editing. The M2 Pro offers impressive speed, memory, and graphics power with options for a 10-core or 12-core CPU and a 16-core or 19-core GPU. It features a Unified Memory system that reduces data duplication and a 16-core Neural Engine that's 40% faster than the previous M1 version.
For ultimate performance, the M2 Max models support up to 64GB of RAM, 400GB/s memory bandwidth, and options for a 10-core or 12-core CPU and a 16-core or 32-core GPU. The GPU in the M2 Max is 30% faster than the previous model.
Depending on what programs students will be running, they have several memory and graphics options available to them. For general use, the base 16GB of memory will be more than enough for most students and has the added benefit of saving them money. If a student plans on doing extensive video editing or 3D modeling, they can upgrade to either 32GB or 64GB of RAM for an additional cost.
For students in creative majors, such as digital arts and design, we suggest upgrading storage to at least 1TB, if not more. That assures that you won't be butting up against storage caps during finals week. For multi-device users, an iCloud account is recommended, especially for students who like to split between working on a MacBook Pro and their iPad or iPhone.
As always, it's suggested that prospective students speak to their academic advisors about what sort of computer may best suit their needs.
- Blistering fast performance
- Vibrant mini-LED display
- Up to 19 hours battery life
- Good port selection: MagSafe, three Thunderbolt 4/ USB-C ports, audio headphone jack, HDMI and SD Card reader
- Faster Wi-Fi 6E
- Notch in top display can be distracting
- No Face ID/ touchscreen
You can check out our 14-inch MacBook Pro Price Guide for the best deals on every configuration.
Best budget-friendly notebook: 13-inch M1 MacBook Air
The late 2020 M1 MacBook Air is an absolute steal for budget-conscious students, it starts at just $899 with Apple's student pricing. From researching and writing papers to creating presentations and even delving into some light photo or video editing, the M1 MacBook Air handles it all with finesse.
The base model comes with 256GB of storage, an 8-core CPU, and a 7-core GPU. The upgraded model starts with 512GB of storage, an 8-core GPU, and offers the option to expand storage to 1TB or 2TB. Both versions come with 8GB of memory and can be configured up to a maximum 16GB of RAM.
One of the major advantages of the M1 MacBook Air is its exceptional battery life. It can go the distance, lasting up to a whopping 20 hours on a single charge. No more scrambling to find an outlet during those long study sessions or lectures.
The 13.3-inch retina display will show your notes and videos in brilliant colors at a high 2560-by-1600 resolution, and because it weighs in at 2.8lbs, you can carry it around all day with ease. It's sleek, portable, and perfect for students who are always on the move.
The M1 chip also brings native support for iOS apps, meaning you can run apps meant for your iPhone or iPad directly on your laptop. All in all, the 13-inch M1 MacBook Air is a stellar choice for students who want top-notch performance without breaking the bank.
- Most powerful budget laptop option
- Exceptional battery life, up to 20 hours
- Lightweight and portable design
- Silent operation with no distracting fan noise
- Native support for iOS apps
- Brilliant Retina display
- Only two USB-C ports, which may require adapters or docks for some users
- Slightly slower performance speeds due to lack of fans
- No Touch Bar which some users find useful for productivity
You can check out our 13-inch M1 MacBook Air Price Guide for the best possible prices on this budget friendly option.
Best Portable Computer: 15-inch M2 MacBook Air
The 15-inch MacBook Air is a top-notch choice for students who value both portability and performance. This laptop is lightweight, weighing just over three pounds, and ultra slim at 0.45 inches, making it easy to carry around campus or to your favorite study spot. It's powered by the M2 chip, and the base model includes an 8-core CPU, and 8 or 10-core GPU with a 16-core Neural Engine, ensuring smooth performance for a variety of tasks.
The MacBook Air comes with a 15.3-inch Liquid Retina display, providing a vibrant and sharp viewing experience. The base model includes 8GB of unified memory and 256GB SSD storage, but it can be configured with 16GB or 24GB of memory and up to 2TB of storage to accommodate larger files and more demanding applications.
The MacBook Air has a long battery life, it can last up to 18 hours on a single charge. This means you can go through a whole day of classes, study sessions, and even some downtime without needing to recharge.
This laptop has a MagSafe charger, two USB-C/ Thunderbolt ports, and a headphone jack, and also includes Touch ID for secure and convenient login.
- Powerful M2 chip
- High-resolution Liquid Retina display and 1080p FaceTime camera
- Lightweight and slim design
- Long battery life
- Touch ID for secure login
- Higher price compared to other student-friendly laptops
- Non-upgradable storage and memory
- Lack of a touchscreen feature
You can compare prices across all configurations in our 15-inch MacBook Air Price Guide.
Best desktop Mac: 24-inch iMac
The portability and versatility of a MacBook may be desirable for many, but nothing beats a dedicated desktop setup. The 24-inch iMac with M1 processor not only has a great design that will pop out of any workstation, but it is also powerful too. Whether it's for coding, designing, video editing, or gaming, the M1 iMac can handle it all.
The base model comes with an 8-core CPU and a 7-core GPU, but by upgrading to an 8-core GPU you get more color choices and higher tier accessories.
Apple's updated design makes this a perfect desktop for students. The 24-inch 4.5K Retina display offers crisp, vibrant visuals with a wide color gamut. This makes it ideal for creative work, watching videos, or even just browsing the web. The high resolution also reduces eye strain during long study sessions.
The iMac comes with two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports, two USB 3 ports, and Gigabit Ethernet. This allows students to connect a variety of devices, such as external drives, printers, or a second monitor. The Thunderbolt ports also support fast data transfer and charging.
Students who still rely on Intel-based applications and virtualization can also opt for older iMac models. The 21.5-inch iMac and 27-inch iMac both have older designs, but have some useful features like multiple external monitor support.
- Powerful M1 processor
- Thin and light design
- 24-inch 4.5k Retina display
- Fun color options with matching accessories
- Not as portable as a MacBook, or as small as a Mac mini
- Attach only one external monitor due to M1
- The more expensive 8-core GPU comes with better accessory options and more color options
All the best current deals for the iMac can be found right here, in our Price Guides.
Best budget desktop: 2023 M2 Mac mini
The Mac mini is officially a desktop, but it's small enough that you could move it around easily. You wouldn't take it to class, and you couldn't do much with it once you got there, but when you need to move where you set up your work, its small size is convenient. And it belies just how powerful the tiny Mac for students can be.
The entry-level version comes with an 8-core CPU and 10-core GPU and features a modest 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD storage, however prices for upgraded configurations can start to add up fast. Take note, you will also need to bring your own monitor, keyboard, and mouse or trackpad.
This may be the cheapest Mac on the market, and if you are willing to make the switch to an M1 processor, you can save even more. But dont be fooled by it's small footprint, users have compared the M2 Mac mini's top performance specs to the high-end MacBook Pros.
- Price, the base model of the M2 Mac mini starts at just $599 and students can take an extra $100 off
- Small size fits easily in dorm rooms or on a desk
- Numerous port options, Thunderbolt 4/USB4, USB-A, HDMI, Ethernet, and headphone jack plus support for two monitors
- Not quite as portable as a MacBook
- Bring your own monitor, keyboard, and mouse
- Prices jump quickly for upgraded RAM and storage options
You can find the best deals on the space saving Mac mini inside our Price Guides.
Best alternative Apple device: iPad Pro
The iPad Pro is Apple's flagship tablet, and the company promotes it as a fully capable Mac alternative. You could use it as a second display or notepad like with the other models, but as these devices cost as much as a MacBook Air or Mac mini, you'll likely want it for more.
If your coursework can be accomplished through a web app or you do not need any specific desktop-based applications, you should try an iPad Pro for school. If you're using an iPad for schoolwork, you'll likely want a keyboard and trackpad as well, which does add to the overall cost.
The 2022 12.9-inch iPad Pro, features the powerful M2 chip, 16GB of RAM, and storage options ranging from 128GB to 1TB. With a choice of 11-inch or 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR displays, ProMotion technology, and True Tone support, these iPads offer immersive visuals and a top notch user interface, especially for creating artwork, designs, handwritten notes and graphics. Capture special moments with the f/1.8 camera, and enjoy the user-friendly iPadOS 16. The 2022 iPad Pro models are perfect for students, providing impressive performance, storage options, and stunning displays for all their academic needs.
Apple also sells a Magic Keyboard case for the iPad Pro, which features scissor-switch keys and a trackpad in an ultra thin design. Combine this with the second-generation Apple Pencil, and you'll have a laptop/tablet combo that takes whatever shape you need on the fly.
The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro base model is $1,099 for 128GB of storage. This can be increased up to 1TB of storage in either for a $500 price jump.
All 2021 iPad Pro models can be configured with cellular coverage for a $200 price increase.
Of course, there is also the option to use an iPad as a note-taking tablet with the Apple Pencil or as an extended display for your Mac with SideCar. The iPad Pro can significantly enhance any workflow.
As a reminder, the iPad can only run apps from the App Store, so you will need to ensure you can perform your classwork from the iPad before purchasing the device.
The 10.2-inch iPad has a retina display and lacks some of the more pro-level features to drive the price down. It supports the first-generation Apple Pencil and Apple's Smart Keyboard. The current iPad has an A10 Fusion chip that is still supported by iPadOS and can easily run modern applications.
This is the perfect device for a young student just starting out, and Apple pushes this device for education markets. The base model has 32GB of storage for $329, but it is recommended you upgrade to the 128GB option for $100 more.
The iPad Air is Apple's best iPad that still has Touch ID. It has a laminated 10.9-inch display and supports the second-generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard. Its Apple M1 chip delivers a similar experience to what is found on the pro models with the new flat-sided design. It includes an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, both of which beef up the device considerably, putting it on par with the higher-end iPad models that are available.
You'll likely want the iPad Air if you don't want to spend more on the pro models or just want to use it as a secondary computer. The iPad Air starts at $599 with 64GB of storage, but as with the base iPad, it might be wise to upgrade the memory to the next tier. The Wi-Fi + Cellular models start at $729 and go up to $1,029 for the 256GB option.
The iPad mini is essentially the iPad Air crammed into a 7.9-inch or 8.3-inch display. There is no Smart Keyboard, but the second-generation Apple Pencil is compatible. The $499 price gets you 64GB, and upgrade to 256GB for $649. The A15 Bionic chip is used in this model and excels in the smaller display.
The iPad mini is a versatile device. You can attach a keyboard and use it as a miniature computer, or carry it in your pocket with the Pencil and have a portable-digital notepad.
Best Mac for students depends on individual needs
Ultimately, the best MacBook for students — or even iMac or iPad Pro — is dependent on each person's particular needs, including grade level, college major, learning environment (remote vs in-person) and budget. To all the students out there, we wish you the best of luck as you hit the books for the new semester.