By Kara Apel, Alumna of the University of South Carolina
For those of you entering your last few months of high school, the last thing you want to think about is the large amount of money you need to spend on college necessities.
One of the largest purchases you’ll need to make will be a laptop. Even if you are wondering whether or not you'll need one since you’ll be living on campus and close to the library, trust me, it’s a good investment. You’ll already be reluctant to study or do homework. Add in a five-minute walk to the library, and you’ll be even less likely not to procrastinate.
From someone who has been there, there’s a lot to keep in mind when you search for your first laptop and what you need to maintain it.
1) Keep an open mind during your search
Some of you “Apple snobs” might shudder at the thought of looking into Microsoft products, but don’t let the labels fool you. PCs are just as efficient as their Mac counterparts and even surpass them in certain areas. For instance, the HP Pavilion dm1z is a great laptop for the college student on the go. Not only is it lightweight, but it’s only about $400. I honestly didn’t know what I was missing out on until Microsoft gave me the opportunity to review one of their products through its Windows Champions program.
2) Which software programs do you need?
There are many programs that you think you will need but actually won’t. It’s important for you to make a checklist of needs and wants. If you’re not sure, ask a professor or older student in your major. The majority of you will probably be able to get by with just Microsoft Word and Excel. Even if you don’t want to buy these, Google Docs are a great alternative. For those of you with majors who will need Photoshop or InDesign (or an equivalent), you might even be able to bypass paying for the extra programs. Your school should have computers with these programs on them for you to use. While it may be a little less convenient to base your schedule around lab hours, it’s definitely worth saving the extra money.
3) Be careful of what you download
For some of us, a laptop is probably something you only get to buy once or twice in a lifetime. That being said, you’ll want your laptop to last you through your four (or more) years of college. Think of your new laptop as a clean slate. Don’t download anything that seems even remotely sketchy, including illegal music/video downloading services. That’s where a lot of viruses come from. If you want to stay relatively virus free and keep your laptop for the long haul, stay as far away from these kinds of software as you possibly can. If you aren’t sure about a website, McAfee offers a free service where you can type in the URL of any given website to see if it’s prone to viruses or other malware.
4) Protection is key
The last thing you will want to shell out the extra money for is a laptop case, but you do need one to keep your laptop safe and sound during all of your treks across campus. It’s fairly easy to find a somewhat cheap laptop case that can keep your laptop safe. This one from Target is only $15. Another good investment would be a laptop skin, which is a sleek protective sleeve that keeps your laptop from getting scratched. If you want a preppy, customized look, check out Lipstick Shades. You can also buy skins for your MP3 players, smartphones and tablets to keep them from getting scratched.
5) To buy or not to buy a printer?
Printers are probably the most frustrating products on the market. No matter what kind of printer you have, you will eventually have problems. To be honest, I don’t know that you necessarily need one. If you’re lucky enough to live close to the library or a dorm that has one, it’s just as easy and probably less expensive to use those than buying your own. Ink is expensive and it always amazes me just how quickly it runs out. You can save money (and stress) if you’re OK with going to the library to print. At my school, it was about 10 cents per sheet. I always used the extra money from my student cash account. Once I got off campus, I moved to an apartment complex with a computer lab where I could print for free. Based on how well you plan ahead, you will do fine without one.
Still stumped on what to do? Ask your friends who are already in school or go to an electronics store near you to hear from a sales rep about the products available to you in your price range.
[Picture from Microsoft news release]