The best Mac for students is the MacBook Air, as it has the right performance, sleek and stylish design and even USB-A ports for easy file transfers between your classmates. It also comes in as the cheapest MacBook at only £949, where it offers the best solution for students requiring a reliable operating system.
Which is the best Mac for a student? And which Mac accessories should students buy?
If you're starting college or university this autumn, you may well be thinking about buying a Mac to help with your studies. Here, we take a look at Apple's Mac line-up to help you choose which Mac is best for you, in our best Mac for students guide.
Don't miss: Black Friday Apple Deals 2016
Best Mac for students buying guide 2016: Buying advice
At first glance Macs might still seem expensive, especially when compared against the £300 laptops that you'll find on offer in Tescos and PC World, but while those cheaper machines are built down to a price, Apple believes firmly in creating devices that are powerful and meant to last.
A Mac you buy for university should quite happily see you through all the adventures of your course and still be something you'll want to carry on using for a few years afterwards. Then there's the added security of being able to walk into an Apple Store if you do have any problems, safe in the knowledge that someone will resolve the issue.
It's also worth noting that viruses are still incredibly rare on OS X or macOS, which isn't the case with Windows machines. So investing in a Mac means you won't have to worry about spending money on security software, or time dealing with the devastation malware can bring. Instead you can just concentrate on your course, knowing that your Mac will be there when you need it.
But deciding which Mac is the best for students can be tricky. Some of this depends on what type of student you are, and of course your budgetary arrangements will be a significant factor. To help you buy the right model we've gathered together all the facts you need to know and created a student's guide to buying a Mac. In this we'll consider what students are likely to need from their Mac, and what features you should pay more for. We then take a closer look at Apple's range of Macs and the built to order options available that might be useful. Plus, we've also collected together some accessories, software and services that could come in handy during your course.
Best Mac for students buying guide 2016: Choosing the best Mac for education
Which Mac to choose depends on what your needs are as a student, and the course you are taking. If you're doing a degree in film and video, or music, or graphic design then it might make sense to also look at one of our other Best Mac For... guides for that subject area:
As the student life involves a far amount of mobility - travelling to lectures, libraries, the occasional coffee shop, and then possibly home for weekends and term breaks - it makes a good deal of sense to consider a laptop rather than a desktop device. While the screen sizes in MacBooks are smaller than iMacs, you can always find an inexpensive screen, or even your TV, and connect that to your MacBook when you need a larger display. Then once you're done with the big screen, you still have your mobile powerhouse machine and all your files.
One Mac that's easy to take off your shopping list is the Mac Pro (if you haven't done so already). At £2,999 it's simply overkill for nearly all student tasks and unless you really are involved in some heavy number crunching or professional-level video editing, you won't value its power. Even in a field like computer science or 3D animation you will get by on a high-end MacBook or iMac. Then there is also the unsavoury thought that the Mac Pro's high cost and small footprint make it a huge theft risk for student apartments. In the vast majority of cases you would be better served saving the money and opting for a cheaper model, especially when you consider that you'd need to buy a screen, keyboard and mouse for the Pro.
We'd also suggest ruling out Apple's new 12-inch MacBook (2016) - or the original version, last year's 1.1GHz MacBook (Early 2015). While its super slim design is attractive, and its Retina display is a thing of beauty, it's not really very powerful, only has a single USB-C port and at £1,249 it's very expensive for what it offers. Students can get a better deal.
Best Mac for students buying guide 2016: Apple's MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and new MacBook range
If you're looking for stability and a reliable operating system that won't crash each time you try and save your work, then the MacBook range of laptops is truly impressive. Given Apple's pricing strategy, it might seem like they are expensive versus their Windows alternatives, however the added premium is justified. Unfortunately, in 2016 Apple raised its prices for most of its products - see Apple price increases UK, for more information.
It should be noted that if you're looking to add additional storage for your Mac, you can purchase it while buying it from Apple, or better still opt for cheaper external storage - see Best SSD for Mac.
Starting with the MacBook Pro, these laptops are seen as the most expensive and powerful Mac laptops. They come in a 13in and 15in configuration, from the 2015 MacBook Pro offering the cheapest solution, where prices start from £1,249 (13in) and £1,899 (15in). The 13in MacBook Pro comes with a 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB 1866MHz memory, 128GB flash storage and an Intel Iris Graphics 6100 GPU. The 15in version comes with a 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB 1600MHz memory, 256GB flash storage and Intel Iris Pro Graphics. See also: How to choose the best processor for your Mac
If you're looking to spend more, there is the 2016 range that starts from £1,449 for the 13in non-Touch Bar version and goes up to £2,699 for the 15in Touch Bar version. However, we wouldn't suggest the 2016 version, as it's too expensive and doesn't feature the right ports for a student.
The 2015 MacBook Pro has 2x USB-A 3.0 port, 2x Thunderbolt 2, a HDMI, SDXC card and MagSafe 2 charging ports. The new 2016 MacBook Pro has 2x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, while the more expensive models have two additional Thunderbolt 3 ports - tallying to four ports. A USB-A port is essential for students, as you'll be sharing files with your friends and classmates. Of course, you can carry around an overly priced Apple adaptor with your MacBook, but we presume students wouldn't want to buy an additional £69 adaptor, just so that they can use a USB-A port. Read next: New MacBook Pro 2016 review
If you're looking for a MacBook that doesn't break the bank, but still offers good portability - then the 2015 MacBook Air might be the perfect fit. The 13in Air is the only available model, after its 11in was discontinued by Apple in October 2016. The laptop comes equipped with a 1.6GHz Intel i5, 128GB or 256GB of storage, and 8GB 1600MHz RAM, and comes at a cost of £949 (128GB) and £1,099 (256GB).
The 2015 Air features the right ports too, with two USB 3.0 ports, a Thunderbolt 2 port, an SDXC card slot and a MagSafe 2 power port. This makes the Air cheaper than other Macs while also being very portable. This makes it more practical for students to take to lectures.
It does have a slower processor than the Retina MacBook Pros, and 8GB 1600MHz RAM is slow versus the 1855 and 2133MHz RAM found in the Pro, however we don't feel you'll notice a difference in every-day tasks.
Along with the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, Apple brought back the original MacBook at its event in March 2016. The 12in MacBook is actually thinner than the 2015 MacBook Air and features a brand new design, which we think is gorgeous. But is it the right option for students?
Starting at £1,249, the MacBook is more expensive than the MacBook Air, even though it has a weaker processor. The base model offers a dual-core 1.1GHz Intel Core M processor, 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 515. It does have its design going for it though, as its incredibly thin and lightweight, just 13.1mm at its thickest, which is 24 percent thinner than the MacBook Air.
The next model available costs a cool £1,599 and bumps the internal memory of the MacBook up from 256GB to 512GB, a more suitable option for students (especially those doing creative courses). Its processor is also given a slight bump up to 1.2GHz from 1.1GHz, but everything else (including its 12” screen) stays the same.
The MacBook is the first Apple laptop to feature the new USB-C standard, which can handle data transfer, video input and power transfer in a single port. This means that the MacBook features only USB-C ports, and only a single one at that. The fact that you’ll have to buy an adaptor to use any external hard drives, USB sticks, or even a wired internet connection with your MacBook, and the fact that there are more powerful (and cheaper) laptops available, we wouldn’t recommend the MacBook for university studies. Get a cheaper, or more powerful, MacBook Air instead.
Best Mac for students buying guide 2016: iMac - be careful of the new low-cost iMac
The iMac might be one for consideration for a student - but it's a non-portable Mac, which might deter many students from purchasing one. You won't be able to take it with you to lectures, but you will be able to work more efficiently through its bigger 21.5- or 27in screen.
The cheapest 'low-cost' model comes in at £1,049 - it features a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, a 5400rpm 1TB hard drive, Intel HD Graphics 6000 and a 21.5in 1920x1080 sRGB display. We find the hard drive its weakest point, as it slows down everything on the Mac - from saving a document to powering the Mac on. We would suggest paying an additional £90 for a 1TB Fusion Drive or even an additional £180 for 256GB flash storage - this will greatly improve performance and make the iMac feel faster. Read why we think the iMac with a Fusion Drive is a good idea.
The slightly more expensive iMac (£1,249) is a much different proposition. It has a 2.8GHz quad-core Intel CPU, 8GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive (we'd still recommend a Fusion Drive update if you can afford the extra £90). It's a great Mac for graphic designers and video editors alike, as it combines a lot of storage (handy for large files) with a good processor and the screen is excellent.
For £1,449 you can get the new 21.5-inch iMac with Retina 4K Display. Its processor is even faster, with a 3.1GHz quad-core intel Core i5. It also has 8GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive. The price is nudging upwards, but it's a beautiful machine. In all iMac cases we advise trying to get the 1TB Fusion Drive upgrade if possible, it's an extra £90 but will make a real difference with performance.
At the top of the tree are the beautiful 27in iMacs with 5K Retina display, which are hugely powerful, elegant, and costs upwards of £1,799, which isn't bad for what you get, but we feel this is above the budget and overkill for a lot of students.
The £1,749 and £1,949 iMac come with the highest spec too, with a 3.2GHz processor, 1TB storage, 8GB of RAM and an AMD Radeon R9 M380 or M390 GPU with 2GB memory. There is also a £2,249 iMac that comes with a 3.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB (two 4GB) memory modules, a 2TB Fusion Drive and an AMD Radeon R9 M395 GPU with 2GB video memory.
The trade-off is, as with all iMacs is portability. While the iMac isn't heavy, it is still a desktop computer, so it'll stay in the house while you go to lectures. If you're on a design course this may not matter so much, but it does tie you to one location, whereas the MacBooks can go pretty much anywhere.
There is a build to order option in the low-cost iMac that might get you a better deal. As we explain in our review of the budget iMac with a Fusion Drive, by adding a combined SSD (flash) set up with a hard drive things speed up and that might actually make that model a better deal than the one above it, which would lack the Fusion Drive, which is a £90 upgrade when you buy it.
Best Mac for students buying guide 2016: Mac mini - cheap and powerful
We have mixed feelings about the Mac mini. On the one hand it remains an excellent low-cost Mac, while on the other hand the recent upgrade has taken away some of the things that made it such an attractive Mac.
Still, the entry model Mac mini is only £479, which makes it the most affordable Mac by quite a distance. It houses a 1.4GHz Intel i5 CPU, that feels perfectly fine for everyday tasks. One of the major disappointments though is that in previous models you were able to manually replace the RAM and hard drive with very little effort, but this new release has the RAM soldered onto the motherboard and therefore can't be upgraded at all. Even the hard drive is harder to replace as Apple has fitted a grill that requires specialist screwdrivers to remove. If you never had any intention of upgrading parts yourself then this will have little bearing on your decision, but we would advise using the built to order process on the Apple site to increase the RAM from 4GB to 8GB.
If you are on a real budget this is the way to go. Get an entry-level Mac Mini and ask around for an old keyboard, mouse and monitor. You may be using second-hand accessories but your Mac will sit at the heart of it all. You could also plug the Mac mini into your TV, although we wouldn't recommend writing your dissertation on a TV screen.
Best Mac for students buying guide 2016: Apple Education discount
If you're already at University, or have been offered your place, then you should ensure that you make use of Apple's educational discount. This scheme runs all year round and offers various price reductions for students or those working in education.
Read about how to get a discount from Apple here.
Best Mac for students buying guide 2016: Which Mac should you get for university?
Last year the best all-round choice for students was the MacBook Air - and this year it still is our top recommendation. It's light, fast, and at £949 for the entry model it offer good value for an excellent machine. If you're looking to save a few pounds then keep an eye on the Apple Refurb Store. MacBook Airs turn up with great frequency, and you can typically get £50-£100 off. Refurb models are fully checked and come with a one-year guarantee. See also: Should I buy a refurbished Mac?
The MacBook Air, might not seem like a worthwhile purchase for most, given the Pro and regular MacBook offer something extra in either build or performance, but with its included USB-A ports, lightweight design, cheaper price, the 2015 MacBook Air is our top recommendation.
If you can afford more, we would opt for the 2015 MacBook Pro or non-Touch Bar 2016 Pro model.
Sound good? Take a closer look in our MacBook reviews:
Read our MacBook Pro reviews:
If you decide to buy a Mac mini in particular, then we think getting an Apple wireless keyboard and trackpad would be helpful. But they're handy for those running various Mac laptops too. See:
For more keyboard advice, see our roundup of the best keyboards for Mac. And there are lots more Mac accessories that students should consider when heading off to college or university. Here are some of our favourites:
Best Mac accessories for students: TP Link UE300 USB ethernet adaptor
Buy now: eBuyer
The internet connection in university student accommodation can be pretty unreliable and slow, which isn't handy when you have a tonne of essays to do. But you can solve this common problem with the TP Link USB ethernet adapter for Mac. It'll let you create a sturdy ethernet connection when your WiFi keeps dropping out. It has 3.0 Gigabits for high transfer rates and works with Mac OS X (10.9/10.10). The device sports a foldable design too, so you can chuck it in your bag and carry it wherever you go.
See also: How to fix Mac WiFi problems
Best Mac accessories for students: My Passport for Mac
Price: From £67.99 (depends on storage)
Buy now: Amazon
While at university or college, you're going to be working on a load of assignments and essays. And you'll find that your MacBook's memory will fill up fairly quickly, meaning an external hard drive is worth considering.
My Passport is one of the best you can get, offering 1 to 4TB of memory. The drive works through USB 3.0, so files should transfer within seconds, and it sports a compact design for on-the-go use. Another great thing about My Passport is that it saves your files with 56bit AES hardware encryption and has Time Machine compatibility, allowing you to back up files easily and regularly.
Western Digital's site rates the My Passport as compatible with Mac OS X Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks and Yosemite, but the company's PR spokesperson assured us that it also works with El Capitan and will work with macOS Sierra too.
Best Mac accessories for students: Creative Sound Blaster JAM
Buy now: Amazon
If you're going to be starting your first year of university in September and will be living away from home, you'll soon learn that halls of residences are hectic and noisy. You'll no doubt have tonnes of work to do, so you'll want to good pair of headphones for your MacBook. Costing just under £40, the Creative Sound Blaster JAM will do the job nicely.
These stylish on-ear headphones are Bluetooth-enabled and offer good battery life. There are also on-cup buttons for controlling volume and the built-in microphone.
Read next: Best wireless Bluetooth headphones
Best Mac accessories for students: STM Bags Haven backpack
Buy now: Amazon
Unless you fancy carrying your laptop and textbooks around campus in your hands, you're going to want to get yourself a good bag. The Haven Backpack has you covered, as it's both stylish and practical. Inside, there are compartments for your MacBook and iPad, along with a cable routing system to charge your devices on the go.
The purpose-built ports are split up by sections and clips, ensuring the cables don't tangle. What's more, the bag features a cushioned back panel made from 2D foam cores with soft mesh and a central air channel. It's available in black and dark grey.
Best Mac accessories for students: ADATA S107 USB 3.0 flash drive
Buy now: Amazon
Prone to losing things? Then you'll definitely need a good USB drive to protect your precious lecture notes, assignments and party photos. The ADATA S107 will do the job nicely, and it costs less than £20.
With rubber insulation to prevent water damage and a sturdy design to protect against drops, it should last for a while. There's 64GB of storage available, which should be ample enough for all your work, and USB 3.0 high-speed transmission enables read speeds of 100MB per second and write speeds of 50MB. The company claims it's 300 per cent faster than standard USB 2.0 drives.
Mac accessories buying advice by Nicholas Fearn.
Best Mac for students buying guide 2016: Mac media solutions for students
Another good accessory to consider is the Apple TV. For £139 this enables you to connect your Mac wirelessly to a HDMI television so you can stream video, and music through your television. It's a great alternative to watching media on your Mac screen.
See also: Apple TV review