If you are starting college or university this September, you will be thinking about buying a Mac to help with studies.
Getting an Apple Mac for university is a great idea. While Macs may seem an expensive investment, they offer great long-term value. Apple Mac computers are sturdy, light and well made and have a lifespan long enough to outlast your university course. A good Mac will see you all the way through university, and Apple’s ‘it just works’ ethos will enable you to focus on your studies (and not on fixing and repairing your computer or dealing with viruses).
But what is the best Mac for students? Some of it depends on what type of student you are, and it can be a challenge to decide which Mac is best for students. But we aim to answer that question here.
Apple has recently updated most of its computer range and dropped the price of many computers. Some of Apple's Macs are particularly well suited to students.
Here, we've created a student's guide to buying a Mac, considering what students are likely to need from their Mac, and what features you 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 if you are heading to college or university.
Plus, we've also collected together some accessories, software and services that could come in handy for students working on a college course or university degree.
Choosing the best Mac for education
Which Mac is best for students 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:
- Best Mac for graphic design
- Best Mac for making music
- Best Mac for video editing
- Best Mac for app development
As a student you may want to use the same kit as an industry professional. Most students have somewhat different requirements though. As a student, you are more likely to value portability in a Mac for transporting it between lectures and dorm rooms, or for travelling back home at weekends.
Realistically as a student you should quickly rule out Apple’s Mac Pro (if you haven’t done so already). At £2,499 it’s not really cost-effective and unless you really are involved in some heavy number crunching you won’t value its power. Even if you are involved in a field like computer science or 3D animation you will get by on a high-end MacBook or iMac. The Mac Pro’s high cost and small footprint make it a huge theft risk for student apartments.
Students probably won't need as much storage as professional videographers either, but they might want a Mac that doubles as a good entertainment device in addition to a good machine for doing coursework.
- Best Mac to buy: every Mac compared
- Best Mac for gaming
- Best Apple gadgets for school
- How to get an education discount from Apple
And, of course, there's also the price tag. Not many students have the luxury of a few thousand pounds in their bank account thanks to loans, expenses and lots of alcohol, so they're likely to want to pick up a bargain.
Apple’s MacBook Pro and Air range
In previous years we outright ruled out the MacBook Pro with Retina display due to its high price. But Apple has reduced it to £999, which is still a lot to pay for a laptop but it’s great value. With its 13-inch retina display 2.6Ghz Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and super sharp display we think the MacBook Pro with Retina display is the best MacBook on the market.
Avoid the cheaper MacBook Pro (without a retina display) at £899. The older MacBook Pro (it's not been updated for two years) does have a CD/DVD drive, but it does not have a Retina display and the older tech inside the MacBook Pro really brings it down: specially the non-flash hard drive. We think it’s better to go for a machine with flash storage (such as the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro with Retina display).
The MacBook Air seems a more obvious choice though. Starting at £749 it's a lot cheaper than other Macs. The MacBook Air is also smaller and lighter, which makes it more practical for students to take to lectures. It has a slower processor and only 4GB RAM (we recommend that you bump it up to 8GB at point of purchase if you can), but the flash drive is snappy so it's more than capable of most tasks (especially word processing and online research).
Apple’s iMac: be careful of the new low-cost iMac
We’re going to out on a limb and recommend you stay away from Apple’s new low-cost (£899) iMac. On the surface it looks idea: the price is reasonable at £899 and it has a larger screen than any laptop. But it’s 1.4GHz processor is slow and, unlike the MacBook Air, isn’t twinned with a flash hard drive. The combo of slow processor and slow hard-drive in the low-cost iMac makes it an awkward experience. We think you’d be better off with a Mac mini.
The slightly more expensive iMac (£1,049) is a much different proposition. It has a 2.7GHz quad-core Intel CPU, 8GB ram and a 1TB hard drive. It’s a great Mac for graphic designers and artists. It combines a lot of storage (handy for large files) with a good processor and the screen is excellent. The larger screen is also better for design-work than a MacBook Air.
The trade-off is portability. While the iMac isn’t heavy it is a desktop computer. So it’ll stay in the house while you go to lectures. If you are on a design course this may not matter so much.
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 £200 upgrade when you buy it.
Apple’s Mac mini: cheap and powerful
We have mixed feelings about the Mac mini. On the one hand it remains an excellent low cost Mac. On the other hand the technology inside it is quite a few years old now. We’d be happier recommending it if Apple had upgraded it lately (or dropped the price to match the aging technology).
Still, the entry model Mac mini is only £499 and it houses a 2.5GHz Intel i5 CPU that still packs a punch. The Mac mini has 4GB RAM and a 500 GB hard drive so it’s good for graphic design and music courses. The price of monitors has fallen sharply, and you can pick up a great monitor for less than £200. If you ask around you might be able to get a monitor for free from somebody.
If you are on a real budget this is the way to go. Get an entry-level iMac 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.
We expect Apple to update this model soon - hopefully in time for those heading to university...
Apple University special offer
Buy a Mac from Apple before the 9 September for college or university and they will give you a £60 Apple Store Gift card. You can put this toward whatever you want but Apple is offering a G-Tech G-DRIVE 1TB hard drive on its store for £59.95. We doubt if it’s a coincidence. If you pick up a MacBook Air or Pro with a small 128GB hard drive; then this is the sensible way to spend your free voucher.
Which Mac should you get for university?
Probably the best all-round choice for students is the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air is cheaper than other Macs, starting at £749, and is also smaller (especially the 11in model) and lighter and therefore more portable.
The MacBook Air cannot be upgraded, however, and the model you get is the one you're stuck with. Having said that, the MacBook Air is no slouch and will definitely last an entire university course (of three to four years) so it shouldn't need upgrading. Combine the MacBook Air with a G-DRIVE external hard drive (using your £60 voucher) to store any large files and you’re set for university.
Sound good? Take a closer look in our MacBook Air reviews:
Here is one caveat: If money isn't so much of an issue and you can move from £749 to £999 then get the MacBook Pro with Retina Display instead. The MacBook Pro with Retina Display is slightly faster than the MacBook Air, and has a slightly larger screen and the Retina Display is wonderful to look at. It's worth the extra £150 if you can spare it.
Read our MacBook Pro reviews:
Best Apple Mac accessories for students
We've already mentioned a keyboard. But if you get a Mac mini and the combination we think getting an Apple Wireless keyboard will be helpful for working on both devices.
Mac media solutions for students
Another good accessory to consider is the Apple TV. For £79 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.
Read our Apple TV Reviews
Getting a good deal on a Mac for a student?
If you are on a budget then we'd advise choosing where to buy your Mac carefully. While it's natural to head straight for the nearest Apple Store, you can pick up a good deal elsewhere.
Apple's Refurbished Store is also well worth taking a look at for picking up a bargain. See: Should I buy a refurbished Mac (or a new Mac)?
Of course, don't forget about that £60 Heading to Uni voucher. You won’t get that if you pick up a model from the refurb store. You will also need to take advantage of the offer before 9 September.
Head to Apple's Student Promotion page to find out how you can save up to £175 on the price of a new Mac.