If you're about to start college or university this September, you might be thinking about buying yourself a Mac to help with your studies. But what is the best Mac for students? It can be a challenge to decide which Mac is best for students, but we aim to answer that question here.
Apple creates a whole range of Mac OS X laptops (MacBooks) and desktop computers, but, while they are good long-term value, they're quite a pricey investment positioned at the high-end segment of the market. Some of Apple's Macs are better suited to students than others, though.
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 for students.
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.
Best Mac for education
Which Mac is best for students depends, of course, on the student. And the course that the student is taking. If you're doing a degree in film and video, or music, or graphic design then it might make sense to look at one of our other Best Mac For... guides for that subject area:
Having said that, most students have somewhat different requirements to industry professionals. For example, students are probably more likely to value portability in an Mac for transporting it between lectures and dorm rooms, or for travelling back home at weekends.
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.
See: Best Mac for gaming
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 Mac range for students
With this in mind we're going to rule out Apple's Mac Pro, and also the MacBook Pro with Retina display (unless the subject being studied requires a super high resolution display). Even the MacBook Pro strikes us as too expensive compared to the MacBook Air, but for students that can afford the pricier MacBook Pro option, it might still be worth considering. But we think you're better off choosing between the MacBook Air, Mac mini, or iMac.
Apple Back To School promotion
However, until 6 September, Apple's Back To School promotion means that students can save up to £183 with education pricing through the Apple Online Store for Education or Apple Retail Stores on the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and iMac.
In addition, buying one of these Macs before the cutoff date will mean you get a £70 App Store Gift Card too, which can be spent on Mac software, or anything from the iOS App Store/iTunes Store, so it is definitely worth considering opting for one of those three models in order to take advantage of the promotion.
MacBook Air: Best for portability
Probably the best all-round choice for students is the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air is cheaper than other Macs, starting at £849, and is also smaller (especially the 11in model) and lighter and therefore more portable. The MacBook Air is no slouch either, with new, fourth-generation Intel Core Haswell processors that provide much longer battery life, as well as impressive graphics and energy efficiency.
The MacBook Air cannot be upgraded, however, and the model you get is the one you're stuck with. Having said that, a MacBook Air will definitely last an entire university course (of three to four years) so it shouldn't need upgrading. Once you've got it you're good to go.
Mac mini: Best for price
The Mac mini is Apple's entry desktop computer, and packs a slew of power into a tiny space that'll set you back £499. The great thing about the Mac mini is that it has a 500GB hard drive fast 2.5GHz Intel i5 processor and is absolutely tiny.
What it doesn't come with is keyboard, screen, or mouse. But we're expecting students to be somewhat innovative with their friends and families, you should be able to pick up old accessories from somewhere.
Read more: Mac mini review
iMac: Best for entertainment
The entry-level iMac has that 21.5 inch display, which if you're going to leave home and perhaps not take a television with you will make a lot of difference.It has a 1TB hard drive,, 8GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce 640M graphics card. This will be great if you're doing video, photography or any design course.
However, the least it'll cost you is £1,099 (without educational discount), which could be a big problem for those with smaller budgets.
Read more: iMac review
Which Apple Mac to get for students
While we think the iMac is probably a great all-round solution, we can't help but think that the £1,099 entry price is a little high. And because it's a desktop computer it will stay at home, and you won't be able to go to lectures.
We'd be more tempted to advise the MacBook Air, which is probably the best choice here. It is highly portable, reasonably good value (when considered in the context of a three to four year course). It's long-lasting battery will see you through the day, and the keyboard is great for typing out long articles and dissertations.
The best MacBook Air for students is probably the MacBook Air 11-inch 128GB model (£849). The 128GB drive will be good for storing music and video, so you can use it for entertainment between working. However, the tiny screen can prove irritating when researching for dissertations, because you'll only be able to see one window at a time, rather than a web browser and a word processor side by side.
Consider a Mac mini and iPad combo
One combination that's worth considering for students instead of the MacBook Air is a Mac mini and iPad combination. The Mac mini (£499) is better value than the MacBook Air, and has a 500GB hard drive which makes it better for storing all your course work alongside music and video entertainment. You'll need to get a screen and keyboard to go with it.
And because it's a desktop you'll need to keep it in your room, where it's a bit safer than carrying around with you. An iPad 2 (£329) or iPad 4 (£399) can be carried in and out of lectures and is ideal for taking notes. You could combine it with an Apple Wireless keyboard (£57) that would work with both your Mac mini and iPad.
You may be tempted to go just for the iPad and save the money. While we can see some sense in this logic, we still think that most students will be better with a dedicated Mac computer for doing online research and writing up long-form essays.
Apple Mac accessories for students
We've already mentioned a keyboard. But if you get a Mac mini and the iPad combination we think getting an Apple Wireless keyboard will be helpful for working on both devices.
If you're a student then some accessories are great. A good laptop bag is a must. Which bag you carry around is very much a personal decision, but here's three to choose from.
Mac media solutions for students
Another good accessory to consider is the Apple TV. For £99 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. A cheaper alternative is to pick up a MiniDisplay Port to HDMI adaptor. This Belkin MiniDisplay Port to HDMI Adapter (£23.95) enables you to plug your Mac directly into a television.
You are likely to use your Mac to play audio and music, so take a look at Macworld's Speaker Reviews.
Getting a good deal on a Mac for a student?
If you're 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. See: Should I buy a refurbished Mac (or a new Mac)?
Of course, don't forget about that Back To School promo, which you'll need to take advantage of before 6 September if you don't want to miss out.