If you're starting college or university, you may well be thinking about buying a Mac to help with your studies. Here, we take a look at Apple's current Mac line-up to help you choose which Mac is best for you, in our best Mac for students guide.
How to choose the best Mac for you
At first glance Macs might still seem expensive, especially when compared with the £300 laptops that you'll find on offer in Tesco and PC World,(or a few hundred dollars from BestBuy) 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.
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, what features you should pay more for, and how students can save money on a new Mac.
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.
Choosing the best Mac for education
The first thing we want to mention before talking about anything else is Apple's Education Store. You can find out all about it in more detail in our Apple Education Store explainer, but in short it'll get you money off your Mac and it's well worth it! You can visit the Apple Education Store now by clicking here, but you'll need to have proof that you are a student in order to access it.
From time to time Apple's Education Store offers a Back to School deal, usually around the summer months. This can be a great time to buy. In previous years Apple has given away a free pair of Beats wireless headphones with certain Mac and iPad purchases, for example. Shop the Apple Store for Education here.
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:
- Best Mac for graphic design
- Best Mac for making music
- Best Mac for video editing
- Best Mac for app development
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). Starting at £2,999/$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. And it's due for an update at some point anyway.
The iMac Pro, too, is a more powerful (and more expensive) machine than the average student will need. It's even more at £4,899/$4,999.
Even in a field like computer science or 3D animation you will get by on a high-end MacBook or iMac. 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.
Best MacBook for students
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.
We'll look at each Apple laptop option below. Further down this article we will also consider the iMac and Mac mini.
Starting with the MacBook Pro, these laptops are seen as the most expensive and powerful Mac laptops. The range starts from £1,249 /$1,299 for the 13in non-Touch Bar version and goes up to £2,699/$2,799 for the top-of-the-range 15in Touch Bar version.
Apple updated some of the MacBook Pro range in 2018 to add more power and efficiency thanks to new Intel chips, but the 13in models without Touch Bar are still using the 2017 components and aren't fully worthy of their 'Pro' name.
That said, those are the models most likely to appeal to students. The Touch Bar, while stunning, is still largely a gimmick that most students can do without. The non-Touch Bar model has Intel's 7th Generation Kaby Lake dual-core i5 processor clocked at 2.3GHz, with 8GB RAM and either 128GB or 256GB SSD storage. There's Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 and two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports. USB-C does cause a bit of an issue because it replaces USB-A, but there are adapters available that'll help.
For most, that should be a decent enough spec to get your work done without any issues.
The 13in Touch Bar versions offer better 8th generation quad-core processors, improved Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655, and even the display is better thanks to True Tone. But while we would recommend these Macs with prices starting at £1,749/$1,799 they might not be the best choice for cash-strapped students. On which note, we will also rule out the super-powerful 15in models which start at £2,349/$2,399.
Read our 2017 MacBook Pro 13-inch review for the non-Touch Bar version and our 2018 13in MacBook Pro review and our MacBook Pro comparison.
If you're looking for a MacBook that doesn't break the bank, but still offers good portability - then the MacBook Air might be the perfect fit.
It was updated in October 2018 – finally – and though it costs a little more, it’s a far better laptop than the outdated model that was on sale previously.
There are no USB-A ports here, just two USB-C and a headphone jack. The Air also loses the famous and beloved MagSafe charger connection in favour of USB-C charging. But it has gained a Retina display and larger battery than the 12in MacBook. Battery life continues to be the best offered by any Mac.
The third-generation butterfly keyboard is present on all MacBooks now and while it’s not to everyone’s taste it’s the best version yet.
The MacBook Air has slower performance than the MacBook Pro but this will be OK for most students who are simply writing essays and conducting research.
A word of warning, the older MacBook Air is still sold by Apple. The price might look good at £949/$999 but we would advise against buying it because it's over priced for what is essentially a four-year-old machine - it's components date back to 2014. You might be able to pick up an old model MacBook Air for less than Apple sells it for though, in which case, it might be worth a shot, but remember you wouldn't be particularly future proof.
Read our 2018 MacBook Air review.
Along with the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, Apple also offers a laptop that's simply called MacBook. This 12in MacBook is thinner and smaller than the MacBook Air (although since the latter was updated in 2018 the difference is much less than it was). The design is gorgeous though and you'd be proud to show it off in lectures. But is it the right option for students?
Starting at £1,249/$1,299, the MacBook is more expensive than the MacBook Air, even though it has a weaker processor than the Air's 1.6GHz i5 option. The base model offers a dual-core 1.2GHz Intel Core m3 processor, 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 615.
It does have its design going for it, though, as it's incredibly thin and lightweight: just 13.1mm at its thickest point. But this shouldn't make you get it over the MacBook Air.
The next model available costs a cool £1,549/$1,599 and bumps the internal memory of the MacBook up from 256GB to 512GB. Its processor is also given a slight bump up to 1.3GHz from 1.2GHz, but everything else (including its 12in screen) stays the same.
As mentioned above when we discussed the MacBook Pro, 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, makes it difficult to recommend the MacBook for university studies. Get a cheaper, more powerful, MacBook Air instead.
Read our MacBook review.
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 - or cart it home on a train for the holidays - but you will be able to work more efficiently through its bigger 21.5- or 27in screen.
Apple updated the iMac range in 2019 so it now has at least quad-core 8th-generation processors and Radeon Pro graphics. You'll also get faster memory and a gorgeous 4K display. Prices for the lastest iMacs start at £1,249/$1,299.
There is a cheaper iMac which comes in at £1,049/$1,099. This might be tempting to save money but it's the old model with outdated specs an shouldn't be considered a good choice. It features a 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, a 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. If the model you're looking at doesn't come with one as standard, we suggest paying extra for a 1TB Fusion Drive - this will greatly improve performance and make the iMac feel faster.
At the top of the tree are the beautiful 27in iMacs with 5K Retina display, which are hugely powerful, elegant, and costs upwards of £1,749/$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. Like the 21.5-inch iMac, these have been updated for 2019 with new processor and graphics.
Again, the main issue here is that the iMac is not portable so may not suit your needs on that basis alone.
Like the MacBook Air the Mac mini received a much needed upgrade in 2018. While not as low-cost as it once was - starting at £799/$799 rather than £479/$499 now. The 2018 update redefines the Mac mini as a powerful Mac. There is no compromise here - other than the lack of monitor and keyboard - and it's still the cheapest Mac going.
The entry model Mac mini is only £799/$799, which makes it the most affordable Mac by quite a distance. It houses a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th gen Intel i3 CPU, that feels perfectly fine for both everyday tasks and more taxing projects.
If you are on a 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 even plug the Mac mini into your TV, although we wouldn't recommend writing your dissertation on a TV screen.
Read our Mac mini review.
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.
Conclusion: Which Mac should you get for university?
Our pick of the entire Mac range if you're a student is the MacBook Air. Since the 2018 update it's light, fast, and at £1,049/$1,999 for the entry model it offer good value for an excellent machine. It's the all-rounder here.
If you don't need portability, then the 2018 Mac mini is also a very good option (it is considerably more portable than an iMac, so at least transporting it home shouldn't be too problematic). It's powerful and the price is still low at £799/$799, although not as low as it once was. You just need a monitor, mouse and keyboard.
Thanks to its 2019 update, the iMac is a more legitimate option but only if you don't need to take it anywhere. If you're looking for an elegant and powerful all-in-one desktop machine then it ticks all the boxes. Just don't but the cheapest model which is out of date.
If you're looking to save a few pounds then keep an eye on the Apple Refurb Store. Apple often offers last-generation Macs with decent specs for less than their newer counterparts, so it's worth a look. Refurbished Mac models are fully checked and come with a one-year guarantee.