Selecting the Right Computer to Purchase for the College Freshman

As “Back-to-School” season approaches, many parents are seeking to purchase computers for their offspring as they head off to college. Short of using one at work, however, many parents (although the numbers have dwindled in recent years) know very little about what makes a computer function and their budding, soon-to-be collegiate can only think of something flashy he can use to watch movies and download music.

How do these semi-savvy parents approach the question of which computer is best for my child? Start by addressing a few simple issues:

Portability/Theft prevention

In order to figure out which section of the store to begin your search, you must first decide, desktop or notebook (laptop)? While a notebook is, for obvious reasons, far more portable, which makes for easy moving to and from college, should your student come home during the summer months, but because of the portability of a notebook, it is also a greater risk for theft. If your student is planning to live in the dormitory, or will need to take mass transport to and from school (i.e. bus or plane) and will be transporting their notebook with them, investing in a GPS (global positioning system) device for the unit and listing it on your home owners’ insurance is definitely a good idea. These are also good ideas for desktop models but not as necessary, because they are harder to steal in a community living environment, like a dormitory.

Software inclusions

Be sure to ask the sales associate assisting you in making your selection what, if any, software packages are included with the computer. Generally, you should find that most (99%) of the models you are looking at will come complete with an operating system (the latest version of Microsoft Windows is fairly standard on most highly commercial computer models), a word processing program and a CD-burning program, if the computer comes with a CD-burner (something else that is becoming increasingly more standard). You want to be sure that the computer you purchase has all of the general software your collegiate will need to complete their college course work.

Hardware inclusions

It is becoming more and more common to find college campus housing (dormitories and apartments alike) equipped with some kind of cable, broadband, or other high-speed internet connection. Make sure that your child’s new computer has a port capable of accepting the high-speed internet cable; these cables are similar in appearance to a regular telephone line but have a larger plug on either end and the cable between the plugs is often thicker and rounded, similar to the other chords that will come with the computer.

Also, if the computer you are buying doesn’t come with a printer (often, during the “back-to-school” season, you will find package deals; if you buy Brand A computer you will get $100 toward the purchase of a printer, for example), find one that is, first of all, compatible with the computer of your choice. Today, most brands are inter-compatible, however, you should always check first. Second, look for a combination printer, scanner, and copier. These are often more expensive than a standard printer but cheaper than buying the printer and scanner separately, and trust me when I say, your collegiate will get sufficient use out of the scanner to make the extra cost worth while.


Of course, cost is an issue. Comparison shopping is very important when making a large purchase like a computer. Consider all the angles of buying your child’s computer. Does it have the things they want? Does it have the things they need? Which one has more memory and more included hardware accessories? Brand names, those you see on the television such as Dell, Hewlett Packard and Gateway, are often appealing purchases because of the name brand reputation, warranties, and the accessibility of technical support, but they are not always the best values. Check with the store associates who are helping you make the purchase and find out their store’s policy on repairs for lesser known brands who may not have created a reputation for excellent service. You may find that the associate himself has one of the lesser known brands and can offer some insight on the company’s level of customer service.

Also, don’t be intimidated by “out of the box” models. Every year computer companies, as with any other company, comes out with new models of their product and stop making older models. But the stores can sell out of whatever stock they have of these older models and the out of the box models are the last in stock of these models. They are the models that the store has used for demonstration purposes and now that they are out of the rest of their stock they are able to sell the out of box models for a discounted price. There is often nothing wrong with these models, they have seen very little use other than to show customers how they work but they come “as is,” and without a box, as the name implies. If your budget is tight and Johnny is an aspiring artist looking to equip his new computer with a drawing pad, you may even want to start by asking the sales associate what they might have available in the out of the box category.

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