Thinking of buying a Mac or MacBook for school, college or university work? Here, in our best Mac for students guide, we take a look at Apple’s current Mac line-up to find out which Mac is best for students. We’ll examine whether you should get a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro for college, or if another Mac might actually be a better choice.
If you’re looking for stability, security and a reliable and easy to use operating system then Apple’s Mac’s come highly recommended. If might seem that Macs are expensive compared to their Windows alternatives, however the added premium is justified, and, as you will see if you read on, you don’t have to break the bank to buy one.
Before we begin it’s worth casting your eyes over what’s available:
MacBook Air: November 2020 saw Apple update the MacBook Air with the first Apple silicon processors. There are two MacBook Air models with the M1 Chip: one offers a 7-core GPU and 8-core CPU, the other a 8-core GPU and 8-core CPU. The MacBook Air starts at £949/$949.
13in MacBook Pro: There are two 13in MacBook Pro models. These also arrived in November 2020 and feature the M1 chip like the Air, although in both cases this is the 8-core GPU version. Prices start at £1,299/$1,299.
14in MacBook Pro: Apple introduced the 14in MacBook Pro in October 2021 (replacing the higher-speced 13in models). The 14in MacBook Pro is powered by an M1 Pro,which is a faster variant of the M1. There is also the option of an even faster M1 Max, but that’s more than most students would require. Prices start at £1,899/$1,999.
16in MacBook Pro: Apple also updated the 16in MacBook Pro in October 2021. Like the 14in MacBook Pro this model is powered by an M1 Pro (which is a faster variant of the M1). The faster M1 Max is also available, but we think that the M1 Max would be beyond the requirements of a student. Prices start at £2,399/$2,499, which is probably beyond the budget of students.
You might only be interested in a Mac laptop – and in this article we will look into whether the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro is a better choice for students – but there are other Macs worthy of consideration.
24in iMac: In May 2021 Apple updated the iMac with the same M1 chip as that found in the MacBook Air and 13in MacBook Pro, but it also gave it a redesign, and extended the screen from 21.5in to 24in. Prices start at £1,249/$1,299.
Mac mini: The Mac mini was also updated in November 2020 when it gained the M1 Chip like the MacBook Air and 13in MacBook Pro. There is still one Mac mini model on sale that offers an Intel processor. Prices start at £699/$699.
Best MacBook (or Mac) for college
Choosing the best Mac for college or university depends on what you are going to be studying as well as how much you have to spend.
We’ve created this student’s guide to buying a Mac to help you choose the right Mac for college, school or university. We consider what students are likely to need from their Mac, what features are worth paying more for, and how students can save money on a new Mac.
We also take a look at Apple’s range of Macs and the built to order options available that might be useful. Plus, we’ve collected together some accessories, software and services that could come in handy during your course.
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:
We’ll look at each Apple laptop option as well as the iMac and Mac mini below.
If you are looking for a Mac for your children to use for school work the MacBook Air or Mac mini might appeal as low cost options, but there are other ways that you might be able to get a more powerful Mac for less money, we’ll explain your options below.
How to get a discount on a Mac for university or school
We’re sure that you are probably looking for a bargain Mac, so before we guide you through the best Mac options for students we’ll explain how you can save money.
The best Mac bargains are usually on older models, although we do see discounts on current Macs as well. If you see a good discount on an older Mac it’s important to be aware of what the newer models offers so that you know what you are missing out on and can judge whether the deal is as good as it appears to be. For one thing, older Macs will feature Intel processors rather than Apple’s M1 or M1 variants, which could put you at a disadvantage in the future (and will certainly mean your Mac depreciates in value quickly). If you are picking an Intel Mac then make sure that it is a relatively recent Intel chip to ensure that Apple will at least support that Mac until the end of your course. See:
How long does Apple support Macs for.
Rather than buying an old Mac, either second hand or refurbished, we recommend that you buy a new Mac at a discount. There are a number of ways to save money on a new Mac:
Wait for Apple’s Back to Uni Sale: Apple’s Education Store usually offers a
Back to University deal during the summer months. From around June to October in the US, UK, Canada and Europe Apple gives away a Apple AirPods to university and higher education students buying a new Mac or iPad. The same deal takes place in January to March in the southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand and Brazil).
Buy a refurbished Mac: Take advantage of
Apple’s refurbished store where the company sells ex-display, returned, and previous-generation Macs at a discount. The benefit of buying refurbished from Apple is that the products come with a full year’s warranty. You can also get
a refurbished Mac elsewhere with many resellers offering the same service, but beware that not all refurbished Macs are equal. Usually refurbished means that the Mac is guaranteed to be in full working order, but do check with the reseller. Here’s a guide to
how to buy a refurbished Mac. We also look at
why you should buy a refurbished Mac here
Buy second hand: One advantage of buying refurbished is that it should be guaranteed to work and you should have no problem returning it if there is a problem. These are reasons why we don’t recommend buying
a second hand Mac. If you do see a deal on a second hand Mac just be especially cautious.
Look out for reseller discounts: You can also see some great discounts on new and old models from Apple resellers. Check out our latest deals round ups at the links below.
Student life normally involves a far amount of mobility – traveling to lectures, libraries, the occasional coffee shop, and then possibly home for weekends and term breaks – so it makes a good deal of sense to consider a laptop rather than a desktop Mac.
While the screen sizes in MacBooks are smaller than iMacs, you can always buy a cheap screen and use that with your laptop when you are home. Or, if you also have an iPad, you might be able to link your iPad to your MacBook and use the iPad screen too (here’s
how to use your iPad as a second screen for your Mac). You could also use that iPad for taking notes when you are at lectures – read our guide to the
best iPad for students.
However, there are some benefits to buying a Mac desktop. Generally it is the case that you pay more for a Mac laptop, compared to the same specs on a desktop. The Mac mini, for example, is Apple’s cheapest Mac despite having some pretty impressive specs. However if you compare the 24in iMac with a similarly speced Mac laptop the iMac is more expensive.
What not to get…
A Macs that is easy to take off your shopping list is the Mac Pro. It’s a much more powerful (and more expensive) machine than the average student will need, and, if you do, maybe your university has one in the lab.
In a field like 3D animation you maybe enticed by a high-end 16in MacBook Pro or the Mac Studio (if portability isn’t important to you). But in the vast majority of cases you can confidently opt for a cheaper model.
MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro for college?
It’s likely that this is the question you are hoping to get an answer to: should I buy a MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro? We compare the
MacBook Air and MacBook Pro in detail here, but from the perspective of a student, here’s what you’ll want to keep in mind:
The MacBook Pro are more expensive and more powerful Mac laptops than the Air. If bought new, the range starts from £1,299/$1,299 for the 13in MacBook Pro and goes up to £3,399/$3,499 for the top-of-the-range 16in version (you don’t need that model!)
Here’s what’s on offer right now:
M1 MacBook Pro, 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 256GB or 512GB storage, 8GB Unified Memory, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports.
14in MacBook Pro, 8-core or 10-core CPU, 14-core or 16-core GPU, 512GB or 1TB storage, 16GB Unified Memory, three Thunderbolt 4 ports, HDMI port, SDXC card slot, MagSafe 3 port.
16in MacBook Pro, 10-core CPU, 16-core or 32-core GPU, 512GB or 1TB storage, 16GB Unified Memory, three Thunderbolt 4 ports, HDMI port, SDXC card slot, MagSafe 3 port.
It is unlikely that you need the 14in or 16in MacBook Pro and the price is likely to be prohibitive to students anyway. The good news is that doesn’t matter because if you are a typical student the 13in MacBook Pro will be more than sufficient.
If you need a more powerful Mac because your course calls for it then you can save a bit of money by choosing the 14in MacBook Pro over the 16in model – both models offer the same specs so you aren’t forfeiting any high-power options. Read:
14in vs 16in MacBook Pro.
There are two versions of the 13in MacBook Pro to choose from: one has 256GB of storage while the other has 512GB, but costs an extra £200/$200. There is no other difference between the two models so you need to decide if the extra storage is necessary. We would suggest that if your photo or music library are taking a lot of space up on your Mac you should look to iCloud storage solutions such as
iCloud Photos and
Another benefit of the M1 MacBook Pro is 20 hours battery life. This beats the MacBook Air by 2 hours and the 14in MacBook Pro by 3 hours. Older Mac laptops only claimed 10 hours so this is a definite benefit of the M1 powered Macs.
That entry-level MacBook Pro comes with two Thunderbolt 3 ports (which double up as USB 4) while the 2.0GHz MacBook Pro has four Thunderbolt /USB-C ports). You won’t find the older USB-A port on any new Mac laptop. If you want USB-A ports you would have to consider a second-hand Mac laptop, or a desktop Mac,
get an adaptor, or just get rid of your old mouse and keyboard and go wireless. Here’s our
round up of the best USB C docks.
14in or 16in MacBook Pro, but for most, the entry-level model should be a decent enough spec to get your work done without any issues.
Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide
You might assume that the MacBook Air is low-powered in comparison to the MacBook Pro, but since the MacBook Air gained the M1 Chip in November 2020, just like the MacBook Pro, it actually compares very favourably to the entry-level MacBook Pro.
If you’re looking for a MacBook that doesn’t break the bank and offers the ultimate in portability and great battery life, then the MacBook Air might be the perfect fit.
And the best bit: the MacBook Air starts at £999/$999.
Prior to November 2020 Apple was selling a MacBook Air with 1.1GHz dual-core 10th-gen Core i5 and Iris Plus Graphics. You may still find this on sale. The new model is a lot more powerful, so unless it is a really good discount we would recommend buying the newer M1 model.
Assuming you are looking to spend as little as possible to get a new Mac you might be considering the £999/$999 model and we think that would be a good choice. But we do recommend taking a look at the other model, which will not only be more capable due to the extra graphics core, it will offer you much more storage. However, if you are really likely to be utilising this extra graphics core the MacBook Pro might be a better option for you on the basis that it includes a fan and therefore may be better suited to graphics intensive work.
The MacBook Air is undoubtedly better value for money, though, so if that’s what is important to you it’s the one to buy. It’s also fractionally lighter thanks to its tapered edge, so better for carting around to lectures.
As with the MacBook Pro, there are no USB-A ports on the MacBook Air, just two USB-C and a headphone jack.
As we mentioned in the MacBook Pro section, the MacBook Air offers 18 hours battery life, according to Apple. This is two hours less than the M1 MacBook Pro’s 20 hour, but bound to be more than enough to get you through a day and an all-nighter at university.
We’d say that you can confidently buy either 2020 MacBook Air as they are more than adequate for the needs of a student, especially those who are predominantly writing essays and conducting research. The fact that they start from £999/$999 is a real bonus.
If you need more storage you may find external storage or even iCloud storage can work out cheaper. (If you have a big Music library, for example, pay for iTunes Match so you can keep your music in the cloud. If you have a big photo library turn on iCloud Photos and subscribe for additional iCloud Storage).
Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide
iMac vs Mac mini for college
While we appreciate that there are plenty of benefits associated with choosing a laptop for university, you may be better off with a desktop. As we have already ruled out the Mac Pro and iMac Pro as over powered you have the choice of the Mac mini or the 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 – or cart it home on a train for the holidays – but you will be able to work more efficiently through its bigger 24in screen.
In May 2021 Apple introduced a new
24in iMac (reviewed here) with a brand new design that comes in a choice of seven different colours and has a M1 processor, just like the MacBook Pro, Mac mini and MacBook Air. It’s certainly a Mac that will make a statement to anyone entering your dorm room.
Until March 2022 there was also a 27in iMac. That model had an Intel processor and discrete graphics and, if you can find one still on sale, might be a machine to consider if you are likely to be using graphics intensive apps on your course. However, we would suggest that the 27in iMac isn’t a good purchase now that it has been discontinued by Apple.
M1 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 256GB storage, 8GB RAM, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, two USB 3 ports
M1 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 512GB storage, 8GB RAM, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, two USB 3 ports
There are two main issues with the iMac. One is that it is not portable so may not suit your needs on that basis alone. The other is that its price is a lot higher than the Mac laptops and where in the past that was justified by more powerful processor or discrete graphics, that is not the case these days. The 24in iMac is basically the same as the 13in MacBook Pro, sure it offers a 4.5K 24in display, improved FaceTime camera and excellent speakers, but it’s still a big price to pay when you lose the portability of the laptop.
Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide
A much better option is the Mac mini, which, like the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, features a M1 Chip and was last upgraded in November 2020. Starting at £699/$699 it is the cheapest Mac going. The only compromise here is the lack of monitor and keyboard.
There are three Mac mini models. Two have the M1 Chip and one remains with an Intel 8th generation 6-core processor. Here’s how the Mac mini models line up at the time of writing:
The Intel model that’s still on sale probably isn’t going to be the one for you. That model is still on sale to appease those who still need an Intel option. We’d advise that you pick one of the M1 options which are a lighter silver shade (the Intel model comes in a darker Space Grey shade of aluminum).
Weighing in at 1.3kg, it’s about as portable as a desktop Mac gets. You could, in theory, take it home on the train, as long as you had a spare monitor waiting for you when you got there, for example.
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.
In fact, of all the M1 Macs the Mac mini is the one that gets our recommendation, it gives you all the power of the M1 Chip at a great price.
Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide
Which Mac should you get for university?
Our pick of the entire Mac range if you’re a student is the M1 MacBook Air. It’s light, fast, and at £999/$999 for the entry model it offers great value for an excellent machine. It’s the all-rounder here.
If you don’t need portability, then the M1 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 low price of £699/$699 is very attractive – you just need a monitor, mouse and keyboard.
If you’re looking to save a few pounds then keep an eye on the
Apple Refurb Store. Apple often offers previous-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.