College is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s pretty dang expensive. So with any extra money you have, it’s important to spend it on worthwhile tech that’ll potentially last the entire time at college and not on gimmicky items that’ll break or be ignored after a few weeks.
With so many tech items specifically marketed towards college students, it can be hard to weed out what’s actually useful and what’s a waste of money. Do you need a top-of-the-line Macbook Pro? Maybe if you’re a design student, but probably not. Do you need a laptop in general? Yes, a simple laptop would be incredibly helpful for researching, studying, and writing papers. Whether you’re buying something for yourself or gifting something to a lucky student, we’ve got you covered with the most practical techy items for college.
The main point of going to college is to educate yourself and earn a degree. How do you do that? By studying. Unfortunately, studying isn’t typically an enjoyable experience. But with these items, you can study with less distractions and hopefully make the whole process a bit less boring.
While many college students have opted to take notes on their laptops, there’s something about physically writing something down that can’t quite be replicated through typing. But lugging around your physical notes is a heavy task, and you’re constantly rotating through journals as you run out of space. Rocketbook’s Fusion notebook solves both of those problems. It’s a lightweight smart notebook with reusable pages that you can scan and upload to the Rocketbook mobile app (Android/iOS). Plus, there are helpful monthly and weekly calendar views to help you stay on top of due dates.
Rocketbook Fusion Smart Reusable Notebook
Rocketbook's Fusion notebook could possibly be the only one you use throughout your whole college experience. Why? Well, it's smart, reusable, and affordable.
In a perfect world, everyone would wake up early, find time to study throughout the day, and then go to bed at a reasonable time. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most people—especially college students. During those late-night study sessions, a great desk lamp can make a huge difference. It’s important to find an option that won’t give you headaches or be annoying to adjust when you need to move the light. If you already have a desk lamp, consider swapping out the bulb for a smart bulb so you can adjust the brightness and use it in your daily routines.
Music can be super helpful while you’re studying. Whether you’re the type of person who needs to listen to your favorite songs and sing along, or the type who needs purely instrumental songs to study, music has been a wonderful study aide for years. Earbuds are an affordable and discreet way to listen to music in the classroom, the library, or just your dorm room.
When you’re in college, it’s especially important to make sure your earbuds have noise-canceling capabilities, like Jabra’s Elite 85t earbuds. Plus, the Elite 85t earbuds can last up to 31 hours on a single charge, so you don’t have to worry about charging them every day.
Between earbuds and headphones, earbuds are the more discreet option, but headphones are generally more comfortable and better at canceling out background noise. Noise-canceling headphones are also pricier, but so worth it for those incredibly long study sessions. Right now, Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones strike the perfect balance between price and value, with active noise-canceling tech, quality sound, and comfy ear cushions.
It’s certainly possible to get through college without a laptop, but when there are so many affordable options out there, why would you want to? Whether you live on campus or at home, a laptop gives you the freedom to work and study from wherever you can focus best. If it’s loud at home, pack up and head to the library or a coffee shop—your own laptop gives you that flexibility.
When shopping for a laptop, many people end up asking: What’s the difference between a laptop and a Chromebook? We have a full explainer answering this question, but here’s the gist. When people ask this question, they’re typically defining “laptop” as a Windows or macOS laptop. In reality, a Chromebook is also a laptop, but not all laptops are Chromebooks.
If you think that all you’ll be doing on your laptop is browsing the internet, writing up papers on Google Docs, and occasionally streaming media from Netflix or YouTube, a Chromebook would be able to do all that perfectly and cost you less than if you go the Windows or macOS laptop route. An affordable Chromebook, like the Acer Chromebook 314, will cost you between $200 and $300.
A laptop that runs Windows OS or macOS is a better choice if you typically use special programs or like to play video games. Whereas Chromebooks generally offer similar specs and stay in a lower price range, other laptops vary wildly. You can still find an affordable laptop at around $400—like Lenovo’s IdeaPad 3—or you can invest in a more expensive laptop that’s capable of playing the latest games and running demanding programs.
Investing in a wireless mouse to accompany your laptop is a smart choice for a few reasons. Using a laptop’s trackpad is great in a pinch, but not when you’re planning to be on your laptop for hours at a time. A separate wireless mouse is more comfortable and won’t strain your hand or wrist as easily, especially if it’s ergonomic like Logitech’s MX Master 3 wireless mouse. Plus, a separate mouse is more accurate than a trackpad, and many options come with extra customizable buttons that you can use to launch Netflix—er, I mean, something school-related.
A wireless keyboard can add comfort and convenience to your laptop setup just like a wireless mouse can. Laptop keyboards can be great, but nine times out of ten, a dedicated external keyboard is going to be better. Not only will your wrists thank you, your posture will likely be better while typing as well because you need a solid surface to type well on your wireless keyboard.
Our favorite wireless keyboard at the moment is Logitech’s MX Keys. If you’re looking for a mechanical option, we reviewed and absolutely loved Logitech’s MX Mechanical keyboard and the MX Mechanical Mini.
When you put a laptop on a desk, it’s not at an optimal placement for your eyeline, and your posture will suffer for it. If you have a standing desk, you can avoid this problem of staring down at your screen and prevent a bunch of back and neck aches. But standing desks are expensive, so if you can’t invest in one of those, what is there to do?
Well, a laptop stand props up your laptop at a height that’s closer to your eye level, putting less strain on your neck, shoulders, and back. Plus, many laptop stands let you adjust the height to match your eyeline perfectly, including Rain Design’s iLevel2 stand.
There are a few practical pieces of tech that didn’t quite fit in one of our other two categories, but are certainly worth mentioning. If you have trouble waking up, keeping your phone charged, or remembering to lug around heavy textbooks—so pretty much every college student—you’ll love these choices.
Waking up at a decent time in the morning is hard enough, but when you’re waking up to go to class, it’s somehow harder. Ditch the annoying alarm on your phone that ends up waking up everyone else but you. Instead, try out something a bit softer and more unique, like the Philips SmartSleep Wake-up Light. Rather than wake you up with a blaring noise, the Wake-up Light mimics the rising sun and gradually gets brighter to ease you awake. It can also gradually dim at a specified time to signal when it’s time to go to bed.
Keeping a portable battery on you isn’t just smart, it’s borderline necessary in college. Forget to charge your tablet or laptop before class? No problem. Pull Anker’s 20,000mAh battery out of your bag, plug it in, and you’re good to go. Plus, many students put their important calendar dates in their smartphone, so if your phone is at 5% in between classes, a portable charger is a lifesaver.
Anyone who’s purchased college textbooks recently knows how insanely expensive they are. When you’re shopping around Amazon or the Barnes & Noble website, you’ll see that there’s usually quite a few different purchase options for every textbook—used versus new, hardcover versus paperback or loose leaf, physical book versus a Kindle edition.
In most, if not all, situations, the Kindle version of a textbook is more affordable because it requires less to make it. You can download a Kindle app for your smartphone (Android/iOS), but let’s be honest, who wants to read a textbook on their teeny tiny phone screen? Buying a Kindle helps you keep track of where all of your textbooks are, and if you choose the Kindle Paperwhite specifically, you can take your reading outdoors and study in the sunlight.
Keep all your textbooks in one place: the Kindle Paperwhite. You'll pay less for textbooks and get to take your reading outside.