Economical Tech Setups for Kids in College Classes

College costs enough, just covering tuition, room and board, and food all add up quickly. Even online schools will cost families thousands of dollars every year. No need to keep adding to it by overdoing it on your computer technology. For most college students, the latest gadgets are nothing but a fun luxury, not a necessity. Ultimately, frugal students should spend money on technology that will allow them to work smarter and more efficiently at college. Although there will be plenty of downtime in your dorm room, no doubt streaming episodes of Community until all hours, the most important consideration in a computing system is how well it lets you accomplish your school work.

So what are the “must haves” with a college computer system? It varies by major, but for starter every student needs to be able to access the internet, read documents, watch videos and seminars, and handle word processing. Fortunately, with the advances made in computers and technology, those are  pretty basic elements, even netbooks can handle most of these tasks.

And as for the internet connection, ,most campuses have wifi around campus and wired high speed connections in labs and dorms. If your campus is particularly well connected, a laptop beats a desktop.  Inside Higher Ed reports that 98.4% of students have a computer at college, despite the fact that most campuses have plenty of access to public computers. But, owning your own computer system is certainly far more convenient than using public computers.

So the question is, just how much should you spend on a computer system? To a large extent this depends upon your field of study. Economics and engineering majors need to crunch numbers big time, and they need computers with fast processors that can handle all of that data. Film and graphics majors need superior graphics cards, and octo-core processors are required to run state of the art video. Truth is, those who major in these computing intensive subjects will probably opt for custom-built desktops, coupled with portable external hard drives, laptops and tablets as mobile add-ons.

On the other hand, English, business, philosophy and history majors can probably do everything they need to do on a desktop that will set them back less than $300, or a swish laptop for less than $600. Tablets are a great accessory to have, for their lightweight and portability. Plus, a tablet can double as an e-reader. On the other hand, that super slim package comes at a high cost. Tablets will run several hundred dollars, while a basic Kindle can be had for $79 bucks. And even a laptop, which will do a lot more than a tablet, is cheaper.

Of course, while your parents may not regard the entertainment value of your technology as worthy of note, after all, you are supposed to be slaving away at your studies 24/7, you would have to be a rather disconnected college student to not be aware of all the entertainment options offered by your “study tools.” Laptops and tablets are often regarded as inadequate for much more than listening to music, they just won’t do for television and movies. But even an 8” netbook can handle your off hours entertainment, if you pair it with a nice large monitor at your desk or in the living room. And, it’s pretty easy to pick up a used monitor for less than $100, and you can get a new LCD for less than $200.

College textbooks are rapidly going digital. While most laptops, netbooks and tablets can handle digital texts, the convenience of an e-reader like the Kindle or Nextbook make them worth a look, especially at their usual low prices. While everyone knows that these e-readers are slim and lightweight, students should really take note of the study tools they offer, as well. Kindle will allow you to bookmark a page and never lose your place, search words and key phrases through an entire text, make notes directly on the page and store them, highlight text, and carry all of your college textbooks in one device. Not to mention, the battery lasts an entire month with constant use. Other e-readers offer similar features. Students will spend an average of almost $1200 on textbooks this year, according to US News, even a 10% savings by purchasing e-books will pay for your e-reader in one year.

Spending a little on a solid, if basic computer will keep you connected to the cloud, and keep your data processing seamless for the duration of your studies. Deciding what to buy is a matter of deciding how you’ll use it. Choose wisely, the latest and greatest comes with high cost and reliability issues. After all, for college, your computer and technology need to be more of a workhorse that a race horse. With a little planning, most students can get a complete tech set up for less than $500.

Drew Hendricks
Drew Hendricks is a tech, social media and environmental addict. He's written for many major publishers such as National Geographic and Technorati.

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