Education has changed quite a bit over the years. With new-age computing and digital tools, traditional on-campus education has steadily transitioned into online education and distance education. Both teachers and students have gradually embraced technology in education and have come to live with this change rather comfortably. The COVID-19 pandemic has of course given the use of technology in online college education, a shot in the arm. Today, college students require only an internet connection and a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, to learn and pursue their online education.

On that note, it is worth pointing out that some colleges that have a laptop program give out laptops to their online students for free, while some others offer them at discounted prices. This guide covers everything there is to know about free laptops, how to pick the right one, and a walk-through of online colleges with free laptops or tablets.

Featured Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University

PROGRAM: Online Masters Degrees

Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

We’re proud to provide affordable, accessible education that students can pursue on our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH, over our innovative online platform or at our regional centers in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem, NH, and Brunswick, ME.

SNHU has earned the Best Buy and Best of Business – Best Online Degree awards and is consistently ranked as a top Military Friendly® School by G.I Jobs®.

Choosing the Right Laptop for Online College

Since a computer is arguably the medium through which, going ahead, a student will learn, it is important to choose the right laptop for online college education. College students will do well to understand what their personal needs are, what the program requires, how long the laptop should be of service (minimum duration), and other such relevant factors, before picking a suitable laptop.

There are many types of laptops and tablets available in the market – MacBook, Surface (Microsoft), Chromebook, and traditional Windows-based laptops. All of these come from different vendors with different software and hardware configurations. Although some schools provide detailed guidelines about what kind of laptops their online programs require, this in-depth guide provides comprehensive information to make picking the right one for higher education easy. Here is a quick look at the different types of laptops available in the market today:

Common NameForm FactorManufacturerOperating System
MacBook (Air/Pro)LaptopApplemacOS
ChromebookLaptopGoogleChrome OS
Laptop (Generic)LaptopLenovo, HP, Acer, Dell, etc.Windows
iPad (Air/Pro)TabletAppleiPadOS
The Laptop: Dissected

Choosing the right laptop can be quite confusing and frustrating. There are hundreds of models to choose from and a host of specifications that may not be easy to understand at first glance. Here are some key components and specifications to look for in personal computers, along with a brief description of each one:

Main Components/Factors:

ProcessorThe Processor, also known as the CPU or Central Processing Unit, is the brain behind the machine. It handles all computing tasks – billions of operations per second – which is why the faster the processor, the faster the machine (Note: the processor directly has a bearing on long battery life.)At least: 10th generation Intel Core i3 | AMD Ryzen 5 3600 and above | M1 for Macs.   Ideal: 11th generation Core i5 | AMD Ryzen 5 5600G | M1 for Macs.
MemoryMemory, also known as RAM or Random Access Memory, is what helps the processor compute with ease and enables multitasking (the running of more than one software at a time).At least: 4GB of DDR4 RAM.   Ideal: 8GB to 16GB for Windows Laptops & Chromebooks | 8GB for Macs.
StorageStorage, also known as HDD or Hard Disk Drive, is what stores all the software and data on the computer. While Hard Disk Drives are mechanical with platters and a head for read-write operations, the relatively new SSD or Solid-State Drive is microprocessor-based and is several times faster, but more expensive than HDDs.At least*: 500GB in case of HDD | 240GB in case of SSD.   Ideal*: 1TB in case of HDD | 240GB in case of SSD.   *Amount of storage required ultimately depends on individual space requirements.
DisplayAll modern laptops are based on TFT (Thin-Film-Transistor) technology and are LED (Light Emitting Diode) backlit. Some laptop displays are touch-enabled as well.At least: A resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, with a brightness of 250 nits.   Ideal: A resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, with a brightness of 350 nits.
GraphicsEvery laptop comes with a built-in graphics processor that handles all visual-related tasks. While these processors are good enough for most uses, graphics-intensive software may require a separate graphics processor, known as ‘discrete graphics’, which will have its own memory as well.At least: Intel HD Graphics | AMD Ryzen Radeon Graphics | M1 for Macs.   Ideal*: Any nVidia or Radeon Graphics with 4GB DDR5 RAM | M1 for Macs.   *for power users
Other Components/Factors:

Along with the processor, memory, storage, and display, there are other crucial components and factors that need to be considered when choosing the right laptop. Some of these are:


Laptops come in several sizes – 13 inches, 14 inches, 15.6 inches, 16 inches, and 17 inches, to name a few. These are largely the size of the display and will determine the device’s portability, weight, and battery power.

Battery Life:

Manufacturers typically do not specify battery capacities but instead mention the amount of time one can use the laptop on a full charge. A bigger laptop may not necessarily provide more hours of usage because certain components (such as the display) will naturally require more power in a larger laptop. That said, a minimum of 4 hours of continuous use from a full charge should suffice in most cases.

Camera, Speakers & Microphone:

Perhaps one of the most important but less talked about components is the laptop’s camera, speakers, and microphone. Since many college programs involve online lectures through video, it is essential to have a good camera that can relay video footage with good clarity. Speakers that belt out balanced sound and microphone/s that capture voice well enough while drowning out ambient noise, are essential to make for a good overall experience when taking online courses via video.


In today’s technology-driven world, having access to information at the tip of one’s fingers is important. Being unable to link up with the internet can arguably label any laptop as “dumb”, which is why reliable Wi-Fi connectivity should be looked for. Current Wi-Fi standards are 802.11n and 802.11ac, with the recent addition of 802.11ax, also known as Wi-Fi 6.

Operating System:

The operating system is a sort of interpreter and enabler between the hardware of the laptop and the user (you). It also hosts and runs all the additional software one would need. The two popular operating systems today are Windows and macOS, with the relatively new third one being Chrome OS. Students should always check their program requirements – what software is required to be installed, and of course, also consider their personal needs and preferences as well (some software do not work on certain operating systems).

Warranty & Repairability:

Warranty is another crucial factor because repairs to most laptops can otherwise run into hundreds of dollars. While in the case of Microsoft, Windows and Chrome-based laptops the period of warranty varies by manufacturer, Apple laptops typically come with a 1-year warranty that is extendable for an additional fee. It is worth pointing out that Windows laptops cost considerably less to service or repair than their Apple counterparts, but Apple laptops are less prone to failure and are generally considered to be more durable.


Comparing platforms and operating systems are not as easy as comparing apples to apples. Each operating system has its strengths and limitations, and there is no sure-shot winner. In the end, ease of use, compatibility with peripherals and accessories, stability, the user interface and experience, availability of third-party software, upgradability, personal preferences, etc. are all determinants in choosing the right laptop. All operating systems have their independent ecosystems and the ultimate choice of which one to opt for, solely depends on the user.

(Note: Apple fans can check to see if the college they wish to enroll in is an Apple Distinguished School.)

Things to Consider Before Choosing a Laptop

Now that the laptop has been thoroughly examined, here are a few questions one must ask oneself before choosing which laptop to loan or own:

  1. What is the speed of the processor? (This will largely determine how fast the laptop runs.)
  2. How much memory (RAM) and storage (HDD/SSD)) does the laptop have? (More the better but can drive the cost up.)
  3. How good are the webcam, speakers, and microphone?
  4. How compatible is the laptop with external gadgets, and what kind of connectivity does the laptop provide?
  5. What is the battery life?
  6. What is the size and weight of the laptop?
  7. What software comes pre-installed with the laptop? (Having pre-installed software can potentially save the user a lot of money.)
  8. Does the laptop have a warranty? (This is important as electronic items can break quickly, and warranties help.)
  9. Does the vendor of the laptop provide student discounts?

Online Colleges with Free Laptops – FAQs

Do all online colleges offer free laptops?

No, not all online colleges offer free laptops, only some of them do. In most cases, a free laptop is given to new students who enroll in free laptop programs.

What kinds of laptops do colleges offer for free?

Who is eligible for a free laptop?

Are these laptops new?

Do I get to choose what laptop I get?

Can I upgrade my free laptop without seeking permission from the college?

What happens if the laptop is not functioning as it should?

When graduating or dropping out, does the college require students to return the laptop?

Do online schools offer free laptop programs for undergraduate students?

Are there any hidden costs associated with free laptops?

Which are the colleges that offer laptops for free?

faq pic

Online Colleges with Free Laptops or Tablets – Details

To push technology in education, several online schools today offer free laptops to students who enroll in their online programs. Some colleges may either offer laptops for free or at a discounted price. Below are the details of colleges that have a laptop program and offer free laptops or laptops at discounted prices to college students, ordered alphabetically.

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Bethel University is a private university out of Minnesota. Established in 1871, Bethel has more than 6000 students and offers many on-campus and online higher education programs. Students that are enrolled as first-year students get a Google Chromebook laptop. Students are expected to collect these laptops via mail before the first day. If students did not receive the laptop before the start date of the semester, they should contact the support lines.

  • Undergraduate Tuition Fees – $38,460
  • Graduate Tuition Fees – $11,700
  • Overall Graduation Rate – 73%

Source – Integrated Post Secondary Education Data System & University Data
*Tuition rates are for in-state and per year. Program specific rates may apply.
**NA – data not available

Additional Resources for Online College Students

There is more to a master’s degree than choosing a program that offers a free laptop. Students who run through a school search are often lost looking for the right and relevant information. OMC has a wealth of resources for graduate students to use, which can go a long way in making the right decisions. Here are a few to get started:

  1. Best Financial Aid Guide Learn all there is to know about college funding, from scholarships to grants, FAFSA, and more. This financial aid guide walks students through all aspects of financial aid.
  2. Student Notebooks This site helps students pick the right laptop for their educational needs.
  3. Common App The Common App enables students to apply for multiple colleges in one go. Read through this guide to find out how that process works.
  4. Best Buy Best Buy often offers ‘Back to School’ deals, through which students can buy laptops and tablets at discounted prices.
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