Helping Your New College Student Consider Computer Needs

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Most college students head off to college these days with a computer.  Although a personal computer may not be absolutely necessary since most colleges have computer labs for student use, it is definitely a convenience to have your own computer.

 There are arguments in favor of laptops and desktop computers, and your college student may need to consider which he prefers. Laptops certainly win the prize for portability, but desktops may be more secure and less expensive.  Your student should think carefully about how he plans to use his computer.  He should talk to other students who are planning to attend the school, as well as to students currently attending.  (He’s probably already chatting with them on facebook anyway.)  The college may also have an official recommendation from its technology center.

 Check with the college about specific requirements and/or recommendations for computer specifications.  They know what has worked best in the past, and what they are able to support.   Consider their suggestions carefully. Some colleges may have a plan that provides a discount on computers purchased through them. Your student should also investigate whether the college supports both Mac and Windows operating systems before she makes a final choice.

In addition to the basic computer, there are a few things that your student may want to consider.  Some accessories are definitely luxuries, and others may be closer to necessities.  This will vary by individual, major, and institution.  Something considered an essential for one student may be on the luxury scale for another.  You may need to help your student think carefully about how he uses, or may use, his computer at college.  Here are a few things for him to consider beyond the basic computer itself.

  • Printer: Many students come to college without a printer.  Students can usually print papers in a computer lab or library. Students may be charged a minimal fee for printing, or the costs of printing may be included in tuition. The downside of not having a printer, however, is that printers in labs or libraries sometime have problems – and those problems seem to occur just when the paper needs to be printed on the way to class.  Public printers also often have several students waiting to use them. If your student chooses to use college printers, he will also need to be able either to send his document to the printer or carry the document on a USB drive.  Drives can be lost.  With the cost of printers relatively reasonable, or sometimes even included with the purchase of the computer, your student may want to consider bringing one to school.
  • USB drive: Your student will definitely need a USB drive or flash drive to carry computer files with him.  He may need to transport a document, or he may need to take a PowerPoint presentation to class or to a group meeting.  He may also use the flash drive to back up important documents on the computer so a crucial paper or project won’t be lost.
  • External drive: It may be an important investment for your student to have an external hard drive and to back up his computer regularly.  Faculty members are not always entirely sympathetic to late papers when they hear “My hard drive crashed.”  More importantly, your student will not want to start a project over again from scratch because of a computer problem.  She should also keep all assignments throughout her college career since she may need them later for various reasons.  Regular back-ups on an external drive are crucial.  Some colleges may offer students space on a common drive, so your student should also ask about that option.
  • PowerPoint: Your student will almost certainly be required to do presentations in his college classes using PowerPoint or some other presentation format. 
  • Presentation Remote: This is a luxury item, but might be something to consider as a holiday or other occasion gift for your student.  If he finds that he is doing many presentations (this may depend on his major), having a presentation remote that allows him to move away from the podium or computer will give him many options.
  • Skype: Your student may already be using Skype, but this software will allow him to stay in touch with his friends.  If his computer has a webcam, he’ll be able to video chat with friends (or family!) anywhere in the world.  Computer to computer communication is free and computer to phone communication is reasonable. Students may even use Skype to do remote group work or to video chat with a professor.
  • Computer lock: Whether your student takes a laptop or desktop computer to school, he might want to consider a good computer lock.  This will help prevent theft – a particular concern for students with laptops.  You might also remind your student to be sure to always lock his room door – even if he is only gone briefly.
  • Special software: Depending on your student’s major or field of study, he may need specialty software.  He can ask about this before he heads to school, or he may want to wait to see what is truly necessary.  If the software is expensive and he has access to a computer lab, he may want to use the college software first to see whether he needs to purchase it.  There are often student discounts available on software packages.

 If your student has questions once she arrives on campus, the campus computer center or technology center is a wonderful resource.  They can answer questions and often help with minor repairs or problems.  It is one of the places on campus that your student should locate early.

 This list is certainly not intended to be either comprehensive or technical.  It is intended to help you help your student think about his technology needs.  It is important to remember, too, that he may not need everything immediately.  He may want to arrive at school with the basics and then see what he feels is missing.  College bookstores are often well stocked, there are probably computer stores close by, and holidays will be arriving in a few months.  As your student completes his work during his first few weeks, he can think about what is, or is not, working for his computer needs.

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