Thinking of buying a Mac or MacBook for school, college or university? Here, in our best Mac for students guide, we take a look at Apple’s current line-up to find out which Mac is best for students. We’ll compare the MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro for college and examine whether another Mac might actually be a better choice.
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. Luckily registered students can save money on a new Mac by shopping at Apple’s Education Store, or with one of Apple’s partners. We discuss how to How to get an Apple student discount at Apple’s Education Store separately, although we also talk about the different ways you can save money as a student below.
We’ll run through exactly how much money you can save on a new Mac if you are a student below, then we will assess which Mac to choose based on your needs 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:
MacBook Air: June 2022 saw Apple reveal the M2 version of the MacBook Air, which then went on sale that July. Apple is still selling the entry-level M1 MacBook Air that features the first Apple silicon processors that were introduced in November 2020. There are therefore three MacBook Air models: one with the M1 Chip that offers a 7-core GPU and 8-core CPU, and two with M2 chips, one with a 8-core GPU and 8-core CPU, and the other with a 10-core GPU and 8-core CPU. The MacBook Air starts at $999/£999, but the price for students is lower: $899/£899. The new M2 model costs $1,199/£1,249 or $1,099/£1,149 for students. Students save $100/£100.
13-inch MacBook Pro: There are two 13-inch MacBook Pro models. These were also unveiled in June 2022 and feature the M2 chip like the Air. Prices start at $1,299/£1,349, student prices from: $1,199/£1,249. Students save $100/£100.
14-inch MacBook Pro: Apple updated the 14-inch MacBook Pro with M2 Pro and M2 Max chips in January 2023. The M2 Pro is a faster variant of the M2 found in the 13-inch MacBook Pro. There is also the option of an even faster M2 Max, but that’s more than most students would require. Normal pricing starts at $1,999/£2,149, but education pricing starts at $1,849/£1,989. Students save $150/£160.
16in MacBook Pro: Apple also updated the 16in MacBook Pro in January 2023. Like the 14in MacBook Pro this model is powered by an M2 Pro or an M2 Max, the M2 Max would be beyond the requirements of most students. Normal prices start at $2,499/£2,699, but education pricing starts at $2,299/£2,479, which is still probably beyond the budget of students. Students save $200/£220.
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.
24-inch iMac: In May 2021 Apple updated the iMac with an M1 chip and gave it a redesign that included extending the screen from 21.5-inch to 24-inch. At launch prices started at $1,299/£1,249. However, the prices increased outside the U.S. in January 2023 so the iMac now starts at £1,399 in the U.K. for example. Student pricing starts at $1,249. Students save $50.
Mac mini: The Mac mini was also updated in January 2023 when it gained two options: an M2 Chip like the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, or an M2 Pro chip like that used in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. Apple also dropped prices in January 2023. Normal prices start at $599/£649, but education pricing starts at $499/£539 for the M2 model. Students save $100/£110.
Mac Studio: Unveiled in March 2022, the Mac Studio will be overpowered the vast majority of students, but it’s not a bad option if you are looking for a powerful Mac with a lower price. It’s the most affordable way to get a ton of RAM and the ultimate in graphics, so if that’s what you need it might be suitable. Prices start at $1,999/£1,999, but education pricing is from $1,799/£1,798.80. Students save $200/£200.
MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro for college/university?
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 vs MacBook Pro in detail separately, but we’ll evaluate the different MacBooks from the perspective of a student below:
You might assume that the MacBook Air is low-powered in comparison to the MacBook Pro, but now only does the MacBook Air offer the same M2 chip as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, it has also got a bigger screen, better FaceTime cameras, and some other benefits when compared to the alternative machine.
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.
Here’s how the MacBook Air range looks:
M1 MacBook Air, 8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 256GB storage, 8GB RAM, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. The MacBook Air starts at $999/£999, but the price for students is lower: $899/£899. Students save $100/£100.
M2 MacBook Air, 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 256GB storage, 8GB RAM, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports and MagSafe charging port. The new M2 model costs $1,199/£1,249 or $1,099/£1,149 for students. Students save $100/£100.
M2 MacBook Air, 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 512GB storage, 8GB RAM, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports and MagSafe charging port $1,499/£1,549
Assuming you are looking to spend as little as possible to get a new Mac you might be considering the M1 MacBook Air model and we think that would be a good choice, but do keep in mind that this model was launched in November 2020 so now more than two years old. We discuss this model in more detail below.
The newer M2 MacBook Air costs more, but we it is worth the additional outlay because it benefits from a redesign that has brought a bigger, better and brighter screen, an improved camera for video calls, as well as the more powerful M2 chip.
The MacBook Air is undoubtedly the best value Mac laptop you can get, so if that’s what is important to you it’s the one to buy. It’s also fractionally lighter than the MacBook Pro.
There are no USB-A ports on the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, just two USB-C and a headphone jack. However, the M2 MacBook Air does add a MagSafe port, so you can charge your laptop and still have two USB ports free.
The MacBook Air offers 18 hours battery life, according to Apple. This is less than the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s 20 hour, but bound to be more than enough to get you through a day and an all-nighter at university.
The M2 MacBook Air with its bigger screen and better FaceTime camera will prove useful, even when you aren’t studying.
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).
The MacBook Pro are more expensive and more powerful Mac laptops than the Air. If bought new, the range starts from $1,299/£1,349 for the 13-inch MacBook Pro and goes up to $3,499/£3,749 for the top-of-the-range 16-inch version (you don’t need that model!)
Here’s what’s on offer right now:
13-inch MacBook Pro, M2, 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 256GB or 512GB storage, 8GB Unified Memory, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. Normally from $1,299/£1,349. Student prices from: $1,199/£1,249. Students save $100/£100.
14-inch MacBook Pro, M2 Pro, 10-core or 12-core CPU, 16-core, 19-core or 30-core GPU, 512GB or 1TB storage, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB or 96GB Unified Memory, three Thunderbolt 4 ports, HDMI port, SDXC card slot, MagSafe 3 port. From $1,999/£2,149. Education pricing starts at $1,849/£1,989. Students save $150/£160.
16-inch MacBook Pro, M2 Pro, 12-core CPU, 19-core, 38-core GPU, 512GB or 1TB storage, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB or 96GB Unified Memory, three Thunderbolt 4 ports, HDMI port, SDXC card slot, MagSafe 3 port. From $2,499/£2,699. Education pricing starts at $2,299/£2,479, which is still probably beyond the budget of students. Students save $200/£220.
It is unlikely that you need the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro and the price is likely to be prohibitive to students anyway (although we do see some very good MacBook Pro deals from time to time). The good news is that doesn’t matter because if you are a typical student the 13-inch 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 13-inch 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 iTunes Match.
Another benefit of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is 20 hours battery life. This beats the MacBook Air by 2 hours and the 14-inch MacBook Pro by 3 hours. Older Intel-powered Mac laptops only claimed 10 hours so this is a benefit of the M1 and later Macs.
That entry-level MacBook Pro comes with two Thunderbolt 3 ports (which double up as USB 4). 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. The 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro offer a much wider selection of ports including HDMI, SD card reader, and MagSafe charging in addition to the USB/Thunderbolt ports.
For most, the entry-level MacBook Pro model should be a decent enough spec to get your work done without any issues.
Students who are looking to spend as little money as possible may well be considering the M1 MacBook Air, which is just $899/£899 for students. That’s $200/$250 less than the newer M2 MacBook Air ($1,099/£1,149 for students).
While the M1 MacBook Air is more than two years old now, and doesn’t offer the bigger screen or the superior FaceTime camera of the M2 MacBook Air, we’d say that you can confidently buy a 2020 M1 MacBook Air. The M1 MacBook Air will be more than adequate for the needs of a student, especially those who are predominantly writing essays and conducting research. The fact that the education price is $899/£899 is a real bonus.
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 24-inch iMac with a similarly speced Mac laptop the iMac is considerably more expensive.
iMac vs Mac mini for students
While we appreciate that there are plenty of benefits associated with choosing a laptop for university, you may be better off with a desktop.
The Mac mini is about as portable as a desktop Mac can get, 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. It features either an M2 or M2 Pro chip and was last upgraded in January 2023. Starting at the new lower price of $599/£649 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 M2 chip and the other has an M2 Pro chip. Here’s how the Mac mini models line up at the time of writing:
M2 Mac mini, 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 256GB storage, 8GB RAM $599/£649. Education pricing starts at $499/£539 for the M2 model. Students save $100/£110.
M2 Pro Mac mini, 3.0GHz quad-core, Intel UHD Graphics 630, 512GB storage, 8GB RAM $1,299/£1,399
If you are on a budget the Mac mini is the way to go. Get an entry-level Mac mini and ask around for an old keyboard, mouse and monitor.
In fact, of all the M2 Macs the Mac mini is the one that gets our recommendation, it gives you all the power of the M2 chip at a great price. And as for that M2 Pro option–if you need an M2 Pro chip it’s a lot cheaper than a 14-inch MacBook Pro.
In May 2021 Apple introduced a 24-inch iMac with a brand new design that comes in a choice of seven different colours and has a M1 processor. Thanks to its design it’s certainly a Mac that will make a statement to anyone entering your dorm room.
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 thanks to its 24-inch screen.
Here’s how the iMac models line up:
M1 8-core CPU, 7-core GPU, 256GB storage, 8GB RAM, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports $1,299/£1,399, student pricing starts at $1,249. Students save $50.
M1 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 256GB storage, 8GB RAM, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, two USB 3 ports $1,499/£1,599
M1 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 512GB storage, 8GB RAM, two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, two USB 3 ports $1,699/£1,799
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 24-inch iMac is basically the same as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, sure it offers a 4.5K 24-inch display, improved FaceTime camera and excellent speakers, but it’s still a big price to pay when you lose the portability of the laptop.
Our pick of the entire Mac range if you’re a student is the M2 MacBook Air. It will give you a better screen, better webcam and an attractive new design to show off in lectures. It’s light, fast, and with student pricing starting at $899/£899 it’s very good value.
You could save by opting for the older M1 MacBook Air, but if you are looking for the cheapest Mac you can get then the M2 Mac mini is a very good option. It’s powerful and with Apple’s education discount it’s just $499/£539. You just need a monitor, mouse and keyboard.
How to get a discount on a Mac for university or school
Getting a student discount from Apple’s education store isn’t the only way to get a cheaper Mac as a student–and not everyone qualifies for Apple’s education discount anyway. Only higher education students can take advantage of Apple’s education discount–school age children can only take advantage if the equipment is being purchased by their school.
There are various ways to get a bargain:
Get an Apple student discount: If you are a registered student you’ll be able to get a discount on a new Mac if you shop in Apple’s Education Store. You can find out all about it in more detail in our Apple Education Store explainer, but in short it’ll get you money off your Mac and it’s well worth it! If you are in the U.S. visit the U.S. Education Store. If you are in the U.K. visit the UK Apple Education Store (U.K. students will need to have proof of their student status in order to access it. There’s also an Australian Education Store.
Wait for Apple’s Back to Uni Sale: Apple’s Education Store usually offers a Back to Higher Education deal during the summer months. From around June to October in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Europe Apple gives away AirPods to university and higher education students buying a new Mac or iPad. In 2022 Apple changed the give-away to up to $150/£150 in vouchers, but in 2023 it is back to giving AirPods away, based on the Higher Education deal currently between January and March in Australia.
Look out for reseller discounts: Another way to get a bargain is to look out for deals at Apple resellers and Amazon, where we have see Macs with as much as $500 off the price. Take a look at our round ups of the best Mac deals to get the best prices right now:
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 are fully checked and come with a one-year 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.
Buy second hand/used: 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 or used Mac just be especially cautious.
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 are likely to feature Intel processors rather than Apple’s M1, M2 or their variants, which could put you at a disadvantage in the future (and will certainly mean your Mac depreciates in value very 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.