Apple’s MacBooks are getting better every year now that the company has moved to its own Apple Silicon architecture, but should you buy an older model and save money? Which screen size is right for you? And which chip is more powerful? These are all questions to ask when looking for the best MacBook for students, but this guide is here to clear up some of your questions.
As a result, your best bet is to keep an eye out for M1 or M2 processors. At the time of writing, the M1 Ultra is Apple’s most powerful chip, but it’s only found in desktop computers. Next, it’s the M1 Max, which can be found in MacBook Pros, and then the M1 Pro, which is another MacBook Pro chip. After that, it’s the M2, then M1, although year-on-year performance gains are more incremental than the jump from Intel to M1.
So, what makes a MacBook one of the best laptops for students? Not only is the hardware and software more in tune than Windows machines, with a variety of trackpad gestures and clever features like MagSafe charging, but macOS offers a powerful set of built-in apps. From Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, to Garageband for audio editing and iMovie for video, there’s plenty you can do with a Mac right out of the box.
Naturally, the most powerful MacBooks are better suited to complex tasks, making them among the best laptops for coding, but you’ll find plenty of bang for your buck with M1 laptops too.
Oh and if you’re a student, you can also save money year-round with the Apple Student Discount.
Best MacBooks for students
Apple has long touted its MacBook Air as its most popular laptop, but the tech giant finally put its money where its mouth is with a stunning refresh of the product line. For the price, users get Apple’s latest M2 chip, the return of the popular MagSafe charging option, and a gorgeous Liquid Retina display.
It’s evidently inspired by the 2021 MacBook Pro, and packs in a much-improved 1080 p webcam for good measure. All of this in a package that weighs just 2.7 lbs, and now comes in four colors – including the long-awaited midnight.
We’d still suggest bumping up the storage though, since 256 GB feels a little miserly in 2022. Those looking to undertake more demanding tasks may want to add to the base 8 GB of RAM, too. Even without those upgrades, Apple says it’s 1.4 times faster than the M1 version, and an incredible 15 times faster than the Intel MacBook Air.
The MacBook Pro 13-inch M2 may be brand new but it already feels more than a little outdated. That’s mainly due to its exterior, which maintains the M1 version’s 13-inch display and still includes a 720 p webcam, as well as a limited number of ports. It’s now the only MacBook with the controversial touch bar, too.
And yet, it offers the best battery life of any MacBook around at the time of writing, and just about trumps the fanless MacBook Air M2 when it comes to sustained performance. While it’s not the most exciting MacBook, there’s no denying that it’ll offer a solid computing experience – even if it is lacking in pizazz.
If you are wedded to this design, the M1 version of the MacBook Pro 13-inch can likely be found at a discount, and while it’s not quite as fast, the jump from M1 to M2 is much more incremental than Apple silicon’s explosive debut vs Intel.
Despite the overhauled MacBook Air M2 getting all of the attention, the M1 edition of Apple’s most popular laptop remains an attractive proposition for its portability alone. The M1 MacBook Air is slim and maintains the product line’s impressive tapered design (this means the laptop is thinnest at the front).
It’s also the cheapest MacBook you can buy with Apple silicon, although that comes with a catch – you’ll still likely want to spend a couple of hundred dollars extra to double the storage to 512 GB.
There’s also still just a 720 p webcam, meaning you may want to go for another MacBook if you spend a lot of time in calls or on FaceTime. Still, for the price, it’s the best way to experience what macOS has to offer, and if you’ve already got an iPhone or iPad you’re likely to feel right at home.
In a lot of ways, the MacBook Pro 2021 models feel like a return to what made prior models so beloved by power users – there are more ports, the function keys are back, and MagSafe made a comeback.
Beyond that, the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips are still Apple’s most powerful laptop processors (although we can reasonably expect M2 Pro and Max versions in the coming months), while still offering more than 11 hours of battery life.
Then there’s the revamped design. This laptop now includes an incredible new display with the controversial “notch” that holds the camera, as well as a black keyboard tray that looks great while offering excellent key travel.
You can take everything we said about the 14-inch MacBook Pro and apply it to the 16-inch version, too. Apple’s largest MacBook doesn’t offer any drastic improvements over its smaller brother, but it does come with a fast charger as standard.
Then there’s the display, which gains an extra couple of inches to make it ideal for watching movies. The battery life has also increased – Apple says you can watch over 20 hours of video on a single charge.
Factor in the incredible performance and power efficiency of both the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, and the 16-inch MacBook essentially becomes a powerful, desktop-class workstation that you can take anywhere. Still, it’s not cheap, and for many students, it’ll be overkill.
MacBook student discount
Apple has long offered educational discounts for students looking to invest in the company’s products, and that means you can save big bucks on a Mac and iPad right now.
If you’re a student or faculty staff, you’ll be able to save money on everything from the iMac, to the Pro Display XDR using your student ID credentials at Apple’s education store (opens in new tab).
Apple also runs regular “back to school’ promotions, ranging from additional Gift Cards that can be redeemed for hardware, software, or services like Apple Music. The company also offers occasional discounts on its AppleCare+ insurance, helping with repairs for things like out-of-warranty screen cracks or water spillages. That can be particularly helpful when transporting your shiny new laptop from a dorm to a classroom and back, giving you peace of mind.
Are MacBooks best for students?
While Windows laptops are traditionally more affordable, Apple’s MacBooks tend to last a fair amount longer, with more regular updates across the products’ life cycle.
If you're worried about access to all your usual programs, fear not, because Apple laptops can run Microsoft Office apps like Outlook, Word, and Excel. Apple also offers its own productivity suite. Pages, the company’s word processor, and Numbers, the spreadsheet app, can read all sorts of file formats, too, so you won’t be left in the dark when you’re sent notes.
There’s also the App Store for Mac, which offers a huge number of apps for work, play, and creativity. From task managers to note-taking and research apps, to games and more, there’s plenty to be found on the App Store. Not keen on Apple’s stock apps? Well, you’ll be glad to know that macOS is more customizable than iOS and iPadOS.
If you’re working in audio or video editing workflows, Apple offers its own powerful tools. GarageBand is included for free with every Mac purchase and is ideal for recording audio, while Logic Pro X is the tech giant’s premium option. Final Cut Pro is an excellent video editing suite, too.
Much of macOS will feel familiar if you’re used to using an iPhone or iPad – and a lot of your apps may run on Apple silicon already. If you’re already using AirPods or Beats headphones, you’ll be able to enjoy them seamlessly on Mac as well.
One area where Windows has Mac beat is in gaming. While macOS can run the likes of Steam, Battle.net, and offers its own library of games and Apple Arcade titles, the selection on offer in third-party stores pales in comparison to Windows. Still, if you do play, you’re at least able to connect controllers via Bluetooth.