Back to School

I couldn’t resist the headline — next to “go to bed”, “back to school” were my least favourite three words growing up, especially in August. But if you are college age, or have a kid who is college age, then this time of year is particularly stressful.

Sending a kid to university these days will cost you more than a few hundred bucks for books and notepaper, and a cheque for whatever the school charges for room and board that semester. These days college-age kids need computers. More specifically, college-age kids need laptops, which are actually starting to become mandatory for a lot of classes.

They’re incredibly useful for taking notes, and some professors are actually tech-savvy enough to create dynamic material for their classes that students can reference in real time — downloading course materials like movies and documents to their laptop at the same time those items are being discussed.

In fact, the most wired and wireless places in the world are university campuses, where students use their laptops for communicating with other students and their professors, accessing the school’s digital library, uploading papers and projects, social networking, and more. In some cases if you miss a lecture, you can just watch a video of it after the fact by accessing a class web page.

That leaves a lot of parents and students with a $500 to $2,500 question of what to buy.

If laptops are mandatory, the school will usually tell you what the minimum system and software requirements are. You may not want to get a MacBook if your course software is only compatible with Windows. If you don’t know what’s compatible with what it doesn’t hurt to call the school and ask what they would recommend.

If your school has no system requirements, and money is no object, my advice is to go and get a MacBook Pro. You’ll have to buy a few pieces of software like Microsoft Word unless you plan on writing all of your papers on Google Docs, but it really is one of the top laptops out there in terms of performance and stability. It’s virtually immune to viruses and spyware, it comes with all kinds of useful software like iTunes and iPhoto, it has a built in camera and microphone for calling home on Skype to beg for more money, and you just can’t beat the cool factor.

But if price is a factor, the good news is that you can get a pretty good laptop these days for around $600-$800.

Here are some of the features you should look for:


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