Back-to-School: The dos and don’ts of college tech devices
by Whit McGee
Special to The Star
Aug 18, 2013 | 2523 views |  0 comments | 63 63 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Let’s face it — college isn’t cheap.

With books to buy, student fees and room and board, expenses can quickly pile up. And now that technological devices are being used in classrooms from universities to elementary schools, it’s harder than ever to figure out what’s actually needed.

Drawing from my experience as a collegiate admissions counselor, I’ve compiled a dos and don’ts list of what you’ll need for college. While colleges aren’t likely to require any of the items on this list, they can certainly improve a student’s learning experience.

Before making any purchases, be sure to consult the institution to find out what, if any, tech recommendations they can give you. It’s also important to confirm that the device you want to buy is permitted in the classroom.

DO invest in: A basic laptop

It is inevitable that students will need access to a computer, and it’s very likely they will need it daily for note-taking or research, and most instructors require papers be typed and submitted digitally to be checked for plagiarism.

While most colleges provide student computer labs, managing files on a public machine used by dozens of other students is not only difficult — it can be risky.

Therefore, purchasing a basic laptop computer for college is a good idea. Budget laptops loaded with the latest Windows operating system are priced between $300-$400. Check with the institution to see if it offers discounts through a PC vendor.

DO invest in: Microsoft Office

Whether you buy a computer or not, students will be spending time in front of a word processor, spreadsheet editor or presentation designer within a few days of classes beginning.

Microsoft Office is the undisputed standard for these applications. The $139 Home and Student Edition includes familiar programs Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Also available from Microsoft is Office 365 University, a $79.99 download that allows students with a .edu email address to access these programs for four years.

Free word-processing programs exist, but many features of these programs can be unreliable. Considering how often students will need Office, this is a college must.

DO invest in: Cloud storage

Saving files to a Web-based storage location — known as “the cloud” — has only recently become a mainstream idea.

Using cloud storage is simple: Upload your files to a cloud storage site and your data will be available anytime on any device with an Internet connection. Your files are protected, even if your PC’s hard drive dies unexpectedly.

A small amount of cloud storage is a great idea for students. Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive and SugarSync all offer free storage, which should be plenty for students who work mostly with documents. But consider paying for additional storage for large files such as graphic designs or videos.

DON’T invest in: A high-end laptop

It’s hard to resist the appeal of high-end laptops like those made by Apple. But the average student does not need the kind of computing power provided by expensive laptops.

Students typically use a computer for research, writing papers and note-taking — tasks that are easily accomplished on a relatively simple machine.

Consider also the environment where the laptop will be used. Toting a computer around campus in a backpack increases the possibility that your investment will be damaged, lost or stolen.

Students studying visual arts or media production often need high-end PCs as their projects require more processing power, but even in these cases colleges are likely to provide specialized computer labs for students to use.

DON’T invest in: A tablet

Since the introduction of the iPad in 2010, tablets have been crushing computer sales.

It’s easy to see why: When a handheld device can tackle basic computing needs like email and Web browsing at a fraction of a laptop’s price, why wouldn’t you choose a tablet?

For college students, the reason not to buy a tablet is exactly what attracts people to them in the first place.

The portable size of a tablet means it’s not equipped with a physical keyboard. The next time you see a tablet in a store, try to peck out a paragraph on its touchscreen. With no tactile feedback, the task can be cumbersome.

Creating documents can also be challenging, as there are no iPad or Android tablet versions of Microsoft Office.

DON’T invest in: A printer

Have you seen how much printer ink costs?

In case you haven’t, consider this: Replacement ink cartridges for many of the best-selling printers on the market from HP, Brother and Canon cost as much as the printer itself.

So why sink $50 or more into a printer when you may have to spend that much on ink every few months?

Most institutions provide printers for student use in computer labs, common areas and libraries, and it should cost only a few cents to print an essay on one of these public machines.

Former Star staff writer Whit McGhee is assistant director of admissions for communications at The University of Alabama in Huntsville.
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