Free Laptops for Students: Overblown Myth or a Real Deal?
| Last Updated February 22, 2021
It's a pretty powerful marketing message: free laptops for students who enroll in a particular school or college. Considering that mobile computers come with price tags of anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, any opportunity to get one for free is nothing to sniff at. But is it really free?
The short answer is no (unless a grant or scholarship is involved). When schools claim to provide free laptops, they don't usually mean that the computers are totally free of charge. They might mean the machines are free of additional charges, in the sense that the cost of the devices has been bundled into your basic tuition. But since it isn't an extra expense that you need to budget for, you might still consider that a good deal.
However, some schools that provide laptops charge a hefty usage or technology fee that ends up costing students far more than they would have spent if they had just purchased a computer outright. If you receive a free laptop for college but then have to pay $400 each semester for the privilege of using it, that "free" machine will end up costing you more than $3,000 by the end of a four-year program. (And that's assuming you finish your degree in four years; many students end up taking longer.) Technology fees often include perks like extended warranties or damage insurance, but you should always do the math and figure out if the cost is worth it.
Sometimes the devices are only available to certain students. For instance, many "online" colleges that offer free laptops are actually traditional institutions that simply offer some online courses, and the free laptop offer might be reserved for students who physically attend classes on campus. (In some cases, the offer is reserved for students who actually live on campus.)
So a healthy dose of skepticism is key when it comes to assessing the true cost and worth of any offer. We dug into the details of both on-campus and online colleges that offer laptops to see which ones really provide good value for students. The good news is that we found 10 examples of colleges that fit the bill.1 We also found a number of other ways you can find free (or at least less-expensive) laptops to use for your studies.
How to Assess a Deal
No one wants to enter into a bad deal. It's crucial to do your research and delve into the fine print so that you can get a true picture of what's involved. Find answers to questions like:
- What are the eligibility requirements? For example, does the offer apply to all students or only those who enroll in certain programs or attend classes in person?
- Does it include all the software you need?
- Are there any one-time or ongoing technology fees?
- Do you get to keep the computer when you finish your program? In some cases, the school retains ownership and the device must be returned once you are no longer a student. You might also be liable for additional fees if you end up not completing your program.
- Is a warranty or any insurance included? What happens if the laptop stops working or gets stolen? Many schools provide loaner laptops that students can use if their machine is in for repair, but again, this option may not be available to online students.
3 Common Types of Deals for Free (or Close-to-Free) Laptops
What colleges offer free laptops? That depends on what you mean by "free." Some schools include a laptop in the cost of tuition. Others provide laptops but charge fairly reasonable technology fees. And a few provide free laptops by way of scholarships or grants. So if you're hoping to score an almost-free computer for college, here are three types of deals you may encounter, along with a few examples of schools that offer them.
This information is current as of October 30, 2018. Offers may change or be rescinded at any time. Additional schools that aren't listed here may also offer good laptop deals. The schools below are just examples. This is not a comprehensive list.1
1. Covered by tuition
Some schools issue laptops or tablets to undergraduate students. (Graduate students generally don't qualify, so be sure to check the eligibility details for each institution.) In many cases, under this kind of deal, you'll also receive all the software you will need to complete your program.
The cost is built into your tuition. Generally speaking, there are no additional fees, but you may be charged if the machine gets lost or stolen or suffers damage that isn't covered under the manufacturer's warranty. The laptop belongs to the school for the duration of your program, but once you graduate, it's yours to keep. (Among the following examples, Northwest Missouri State University is the sole exception: It requires all laptops to be returned at graduation). If you leave the school before graduating, you must return the device.
- Wentworth Institute of Technology
- Northwest Missouri State University
2. A reasonable fee
Some schools make laptops available to students for a very reasonable cost. They might charge a mostly refundable deposit for a rental laptop or an annual or per-semester technology fee. If you rent, you must return the device. These offers are generally restricted to full-time undergraduate students. Residency requirements may also apply, so make sure you check. The devices usually come with a warranty that covers normal wear and tear, and technical support is generally available on campus.
- Saint Leo University
- Seton Hill University
3. Scholarships or grants that include laptops
Some schools offer specific scholarships or grants that cover the cost of a new laptop. Each has its own eligibility requirements. For example, scholarships that include free laptops are available to high-achieving high schoolers who enroll in a full-time engineering program as well as active-duty members of the U.S. military who receive treatment for service-related disabilities. In some cases, if you receive scholarship funds from a school, you may qualify for a technology grant that allows you to get a laptop at no charge.
- Colorado Technical University
- Wake Forest University
Other Ways to Find Free or Discounted Laptops for Students
While most schools do not offer truly free laptops, college students can often take advantage of special educational pricing offered by their institutions. Sometimes these discounted deals are only available through the on-campus store, but sometimes you can buy directly through a partner retailer or manufacturer. You may also be able to rent a device through your school's technology department for less than the cost of purchasing one.
And educational institutions are not the only source of good deals. (You might think your state would help out here, but unfortunately, there is no official program that provides a free laptop for college students from the government.) With a little persistence and creativity, you may come across some surprising opportunities.
For instance, computer reuse and recycling organizations such as Free Geek and Computers for Classrooms supply volunteers with free laptops after they have put in a certain number of hours. The machines are refurbished models, but they do include some software and a limited warranty. Be sure to research your school's technical specifications to see if the laptops will work for what you need to do. (Learn more about how to choose a laptop for college.)
Here are a few other companies or organizations that offer discounted laptops to college students:
This non-profit organization is dedicated to providing students with access to low-cost computers. Full- and part-time college and trade school students or their parents are eligible to buy heavily discounted refurbished laptops made by Dell, Lenovo, HP, Toshiba, or Apple. All machines come with free four-year warranties. Each student or parent may purchase no more than two laptops per year.
Students (as well as parents of students) who have been accepted into or are currently attending a U.S. institution of higher education can purchase various models of MacBook laptops and iPads at discounted prices. The discount is limited to one laptop per academic year.
College students qualify for reduced pricing on laptops through Dell University. For a new or refurbished laptop, Dell will match a lower price of the same (or equivalent) product you find through a website of an eligible retailer. Plus, the company guarantees to match a lower price for 30 days after you make your purchase.
Microsoft provides students with a 10-percent discount on select devices. Provided you have a valid school email address, you can also get Office 365 Education (including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Teams, and OneNote) for free.
A 10-percent discount on ThinkPad and IdeaPad laptops is available to college, university, and technical school students over age 18 who verify their school affiliation during the checkout process.