Jessie Voigts, Travel writer, international educator, mom
I love all of these answers. I'd just add one thing - get the most memory and RAM you can afford. You will never regret it, but will regret paying less and not having enough room on your laptop, or it running slowly and frustrating you. It's well worth the money spent.
Abbie Mood, Special Education Early Interventionist & Freelance Writer
Metta has some great suggestions, including the Computer Buying Guide and getting an academic discount! I think a MacBook might have more features than a high schooler would need (therefore making it more expensive), but if that isn't a factor, the MacBook Air is a great computer. I use a Macbook Pro for most of my things, and then just bought an HP 360 laptop for a job. It has a touchscreen and is a tablet or a laptop. The only reason I would go against the Google Chromebook suggestion is because you can't put Microsoft Office on it, which I would assume your high schooler is going to be using frequently. She could still get the cloud version, so it mainly depends on what you want/need/are willing to spend.
Metta Dael, MA, Boarding School Admissions Counselor, Education Administrator
I think the answer would depend on the amount of money you would like to spend. You can spend upwards of $2000 for a new laptop. Some people choose to go simple with a chromebook if they plan on working on the internet and utilizing internet based programs like Google Drive. Chromebooks are much easier on the wallet averaging less than $200. On Consumer Reports, there is actually a Computer Buying Guide to help you with side by side comparisons. More and more schools are utilizing Apple TVs to enhance learning. Students with a Apple devices have an easier time projecting presentations, sharing screens, and such. Before you commit to buying a computer, I would ask the school what their technology department recommends. Once you've decided, you should be able to get a student discount from who you are buying it from. Best Buy, Apple, HP, Dell, Microsoft, Lenovo, etc. all have academic discounts.
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Sarah Rivera, Education writer and parent
We were all set to get a used desktop for our school-aged children until I found out about our school district's digital learning agenda and went to a few meetings. Like a lot of schools, our district is now completely transitioning to all Google products: Chromebooks, Docs, Drive, apps and even the Chrome browser (Parents and students are not able to access district resources online using the Safari browser). Teachers who use Google say they can monitor technology class lessons in real time and it streamlines assignments, grading, communication and lessons. This is huge. Sometimes teachers have not been known to be the earliest adaptors of technology which makes sense because they have to learn a new system every couple of years or so). Kids can write homework documents at home and if the family printer isn't working or if they don't have one, they can print at school. It gives a lot of students greater access to school technology resources. It saves teachers time in the classroom and in checking homework and grading.
While some may object to the idea of this education technology is just a way to capture future Google customers, it does seem to be working exceedingly well, is affordable and is easily updated. School districts and technology contracts follow a pattern that is not unlike many high school relationships (crush, huge expectations, cute phrase, drama relating to outside problems, fighting, breaking up, phasing out), but dare I suggest that Google may actually be the one? ("You guys, OMG, they are SOOO cute together!")
Before you buy anything, check with the school or district personnel and see what they are using and plan to use in the future. Ask for recommendations for a purchase. Check to see if they have any student discounts, or if they are selling any of their used equipment for a steep discount.
Albion Cullen, Writer
Powell Berger, Writer, Entrepreneur, Story-Teller & Consultant
The Apple products are tough to beat, but the pricepoint can be staggering. For that reason, I kept my oldest son on a PC through high school, but I had to replace it once, then again in college. Factoring in the two replacements, the Mac would have been the better choice. My two teens now are both Mac users and have had no problems and been using the same computer for several years. I agree about asking the school's technology department for more specifics, and understand what the needs will be. I also agree that while Apple has its own office suite, Microsoft Office remains the gold standard in productivity software and your daughter will likely need it during high school and afterwards. Make sure to take advantage of student discounts on both hardware and software, and if you go with an Apple computer, have your daughter work with the Apple techs to set it up. They can teach her a few tricks, help her set up passwords, and show her some features (and best-use practices) that she might not otherwise get doing it herself. The service is free at the Apple Store. I really like the MacBook Air for my use, but all three of my kids now have MacBook Pros and love them. As for the specifics - memory, retina screen, etc - talk with the Apple salesperson. She definitely does not need the top-end of any of the lines, but maybe settle on one that's in the middle of the options spectrum. Good luck!
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Dr. Aaron Smith, Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Currently Program Director at Aviation Academy, Co-Author of Awakening Your STEM School
What everyone has said I do agree with 100%. However, I would suggest that you have a conversation with the school's computer technician to check on a couple of things prior to purchasing. First, what kind of computers are in the building (PC or Apple). There are some programs that are not compatible with each other and would create conflicts resulting in limited or no access to key programs.
Then I would ask for some basic specs such as the typical memory each one of those computers have as well as any key features such as a video card, etc. Not having enough memory or some of those features would limit or not allow them to participate in the activities.
Lastly, I highly recommend asking about how your child's computer would be able to get on the Internet compared to those already in the school. This way you could save some money and not pay for data usage and have your child hook up to the schools network.
Once these have been considered, I would strongly suggest purchasing some sort of case to protect it from drops as well as some theft protection features in case it gets lost and needs to be located.