Computers and College Part II: Saving Money

August 15, 2011 by . 3 comments
Now that you’ve decided what computer you want to take with you to college, how can you save some money? Here are some tricks for getting the best hardware and software for your money.

Saving on Hardware

Academic Discounts

Many computer manufacturers offer discounts to students. Sometimes this is through a specific agreement with your university, other times it just required a .edu email address. Try searching for your preferred computer manufacturer and “academic discounts”, or follow the links below:

Coupon Codes

Most major manufacturers release coupon codes frequently. A quick search for “HP discount codes” reveals codes for as much as $400 off of laptops. Some manufacturers don’t let you combine an academic discount with a coupon code, so you need to do your research to see which is cheaper. When I bought my laptop, non-academic coupons saved me more than an academic discount would have.

Refurbished Computers

Refurbished computers are those which were sent back to the manufacturer, and can’t be sold as new. In most cases though, they are still in perfect condition – the customer bought the wrong model, it didn’t quite meet their requirements, etc. Refurb computers typically come with at least the standard warranty, if not a longer one, and are typically much cheaper.

Saving on Software

I’ve said it before, but I’ll reiterate: never buy software upgrades with your computer! I guarantee you can find it cheaper elsewhere. Opportunities for free and reduced software are abundant.

Alternatives to Windows

If you’ve used Linux before, or want to give it a try, look for computer vendors which offer models without Windows pre-installed. Computer makers pay extra for Windows licenses, and pass that cost on to you. Some people have been successful in getting refunds for the bundles Windows license even, though it usually takes far more effort than it’s worth – I tried, and gave up after two hours on the phone with HP. Before going the Linux route though, make sure that any programs you’ll be required to run for your classes are supported, or that there are alternatives on Linux. is a useful website, but professors may not be flexible. Some Windows software will run in WINE, but again, check ahead of time.

Microsoft Office and Windows

If you want to upgrade from the Home edition of Windows which comes with most PCs, want to run bootcamp on your Mac, or need Microsoft Office, check out the Microsoft Student Store. These discounts require that you verify your affiliation with an educational organization, either by providing a .edu email address or by providing proof of enrollment, such as a transcript, via email.


Engineering, computer science, and business students should check if their school has an MSDNAA subscription. Programs with a subscription provide most Microsoft software to students for free, including multiple versions of Windows, Visual Studio, Visio, and assorted less-used software including Windows versions back to MS DOS. Microsoft Office is not usually included with an MSDNAA subscription though.

Campus Bookstore

Some campus bookstores will have additional software discounts, such as Office for Windows and Mac, iWork, and more. These prices vary by institution, but at some schools, can be cheaper than even Microsoft’s online student store.

Adobe Creative Suite

If you’re studying graphic design, art, photography, or other majors that need software like Photoshop, Illustrator, or Premier, Adobe has massive student discounts available. Creative Suite products are discounted by hundreds of dollars for students, although the software is still pricey, and free/open source alternatives are worth considering.

Antivirus Software

Some PCs come with an option to “upgrade” to a longer subscription. Why buy antivirus though when Microsoft – and other companies – provide it free? Don’t spend money on an antivirus program. Microsoft Security Essentials is free for all Windows users, and works well. Your university may also have a site license for enterprise-level antivirus, which may be optional or required.

Final Thoughts

A computer is an important investment, but it doesn’t have to be exceedingly expensive. Looking for deals takes a bit of extra time, but can save you serious money.



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  • I appreciate the fact that you mention using Linux as an alternative for Windows. As you know, I am a big Linux fan and the fact that you can even consider Linux as a possibility on the desktop is a testament to the giant leaps it has made on the desktop front lately.

    As for running programs in Wine, stay tuned for an article I’m writing on exactly that very topic!

  • bmike says:

    I am surprised you didn’t make a case for buying a used mac. Since they hold their value predictably and well, it’s often easy to make the case that you will buy one for a year and sell it, recouping much of your initial investment. One can comfortably get through school with several a recent used macs with AppleCare coverage by buying and selling approximately once a year.

  • Guest says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I’m an inbound college student and it was very helpful and the detail was great. I am now searching for academic discounts and lighter computers!

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