Best Laptops for Grad School

Higher education is expensive, especially if you consider housing and textbooks on top of tuition. So grad school students need a reliable laptop that won’t give up on them after a year of intensive use.

However, buying a laptop can be a frustrating process considering all the different companies manufacturing laptops with different specialties in mind.

You’d need a laptop that can handle writing papers all day until 3 in the morning, having multiple tabs open for research, and so on. So, we’ve taken into account the most important factors a good laptop for grad school should have, and we’ve put together this guide to help you choose the one that suits your needs the best.

We’ve considered price-to-performance ratio, storage, battery life, portability, and keyboard comfort and decided that the best laptops for grad school are:

  1. Best Overall Apple Laptop — MacBook Air 13”
  2. Best Overall Windows Laptop — Dell XPS 13 (9310)
  3. Runner-Up — Microsoft Surface 4 (2021)
  4. Best Convertible Laptop — HP Spectre x360 13
  5. Best Ultrabook — LG GRAM 17
  6. Best Budget Laptop — Acer Swift 3
  7. Runner-Up — Asus Vivobook 15
  8. Third Place — Acer Aspire 5

Read on if you want to know more about each laptop model and discover what you should keep in mind when shopping for a new laptop!

Brand
Apple MacBook Air 13” (2020)
Dell XPS 13 (9310)
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (2021)
Product
Apple MacBook Air 13.3" with Retina Display, M1...
Newest Dell XPS 9310 Laptop, 13.4" InfinityEdge...
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 13.5” Touch-Screen...
Processor
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Apple MacBook Air 13” (2020)
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Apple MacBook Air 13.3" with Retina Display, M1...
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RAM
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Rating
Brand
Dell XPS 13 (9310)
Product
Newest Dell XPS 9310 Laptop, 13.4" InfinityEdge...
Processor
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RAM
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Price
Rating
Brand
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (2021)
Product
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 13.5” Touch-Screen...
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RAM
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Price
Rating

Apple MacBook Air 13” (2020) – Best Overall Apple Laptop for Grad School

Apple Macbook Pro 13

We know students are usually on a budget, but if you can afford the investment, we highly recommend getting the latest MacBook Air 13”. This is not only the best overall laptop for grad school but also the best-selling laptop on Amazon.

Apple’s innovative M1 chip technology together with an 8-core CPU makes for a fast and efficient laptop that can easily power up apps without delay. You can choose between 256 GB or 512 GB storage depending on your needs and budget, but they’re both super-fast SSD, so opening files and launching programs will be an incredibly smooth experience.

Add to that 8 GB RAM and you have enough to comfortably work on any projects you need, run almost any software you might need, and even enjoy some light gaming on your downtime.

Apple MacBook Air 13.3" with Retina Display, M1...
  • MacBook Air 13.3" with Retina Display | 30W USB Type-C Power Adapter | USB Type-C Charge Cable (2m)...

The MacBook Air 13” has some interesting features that make it perfect for grad students.

First are the Retina Display and True Tone technology that make for brighter and clearer images, and light that adjusts to match the color temperature of your environment. Since you’ll be spending hours looking at the screen, and sometimes even work on an essay at 3 in the morning, the display on this laptop is perfect to avoid headaches and eyestrain.

Next is the keyboard! Most of the time, keyboards are easily overlooked, but since you’re going to be doing a LOT of typing, you need something comfortable and noiseless. The backlit feature of the MacBook Air’s keyboard and the scissor mechanism of the keys take care of that. You can write in low-light conditions and type as fast as you want without any key sounds bothering you.

Some other student-friendly characteristics of this laptop include portability and battery life. The MacBook Pro 13” is very thin and lightweight, but don’t be fooled by its size because the battery can last from 14 up to 20 hours with a single charge. Quite impressive, isn’t it? You can easily carry it in your bag and never worry about running out of juice during a lecture.

However, nothing is perfect, and this laptop has a few downsides.

The first one is the price, which starts at $1299 for the basic model. We recommend that you check Apple’s student discount because it can save you a bit of money.

The other one has to do with upgradability. The hardware is hard to upgrade after you purchase the laptop, and some components, such as the RAM, are impossible to upgrade. If you want your laptop to last for a while, you might want to future-proof it and get some extra memory and storage.

Apple Macbook Pro 13

All in all, the MacBook Pro 13” is the best Apple laptop for grad students because it has a comfortable keyboard, good performance, a reasonable amount of storage, and long-lasting battery life.

Pros:

  • M1 chip technology
  • 8-core CPU
  • Top-of-the-line keyboard and display
  • Long-lasting battery
  • Lightning-fast performance
  • Noiseless keyboard
  • Fanless design

Cons:

  • Expensive (starting at $1299 for the basic version)
  • 256 GB storage on the basic version might not be enough for some
  • Runs macOS (only a con if you’re a Windows user)

Dell XPS 13 (9310) – Best Overall Windows Laptop for Grad School

Dell XPS 13

If you aren’t used to macOS, if your software isn’t compatible with it, or if you simply prefer Windows-based laptops, don’t worry! Some Windows-based alternatives can be just as good as the MacBook Pro 13” (and sometimes even better!).

The Dell XPS 13 is the best overall Windows laptop because it packs enough power to do everything a student would need it to. Thanks to the 11th Generation Intel Core CPU and 16 GB RAM, you get a great combo of computational power and fast performance to open all the tabs you need for research without lagging.

However, the processing power might not be enough to play high-end games or handle demanding tasks like video editing or 3D modeling.

Sale
Newest Dell XPS 9310 Laptop, 13.4" InfinityEdge...
  • Intel Evo Platform Core i7-1185G7 Processor, Intel Iris Xe Graphics, Windows 10 Home
  • 13.4" Touchscreen 4-sided InfinityEdge 500-Nit Full HD (1920 x 1200) 16:10 Display
  • 16GB LPDDR4x 4267MHz RAM, 1TB PCIe NVMe SSD, Bundled with Tikbot Mouse Pad.

As regards storage, this laptop boasts an incredible 1 TB SSD for speedy access to files. With this much capacity, you can rest assured you’ll never run out of space to save your documents and photos, and to download any software you might need for school or leisure.

When it comes to handy features, the Dell XPS 13, the 13” touchscreen has been engineered with Eyesafe intelligently to reduce harmful blue light and protect your eyes while maintaining vivid color integrity.

The keyboard has been redesigned to fit bigger keys for added typing comfort. The backlit function makes it easier to type when you’re working in low-light conditions, such as a poorly illuminated classroom.

This laptop also has a fingerprint reader integrated into the power button for added security that lets you log on with just a touch.

Dell XPS 13

As if all of that was not enough already, the Dell XPS 13 is thin, light, and portable, and the battery can last for up to 14 hours on a single charge, so you don’t have to worry about bringing your charger with you everywhere you go.

The one great disadvantage to this portable is the price. You can expect to pay between $1300 and $1500, but you’ll be assured you’re buying quality and reliable pieces of equipment that will last for many years to come.

Pros:

  • 11th Generation Intel Core CPU
  • 16 GB RAM
  • 1 TB SSD
  • Touchsreen
  • Fingerprint reader
  • Portable
  • 14 hours battery life

Cons:

  • Processing power not enough for demanding tasks
  • Expensive

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (2021) – Runner-Up

If you’re looking for a cheaper option that’s almost as good as the Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Air, then the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 was launched in April of this year.

This is one of the best Laptops for grad school students because it packs everything you might need in terms of performance, battery duration, portability, and comfort.

Let’s start with one of the most important aspects of a good laptop, performance. This new model can tackle as many tasks as your typical schooldays require without slowing or shutting down, all thanks to the 11th-gen Intel Core i7 and 8 GB of RAM. If you add to that a long-lasting battery that can work for up to 17 hours with a single charge, as Windows claims, you get a powerful, and solid laptop.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 13.5” Touch-Screen...
  • Power to do what you want with up to 70% more speed than before and an 11th Gen Intel Core...
  • Thin, light, elegant design in choice of two sizes: light, portable 13.5” or larger 15” that’s...
  • Show your best side on video calls with sharp video and image quality, even in low light, thanks to...

However, if you need to run demanding software or play graphic-intensive games, this might not be the best option for you.

Weighing only 2.8 pounds and measuring only 12.1 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches, the Surface Laptop 4 is extremely travel-friendly and the perfect companion for students who like to carry their laptops to school to take notes or study at campus.

Thanks to the 13.5” screen and a 3:2 display ratio, this laptop offers more vertical space, so you don’t have to waste time scrolling up and down websites or your document files when researching for assignments, reading, and writing essays.

When it comes to the keyboard, the Surface Laptop 4 features a unique Alcantara lining around it. This soft material makes resting your wrists on the deck much more comfortable. This, combined with the nicely shaped keys, make for a fantastic and satisfying typing experience. You can forget about tired and sore wrists!

Lastly, as regards price, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 might still be a bit expensive at $1300 for students who are on a budget.

Pros:

  • 1th-gen Intel Core i7
  • 8 GB of RAM
  • 17-hour battery
  • Portable
  • More vertical space
  • Comfortable keyboard

Cons:

  • Processing power not enough for demanding tasks
  • Expensive

HP Spectre x360 13 (2019) – Best Convertible Laptop for Grad School

HP Spectre x360 13

If you want a laptop that can be converted into a tablet for extra portability and easier note-taking with a stylus pen, then you should definitely check out the HP SPECTRE X360 13.

This 2-in-1 device has a hinged multi-touch display of 13.3” that you can rotate to convert the laptop into a tablet. This model has a high-definition, anti-reflective display that’s perfect if you’re using the laptop in a bright place or somewhere with fixed direct light sources such as lamps or windows facing the screen

The keyboard is spacious and comfortable, convenient for fast typing, or working for long periods of time. The backlit feature allows you to see the keys you’re pressing on without worrying about light conditions.

HP Spectre x360 13 2-in-1 Laptop: Core i7-8565U,...
  • Spectre x360 2-in-1 13.3" UHD Touch-Screen Laptop
  • Intel Core i7
  • 16GB Memory

When it comes to performance, the HP SPECTRE X360 13 can easily tackle your daily school load thanks to the powerful Intel 10th generation processor. An interesting characteristic of the processor is that it features Intel Turbo Boost technology. It increases energy efficiency when you’re using a few programs and apps, and boosts the power when you need it to run more processes. And it does all of this intuitively, depending on what programs you’re using.

To one-up that, the 16 GB DDR4 DRAM memory ensures faster speeds and higher efficiency, easily handling multiple tabs for research or essay writing without lagging. You can even enjoy some light gaming on the side!

As regards capacity, this convertible offers 512 GB SSD, which allows fast access to your files. While it might not sound like much, it should be enough for the most common student needs such as storing Word files, PDFs, presentations, pictures, and so on, and downloading a few apps.

Finally, the battery of the HP SPECTRE X360 13 lasts for up to 11 hours with a single charge, which should be more than enough for your school day.

However, at $1600, this is the most expensive model in this guide. But the HP SPECTRE X360 15 is an excellent choice for grad school because it offers everything a student needs: versatility, a good keyboard, great performance, and long-lasting battery life.

Pros:

  • Convertible
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Intel 10th generation processor
  • 16 GB DDR4 DRAM
  • 512 GB SSD
  • Long-lasting battery

Cons:

  • Expensive

LG GRAM 17 – Best Ultrabook for Grad School

LG Gram 17

If you’re in the market for an ultrabook, the LG GRAM 17 is waiting for you.

The LG GRAM is geared towards professionals on the go, which makes it perfect for those students who will be entering the workforce soon.

With a powerful 10th Gen Intel Core i7 that features Intel Turbo Boost technology, you can complete even the more demanding tasks. Turbo Books increases energy efficiency when you’re using a few programs and apps and gives you more juice when you need to run more processes.

Sale
LG Gram 17-inch WQXGA Ultra-Lightweight Laptop...
  • 10th Gen Intel Core i7-1065G7 Quad-Core Processor (1.3 GHz up to 3.9 GHz with Turbo Boost) / 16GB...
  • 17 Inch WQXGA (2560 x 1600) IPS Display / Intel Iris Plus Graphics
  • Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 WLAN 2x2 + Bluetooth 5.0 / 2x 1.5W Stereo Speakers / Integrated HD Webcam /...

The LG GRAM combines 16 GB DDR4 RAM and 512 GB SSD for easy tab switch no matter how many you have open, and incredibly fast booting and access to your files.

It has some nice features such as a backlit keyboard and fingerprint ID for added comfort and security.

Weighing only 1 pound, this ultra-lightweight laptop has sacrificed neither display size nor battery life for extra portability, boasting a 17” screen and up to 17 hours of battery from a single charge.

Pros:

  • 10th Gen Intel Core i7
  • 16 GB DDR4 RAM
  • 512 GB SSD
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Ultra-lightweight
  • 17” screen
  • 17 hours battery life

Cons:

  • Sound quality isn’t the best
  • Expensive

Acer Swift 3 – Best Budget Laptop for Grad School

Acer Swift 3

We’re aware that most students are on a budget and can’t afford a high-end laptop, or simply have other priorities and don’t want to spend that much money on one.

However, you don’t want to get a $300 laptop because you’ll be actually wasting money as they won’t fulfill your basic requirements for grad school. All the laptops in this section cost between $400 and $600 and have good enough performance to handle all of your tasks.

The Acer Swift 3 is the best budget laptop for grad school because, for approximately $600, you get standard performance, reliable battery backup, and portability.

Sale
Acer Swift 3 Thin & Light Laptop, 14" Full HD IPS,...
  • AMD Ryzen 7 4700U Octa-Core Mobile Processor (Up to 4.1 GHz) with Radeon Graphics; 8GB LPDDR4...
  • 14" Full HD Widescreen IPS LED-backlit display (1920 x 1080 resolution; 16:9 aspect ratio)
  • Intel wireless Wi-Fi 6 AX200 802.11ax; HD webcam (1280 x 720); Backlit keyboard; Fingerprint reader

It packs a powerful AMD Ryzen 7 Octa-Core processor and 8 GB DDR4 RAM to smoothly run all of your apps and programs. Basic tasks such as research and text processing, and even gaming will be a piece of cake!

As regards storage, you get quite a decent capacity with a 512 GB NVMe SSD. This should be more than enough for your grad school and personal needs, but you can upgrade it if you want more.

Just like the regular options, this budget laptop features a backlit keyboard and fingerprint solution, which is often rare to find in cheaper models.

But what puts the Acer Swift 3 at the top of the budget laptops for graduate students is definitely the battery. You can get enough juice for up to 11 hours on a single charge, more than enough to accomplish all of your daily tasks.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Portable
  • AMD Ryzen 7 Octa-Core CAPU
  • 8 GB DDR4 RAM
  • 512 GB NVMe SSD
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Fingerprint reader
  • 11 hour battery

Cons:

  • Tends to run hot
  • Keyboard is a bit cramped
  • Some people have reported finding the trackpad frustrating

ASUS VivoBook 15 – Runner-Up Budget Laptop

ASUS VivoBook 15

The ASUS VivoBook 15 is an incredible laptop, available for a low price of $400. Fortunately, ASUS hasn’t sacrificed portability nor performance for the sake of a low price tag with the VivoBook 15, packing a powerful and reliable CPU and great RAM in a lightweight and thin case.

The 15.6 inches HD NanoEdge display has ultra-slim bezels for an amazing 88% screen-to-body ratio and impressive visuals.

Powered by the latest 10th Gen Intel Core i3 CPU, the VivoBook 15 offers reliability when carrying out demanding tasks. This processor, together with 8 GB DDR4 RAM, allows for productive multitasking. Casual gaming and multimedia editing are also possible thanks to NVIDIA graphics. All in all, when it comes to performance, you can trust this laptop to do an excellent job with everyday tasks.

ASUS VivoBook 15 Thin and Light Laptop, 15.6”...
  • 15.6 inch Full HD (1920x1080) 4-way NanoEdge bezel display with a stunning 88% screen-to-body ratio
  • Compatible with Google Classroom; run Google Classroom on Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer 11
  • Latest 10th Gen Intel Core i3-1005G1 CPU (4M Cache, up to 3.4 GHz)

The storage capacity might be a drawback for those who are not used to uploading their files and data to the cloud. However, the 128 GB SSD unit ensures speedy boot-ups and file retrieval.

Some premium features that the VivoBook 15 includes are a backlit keyboard and an innovative ErgoLift hinge that adds a 2° tilt for an improved typing and heat-dissipating experience.

The battery can last for up to 7 hours with a single charge, and you can get 60 percent charged in less than 50 minutes. It also has a 3x longer battery span thanks to ASUS Battery Health Charging technology that protects your battery from overcharging.

Less is more when it comes to size and weight, and the VivoBook 15 boasts a thin case of 3.75 lbs that makes it the perfect travel companion.

ASUS VivoBook 15 is the best overall laptop under $400 because it doesn’t cut any corners for the low price that it offers. This highly portable notebook delivers great performance, has a beautiful display, decent battery life, and other nice features to provide a smooth and efficient experience.

Pros:

●     Fingerprint sensor

●     HD display

●     Fast processor

●     8 GB RAM

●     Backlit keyboard

●     Portable

●     Decent battery life

Cons:

●     128 GB SSD

●     Subpar speakers. Sound distorts at high volumes.

Acer Aspire 5 – Third Place Budget Laptop

Acer Aspire 5

The Acer Aspire 5 is a very popular laptop because it’s portable and offers great specs at an affordable price. Because it has become a best-seller on Amazon, the price tends to vary between $400 and $600, but it’s still worth it with either price tag.

This laptop features a fantastic 15.6 inches, full HD screen and a narrow-bezel design for a larger workspace than you’d find in other models at this price point. It incorporates Acer’s BlueLightShield glare-minimizing technology, so you can forget about eyestrain and headaches when working on your laptop for long hours.

The Acer Aspire 5 surprises as it doesn’t compromise the specs and delivers desktop-class performance when it comes to performance. As opposed to any of the other laptop models we’ve reviewed so far in this guide, this option comes with an AMD Ryzen 3 3359U processor that beats the Intel Core i3 CPU that most budget laptops come with.

Sale
Acer Aspire 5 A515-46-R14K Slim Laptop | 15.6"...
  • Powerful Productivity: AMD Ryzen 3 3350U delivers desktop-class performance and amazing battery life...
  • Maximized Visuals: See even more on the stunning 15.6" Full HD display with 82.58% screen-to-body,...
  • Backlit Keyboard and Fingerprint Reader: Biometric fingerprint reader and Windows Hello sign-in...

While a 4 GB DDR4 RAM will not be enough for demanding software, you can confidently load multiple applications, and tackle any office or academic work easily and smoothly.

Storage-wise, this laptop includes a 128 GB NVMe solid-state drive for all your files, and data. Even though this might not sound like much for some people, you can rest assured that it can be easily upgraded after purchase.

Some extra, highly functional attributes of the Acer Aspire 5 include a backlit keyboard that you can type on comfortably even in low light conditions and a fingerprint reader for an extra layer of security.

The aluminum case that weighs less than 4 pounds and the battery that lasts for up to 10 hours seal the deal for this travel-friendly laptop that any grad student can make great use of.

All in all, if you’re looking for an affordable notebook that doesn’t compromise in the specs department, then the Acer Aspire 5 is by far one of the best choices for its price. It’s efficient, productive, and portable, and even if you’re not satisfied with the storage capacity and RAM, remember that you can upgrade it.

Pros:

●     HD display

●     Fast processor

●     Backlit keyboard

●     Fingerprint reader

●     Portable

●     Decent battery life

Cons:

●     128 GB storage

●     4 GB RAM

●     Price can vary

Buying Guide

Two men comparing their MSI vs Asus laptop specs

If you’re wondering which features and specs are the most important ones for a grad student laptop, then we recommend that you keep reading this section.

Operative System (OS)

The very first thing you’d want to look at in a laptop is the operative system. Try to stick with an OS that you’re familiar with, or, if you want to try a new one, go for one of the most popular ones like Windows, macOS, or Linux.

We recommend that you make a list of all the software you’ll need to install, and then check which operative systems they’re compatible with. Most software and apps are compatible with the 3 most popular OS nowadays, but some budget laptops run Chrome OS, so you might want to keep that in mind.

Performance

Having a slow laptop is everyone’s nightmare, but especially for grad school students who have to deal with tight deadlines.

For those of you who don’t know much about laptop components, the CPU or processor is the main component that determines performance. We’ve made sure that all the laptops we’ve reviewed in this guide have a decent CPU for your basic student needs.

Other important components are the RAM and the storage drive. You need at least 4 GB RAM, but 8 GB would be the best for seamless multitasking. SSD types of drives are expensive, but they help in achieving quick performance levels by allowing fast access to your stored files.

And speaking of storage, make sure the drive has enough capacity to last you a few years. We recommend getting at least 250-500 GB, which should be enough to store any documents, files, photos, and install any software you might need.

Basically, you need a decent combination of processor, RAM, and storage.

Battery Life

Grad school students are most of the time on the go, and it can be very annoying to have unreliable battery life that forces you to carry your charger everywhere you go

What’s more, power outlets can be very hard to find, and running out of battery in the middle of a lecture or working on an assignment is not fun.

Therefore, you should make sure that your laptop offers enough battery to last at least your whole school day. Luckily, most of the laptops we’ve reviewed can last even for a whole day!

Portability

Portability is another incredibly important feature for students on the go. Look for a thin, lightweight laptop that won’t take up much space in your backpack and that you can easily carry around everywhere you go.

Frequently Asked Questions

Woman holding laptop

How much should I spend on a laptop for grad school?

There is no set amount you should spend on a laptop for grad school. We’ve provided several options for you to choose from because the final decision will depend entirely on your area of work and what you’re going to use the laptop for.

If you’re only going to use it for text processing and some movie streaming in your free time, then a budget laptop is perfectly fine. However, if what you’re studying requires you to run demanding software, then a high-end laptop with stronger specs will be necessary.

A safe budget to future-proof your laptop would be approximately $1000. This way, you can get a decent laptop that can easily handle multitasking and store all of your files.

Are touchscreen laptops worth it for college?

You’d probably think that having the possibility to write on your screen with a stylus would only be useful for those who are studying arts or other related subjects.

However, a touchscreen laptop is an incredible advantage for anyone. For example, reading a lengthy document is much easier when you can take your laptop and sit anywhere you want without a keyboard bothering and limiting you.

If you can choose, we’d recommend going for a touchscreen laptop.

Which operating system should I choose?

The brand and the operating system of the computer are linked. Apple laptops run macOS, Chromebooks run Chrome OS, and most brands run Windows.

For grad school students, not one operating system is better than the other, it’s simply a matter of comfort. If you’re used to working on Windows, switching to macOS might not be worth the hassle of learning how to use it, unless you need the specs of the Apple laptop.

What is the ideal weight for a grad school laptop?

A heavy laptop is never a good idea for a grad school student since you might need to constantly carry it around campus.

Conclusion

Even though shopping for a new laptop can be challenging, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide so that you can confidently buy the best laptop for grad school.

The factors you should keep in mind while browsing for your new laptop are the OS, performance, battery life, and portability.

And remember that if you need to run demanding software, you need a high-end laptop, whereas a budget one will do nicely if you’ll only be doing text-processing and reading.

Liam Weissman

A lover of MacBook Air and the Dell XPS line of laptops, Liam has been researching and writing as a guest blogger for numerous websites for over 10 years. Now, he blogs about tech trends, PCs, laptops, gadgets, and other emerging gadgets on FancyAppliance.com.

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