Writer: Dr. Mariah Smith Morgan, MSU Extension Service
Students headed off to college this fall should check with the departments that offer their majors for computer specifications.
Many universities have strict requirements about the operating system they will support and the hardware required to run programs used in the major. Hardware refers to factors such as hard drive capacity, computer memory and the video graphics card.
As a general rule of thumb, buy as much hard drive space and memory as you can afford. Many laptops on the market have either 4GB or 8GB of memory. The more memory the computer has, the quicker it can execute commands. Hard drive capacity is measured in either 500GB or 1TB. A 500GB computer might look like a better deal, but in reality 1TB is equal to 1000GB, so the 1TB hard drive is the better option. A larger hard drive capacity means that your student can save more documents, videos, photos and school projects on the computer.
Be careful with the operating system and other software packages for the computer. Microsoft may not support the Windows 7 operating system after January 2015, so the university may have other standards in place they want you to follow. Also, many universities offer student discounts on software.
Microsoft Office 2013 is the software needed for creating reports, presentations and spreadsheets, but there are two very different versions. One is the standard, off-the-shelf, CD-ROM that cost around $90. The other is Office 365, which offers a wide range of options but requires you to basically rent the software on a monthly or yearly basis. For $80, the Office 365 University plan allows you to use the software for four years on two different devices (computer and tablet for example). It also comes with an online storage system for backing up data so it can be accessible from anywhere.
If cutting costs is on the top of your list, consider Open Office, which is free software that can be downloaded to your computer. It contains document, spreadsheet and presentation software that is compatible with Microsoft Office. NeoOffice is an option for Mac users, while Google Docs is an online office productivity suite that gives you the ability to create and store files online. However, with Google Docs, you must have access to the Internet to sync your offline files to your online account.
Most universities also require an antivirus program. Antivirus programs such as Symantec can be purchased for around $50, but remember, most universities offer deeply discounted or free antivirus software. Free antivirus software, such as Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 2.0, Avira Free Antivirus and Avast Antivirus, can be downloaded from the company’s websites as well. Free downloadable software such as Spybot Search and Destroy can help detect and eliminate spyware threats.
Other software that college-bound students might find useful includes packages such as Join.me, which allows people to have interactive meetings and share their computer screens for group collaborations. The Desire2Learn e-portfolio allows users to share what they created in class with potential employers as graduation day approaches.
Useful apps for smartphones include EasyBib, which converts the ISBN number on a book to an APA citation; Studius, which silences your phone during class times you enter at the beginning of the semester; and the Mint app, which helps you keep track of where your parents’ money is going.
Many universities have computer labs that stay open late to accommodate students who need to print something off, and their services are either free or cost pennies per page. However, if making a midnight run to the library or computer commons seems less than appealing, make sure you have a printer that can handle the load. Wireless printers that can print notes from your iPad or Android tablet are handy to have, as are printers with scanning capabilities.
Making midnight runs to the library or the grocery store can be exciting, but no matter how old you are, your parents are still going to worry about you. Download a personal safety app called Circleof6 that allows you to contact up to six people with your exact GPS location if you need help or if you need someone to pick you up.
As your students settles into college life this fall, be sure they have the technology needed to succeed.