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Does Your College Freshman Have The Right Tech Supplies?

Tips On Devices and Accessories To Pack For School

This year, we celebrated our youngest finishing college. But Fall still brings back memories of getting each of our kiddos ready to journey back to school. No matter how much pre-planning was done, there was always a last-minute scramble for tech supplies. Here are a few tips on what we learned. 

The right laptop. Most colleges, and even some programs within the school, provide technical specs for the computer they expect each student to have. It sorely disappointed our son to learn that the device he picked did not meet his college’s standards. Don’t despair—if your freshman needs a new laptop, Fall is a great time to save on a PC or Mac. 

At the time of this writing, Apple is offering special education pricing, 20% off Apple Care, plus a gift card for up to $150 on a Mac or iPad Plus. Highly recommended in independent reviews, the MacBook Pro Air is a solid choice. Supercharged for 2022 with the next gen M2 chip, the laptop is still an ultralight 2.7 pounds and is less than half an inch thick.  

Apple has the MacBook Air starting at $1,199, including the education perks. Not only is this special pricing available to incoming and existing students, parents of students can get educational pricing when purchasing an eligible device for themselves. Sweet! 

Of course, PCs are typically more affordable than a Mac, and right now that could be as much as half the cost for a recommended device with solid features. Check out these recommendations from PC Magazine.   

Two tips on a laptop purchase—One, buy the computer protection plan. A device carried around in a backpack every day, plus college life in general, can be rough use. Hopefully, with some protection, the device will last through an undergraduate degree. Second, universities or manufacturers often have deeply discounted prices on software for students. Before you pay to add apps to a new computer like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, check with the school and software producer. It could save you hundreds.

Someone plugging in cell phone

A data backup plan. Losing a term paper in high school probably wouldn’t have dire effects. However, a data loss in college could permanently alter a student’s GPA, with cascading negative effects. If your college freshman has not yet experienced a data loss, they may not fully grasp how devastating such an event can be. So, it is not only important to ensure the student leaves home with a data backup plan, but also some advice on why it’s essential. 

There are two main choices for data backups–the Cloud and a physical removable drive. Each has their pros and cons.

There are many easy and affordable Cloud services for students, such as iCloud, OneDrive and Dropbox. The services are pretty close to infallible. However, subscription costs are ongoing. Since pricing follows storage size, the expense will increase as the student progresses through their degree. Also, Cloud backups are dependent on an internet connection. 

An alternative is a removable hard drive. These devices pack a ton of data storage space in a device about the size of a wallet, making them very portable. Cost has come down and processing speed has increased in recent years, making these a practical solution. 

However, a traditional HDD (hard disk drive) is fairly vulnerable to failure. It has a spinning platter component, with an arm that comes over to access data, just like what is found in a laptop or desktop computer. These moving parts can fail, and makes the drive more fragile. Dropping the drive can also cause a fatal error that recovery services are not likely to be able to resolve.

If you do buy a removable drive to send to school, opt for a solid-state drive (SSD). This type uses flash memory, and no moving parts, making them a bit more stable. You can read about both types here. Note you should also look for a solid-state drive in a new laptop for the same reason.

My recommendation would be setting up Cloud storage, and configure automatic backups on the student’s computer before they leave for college. Their files will be backed up automatically, leaving one less thing to worry about.

Other essentials
The prep doesn’t end when your student pulls out of the driveway. Here are a few things that were “an emergency” to send to our kids within the first couple of weeks of the semester.

Digital alarm clock with a battery backup. A cell phone does not always provide a reliable alarm clock when it does not make it onto the charger at night. A small digital clock with a battery backup is a better choice for making it to that early morning class. Look for programmable features for weekday and weekend alarms, so that it doesn’t go off at 6am on Saturday morning. Many also come with a USB charging port.

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A handful of flash drives. Flash drives are an easy way to transfer files on the go. They are so cheap now, you can get a bundle of ten for $32. Look for ones that are color coded so they can be assigned to different classes. Some come with a lanyard, or snap them all onto a carbineer to prevent them from getting lost in the bottom of a backpack. 

A decent portable Bluetooth speaker. One thing about dorm life is it’s loud and crowded. One of our kids was the center of the party, curating sounds to go with it. The other was always looking for a remote place to study or have some alone time, and play some music. While not really a must have to start the school year, it was the most requested holiday gift that first year. 

The Bose SoundLink Color II Bluetooth speaker is a superb choice. It’s compact, splash proof, and has a built-in mic so it can pair with a phone, act as a speaker for calls home, or access an assistant like Alexa. Two of these speakers can be linked together for a stereo party mode…but there aren’t likely to be any parties going on at school, right? 

Even though a Bose device is a bit more than an off brand speaker, it will likely last longer. The SoundLink II is also on sale right now on Amazon for $79. 

Wireless portable charger. While wireless chargers are not the fastest way to juice up a dead phone, it is a good and easy habit to get into putting a phone on the charger at night so it’s ready to go in the morning. There are a plethora of devices to choose from, and are very affordable. We just stuck to one that is the same brand as the kid’s phone.

A power strip with USB charging. Being in the dorm and having a roommate means a student may have access to only one wall outlet. With a myriad of devices to charge, a lamp and clock all needing power, this is an essential item. Find a small strip with surge protection and at least 2 USB charging ports, like this one for $19.

Cables. What happens to all the cables that leave home? We’ll never know, lol. You can head off some of these cord emergencies by sending an extra phone charging cable, and a USB-C to USB adapter or a universal cord adapter gadget, which comes in really handy and is harder to lose than a cord.

If your first child is just heading off to college, your wallet may be opening up more times than you expected in these first weeks of school. Fortunately, retailers already know you will be buying these last-minute items and have great prices on just about everything to get your freshman off to a good start.

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