As an online college student, you will need, at the bare minimum, a reliable computer and Internet access. In fact, with most traditional colleges now offering online programs, online classes, hybrid classes, online paper submissions, online databases, and online resources, earning any kind of degree without a computer is nearly impossible these days. Laptops, in particular, are ideal tools because of the flexibility they provide, allowing you to connect anywhere with a Wi-Fi signal and do your school work on the move. Laptops hold a prominent position on any list of recommended items for college students, whether you’re attending school online or on-campus.
It stands to reason, then, that there should be some affordable options available to you as an online student. You might even be tempted to ask: are any online colleges offering free laptops?
To get right to the point: No, online colleges don’t offer free laptops, no matter what the advertisements say. Still, the full answer is a little more complicated than that.
Free Laptops? The Campus Clause
If you perform a simple Internet search for online colleges offering free laptops — which may very well be how you found this article — you will also find a number of lists and ranking articles identifying online colleges that offer free laptops along with enrollment. But this is a bit of a red herring. The truth is, there really aren’t any online colleges out there offering free laptops. We know that’s probably not the answer you were hoping for, but that’s how it is.
When you dig a little deeper, you find that most of the colleges offering “free laptops” are just traditional colleges that happen to also offer online courses. This would be fine by itself, but in fact, nearly every one of these schools restricts the availability of free laptops to students enrolled in on-campus courses. So as an online student at a primarily traditional college, you probably aren’t eligible for the “free laptop.”
Obviously, as an online student, this is a bummer.
But you may not actually be missing out on the world’s greatest deal. Even as an on-campus student, chances are you would have paid for that “free” laptop anyway. Colleges and universities that provide “free” laptops may incorporate “technology fees” into the cost of tuition. With large, nonprofit universities, this can provide a laptop at a discounted price. So if you’re seeking an on-campus experience, you could factor this into your list of attractive perks during the college selection process.
Some educational institutions may provide you with access to (rather than ownership of) a laptop through a number of payment strategies. In some scenarios, you may essentially rent a laptop from your college or university for a fee, which may be significantly less than the cost of purchasing a computer yourself.
It may also be possible to lease a laptop through your college or university, a model in which you would pay a regular fee to both utilize the computer through the course of your education and retain ownership thereafter.
Again though, these opportunities apply to students living and learning on-campus. Even in cases where traditional colleges offer extensive programming for exclusively online students, laptop giveaways remain a perk largely reserved for campus dwellers.
Online, But Hardly Free
“Schools” out there claim explicitly to offer “free” laptops for online students. Unfortunately, many of these are shady for-profit colleges without regional accreditation.
Moreover, these laptops are rarely, if ever, free or even discounted. More often than not, the costs are built into your tuition and fees, which are probably already too high for what you’re getting in return. Don’t let the promise of a so-called free laptop obscure the mediocrity of a disreputable school. If the degree you’re working toward lacks value, any amount of money is probably too much.
The promise of a free laptop is likely just one more way that this type of for-profit college can take your money.
For more information on how to spot a disreputable school, check out our handy guide on how you can tell the difference between Online Colleges and Diploma Mills.
Or read on for the good news about getting your hands on a laptop …
While being an online student might not qualify you for a free laptop, this status should give you access to a laptop at a discounted rate. Colleges and universities commonly offer technology discount opportunities, allowing students to purchase a laptop or other technology at a discounted rate through a specific retailer. Often this means you must buy your laptop at the campus technology store, but sometimes it means a partnered retailer.
Some colleges even offer extra discounts for students in technology-focused subjects, such as STEM fields or graphic design. Discounts like this are worth considering when shopping for colleges, but don’t let it be a deciding factor; picking a college based on which one offers the best laptop discount is a bit like buying a house because the realtor offered to throw in a free toaster.
Technology discounts aren’t limited to colleges and universities. Electronics retailers, such as Best Buy, and technology companies, such as Apple and Dell, may offer their own discount packages for college students. All you must do is prove your enrollment, online or on-campus, and you can get a deal on a computer and accessories.
Forget about laptops for a moment; there are scholarships available for every conceivable niche. If you are a college student, there is a scholarship for you, and if you aren’t currently looking and applying for as many scholarships as possible, you should be. If we didn’t say that here, we would be doing you a disservice. Get enough scholarships and you can go to college for free. If your scholarships exceed the cost of tuition, you may even be able to receive the remainder as a check to do with as you please (like buy a laptop, perhaps).
(If you haven’t begun this process, check out our Scholarship Directory and start applying today!)
Although you won’t find an online college giving out free laptops, it is still possible for you to get a laptop free of charge through scholarships and grants. In addition to needs-based and merit-based scholarships designed to cover the cost of tuition and housing, some scholarships help cover the cost of technology. In fact, they are plentiful, and they serve people with a diverse set of backgrounds and needs.
Searching for scholarships, of course, adds another dimension of complexity to the school search process, but it can be simplified. Admissions counselors can help. If you are not yet committed to a college, several services are designed to aid students in finding scholarships that are right for them, including Scholly and Scholarship Owl. Both of these services allow you to create a profile, browse for scholarships, and manage your submissions, helping you earn as many scholarships as possible. Do these scholarships guarantee a free laptop? Most of the time, no. Does it help with the cost? Yes, and as the cost of tuition outpaces consumer inflation, every cent counts.
Just because your laptop isn’t actually free doesn’t mean it needs to cost you a fortune. As an online student, you should be aware of what technology you truly need versus what you think you need. Traditional mobile laptops aren’t cheap, particularly not the highly popular MacBook series from Apple, which is used by a vast majority of today’s college students.
For more detailed instructions of finding the right computer for your online college needs, check out The Savvy Student’s Guide to Computers for College.
Online Colleges Don’t Give Away Laptops, But These Guys Do!
In an article about getting free laptops through government programs, Work At Home Adventures points out that, in fact, no such government programs exist. Like most schools, the feds are not necessarily in the business of giving away free computers.
However, there are a number of nonprofit, social action, and charity groups that do exactly that. Naturally, your eligibility may vary depending upon your financial needs, academic qualifications, and other factors. However, each of the groups listed and linked below oversees a program that aims to connect would-be users with functional computers that are either affordable or free. Check these out and you just might have a shot at a free laptop after all!
- Computers with Causes
- Everyone On
- The On It Foundation
- PCs for People
- National Cristina Foundation
- Komputers four Kids
So, to once again answer our initial question: no, there aren’t any online colleges offering free laptops. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a laptop for free or at a significantly reduced price. Just make sure that you read the fine print, do your research and, — no matter how you get your hands on a computer — attend a reputable, accredited online college.
Get started by checking out this year’s list of the 100 Best Online Colleges.