As if getting into nursing school isn’t difficult enough, getting out of it is on a whole different level.
Yes mileage may vary but for most it’s an extremely difficult task.
Nursing students are loaded with all kinds of tasks on a daily basis from random reports to captstone projects ,exams and of course these stressful lectures which is probably the reason why you’re after a laptop.
At the end of the day its all about the exams right? It isn’t unusual to be bombarded with detailed questions where a three word answer lies somewhere within a book of 1000 pages or of course in the notes you took of one of your fast paced lectures.
That’s where a laptop or a device tailored for note taking can come in handy.
Let’s us not forget though…
That there’s also clinicals AND simulations. Doing them isn’t the problem, they’re not difficult. The problem lies in the fact that you have to go back to lectures across campus and then back to clinicals.
So if you plan on using that same device for that, it has to be portable.
And to be honest….
You could use an iPhone for that situation if you can’t afford an iPad or a convertible laptop.
If you want to use that same laptop for that situation, then you may want to invest on a premium notebook which are extremely thin and lightweight aka easy to carry anywhere!
But I’m sure…
Most of you clicked on this title expecting a budget option. And yes that’s exactly what you will find in this article, the best laptops for nursing school without having to pay for a 3000 MacBook Pro or a 2000 tablet.
What kind of laptop would be the best for nursing school?
Once you are into nursing school for a few months, you’ll quickly realize you need something that can maximize productivity as much as possible and make any tasks as less tedious as possible.
It takes no genius to figure out what kind of laptop that is:
There may be an additional feature to watch out for: durability.
You want this thing to last the entire four to five years you’ll spend in nursing school.
You don’t want to waste time buying another laptop and back up the entire media/software/lectures you had on it.
Top 5 Best Laptops For Nursing School
Anyways, enough talking. What I’ll do is go directly to the 5 best laptops for nursing students as of 2021 and leave all the computer jargon and reasons why you should opt for these in the last section.
Because that section is x10 more lengthy than our intro( there’s info about the program, the usual classes you’ll take and the software used and so on), we’ll leave it at the end of this article.
For now let’s summarize what you should be looking for without getting into to many details . I’m doing this for those who want to look for a laptop on their own or the models we are going to show are not available in their region.
In order of priority, look for:
The most important feature. The lightest one you can afford.
That way you can can bring yours everywhere without hesitation especially to every single lecture so you never miss out on any details that might come up during the exam.
*Sure you can take notes the old fashioned way but when slides are given to you digitally, it doesn’t make it great idea. You could use a tablet for this/iPad we’ll get to that soon!
At least 8 hours of battery life. You don’t want to waste time looking for outlets especially during exams week.
Any size equal or below 13”. Ideally you’d want a 13” display with full HD resolution (but anything above 720p is fine). Having a FHD resolution with a +13” display is what allows you to have tons of stuff on the screen simultaneously.
Any CPU released within the past 3 years is fine! Nursing software & apps can run on the weakest processors out there even on the ones found in smartphones and tablets.
4GB is OK for just taking notes/studying.
Run from HDDs and get yourself an SSD. These days nearly all laptops have a Solid State Drive though.
Any size bigger than 128GB is fine, just make sure it’s an SSD.
1. MacBook Air
Best Laptop for Nursing Students
Intel Core i5 2.9GHz
8GB RAM LPDDR3
13” 1440×900 TN
Look, I know most of you weren’t expecting a MacBook to be first on the list but the truth of the matter is that if you want the best “laptop” for nursing school and you don’t have a budget issue, get a Mac Period.
Wait, even if you are on a budget, there’s several ways you can still get a MacBook which I will discuss soon. If you don’t like MacBooks or you think you can’t afford one, then jump to the next laptop.
Okay if you’re still here let’s talk about power. All macs made after 2014 have enough power to blaze through every single nursing task.
That’s why I decided to post an older model even though the latest model is insanely more faster and has a much more beautiful display.
Although older versions have weaker hardware, like I said, that doesn’t really matter if we are talking about nursing school. Even a MacBook Air made 5 years ago will still give you zero lag when multitasking.
Without getting into too many details it’s all about Mac OSX compatibility with its own hardware, it’s more efficient and the fact that even the older models have an SSD (which is one of the biggest factors making a computer soar through the sky).
Ok, what kind of model should I choose?
Even among MacBooks you have to be careful you don’t want too much unnecessary power and you also don’t want something that’s way too old.
New Model: Ideally you’d want the newest model: The 2020-2021 MacBook Air. They have the fastest chips on the planet (although that power is useless for most people) and the best high resolution displays and battery lives (these are the reasons to opt for one).
Older Models: If you can’t afford the new models, you can opt for the model I’m recommending here.
Just make sure to grab one with a Core i5 Processor, this will get you more battery life. A Core i7 model is way too fast and consumes way too much power which in turn will drain your battery life a lot faster (they’re more expensive too ~200$+). Apply this same rule if you opt for a new model (opt for the lowest configuration).
I know I said ideally you’d want 8GB of RAM. That rule is still true for MacBooks but 4GB on a MacBook isn’t too bad, like I said the OS is well optimized and its SSD can make a huge difference in speed. So if you opt for an older model and you can only afford one with 4GB, it’s not a bad deal. I myself used 4GB on a 11” 2015 MacBook AIr and still do fine with it (yes it’s still running!).
Display & Design
The main reason why a MacBook is on top of the list here is not really because how fast it is or its durability.
It’s really the design.
All MacBook Airs (and the modern +2018 MacBook Pros) are very thin and the former is actually so thin it can fill into an envelope. The Airs are also known to be extremely lightweight ~2.2 lb to 3lb depending on the model. These two factors mean they can easily fit into any backpack and be sandwiched between your notebooks/textbooks and because they’re made of full aluminum there’s a zero chance of breaking.
As a matter of fact this thing felt so light & thin to me, somedays I had to recheck my backpack to see whether I actually put my MacBook Air in it when I was already on the subway.
Battery life: The battery live can range anything from 8 hours (older very used models) to 10 hours (modern refurbished models and up to 18 hours (newest models).
When I bought my MacBook Air, it lasted about 13 hours. That’s probably about two days going without a single charge, no video gaming of course just video playback, studying and web browsing!
The keyboard deserves a section on its own. It’s not the main reason to go for a MacBook Air but it’s definitely one of the its beast features.
You’ll be hardpressed to find a keyboard like it in other laptops. It’s extremely responsive and a joy to type in it despite having a low travel distance (which all models have – remember they have to be thin).
It has been the top choice for writers and anyone who spends most of his time writing for several years now, so if you’re going to take notes on this thing it’s a great reason to go for it.
The display of the newest models have no faults in it, they’re perfect and are praised by virtually every laptop blogging website: 13” Retina Resolution IPS panels, etc.
The old macbook air’s display does have its haters and they actually have a point. If you compare the old macbook air’s display to the ones released now, it’s really archaic and cheap.
But if you’re just using for web browsing, video playback and any study related task it’s not that bad at all, like I said. I’ve been using it myself and have no complaints. I never even had an issue multitasking or checking out histology pics with it.
In fact, it was the low resolution display that gave those older models their insane battery lives.
This might seem like an issue but today software and apps used in nursing school have a Mac OSX version too.
If for some reason, they don’t, the MacBook Air supports “BootCamp” which allows you to switch between the two Operating Systems: Win and OSX and as a matter of fact, the switch happens in a flash because the Air has an ultrafast storage device as I mentioned before.
Back in my days a CD/DVD drive came in handy to use the textbook’s CD/DVD and I don’t know how useful they are now for today’s nursing programs since we have USB drives with insane capacities now.
If you happen to need one , no worries! you can always buy the external CD/DVD drive especially designed for the MacBook Air. Problem solved.
Core i5, Core i7 10th
Intel Iris Plus GFX
128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD
12” IPS 2736×1824
This is not a full blown laptop but it’s a tablet that can turn into a laptop or a laptop that can turn into a tablet whichever way you want to look at it.
And that’s exactly what makes it one of the two (if not the best) choices for nursing students.
If we compare “Apple” to oranges, this device is ligther than new MacBook, has a much higher resolution and is cheaper than the MacBook Air.
But that’s not the main takeaway from this model, like I said, it’s a convertible laptop which means you can write on it as if it were a real notebook and this is the reason why it’s so popular among those going to nurse or med school. You can find a far more detailed review on it by a nursing student on this link.
Like I said, nursing school doesn’t require you to worry too much about hardware. Any of the hardware configurations of the Surface Pro (even the ones from past versions which are a lot cheaper ) will do.
If you have the cash, I’d recommend going for a Core i5 with 8GB of RAM and nothing more than that, both for power consumption AND economic purposes. There’s no point going beyond that for a student.
If you are short on cash, then you can even venture into past models (which are several hundred dollars cheaper) and use the same rule (Core i5 + 8GB RAM). If you can’t even afford that configuration with an older model, that’s fine too ANY hardware configuration will do.
Display & Design
All of their models even the first version of the Surface Pro can turn into a tablet and let you take notes with a stylus.
There are surely several tablets or convertible laptops that use a stylus (like the WacCom tablets or HP X360, etc) but the Surface Pro has as far as I know the most accurate sensitivity for you to take notes.
It’s definitely going to feel like writing on a real physical notebook and thats why most students find using the Surface Pro replacing all of their notebooks,textbooks,erasers and school supplies.
How difficult is it to use the stylus to take notes?
With the newest models (Surface Pro 6 and forward), there’s not much of a learning curve, the accuracy has been stewed to perfection with newer versions improving their realistic note taking features even further. It’s even used by artists these days.
Resolution & Display:
At first glance, it may seem that the screen is way too small and not even close to 13” so it may not be ideal to multitask on it. That’s not entirely true, the screen size is 12.5” (only a 1/2 inch smaller than the ideal size) AND it has a much higher resolution (2736×1824) which is twice as much as the FHD displays you see all over the place.
And in case you didn’t know, the resolution plays a much bigger role in fitting more windows next to each other on a display (it allows to scale down pixels/characters to sizes that can be easily be distinguished). If anything that resolution will help TREMENDOUSLY when working with histology images.
If you can’t afford any of the current versions, you can always opt to buy either past versions or refurbished ones. Whether you go for an older version or not, it doesn’t really matter since all of them have pretty much about the performance for basic tasks and nursing school.
3. Asus ZenBook
Best Windows Laptop For Nursing Students
Core i5-8265U 3.4GHz
8GB RAM DDR4
512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
13” full HD TN
I know those two models I went over are kind of expensive and nursing school is definitely not cheap! If you don’t want to buy older and cheaper versions of those models and would rather have something new with the same premium qualities as those two, the only best option that comes to mind is the ASUS ZenBook Series.
The ZenBooks will never cost you more than 800$ (600-700$ on average) and they will still have MOST of the characteristics of the MacBook Air and the Surface Pro’s laptop mode.
The newest models are by no means slower than the Air/Surface Pro, they either have a 10th or even an 11th generation processor. It’s not like CPU power is important though because like I said ANY modern CPU will do fine for nursing school.
RAM + SSD:
What’s important is that your laptop has 8GB of RAM and a SSD those will make a huge difference when multitasking and opening/closing software/files! All ZenBooks and its past versions have them!*
*The SSD of the Surface Pro/ZenBook is slower than the Air’s but for most purposes, even gaming, the difference is negligible.
Display & Design
Why is it cheaper than the MacBook Air despite the same performance and form factor?
Nothing wrong with the keyboard, in fact, it’s one of the best keyboards found on windows machines.
However, the display has a FHD resolution (the newest versions of the Air have a retina screen w/ x2 the resolution), FHD is the most common high end display you’ll find in nearly every windows laptop though and more than enough for multitasking.
It has the same weight as the Air true but it’s not as thin. The chasis is not entirely made of aluminum although the backside is.
Lastly, the battery life is 8-9 hours long, plenty for you to find a charge station in between.
Not a bad deal for a 600-700$ budget!
By the way, uf you are wondering what are those numbers on the trackpad, that’s the newest model’s built-in numerical keypad. You can activate it or desactivate whenever you’d like. You could say it’s the only 13” laptop that has a numerical keypad.
Best Budget Laptop for Nursing School
AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
256GB SSD NVMe PCIe
If you are really on a tight budget and all you want is a laptop that’s fast responsive witih a great display to work with at home then having the perfect weight and form factor might not be a priority for you.
If that’s the case, this opens up a myriad of options. Most budget laptops with modern hardware for basic tasks and students can cost you anywhere from 350-500$ if we are talking about windows laptops and 200-350$ if you are willing to venture into ChromeBooks.
The latter may not be a good idea if you plan on running nursing software though (or take in exams using your computer), if not you can check our “best ChromeBooks for students” article.
If you really need a budget machine with Windows in it, then this is the best candidate imo.
What matter is that the hardware is modern and this model has a 3rd generation Ryzen chip in it with 8GB RAM and an SSD (although with 128 GB only this is still enough for studying purposes ONLY). Even the SSD has the same speed as all the other laptops in this article (except the MacBook Air’s).
Display & Design
There are two issues with this machine.
First the display, there’s nothing technically wrong with it but it has a lower resolutions than what modern laptops offer (a HD+ resolution instead of the FHD resolution most laptops boast). However, the older versions of the MacBook Air have this same resolution and like I said, I did fine with a MacBook Air with HD resolution and still do. On the plus side, it has a 15” display so there will be a little bit of more space to work with.
The second issue with this machine is that it’s heavy and bulky, it’s perfect to move it around a few times but definitely not something you want to bring everywhere and that can’t really be helped, you are not going to find thin and lightweight machines under 500$ unless you start looking at ChromeBooks.
Core i3-8130U up to 3.4GHz
6GB RAM DDR4
15” TN full HD 1080p
The laptop we went over before (Lenovo IdeaPad 3) is the CHEAPEST WINDOWS machine you’ll find with the full version of Windows 10 on it!
Most laptops around this price will be more or less like the one shown here, they may have the FHD resolution, a modern CPU, 8GB RAM and even a little bit of more SSD space but they won’t come with the full version of Windows 10 Home on them.
They will have the Windows 10 S version which isn’t too bad at all if you are planning to use the software that most students use: MS Office, Zoom, Chrome, FireFox,PDF readers,PhotoShop, etc.
However if there is any third party software you need to install on it (like special software from your school, in other words, an .exe file) perhaps to run a program for a class or take exams on them then you’re going to have to buy the full version of Windows 10 Home and install it on this laptop (it’s just one button away but requires you to put your credit card).
If you’re not going to deal with special non commercial software, then you will do fine with Windows 10 S on it or even a ChromeBook.
Another plus it’s that it’s relatively thin compared to other laptops around this price range. If you want this laptop with the full version of Windows 10 on it and the FHD display and the form factor, then you could buy this one. But I think it would be best for you to try it out with Windows 10 S see if you can survive with it and if not you can just upgrade to full version of Windows and save yourself almost 90$.
How To Buy A Laptop For Nursing School
I am aware these laptops are not affordable to some of you and might not even be available where you currently reside. Before you buy any other models give this section a good read to make sure you don’t waste money on your purchase.
The Nursing Program
Before even starting to shop for laptops you should double check with your department what kind of laptop they recommend. They may go as far as selling you one at a nice deal.
Laptop Requirement and Other Devices
By other devices I mean that some schools might require you not only to buy a laptop but a handheld device. The reason being is that a nursing school’s curriculum integrates tablets and similar devices for classrooms and clinicals since these are the fastest and most portable devices we have today to acess medical records and clinical information.
By this I mean Windows or Mac. You might run into compatibility issues if the software or applications they use run only one operating system. This isn’t an issue if you buy a Mac because MacBooks can have both Windows and OSX.
If you have a Windows Machine and the software they use runs only MacBooks, then you’ll be in trouble. This is very unlikely though, the most popular software used “ExamSoft” is compatible with pretty much anything except ChromeOS (the Operating System of ChromeBooks).
Even if you end up with the wrong device for your exam, you will be given one of the school’s computers to take your exam. However if there are many people with the same issue you might have to wait in line.
Things that will give you problems when taking exams are:
- Showing up with a tablet
- Not having Windows
- Using a laptop from 10 years ago
You might also miss out on important study material if you choose the wrong operating system:
Currently, most NCLEX review courses run on Windows. Some of the online review courses for your classes might only run on Windows as well.
The software you’ll use in nursing school is limited to*:
- Microsoft Office (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc)
- Adobe Reader (for lecture notes, homework assignments, etc)
- Flash, Shockwave,Java,QuickTime (To run videos, quick animations, instructional videos,podcasts, etc)
Some applications* used are (it varies from school to school):
- Typhon clinical logs (track patients data during Clinicals)
- Lexicomp (a library of medication information)
- Epocrates (all encompassing reference)
Virtually every modern laptop with Windows or Mac OSX on it will run all of the above software with no issues.
*Handheld devices & tablets will run a lot of these software & applications but defintely not all of them.
Classes are still old school. Lectures accompanied by power point presentations. Usually the slides will be handed to you so you can take notes on top of them. These will be digital notes which you can open withi a tablet or laptop (nobody wants to waste ink & paper).
If you have a touchscreen laptop with a stylus like the Surface Pro, then you’ll have a huge advantage in terms of writing speed and accuracy, it’s much faster to write notes on certain parts of the slides than having to type on them.
How to take Notes
Nursing students usually record lecture with a tablet (or a laptop) and take notes as well. They then attach both the recorded lecture (and notes) to the power point slides.
I know this sounds a bit extreme but doing this will save you from reading several hundreds of pages from your textbooks. That’s because your professor’s lecture is designed to give you a summary of what’s important to know from each chapter or each dozen of pages.
Textbooks will have digital copies. This is convenient to avoid carrying tons of textbooks back and forth all over campus. A tablet-laptop or a handheld device would be the most ideal tool to read and go through them.
You bet your ….. your professor will use your TextBook’s complementary CD activities. You’ll also find useful to use during exam reviews.
In other words, you’re definitely going to need a CD/DVD Drive. If your laptop doesn’t come up with one ( assuming you opt for the lightest laptop which will definitely not have one), you can always attach an external CD/DVD drive to it.
You can also use your desktop or use the computer labs to transfer all of your textbooks CDs to a USB device create an image and launch a virtual drive.
Now that you know for what kind of things you’ll need your laptop for, you should by now have a pretty good idea of your laptop should be like. In summary forget performance and look for portability and design.
Unfortunately portable laptops are not cheap at all and this is a big issue since most nursing students are already broke after what they had to invest to get into a nursing program.
What can I do If I am on a tight budget?
Find the cheapest lightest laptop you can afford. Don’t worry about performance at all except perhaps the operating system.
You could go for a chromebook as long as you have another device to take exams with and to open up simple applications.
Otherwise get the cheapest & lightest windows laptop you can find even refurbished ones from Amazon will do, so you don’t have to second device if you go for a cheap but new ChromeBook.
Why push for weight? As you’ve seen in the last section you’re going to need your laptop near you for lectures and you’ll have to carry it all over the place.
Aim for the longest battery life laptop after taking care of the weight. You still want a battery life that can last you throughout the entire day as you don’t wanna waste time and be out there doing nothing because you couldn’t find an outlet.
Time is something you want to maximize as much as possible during nursing school. This is even more true during final/midterms week where every minute counts and adds up to hours of lost time that could have been spent studying.
A good display will save you a lot of time when writing reports and term papers mostly.
By a good display I don’t mean anything fancy or out of the ordinary, simply the right resolution and a good size.
A laptop with 1080p would be the most ideal if you want to have multiple windows next to each other (Microsoft Office for writing and your web browser to show you journals or a chapter from a textbook).
This can only be doing in displays with resolutions near 1080p and definitely not the old fashioned1366 x 768 resolutions you’ll find on the cheapest laptops in the market.
You can also opt for a 1,440 x 900 resolution but not les than that otherwise you might as well roll with a Windows 98 laptop.
Going for higher resolutions isn’t a bad thing in fact it may be beneficial if you really like to toy around with histology images, resolution is the single biggest factor to accurate diagnosis as you can read on this article.
15” and 17” laptops not only weight too much but are too big to fit in your backpack. 11” laptops are a good option if that’s all you can afford because of their weight & portability but you’ll have to sacrifice resolution for it (this is a good trade off by the way).
Sanitizing a Laptop
It’s always best to ask the manufacturer for tips. Why? In case you mess something up hopefully you might a replacement.
Apple and Microsoft have specific instructions and recommendations if you check their websites.
*The Surface Pro is reported by nursing students as being easy to sanitize by the way(still advertising the surface pro huh?)
You don’t need a high performance laptop but it’s always helpful to have a laptop with a decent performance to get things done quickly and increase productivity.
If you can afford a laptop around ~600-900$ then give this section a good read, if not skip it and start looking for light laptops with long battery lives & if possible a decent display.
- Forget celerons, pentiums and atoms processors unless you are a on a extreme budget.
2. Don’t even think about i7, you won’t need it at all. It’ll only drain your battery life and make your laptop way more expensive. You will not notice the difference between an i7 or an i5 processor with the kind of stuff you’ll be doing.
Otherwise 4GB should be fine. There are no modern laptops with 2GB RAM today (Windows itself takes almost 2GB). Only ChromeBooks come with 2GB of RAM.
Hard Disk Drives (HDD) vs Solid State Drives (SSD)
Cheap laptops have Hard Disk Drives with enough capacity to store a lifetime of photos but are slow compared to Solid State Drives which have small storage capacity but can give a substantial increase in performance to most tasks.
- Looking for files and specific passages within your digital textbooks will be faster
- Fast loading up of programs
- Improved battery life
- More resistant to physical damage
- Less likely to fail on you and wipe out your all of your files
Any graphics card will do, don’t mind this feature. Regular Videos and flash animations as well the interactive activities from textbooks can run on a potatoe for graphics card.
Accessories and Connectivity
For nursing school some of these are required:
- Headset with built-in microphone and WebCam: Some schools do use video conferencing for online classes as well as substituting regular classes when the weather does not allow the school to be open.
- Printer: your school probably will provide you with unlimited printing though.
- Additional battery: again you don’t want to be stuck with no battery life and wasting time looking for an outlet should they all be occupied. You can bring an additional battery to school during finals.
- VGA adapter . The most portable laptops lack many ports. You probably need to buy one if your school doesn’t provide you with one. Can’t hurt to buy it, they’re cheap and you can also use them back home.
Tablet vs. Laptop
It is a no brainer why Tablets are the most popular device for nursing students. You’ll probably find a large majority of your peers using a tablet during lectures.
Can I use a tablet?
You could also get away with just a tablet if you have a desktop computer back home to run the DVD/CDs from your textbooks and to write them good ol’ term papers & reports.
There’s a good chance your school will force you to use a software to take an exam which might not run a tablet though.
Why should you still get a laptop?
To be able to run the software your school provides and to study for the NCLEX itself.
A handheld device can be a nice complement to use for clinicals and quick references for information but you still need a laptop.
If you could get the Surface Pro on the other hand….trust me even a refurbished one will do.