Most people know getting into nursing school is difficult but real nurses will tell you getting out of it is a whole different ball game.
Mileage may vary but in my experience it was insanely dificult. Loaded with all kinds of things on a daily basis, random reports and captstone projects here and there.
The exams were also out of this world. It wasn’t unusual to be bombarded with extremely detailed questions where the 3 word answer lies somewhere hidden within a 1000 page book you have a few weeks to read.
On top of that…
There’s clinicals AND simulations. I didn’t find them difficult, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the fact that we had to go back to lectures across campus and then back to clinicals again.
And to be honest, my best friend during clinicals was my phone just to look something up. I couldn’t afford an iPad nor a convertible laptop for any of that.
Had I been a nurse already, it wouldn’t be much of a hussle affording a couple of premium macbook pros (one as a back up just in case tank stepped on one of them out of no where).
Anyways back then with the budget I had it was extremely difficult to find a laptop suitable to make dealing with all of the shenanigans mentioned here much less painful.
I assume most of you ended up in this blog with that goal in mind: finding the best laptop for nursing school without having to give Apple or Microsoft 3000 bucks.
What kind of laptop should we buy then?
After a few months into nursing school I figured I need a laptop model that could maximize productivity as much as possible and make all nursing school activities much less tiring.
It takes no genius to figure out what kind of laptop you need for all of that: the most lightweight laptop with the longest battery life out there( for obvious reasons I’ll make clear later).
Perhaps there’s an additional feature: durability.
You want this thing to last the entire four to five years you’ll spend in nursing school, right? Who wants to waste time buying another laptop and trying to back up the entire media/software/lectures/set up they had on the older one ?
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 2020 and leave all the computer jargon and reasons why you should go for the specs these laptops have.
That section is x10 more lengthy by the introduction: there’s info about the program, the usual classes you’ll take and the software used and so on. That section has pretty much everything you need to know about nursing school before shopping for a laptop.
I’ll summarize that section here without getting into too many details so that you can look for a laptop on your own or if you’re outside of NA.
In order of priority, look for:
Get a laptop as light as possible. The lightest one you can afford so that you can bring yours everywhere, including every single lecture, without hesitation 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.
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) because those specs will give you enough space to make multitask seemlessly.
Any CPU released within the past 5 years is fine! Nursing software & applications can run on the weakest processors out there even on the ones found in smartphones and tablets.
4GB is OK. 8GB RAM if you go crazy with web browsing tabs & multitasking. But let’s be honest chances are you’ll be heavily multitasking while studying: spotify, itunes, youtube+office+facebook.
If you are one of those rare breeds that can focus completely on studying you’ll be OK with 4GB.
If you have to…break the piggy bank to get an SSD(Solid State Drive) for storage. Why?
It will cut down any type of loading & make your computer ultra responsive. This will save you seconds but they add up to minutes and then hours over the course of a week. This means less time spent studying and a few more hours spent trying to get your sanity back. Capacity? Anything is fine. Even 128GB.
1. MacBook Air
Best Laptop for Nursing Students
Intel Core i5 2.9GHz
8GB RAM LPDDR3
13” 1440×900 TN
Even though it’s 2020 and this is the older model (which is sold as brand new by Amazon & Apple by the way), it is without doubt the best laptop for nursing school out there. You want the best machine to get you through nursing school, get a Mac period.
Stop reading this and get back to work. But if you are not convinced then keep reading.
Yes, yes yes. There’s a new model of the MacBook Air, and yes it looks cooler and completely different from this “previous model”.
But why is that “older” model still being sold by Apple? Well Guess what? The reason is obvious. It freakin’ rocks.
Although it may have weaker hardware components than most laptops released within the past year.
That doesn’t matter at all if we talk about nursing school stuff. Any laptop can do the basic stuff you’ll be doing with it.
Heck even if you find a MacBook Air made 5 years ago, it’ll still be fine. You won’t notice a difference if you use the latest fastest and bulkiest laptop made today.
Let’s talk about this MacBook Air in particular now:
You can choose the CPU to be a Core i5 or Core i7. Ideally you’d want to pick a Core i5. This will get you more battery life. A Core i7 is too fast and consumes way too much power which in turn will drain your battery life faster and let’s not forget the fact that it’ll cost you about 300 bucks more too. The same thinking actually applies for the “New MacBook Air”.
For RAM you definitely want to max out on it: 8GB RAM. That will make sure you never feel a single bit of sluggishness no matter how crazy you go when multitasking.
But to be honest, even 4GB is enough. I didn’t have any issues with mine set at 4GB but I don’t know how crazy of a multitasker you are. Just wanna be on the safe side.
Lastly, there’s no need to worry about the storage. Virtually every MacBook designed by Apple within the past 15 years has a Solid State Drive in it so you’ll get the benefits of ultrafast booting times, having your software launched within seconds and so on.
Display & Design
It’s really the design what makes the MacBook the perfect laptop for nursing. It’s just not fast but portable and energy efficient.
A 13” MacBook Air only weights around 3lb while the New MacBook Air weights around 2.7lb. Although it’s a bit heavier, it’s still as thin as paper, which means it can easily fit into any backpack, be sandwiched between notebooks/textbooks and you can also carry with one hand as if it were a notebook.
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 before I got on the subway.
The battery life is listed as 13 hours but in my case it lasted about 15 hours. That’s probably about two days going without a single charge…I mean pure work of course.
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 them because you won’t find another keyboard like it. It is one of the most comfortable and responsive keyboards out there despite its low travel distance.
It has been the top choice for writers and anyone who spends most of his time writing for several years now.
One of the drawbacks of its thinness is that it doesn’t come with CD/DVD drive (most modern laptops don’t anyway). If for some reason you need to launch your textbook software which comes in a DVD, you can always buy the external CD/DVD drive especially designed for the MacBook Air. Problem solved.
While some may diss the MacBook’s Air display as archaic and cheap, it’s actually not that bad at all and it’s actually the display’s average resolution that gives the air it’s insane battery life over other models with crazy 4k resolution. It’s definitely not the archair windows 98 resolution: 720p. It sits between that and the most common resolution out there: 1080p.
I never faced an issue multitasking or checking out histology pics with it.
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.
Core i5, Core i7 10th
Intel Iris Plus GFX
128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD
12” IPS 2736×1824
This might as well could have been the number one choice for nursing students. The price tag is about the same, it weights even 7ew6eeew6less, has more resolution and you can actually write on it as if it were a paper made notebook: it can turn into a tablet.
If I had to do nursing school all over again I think I woulda given the Surface Pro 7 several nursing students already have and have nothing but praises for it.
You’ll basically be using the tablet mode to take notes, when looking up for info & references during a clinical and the laptop mode when it comes to write reports, download/review exams and to take your exams too.
You can configure your Surface Pro with a Core i5 , Core i7, 128GB , 16GB RAM and so on but let me tell you that even the lowest configuration would suffice for nursing school. In fact, choosing the Core i5 and a lower sized SSD and RAM will not only make it cheaper but make the battery last a bit longer.
If you really want to spend extra cash on it, I’d advice you to avoid any extras and just make sure you buy a model with 8GB RAM. That 8GBs of RAM will make sure that no matter what you do with it, you’ll never feel slowed down by lack of memory when you have several dozens of programs open simultaneously.
Display & Design
The main reason why it’s a top choice for nursing students is again its tablet mode. While several laptops out there can turn into a tablet, the surface pro lets you use a stylus too which is accurate enough to transform it into the ultimate digital notebook. It’ll replace your physical notebooks,pens,erasers and even physical textbooks. Some students actually just bring their Surface Pro and their smartphones to get through the day.
How difficult is it to use the stylus to take notes?
These days there’s not much of a learning curve, this is the 7th edition of the Surface Pro and each version has tried to make note taking as realistic as possible. These days it’s even popular among mathematicians and animators.
A nice bonus of the Surface Pro over other machines is its resolution: it has twice the number of pixels as a full HD screen and more resolution than the retina display. This is not really a gamer changer but it will definitely allow to fit in more windows open next to each other and analyze histology images with more detail.
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 Budget Laptop for Nursing Students
Core i7-8565 4.6GHz
512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
13” full HD IPS
None of the three laptops above are cheap. But there’s a reason why they’re expensive, they have a rock solid design , are extremely portable plus they have a pretty good performance.
You can still get “most of the perks” of the premium laptops above and still find just as useful for nursing school without having to spend nearly a 1000$.
I’ll start with the ASUS ZenBook which is very similar to the MacBook Air’s but of course with Windows on it.
The performance can be said to be a bit higher than the Air’s due to its 8th generation processor but that’s where it ends. They have the same amount of RAM and both of them have a solid state drive. In other words, multitasking and running even intensive applications outside of a nursing program will be of no issues with it.
However the storage device, the SSD, is a step below’s the MacBook Air’s PCIe NVMe SSD. I know you are confused but all you need to know is that the Air’s SSD is about x5 times faster than the ZenBook’s SSD but still this is several times better than the old fashioned Hard Disk Drives and you’ll still get a boost in launching software, booting up your system in seconds, etc.
Display & Design
Although the display has a full HD resolution (so technically better than the Air) this one also comes with the trade off of having a low battery life: 9h vs 13-15 hours.
It’s a bit lighter than air but definitely not as thin. Unlike the Air the chasis is not entirely made of aluminum but a has also plastic in it.
Lastly, the keyboard is not as good as the Air. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. Not many laptops (if any) can compete with Apple’s ultra responsive keyboards.
Other than that this is a portable, fast machine with a decent battery life which you should consider if you can’t afford any premium laptops around 1000$.
4. Dell XPS 13
Best Windows Laptop for Nursing Students
8GB RAM DDR3
13” full HD 1080p
If you are a nursing student with some cash left & you are not an apple fan-boy or girl then consider the Dell XPS 13, in terms of quality , design and performance is pretty much like Air but is a full blown windows machine to the core.
The performance is highly configurable just like the Surface Pro but even if you have the budegt you shouldnt’ go beyond a core i5 with 8GB of RAM. If you do have the budget then make sure the model you pick has an SSD for you to take advantage of all the benefits you can get from one.
Display & Design
The design is just like the MacBook Air: it’s thin, lightweight & bullet proof. However its battery life is a lot lower than the MacBook’s Air : 9 hours.
There’s a good reason behind it’s lower battery life: the display. Its resolution is higher than the Air’s 900p: more pixels equals more energy consumption. This gives you a bit more space to fit expand two separate windows on the display.
Unlike the Air, The XPS 13 also comes with a thunderbolt 3 port. All this means is that you can connect two external displays to it. Some students do find this useful, having several screens is like having several textbooks & videos open all at the same time.
Lastly, the display can be said to be bigger than what typical 13” laptop has. Since its design has no bezels around the screen, it can fit a bigger display than most 13” laptops. The lack of bezels also kind of makes watching videos & movies feel more engaging and entertaining (imagine watching a movie with what appears to be a floating screen).
The main drawback of this “cool” “infinity edge display” is that there’s no place at the top of the screen to place the webcam so it has to be placed at the bottom near the keyboard. This isn’t an issue if you are a student since its usually the professor who has to show his or her self when giving lectures online.
There’s also the Dell XPS 15 but honestly even if you have the budget you shouldn’t touch it, not only does it have a lower battery life but it weights a lot more and its far more expensive. The performance is way too much for a nursing student too. I would only consider if you are into gaming & want the lightest gaming laptop out there to take it with you to school.
Core i3-8130U up to 3.4GHz
6GB RAM DDR4
15” TN full HD 1080p
This is not a very portable laptop, I don’t think you’ll be able to drag it to school back and forth unless you are a male student and a relative of Shaquille O’Neil.
But this is still a good option if you are looking for a portable machine to move around your dorm or home. This is still snappy enough for you to multitask without feeling slowed down too.
Although it has a core i3 processor, this one has been recently released and belongs to the 8th generation. Its clock speed is quite close to any of the laptops shown above. Although you only get 6GB RAM, this is plenty for multitasking. If you ever feel slowed down when throwing several applications (if that ever happens unless you are gaming) then you can always upgrade it to 8GB RAM.
The main difference between this laptop and any of the laptops above is the lack of a solid state drive. However as mentioned a while ago this is simply a boost to get things done much faster. If you do have the cash you can always upgrade it later on as well.
Display & Design
Despite its price, the display is actually pretty good and on par with most laptops shown here: full HD & Matte finish. The fact that its display is a lot bigger will allow you to be more productive as you’ll have more space to follow the logic & structures of your reports plus being able to have 3 windows next to each other.
As expected from a 15” laptop, the weight is terrible, definitely not something you want to bring to school all the time. I would say this is a great option if you have handheld device to take notes and take to lectures with you. You can use this one back home / at the club room or any place where you can safely keep your laptop and do actual work.
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.
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.