Your will also need to get some software for your computer. The software you need will vary by school and program. Some of the more important types of software include the following.
- Word Processing and Office Software: Whether you get a PC or Mac, expect to have Microsoft Office, which includes Excel, Word and PowerPoint. Many schools prefer students to have the Professional edition of Microsoft Office instead of the Home edition that is usually included with new computers. Make sure you make this distinction when purchasing your computer. If your school doesn't specify any software requirements, OpenOffice.org provides a free alternative to the Microsoft Office suite of programs.
- Antivirus: It is also important to protect your computer from viruses, trojan horses, worms, phishing and spoofing attacks and other malware. Some schools provide students with anti-virus programs like Norton AntiVirus, but definitely install an anti-virus program if your school does not provide one.
Buy Before or After You Arrive on Campus? Sometimes it can be better to wait until you arrive on campus to buy a computer, since the campus bookstore may have steep educational discounts on popular models. Most colleges let you use financial aid once during your college career to buy a computer. But usually this means loans, so for every $100 you borrow to pay for the computer, you're really spending $200. It is better to buy it with cash. For 2009 and 2010, you can take a tax-free distribution from your 529 college savings plan to buy a computer. It doesn't have to be required by the college.