Mac and PC Matchmaking

A computer isn’t just your average school supply, it’s your partner in crime through the next few years as you conquer college. Through all-night study sessions, online quizzes, last second homework and frantic emails, it will literally become your best friend. So how do you find your perfect match? And how do you take a side in the “Mac vs. PC” battle to pick the one that fits you best? Here are some things to consider as you look for your new companion.

Mac vs. PC

Get beyond hype and marketing

Macs and PC’s have been going at each other for over three decades. Some users feel extremely committed to their choice of computer, as though it were a long-term, loving relationship. For many, it is exactly that and much more. For new students faced with this decision, it’s important to get around the sales pitches and take a hard look at the two different types of computer systems.

What do you want out of the relationship?

There are some significant and some insignificant differences in computers. Much of the decision on which type of computer is best rests in how it will be used. Online class requirements are the starting point. Find out what computer functions you need to be successful in your classes and what features would help make your life easier throughout your studies. It’s okay to be needy in this relationship.

For example: Most online schools want their students to have enough computing power to download and stream video presentations without having annoying memory dumps interrupting the professor’s presentation. If a student is going to purchase a new computer, these issues are important, as most new computers have sufficient RAM memory and fast processors to handle streaming video and download files quickly.

Tip: Knowing what classes and school you will attend will help you figure out your computer and software needs are. Need help figuring out your major? Browse our home page ( for a list of program and degree options. If you are looking for a school, our online education tool can help. Once you have everything figured out, talk to students, instructors, and school counselors to find out what your program requires.

Minimum computer specifications to get the job done:

• A processor of 1.6 GHz or faster
• Anti-virus application – updated regularly
• 256MB RAM or greater
• 20 GB hard drive or larger
• 56.6 kbps modem or high-speed Internet connection
• Monitor and video card with 1024 x 768 ppi or greater resolution
• Sound card with speakers
• CD ROM Player/Recorder
• Inkjet or laser printer
• Email address
• Internet service provider (ISP) account
• Microsoft® Internet Explorer® version 6.0 or later
• Adobe® Reader® 6.0 or later
• Microsoft® Outlook Express 6.0 or other email program
• Microsoft® Office XP, 2003, 2004, 2007 or Windows 7
• Microsoft® Word or equivalent
• Microsoft® PowerPoint® or equivalent
• Flash® Player

Add-ons that make a difference

Both Macs and PCs have video capability so student can see each other as they chat on their college’s web network or using Skype. Macs come with the video capability built in, PCs require the user to buy and install a camera and its operating application. Most schools use electronically submitted materials, not printed copies, so the need for a printer is not as high. It would just be useful for when the student wants to review hard-copy materials. Be careful about choosing a color printer, they use a lot of toner or ink and can be very expensive to keep up. Generally, a black & white laser printer makes the best choice due to the low cost per page to print.

A List of Pros:


  • Runs OS x and Windows
  • Works great with iPhone, iPad, iPod
  • Simple to use
  • Stylish and trendsetting
  • Better & more software installed when purchased
  • Immediate access to iTunes store for iPod & iPhone
  • Fewer computer virus issues


  • Build computer to meet personal needs
  • Lower cost than Mac
  • Wider variety of models available (6 Mac models)
  • Wider selection of software programs
  • Backward compatible – can run old programs
  • More PCs in the world than Macs
  • More businesses use PCs
  • Better gaming
  • More accessories available
  • More upgradeable

A List of Cons:


  • Far less aftermarket software available
  • More expensive
  • Accessories are more expensive
  • Networking with Windows computers harder


  • Microsoft rules the world for Operating Systems
  • Vulnerable to viruses
  • Hardware, peripheral, & accessories can conflict

How to digest this information…

It all boils down to the person using the computer and what they want to use it for. For those students with larger checkbooks and a desire to be more stylish, the Mac offers a more all-inclusive package for those who haven’t used a computer much in the past. For students who want to use their computer for other tasks – like playing games – the PC is probably the better choice.

Where Macs are better for students

Macs are good for students studying audio, video, entertainment, graphics, or other forms of visually-based disciplines like motion picture production, graphic design, art studies, interactive website development, and other degrees which use a high-level of computer generated images and graphics.

Where PCs work out best

For students studying less graphically demanding disciplines, like history, accounting, business management, psychology, or other traditional diplomas, a PC works well because it doesn’t need a lot of frills and specialty programs to serve the user. Spreadsheets and word processing programs are straightforward tools students use frequently. Many people argue that a lot of the spreadsheet and data programs are better suited for PC.

TIP: Find out what programs you will be using in your program and do research to find which type of computer the software is best suited for.

Experience is an important teacher

Mac users laud the intuitive way the operating system functions with the user’s commands as well as the software’s functionality. This is referring to how a user clicks the mouse and uses the keyboard. Mac utilizes a “drag and drop” system for using the mouse to click on screen functions and icons. PCs use the same thing, but in a different way. Rather than pressing down on the mouse key and moving it around to issue commands, PCs have the user click once or twice, move the mouse and then click it again. Small difference, to be sure, but if the mouse button is disengaged while selecting functions with a Mac, the user loses their place and starts again.

A new standard for the term “ready-to-go”

Mac computers come out of the box pretty much ready to go. Plug it in, turn it on, and it makes itself ready for the user to immediately put it to work. PCs require more set up time and effort. Most PCs don’t come with the Word processor and Spreadsheet programs, unless they are ordered together with the computer and installed at the factory. Also, many PCs will recognize a printer, scanner, or other peripheral device plugged into them after set up, but some require downloading software and setting up the peripheral device manually, requiring more time and a little expertise in installing new hardware.

Customer service

Both types of computers require the user to contact product support, either online or by telephone, to resolve any problems with the computer. Frequently, the service support center can link up with the computer over the internet to identify issues and correct them. Most manufacturers charge a lot for these services unless a service plan is purchased with the original sale.

Desktop versus Laptop

Since online students have the freedom to view and interact with their classes anytime and anywhere, a laptop computer makes a lot of sense for most students. As long as the laptop meets the minimum operating requirements for the school, it makes life much easier when a student only needs internet access to go to class. As most coffee shops and public libraries offer free internet access, it’s far more convenient to learn from a laptop than from a PC stuck at home or in an office.

The bottom line

Frequently, the decision on which type of computer to use is already made … by the student’s budget. Fact: Macs can be expensive, PCs are cheap by comparison. Macs cost anywhere from $999 to $2,499. PCs can cost as little as $399 (including monitor). When the cost of a printer, scanner, camera, and software are added in, the PC is still the better deal from a cost standpoint.

Who wins?

Online students have a lot to consider when it’s time for choosing their computer. Mac users love Macs. PC users tend to prefer PCs simply because it’s what they are used to. Whichever way a student goes, their computer is probably the most important piece of equipment they will use for college… and in the long run it doesn’t matter which you pick as long as it fits your college needs.

The fact is your choice is determined by your budget, your preference, and the needs of the program and school. Good luck, and we promise we won’t judge you when you finally pick a side.

If you aren’t sure what program you should go into…

Check out our home page, to browse through program and career options. If you know your program but need help finding a school check out our School Finder Tool and request information from an education counselor.

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