Tech Products Important for College Students

Posted on August 8, 2005

Clothing, shoes, and school supplies will be strong sellers for the back-to-school season this year according to a National Retail Foundation (NRF) study. The study also reported -- somewhat surprisingly -- that spending in the electronics category is expected to decrease in 2005. Families with school-aged children will spend an average of $443.77 on back-to-school items, down 8.2 percent from $483.28 last year. Back-to-school spending is estimated to reach $13.39 billion this year, down from $14.79 billion last year.

The NRF says most of the spending drop will stem from the electronics category, where spending is expected to fall more than a billion dollars compared to last year ($2.06 billion versus $3.09 billion last year). If spending on electronics does fall as it is forecasted to, it isn't because the kids don't want or need electronics. A recent study found that 87% of all teenagers used the Internet in 2004. Some good advice for buying school-related electronics can be found on a back-to-school tech guide provided by BusinessWeek and CNET and in the New York Times back to school technology special. One of the Times articles called Packing for the Net Generation confirms what your college student has been trying tell you: laptops are essential in college. The article also makes it clear that it is a good idea to read the school's guidelines before buying a laptop to take to school.

As far as which type of computer to bring, it depends on the institution. Some have strict technology guidelines. For example, do not bring an iMac to the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., because the academy provides only technical support for computers with the Microsoft Windows XP operating system and Gateway PC's at that. "If you bring another kind of computer, we will supply a network connection address, but otherwise you are on your own," the Citadel's Web site says.

Other colleges take a more ecumenical approach. The Web site of Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., says, "We don't make any recommendations with regard to PC's or Macs - whichever you prefer is fine." Within universities, individual departments may require specific computer configurations or software, so check beforehand.

But all colleges agree that any up-to-date computer should be able to get Internet access through Ethernet and wireless connections. So don't bring clunkers. As Carleton's Web site puts it, "It is important, however, that you bring a computer that's new enough to work on our network and run the applications you'll need to do your work."

Another Time's article offers help on the nightmare of buying cell phones for college-bound kids and breaks down the plans offered by Cingular, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint. One tip provided for parents concerned about getting a huge cell phone bill from their college student is to try a pre-paid phone plan -- the downside is that you will pay more per minute.

A Kansas City InfoZine article cited a Best Buy manager who said the top tech items purchased college students include laptop computers, wireless networking, iPods, small televisions and mini-fridges. Storage is also important and Ann Evans, a Linens 'n Things spokeswoman, told the InfoZine that comfort and convenience are important in cramped dorm rooms.

She said this year's hot extras give students comfort and convenience. Storage ottomans provide storage and extra seating, and lap desks designed for laptop computers include wrist guards to protect against carpel tunnel syndrome.