Computer Requirement: Student with headphones working on laptop computer


Beginning in fall 2020, all students at Iowa State University will be required to own or obtain a laptop computer or other device appropriate to their discipline. This webpage will be updated regularly to include information about this new requirement and to share helpful resources with students, parents and advisors.

Please thoroughly explore the frequently asked questions below as they include important information about software and hardware recommendations associated with your college or major. More information about software and hardware recommendations for your intended program of study, like microphones and webcams, can be found on the Major Success web app.


Select any of the following questions to expand and view the answer provided.

The decision to require that students obtain a laptop was not made lightly, and focused on student success and mitigating the spread of the virus. Advantages and disadvantages of such a decision were carefully considered.

The new requirement provides two main benefits for students:

  • Improved access to online course content. Personal laptops provide more consistent access to course content and sets students up for success in the blended learning environment. This is particularly true should the current course delivery plan be adjusted due to student or faculty illness or significantly increased levels of COVID-19 activity in the city or state.
  • Health, sanitation, and safety. The risk to students’ health is increased by accidental exposure during the use of shared computing resources. Use of personal laptops reduces this risk, resulting in higher levels of student safety.

It is precisely due to these other changes that the requirement is so important at this time. Given the uncertainty created by COVID-19, both for classroom instruction and access to computer labs, as well as students’ health and safety, requiring personal computing devices will help ensure that all students complete the fall semester successfully.

While many (not all) computer labs are not available for in-person use, ITS, in partnership with colleges across the University, is working to build out the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) in campus computer labs. This means, students with access to these labs can use their personal device to access the lab computers and most of the software available on them. ITS and college IT staff are actively working to get more computers online using this VDI software. Students can browse their college website for details or contact college IT staff to find out more about virtually accessing computer labs available to them.

Specific recommendations for devices and software will vary by academic department or college.

The ISU Book Store offers educationally discounted prices on laptop computer hardware and software for ISU students, faculty, and staff. Students should use the Major Success web app to find the recommendations for their intended program of study.

Microsoft Office Pro Plus downloads are available to all active ISU students through the ISU TechCyte. Office Pro Plus includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote.

Ear buds/headsets and a microphone are highly recommended but not required. These will be especially useful for students who will be listening to online lectures or participating in help sessions in a shared space.

A webcam (either built into the computer, or separate) may be required as part of hybrid courses. A webcam may also be required as part of proctoring software used to proctor online exams.

ISU does not recommend students use tablets, mobile phones or netbooks as their primary computing device, though these devices may help supplement their computing needs.

The reasons for this are:

  • Many courses rely on video and interactive content to deliver essential course materials. Not all video and interactive content formats are supported by these devices.
  • The primary learning management system at ISU is Canvas which can be used with iPad or Android devices. However, some critical features may require additional applications to function that are not available on all devices.
  • Some majors require software that will not run on iOS or Android devices.
  • Netbook computers are likely insufficient for students’ use throughout the duration of their college experience and may not be able to run specific software needed for certain courses.

If a student already owns a desktop computer that meets their college or department’s specifications, it may be an acceptable alternative, as long as the student does not have any courses that require them to bring a laptop to class. Borrowing or purchasing a mobile device for use on campus is still strongly recommended for the reasons stated above.

While some students bring their own laptop device to campus, we recognize not all students currently have access to a laptop. In response, Iowa State University has developed two options to support students who may be in this situation: funding available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act; and a Laptop Loaner Program.


CARES Funding

A limited amount of funding through the CARES Act is available for students with documented financial need. To access these funds, students should complete the Laptop Loaner Program request form linked below; all requests will be reviewed by the Office of Student Financial Aid.


Laptop Loaner Program

Through the program, laptops will be lent to current students through the University Library. Requests for participation in the Laptop Loaner Program will be accepted now through 5:00 p.m. CST on Friday, August 28 (updated). Full-time, degree seeking students with the greatest financial need and those who have exhausted other options for financial aid will receive priority as laptop requests are processed.


How to submit your request:

  1. Gather the following information:
    1. University ID number, Net-ID and Net-ID password – If you are unable to locate your nine-digit University ID number, Net-ID or forgot your password, contact the IT Solution Center at 515-294-4000. The center’s hours of operation are available on the ITS Help page.
    2. College – Example: Design, Ag & Life Sciences etc.
    3. System Preference – Mac or PC.
  2. Complete the Laptop Loaner Program request form
    Note: To complete the form, you will need to log in using your Net-ID and password.


How the program works:

All program requests must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. CST on Friday, August 28 (updated). Following that deadline, all program participation requests will be sent to the Office of Student Financial Aid for review. Students who are eligible to use financial aid funding to purchase a laptop will be notified; they will not receive a loaner laptop.

Those who are not eligible for aid are then qualified to participate in the Laptop Loaner Program and will be notified the week of August 3, when a device is available for them to safely pick-up at a distribution location. We appreciate your patience as your request is processed.


Please note, the Laptop Loaner Program will provide devices to eligible students while inventory lasts.


If you have questions about the Laptop Loaner Program please contact the University Library at

More information will be posted on the student section of the Iowa State COVID-19 Response website. We will also communicate with college Student Services units as additional guidance is developed.

Additional Resources

Laptop computer and software purchasing

The ISU Book Store offers educationally discounted prices on laptop computer hardware and software for ISU students, faculty, and staff:

  • Students should use the Major Success web app to find the recommendations for their intended program of study.
  • Microsoft Office Pro Plus downloads are available to all active ISU students through the ISU Bookstore TechCyte. Office Pro Plus includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote.

Computer security

ISU considers computer security to be extremely important. Protect your computer by:

  1. Obtaining insurance coverage for your equipment, especially laptops.
  2. Purchasing and using a security cable for your laptop computer.
  3. Locking the door to your room and not leaving your laptop unattended in libraries or other public areas.

For additional information, read “Securing Your Devices” and "Mobile Security Guidelines" articles available on the IT Portal.