Iowa State University students are required to own or obtain a laptop computer or other device appropriate to your discipline and program of study. Use of computers is integral to the learning process at the university and students need to acquire these skills to compete professionally and to co-exist socially. When considering a computer purchase, please consider the following information.

For fast and easy access to computer information, refer to the ISU Book Store's Major Success webpage.

Student wearing headphones on their laptop

While campus computer labs are equipped with devices that can support student learning, they are not meant to take the place of having a personal computer. The availability of campus computers varies greatly and having a personal computer ensures students can complete coursework on their schedule. Computer labs are a great option for using specialized software that may not be accessible on your own personal computer.

Some computer labs are open for general student use and others are reserved for students within a particular discipline or college. Depending on the lab, you may be able to use a computer on a walk-in basis or you may be required to schedule a time. Computer labs are managed by individual colleges and departments.

Specific recommendations for devices and software varies by academic department or college. Students are encouraged to consult with their academic advisor to determine what hardware and software they should have.

The ISU Book Store offers education discounts on computer hardware and software for students, faculty and staff. Students should use the Major Success web page to find recommendations for their intended program of study.

Earbuds/headsets and a microphone are highly recommended but not required. These items are especially useful when listening to and participating in online lectures or meetings when located in a shared space.

A webcam (either built into the computer or separate) may be necessary as part of your course requirements. A webcam may also be required when taking an online exam.

Microsoft Office 365 applications are available to all enrolled Iowa State students at no extra cost. Access Office 365 through your Sign on Dashboard. Office 365 includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote.

In addition, students have access to other software tools. Visit the ISU Service Portal to learn more.

Iowa State does not recommend students use tablets, mobile phones or netbooks (Chromebooks) as their primary computing device for the following reasons: 

  • 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.
  • Canvas, the primary learning management system, can be used on select mobile devices. However, some critical features may require additional applications that are not available on all devices.
  • Some programs of study require software that will not run on iOS or Android devices.
  • Netbook computers may not be able to run specific software needed for certain courses.

Tablets, mobile phones or netbooks can be used to supplement your computing needs, yet a laptop or desktop computer should be used as your primary device.

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 have a laptop when in class. 

Students in need of financial aid to purchase a laptop are encouraged to speak with the Office of Student Financial Aid to review their options for purchasing a laptop. Students can complete a Cost of Attendance Adjustment form for review of the cost of a computer. Only one adjustment can be done while you are attending the university.  Please make sure to include the documentation on the cost of the computer.  If approved, the adjustment would be for additional loan borrowing.

Additional Resources

Laptop computer and software purchasing

The ISU Book Store offers education discounts on computer hardware and software for students, faculty and staff.

  • Students should consult with their academic advisor to determine what hardware and software is needed for their courses.
  • Students can use the book store's Major Success web page to find recommendations for their intended program of study.
  • Access Office 365 through your Sign On Dashboard. Office 365 includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote.

Computer security

Computer security is extremely important. Protect your computer by:

  1. Obtaining insurance coverage for your equipment.
  2. Purchasing and using a security cable.
  3. Locking the door to your room and not leaving devices unattended in any public area.

For additional information, read the “Securing Your Devices” article available in the ISU Service Portal.