My laptop broke halfway through my junior year. It was slow at first, a little bit of flickering on the screen as the computer struggled to breathe. But after a few weeks the laptop couldn’t be on for more than a few minutes without the screen going black. The very intimidating and unhelpful IT desk at my college tole me that I should only expect PCs to last a few years anyways and that it was time to get a new one. Due to my tremendous fear of spending money, I said absolutely not, because it was just the screen that was broken not the computer itself. I borrowed a monitor from a weird computer science major and set up an elaborate desktop arrangement in my dorm room.
The Internet situation in my dorm room was less than ideal. This situation, exacerbated by my lack of a smart phone, meant that I was finishing college without any portable technology.
Luckily, my college (and most colleges) provide both PCs and Macs in computer labs and libraries throughout campus. Many of these computers have expensive programs loaded on to them (like ArcGIS or STATA) and so most students will need to use them at some point or another. They are also a point of access to the school printers (so expect a rush right before class).
The paramount tool of college sans laptop? Planning. Since I couldn’t just pull my laptop out of my backpack and crank out a few paragraphs whenever I had a few minutes to spare, I had to plan out my days and weeks to make sure I had the time and space to be near a school computer. To do this, I followed the school’s schedule so that I could be at the library computers when they weren’t crowded. For example, there was a class time block from 2:40-4, but I didn’t have class at that time on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Instead, I would be at a library computer, treating that time like a mandatory class session where I could accomplish a lot of work.
Over the course of a semester and year, this planning becomes a routine. Every Tuesday and Thursday I did the reading response for my health economics classes in that spot at that time. Having this routine where there was no question about when and where I completed specific work made my lack of a laptop a non-issue. This was especially helpful for classes where the workload is similar each week. For example, last semester I had classes where there was reading due each class of usually the same length. I’ve also had math classes with problem sets due at the end of every week and having that routine helped prevent leaving a daunting assignment til the last minute.
Having set out those blocks of specific time for specific assignments in turn made me much more efficient. The social pressure of the library where people are constantly walking behind your computer screen (and waiting for you to be done so they can take your seat) makes it much harder to become distracted by social media. You don’t want to have someone walk behind you when you’re looking at their profile picture from 2010. The amount of unwanted porn on Tumblr takes it off the table as well. And because I sit down in my time and place with a specific task, I’m much more likely to complete it (or at least make significant progress) than I would be if I were working on it more haphazardly. This combination of good planning and a strong routine allowed me achieve this efficiency.
The final step towards academic success without a laptop was converting as many things to analog as possible. I got a free planner at the beginning of the semester. Most of the time, all of my professor’s distributed the syllabus digitally. This meant that I had to take the time to write down all the big deadlines and assignments in my paper planner. At the beginning of every week I would check again to write down the names of specific readings and assignments that were due that week since my classes often deviated from the syllabus. In addition, I had classes that required you bring a copy of the reading with you each week. This meant purchasing a bound volume of the readings or printing them out individually (I became very good at fitting many pages onto one piece of paper). Being able to carry those physical texts around let me read in places other than those computer desks in the library. This was especially nice when the weather was warm and I could do homework outside next to other students who were desperately squinting at their laptops.
Was not having a laptop in college convenient? Nope. But it did teach me how to plan out my work and complete it more efficiently, often giving me more time to do other collegiate things like lie on the floor of dorm rooms, work as a TA, and play intramural soccer. At my school, everyone had to use the school computers at some point when they needed special programming, so there was no stigma about using them. So have no fear, fellow laptop-less students, with a little planning you will have no problem.