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Columbia College Chicago
Laptop Recommendations

Laptop Recommendations

All music students are required to complete core courses in Theory, Aural Skills, Keyboard, and Music History. In these courses, students perform certain digital learning activities in the classroom and additional online and computer-based work in their individual practice and class preparation. To assure that all students are equipped to complete these requirements, the music department strongly recommends that all incoming students purchase a laptop computer.

While we acknowledge that the purchase of a state-of-the-art laptop computer is a significant upfront expense, we are able to offset this cost across the music core by replacing many traditional textbooks and recording anthologies with digital resources. Thus, this laptop recommendation also assures that all students have ready access to required course materials.

Minimum Hardware Specifications

Our recommended configuration is a 13" MacBook Pro or MacBook Air with the following minimum specifications (as of July 2014):

  • at least 4GB RAM
  • internal 500GB HD (Pro) or external 500GB USB3 HD (Air)
  • internal CD/DVD Drive (Pro) or external Apple SuperDrive (Air)

The computer with these specifications can be found at the Columbia College Apple Computer Store.

Software Requirements

The Mac includes a valuable suite of pre-installed software, including GarageBand for audio recording and iTunes for audio playback, as well as programs dedicated to video and photo editing. In addition to these pre-installed applications, we ask that all students also install applications for word processing (we recommend Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, or Open Office) and for basic music notation (the department supports Finale, Sibelius, and MuseScore).

As students progress through their major, they will be required to purchase additional software that is specific to the technical requirements of the individual program. A laptop with this configuration assures that you will be able to meet the technical requirements of advanced classes in all of our department programs.


Q. Why did you choose this configuration?
After extensive research, this configuration was chosen due to its power and durability with respect to the activities most musicians must perform. The Mac platform is standard across the music industry, and students’ experience with this technology will prepare them for the professional world. This computer should last throughout your college career and beyond.

Q. Have you seen how much these things cost?
Yes. This is a robust and sturdy computer that you can use throughout your time at Columbia and in your work as a professional musician. Successful modern musicians must be able to blend creative and technical work, demonstrating proficiency and skill in both realms. A laptop computer is as essential a tool for today’s musician as is a primary instrument.

Q. Can I buy an iPad instead?
As a department, we are avidly exploring the range of music and productivity software available on the iOS platform. Several music department faculty members use iPads as primary devices, but we all continue to rely on our Macs for certain essential tasks (such as music notation). The iPad is still in its infancy, and we do not yet find it to be sufficient as a student’s sole computing device..

Q. Can I buy a Windows laptop instead?
Mac OS is the industry-standard operating system for musicians. The vast majority of professional composers, bandleaders, and recording studios use Mac OS, and young professionals entering the field are expected to be fluent Mac users. At Columbia College Chicago, we strive to provide our students with experiences that reflect the state of the art in the professional world. While most of the recommended software is available in both Mac and Windows versions, a small number of advanced applications (most notably the Logic recording suite) are only available on the Mac. For these reasons, we support Mac OS and discourage the use of Windows computers.

Q. Do I need to purchase the exact configuration shown above?
No. Our recommended configuration strikes a balance between computing power and relative cost. Other configurations may meet your needs, but most likely at an additional cost. For example:

  • The MacBook Pro includes a CD/DVD drive, while Apple’s other laptops do not. Students will regularly make use of this drive, so we have included it in our recommendation. Apple sells an external CD/DVD drive as an accessory, which could pair with a MacBook Air or Retina MacBook Pro.
  • The MacBook Pro uses a traditional spinning-disk hard drive, while Apple’s other laptops use solid-state (“Flash”) storage. Flash remains comparatively expensive, so our recommendation provides the most economical way for a student to have sufficient storage capacity to maintain a large collection of audio and video recordings. If a student wishes to purchase a MacBook Air or Retina MacBook Pro, we recommend at least 128GB of onboard storage and an additional high-capacity external hard drive.

Q. What is the bottom-line cost?
The educational price for the recommended computer is $1099 for the hardware. Including recommended software, this package could cost as much as $1414 plus tax. Students should explore individual funding options if they cannot fund this purchase themselves. A counselor at Student Financial Services can assist you with questions about how student aid can be applied to this purchase.

Q. Where can I buy this stuff?
We strongly recommend that you buy the configuration through the Columbia College Computer Store on the ground floor of the 33 E. Congress Building. This will insure that you get maximum savings for the entire package. Online, please visit the Columbia College Apple Computer Store. There are a variety of third party outlets, which in some cases can be competitive. For instance, there is a robust market for used and refurbished units. However, we believe the best pricing and support is available through the Columbia College Computer Store.