Whether you’re returning to college or attending for the first time, the start of the school year brings many decisions, including which laptop or tablet you should purchase.

In a July survey by the National Retail Federation, of the households with children heading off to college, about 50% of them plan on spending money on new electronics, including laptops and tablets. The question is, will that money be well spent?

We’ve compiled a list of questions you should be asking yourself, as well as some suggested models.

What do you need from your laptop or tablet?

Returning to campus means more than just studying for tests and writing term papers. Chances are you’ll also be streaming video, listening to music and chatting with friends and family back home. When deciding on a laptop or tablet make sure you take into account all of these activities. We suggest laptops or laptop hybrids (a combination of a laptop and a tablet) with a full size keyboard and a larger screen.

Our picks: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch, Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series and the Lenovo Yoga 3 14.

How much power is necessary?

When it comes to laptops, it’s often a choice between top performance and long battery life — it’s harder to find a model with both. Most students will want a laptop that can get them from 8 a.m. classes to evening study sessions, so sacrificing performance for a long-lasting battery may be the way to go. Typically, the average laptop battery can last one to six hours depending on what’s being done on the computer and the age of the battery. If you’re worried about your computer running out of juice, consider purchasing an additional battery with more “cells.”

Our picks: Lenovo ThinkPad X250 and the Dell XPS 13.

Does weight matter?

College campuses are often sprawling, so lugging around a heavy laptop can be a serious drag. This is where a tablet can come in handy. Of course, you’ll need one that performs at the same level as (or close to) your laptop and can serve many of the same functions. Look for an option that will run your most commonly used applications and has a large screen.

Our picks: Microsoft Surface Pro 3, Apple iPad Air 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Does my school have specific requirements?

Is your school geared more toward the Windows user? Or does it accommodate all operating systems? Does it have an on-campus repair center that is better equipped to service a specific brand or manufacturer? These are all important questions to ask because you’ll want to make sure that if something goes awry, you’ll have the support you need.

Our picks: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Mac OS X platform) or Acer Aspire Switch 11 (Windows 8)

So, can you summarize the list?

With all the options available, it can be hard to pick. But depending on your needs, one of the choices below should fit the bill.

  1. Apple MacBook Air 13-inch
  2. Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series
  3. Lenovo Yoga 3 14
  4. Lenovo ThinkPad X250
  5. Dell XPS 13
  6. Microsoft Surface Pro 3
  7. Apple iPad Air 2
  8. Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2
  9. Acer Aspire Switch 11

More from NerdWallet:

9 cool (and useful) back-to-school gadgets

3 back-to-school shopping pitfalls to avoid

Best in Class: 7 Top Apps for Back-to-School Shopping

Kirsten VerHaar writes for NerdWallet, a website that helps consumers make smarter financial decisions. NerdWallet is a USA TODAY content partner providing general news, commentary and coverage from around the Web. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

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