New Student FAQ – Computers and Software

By Doug Christ (MBAA VP of Information Technology) 2017-2018

As a new student, it can be a little challenging to navigate some of the hardware and software options available. We have provided answers to frequently asked questions, and added some comments along the way. Although, it is important to remember that you need to make the choices that are best for you, your budget, and your comfort level with technology.

Q1. Do I need to buy a new computer?

No. But you will need a laptop or Surface Pro to complete in-class assignments, and to collaborate on campus with other students. If you have a laptop that is only 2 or 3 years old, it should be fine. Most importantly, you will need a reliable computer. Class assignments are submitted online, as a Word doc, Excel file, Power Point or PDF. If your computer struggles to run Office, or is slow when loading web pages, then I strongly recommend purchasing a new computer.

Good rule of thumb:  You are making a significant investment earning your MBA, and you will need the tools to be successful. Some students choose to purchase new devices before school starts, and others do not. I believe that school can be stressful enough, and that your computer should make your life easier. If your current computer isn’t making your life easier, then it is probably time to purchase a new computer that you are comfortable using.

Q2. Should I go with Windows or a Mac computer?

If you are buying a new computer for school I highly recommend a Windows based PC. Windows is the default operating system in all Foster School systems. You will find that running Office on a native Windows machine will be seamless, and stress free.

Mac users, you are not out of luck, but you will be required to use the Windows version of Excel for a few classes. We suggest that Mac users purchase a license of Windows 10 and a program called Parallels, which allows you to run Windows without rebooting your computer. Installing a secondary operating system can be complex, and although IT help is always available, there can be complications during the process. Some students love their Macs, and found that having Windows installed is the best of both worlds.

Q3. What technical specifications would you recommend?

If you have decided to buy a new laptop, make sure that specifications are similar to what we recommend below. The minimum requirements will ensure your computer will be powerful enough to run smoothly.

  Recommended Minimum
Operating System Windows 10 Windows 8.1 or Mac OS X
Processor (CPU) Core i7 Core i5
Memory (RAM) 8 GB 4 GB
Hard Drive 250 GB SSD* 125 GB
Video Card Dedicated Integrated
Wireless Adapter 802.11 a/b/g/n 802.11 a/b/g

* – SSD stands for Solid State Drive, which is more stable and faster than regular hard drive.

Q4. Can I use a tablet?

YES! Many students have enjoyed using the Microsoft Surface Pro, and they recommend it for taking notes directly on the slides as they are presented in class. Most use the Surface Pro as their primary device and have no issues running Excel or creating Power Point decks. One student even recommends the Surface Pro by saying “It is awesome! It can do everything a laptop can do and more. It actually runs Office and many other programs much faster than a laptop. The screen is great and the battery will last all day. Also, obviously, it is super light. The keyboard add on is a must.”

The Surface Pro 4 is currently on sale at Amazon after the new Surface Pro was release this May. If you prefer a more portable and versatile device over a larger laptop, I think the Surface Pro is a great option. Be sure to use our C4C affiliate link whenever you make a purchase on Amazon!

If you like taking notes on an iPad or Android tablets, that is fine. However, if you are not using a Surface Pro you will still need a laptop to handle the Excel and Power Point work required. In class, most people take notes on their laptops or tablets using PowerPoint or OneNote/EverNote/other note taking programs, and some still use old-fashioned paper and pen.

Q5. What software do I have to install?

A nice perk about being in Microsoft’s backyard is that we have access to Office 365 for free. This link will take you to the university website that explains how to download Office 365. You can install Office on up to 5 devices with your free account, and it comes with the complete Office suite. The Excel Solver and Analysis Toolpak Add-Ins needed for Jump Start should come pre-installed, and there are instructions posted on how to activate both of these tools. If there are other class-specific software requirements beyond the basic Office tools, your instructor will provide you with instructions on what needs to be download. Your IT class representative will assist you, if you need help installing new software on your computer.

Q6. Is there a tutorial for installing software, and configuring my email and calendar?

A step-by-step tutorial about how to access, download, and install the programs is available on the MBAA website. Also, an IT representative will have office hours during PRIME to help you install and configure required software, and answer any lingering questions that you may have.

Q7. How about all this “cloud” stuff? What should I be using?

Collaborating online with other students and storing documents in the cloud is necessary to be successful while at Foster. Students will gravitate towards a cloud option that works for their team. The most popular solution is currently Google Drive for storage and Google makes it very easy to collaborate in real time on Google Docs. Google Hangouts are also great for video chats when your team needs to meet remotely and screen share.

Other Apps and software you should download:

Slack is a great tool to use for group chats.
WhatsApp is also very popular for messaging.
Venmo is used to make and receive payments. Nobody uses cash anymore.
OneBusAway will let you know how long you’ll be waiting in the rain for the bus.
Canvas is where your class work is submitted. But the phone app is pretty slow.
HBPS account for Harvard Cases, but you don’t need to pay extra for mobile download option.

Q8. Okay, I got my credit card out. Where can I start spending?

Of course, start by ordering anything using our C4C Amazon affiliate link! Not just books, computers, and calculators, but umbrellas, raincoats, and galoshes too. Every little bit helps in our quest to repeat as C4C Champions!

The UW Bookstore also has a tech department. Keep in mind that it’s not program-specific, so there isn’t a “Best Computer for Business School.” We also don’t find their prices to be the best – Amazon is usually cheaper and with Apple products, they charge about the same as the student discounted price.

Academic software may be useful, but with your school email, you have a lot of other options for purchasing software. Keep an eye out for student discounts, back-to-school specials, and other holiday sales if you’re looking to save the most money. Remember – you’re a student again!


Look for more information to come in the email newsletters from the program office. Also, an IT representative will have office hours during PRIME to help you install and configure required software, and answer any lingering questions that you may have. Doug Christ (MBAA VP of IT) is available anytime via email (, and he will be back on campus the first week of school to help with anything else. The IT Headquarters of the website is currently up-to-date, and includes the IT Orientation slides in the student tutorials section.