Did I buy the wrong laptop for my daughter?

Just dropped off my youngest daughter at college with a brand new M1 MacBook Pro, 16GB unified memory, and 1TB storage. Yes, the machine her dad would buy for himself if he weren’t paying for college tuition :). It (easily) fits with the requirements/recommendations the university provides on their website. Before leaving, I set her up with the MS Office suite provided by the school

She will be studying Actuarial Science, and one of her first classes is “Microsoft Tools for Business Analysis”. The syllabus notes in a “Warning to Mac Users” that “Excel for Mac is different from the Windows based version of Excel. This course is based on the Windows environment. While you can use a Mac if you choose, please be aware you may find it frustrating as things are located in different areas/menus and there are some features that are simply not available which could result in a loss of points on an assignment. As an alternative, you could use a computer lab or use (VDI provided by the University).”

So I could use advice about how to proceed. As I see it, our options are as follows:

  1. Use Excel for Mac. Not a viable option, as she won’t accept “losing points” for the class, and I would expect full Excel would be helpful/needed for future actuarial classes.
  2. Use VDI as suggested. VDI is a virtual desktop provided by Citrix. This is a free solution. Has anyone used this? Is it reliable, and would it serve her for the four years of school to use Excel for Windows?
  3. Get Excel for Windows:
    a) Buy her a good Windows laptop and dad finally gets his new MacBook Pro (it’s past the 14 day return window) - problem is, she’s already in love with the MBP, or
    b) install Parallels desktop, Windows, and she gets to use Excel for Windows like a native Mac app.

Anyone have experience with Parallels/Windows 10 on an M1 Mac?

She’s 3.5 hours away, and not super nerdy. Best way to get Parallels, Windows, and MS Office for Windows installed remotely? I know her computer skills will improve greatly over the course of her college career, but I want a solution that is solid, reliable, and reasonably easy to use day-to-day.

Any other ideas?

Another alternative might be the Windows 365 service that @MacSparky talked about on MPU episode 602.


Thanks @ChrisUpchurch ! I was intrigued by that too, but the cost ($31/month) is pretty steep.

If she pursues a career in actuarial science she will be almost certainly be working on a Windows computer in any future job. If it were me, I’d opt to use a Windows machine in school so that I’m job ready when I graduate. Given that she is not tech-savvy (as per your description), she would also benefit from being able to follow along in class as they demo steps in the Windows OS.

If she’s really keen on a Mac for personal computing, a compromise could be she runs two laptops - a cheap Mac for personal computing and a cheap Windows laptop for coursework. Or she could run an iPad and a Windows laptop. You have 14 days to return the Mac. You could easily buy a used or less expensive Mac laptop/iPad and an inexpensive Windows laptop with the refund. Even if she keeps the fancy new Mac, a second cheap Windows laptop will cost much less than the total spent on Windows 365 over a four-year degree (I’d also recommend against Windows 365 if she needs to be able to follow along in class as it will look different than what is being demonstrated).

I wouldn’t go the VM route for course work. They can be slower than native (depending on setup, machine, etc.) and it adds one more technical layer that can go wrong. There isn’t time to fuss around during a fast-paced lecture, even for the most technologically skilled person.

1 Like

YOU keep the Mac and buy her a nice Windows machine for school. There. Problem solved. :slightly_smiling_face:


Some years ago a friend of a friend was at college doing a finance degree and using a Mac. The college published minimum hardware standards for Windows and Mac, and had a recommended setup for Mac users that involved Parallels, a Windows license, Mac Office and college provided Microsoft apps that are not available on Mac such as Visio.
The issue was that the Mac whined for software updates at one point, the student went ahead with the updates without informing college or family IT support and without backing up first and the Parallels installation broke. This eventually led to dropping out of a course to take it later and doing an extra semester.
You can tell people to back up, give them all the hardware and cables that they need to back up, people will say they are backing up, but unless you see it being done, it’s not happening. So stand there, say “show me how you back up” and wait until it’s done properly.

Tough one. PC Excel is still the gold standard even though the two are closer to parity these days. I don’t suppose she could talk to a TA or an upperclassman about if they’re actually going to be using some of the advanced pivoting and VBA features that the Mac version struggles with. If it’s just a different UI and small quirks she should be able to turn in 100% complete assignments.


I can’t comment on Citrix, but we use VMWare’s solution at work for a virtual desktop and it works amazingly (use OneDrive to sync between to make it easier on her).

I think the Mac will stay working better longer and she doesn’t have to maintain the virtual machine. My gaming Windows laptop does some super random stuff. That being said, if you get her a Windows machine, just go Surface. Straight from the source, and decent reviews.

+1 for Windows 365, which is similar to the Citrix VDI solution but I love the performance and simplicity. It really feels like a local machine, whilst it is a cloud PC.

The M1 mac can only do Windows for ARM on Parallels which is not the same as Intel WIndows and needs an ARM version of office, which likely is also impaired.

I would do the VDI first. Citrix is a proven solution in business and it might do the trick just fine.

If it ever becomes a bottleneck, subscribe to Windows 365 and you will be more than fine. For everything else, the Mac will be more than fine and actually be preferable :wink:



It may seem selfish, because you’re getting the MacBook, but it’s the best for her. The department is telling you as strongly as it can that there will be obstacles in her way if she uses a Mac, and they will not help her overcome them. Why put her at a disadvantage?


Personally, although it has improved, I still dislike Excel on Mac and if I was going to be using it daily, I would switch to Windows. I’m dead serious.
For me, that’s partly because I’d want full access to VBA and, especially if doing actuarial science, fully featured pivot tables; but to be honest it’s also partly just because I don’t enjoy working in Excel on a Mac, and if I’m going to be doing data analysis for a living I want to enjoy my tools. The main ones are Microsoft Excel and, probably, Power BI.

So, I would choose to switch to a Windows machine and immerse myself in that environment. And get an iPad.


Always buy the hardware based on the software you need to run and not the other way around. So a Windows laptop for her. And, who knows, she might change her major and then switch to a Mac :smile:

Now if this were a couple years ago I’d say get Parallels, but that really isn’t a viable solution at the moment.


I work at a univeristy and we provide a VDI service (ours is VMWare’s product). She should be able to use that just fine. If the school offers M365 access to student then OneDrive should also provide her with a unified way of accessing files within VDI and on her Mac.

1 Like

I would just buy her a Windows laptop.
She can follow along, other students can help her, as can the IT department at school.
The workarounds would probably be a lot of cognitive overhead for her.

If I read the OP correctly, the syllabus mentions a computer lab, so all students should [emphasis intentional, and I’m assuming the lab has been properly updated] have access to the necessary version (though it’s nowhere near as convenient as having it on one’s own machine).


… so all students should [emphasis intentional, and I’m assuming the lab has been properly updated] have access to the necessary version (though it’s nowhere near as convenient as having it on one’s own machine).

That said, she may very well be better off getting a Windows machine, and letting the OP claim the MBPro. It would make her life less complicated, as she’ll have access to the software she needs, no matter where she’s working.

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful replies. It seems as if Parallels is a bad idea at this point for the M1 MBPs (and maybe really for any situation). At this point, I”m thinking I’ll have my daughter explore the VDI option in the short term. I do feel some element of bait and switch, but the professor did mention the computer lab as an option. I’m not going to saddle my daughter with only being able to use pivot tables in the computer lab :slight_smile: . @drdrang (and others) I think we will probably go the route of buying her the Windows machine. Before doing that, we will contact a current actuary science student (that we already know) and maybe a professor to get a clearer picture of reality.

I also had the idea of trading in the M1 MBP for a currently available (or refurbed) Intel MBP and install the (known to work on Intel machines) Parallels version. Apple apparently doesn’t accept trade-ins on current products, which seems weird to me.

Thanks again. This is a great community.


For whatever it’s worth, just for experimental purposes I run the ARM version of Windows in Parallels on my M1 MacBook Air. It seems to work just fine.

That said, I’ve zero experience with how well/whether Excel works on it. My spreadsheet needs are fairly simple, and Google Sheets works just fine for me, so I’ve not explored Excel’s more advanced features.

1 Like

The easy answer is to get her a flash drive or two. She can do whatever she can with Excel for Mac. For everything else, she can work on her files in the computer lab.

Edit: Before getting a new computer, talk to your daughter. See what computer she wants. She may still want to go the Mac route.


Ah. I’d missed this bit. It sounds like these are university rather than department guidelines.

It’s actually not uncommon for particular departments with specialized needs to recommend a configuration that exceeds the general campus requirements, and/or steer their students to a computer lab for what they need.

But the department should make any additional requirements really clear, and when IT makes their recommendations, they really should also add: “These are minimums. Some academic programs use software that has higher requirements. Check with your intended department.”