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In addition to the usual stockpile of hip clothes and poster putty, more and more first-year college students are adding something else to their shopping list: a computer.

Just about every college provides some form of computer lab for students, but a growing number of schools are requiring incoming freshmen to "BYOPC." Schools like Wake Forest U., Virginia Tech U, Georgia Institute of Technology and Wesleyan College are part of the new "PC required" school of thought.

But before you shell out the big bucks, ask if your school has any computer "scholarships" like the one at California State U., San Marcos, which gave 40 freshmen free laptops last year.

And if you have to buy your own? Think about how you're going to use your computer. First, let's address the obvious: classwork. These days, that can include typing and printing term papers, e-mailing your prof, participating in class discussion groups online, checking out your class syllabus on the Web and doing research by surfing the Web.

U. of Illinois sophomore Eric Macauley is a computer engineering major who logs a lot of homework hours on his computer. "[I have homework] in all four of my classes, and lecture notes are posted online for three of them," he says.

Let's not forget about your virtual social life. You've heard about e-mail addiction? Well, it's not an urban legend. From e-mail to chatrooms and online gaming, students use computers to socialize. Big time.

"I love e-mailing," says UT sophomore Zeena Angadicheril. "I talk to friends and family far and near over e-mail. My roommates and I e-mail each other all the time." Who knows? Your computer may even become your best friend.

By Rajiv Bhatia, U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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