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I just bought a MacBook Pro for back to school — and I got a big surprise

MacBook Pro 14 deal
(Image credit: Future)

I'm telling you right now that back-to-school season has started early this year. And I can say that because I just spent a lot of money on a laptop that won't arrive until just before my daughter starts college. And that's on August 27th

Narrowing down the choices for my daughter was fairly easy, as the university was good enough to provide some recommended laptops along with specs. As she's studying engineering, I needed to invest in a pretty beefy system. In addition to a couple of workstations from Dell and Lenovo, the listed options included a MacBook Pro 14-inch and MacBook Pro 16-inch.

Because of how well Apple's laptop performed in our MacBook Pro 14-inch review, and because of the awesome battery life, I decided to pull the trigger on that machine. It's definitely one of the best laptops for engineering students. And the recommended configuration included a M1 Pro chip with 14-core GPU, 16GB of unified memory and 512GB of storage. 

The total for the system was $1,849, which is quite expensive but $150 less than the usual retail price of $1,999 with the student discount. I also added AppleCare+ for protection for $249, which brought the total to $2,098 before tax. After tax, the total was (gulp) $2,236, but that wasn't a shock compared to the delivery date.

On the order screen I was given two options: the first was a delivery window of 5 to 7 weeks, which was cutting it close given when my daughter starts college. But I was also given a local delivery option through the Apple Store. And I was very surprised that I was given a delivery window of the same day between 3 and 5 p.m.

Score! Not so fast...

So 5 p.m. came and went without a MacBook Pro showing up at my door. And at 11:10 p.m. I got an email from Apple that my order had been canceled, which I did not see until the next morning. 

Wondering why the order had been canceled, I contacted Apple via its text chat feature. While I didn't get a definitive answer, the Apple rep said it's possible that the Uber driver canceled. (Apple uses the ride-sharing service for these deliveries.) It's also possible that Apple simply ran out of stock at its local store. Regardless, I was not pleased that I had to reach out and find out what had happened rather than being told in the cancelation email.

On the text thread, the Apple support person recommended that I order the laptop again and they were nice enough to start a new shared shopping bag that I could just click on. The problem? The laptop didn't have the student discount applied, and the cost of Apple Care was also $30 more than going through the college's portal to Apple. So I abandoned this cart and started over myself.

This time, a local delivery option was not available for the MacBook Pro 14-inch, and the expected delivery date was listed at August 10. Now, this is cutting it pretty close to when my daughter needs to go to school, so I'm crossing my fingers that there are not any delays. 

The bottom line is this. Try to figure out what your son or daughter needs now and check out our best laptops for college students guide for recommendations. And buy that system as soon as possible. If you're willing to cut it real close, you can wait to see what Amazon Prime Day deals pop up July 12 and 14, but I would not wait beyond that for any back-to-school purchases.

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.