Science

Best VPNs for school of 2022


Published Jun 29, 2022 10:31 AM

Whether you’re in high school or college, school days are a fun and important time in every young person’s life—but so is protecting your personal data and that’s where a VPN can come in. Relying on school, coffee shop, and dorm Wi-Fi for all your internet needs can leave your devices vulnerable to trackers and malware. To tackle this problem, every student should consider investing a few bucks (or at least a little time) to set up a virtual private network to keep their identity safe. We looked into more than a dozen VPNs to determine which one will work best for cash-strapped students. While they all have their own pros and cons, the best VPNs for school excel in all kinds of situations.

What is a VPN?

A virtual private network (VPN) creates a private server that allows you to access the internet without automatically transmitting information about yourself, including your location. When bad actors and companies collect data about you, including your internet service provider, they get the information provided by the VPN instead. Think of it like a mask your computer puts on before it walks into a crowded room: People can see that someone is there and that you’re wearing a mask, but they can’t necessarily tell who it is. 

All of the VPNs on our list protect and encrypt the data that you send, which helps protect sensitive information (like passwords, for example) from prying eyes. This makes it safer to use public Wi-Fi when you’re working or commuting. You can also use VPNs to access international versions of popular streaming services like Netflix by logging through a server based in another country.
For more information on VPNs work and setting them, please check out our handy guide on how to use a VPN.

How we picked the best VPNs for school

As a lifelong tech enthusiast, I’ve used most of the more popular VPNs in my daily life over the years and I know how they perform firsthand. In addition, we spoke to several colleagues and their friends (including several students) about their experiences with VPNs. We also reviewed specs and tests conducted by information security experts. With this research in hand, we know which VPNs are worth your hard-earned money and which ones you can skip.

Things to consider when signing up for one of the best VPNs for school

Comparing VPNs can get a bit tricky, especially if you aren’t technically inclined. The bottom line is that choosing a VPN is fairly simple and only comes down to a handful of different factors. Before subscribing to a multi-year plan, you should think about the following questions:

Why do students need a VPN?

Students need VPNs more than most people, particularly while they’re living in dorms. They routinely rely on public Wi-Fi networks that are, by and large, way less secure than you might think. In classrooms, at the library, at their favorite coffee shops, and even in their own dorms, they are accessing networks that aren’t as secure as a private network you set up in your home.

The very nature of public Wi-Fi often means that the network prioritizes access over security, which leaves very little protection between you and the rest of the network’s users. A VPN allows you to use a public Wi-Fi network without presenting yourself to would-be snoopers trawling your university’s Wi-Fi for passwords. (This same logic, by the way, applies to anyone who travels frequently for work or brings their laptop to cafes and other public places.)

Some users rely on VPNs for other purposes, such as getting around firewall-blocked sites on their work connection or fooling streaming services into thinking you’re from another country in order to access region-locked content. While these aren’t the primary reasons why most students should get a VPN, they are nice perks.

Stability and reliability

More than anything, a VPN should work. It needs to protect your data, and it needs to run reliably without crashing or going out, forcing you to access the web without it. If you’re pounding out the final draft of an essay in the coffee shop, the last thing you want is for your internet to go out. 

As such, we only picked VPNs that have extremely consistent service, as well as reliable speeds. We also weighed the number of servers of each provider, in addition to other factors like the number of devices that you can use with a single account.

Reputation

When you connect to a VPN, you’re giving that provider an inside look into your browsing and streaming habits. Your VPN provider theoretically has all the web usage data that you’re paying to hide. Given that, it’s important to pick a VPN client with transparent policies and a trustworthy reputation. Invest in a well-known VPN that encrypts your data on both ends and does not log your data in any way. Using a no-name VPN (especially dodgy free providers) may actually be worse than not using one at all.

Slowdown

Here’s the bad news: Connecting to a VPN always makes your internet a bit slower. You’re sending your data through another server, which means that a VPN-protected connection will always take slightly longer than a raw connection. Different VPNs add different amounts of lag to the experience, though the best VPNs are barely slow at all. The ability to mitigate this extra lag separates the good VPNs from the bad. It’s also one of the biggest differences between a free VPN and those that charge a subscription.

Cost & packages

Most VPNs charge you a small monthly fee—often $10 to $14—for their services. Many services have multiple tiers of service, including restricted free options. As with most subscriptions, you can save a little bit of cash by paying up front for a year or more of service.

Though premium VPNs tend to be somewhat similar in price, it does make a substantial difference for broke students trying to afford their next round of textbooks. As such, we weighed the price of the services heavily, including whether or not they offer a free version or a limited trial. We also noted how frequently each VPN provider goes on sale, and how deep those discounts tend to go.

The best VPNs for school: Reviews & Recommendations

If you’re going off to school, you should strongly consider setting up a VPN. Now that you know the basics, you should have enough info to pick the right one for you and your devices. If you need help getting started, we’ve picked the best VPNs for school, choosing providers that excel in all kinds of ways. Whether you decide to go with a free option or shell out for a premium provider, any of these picks will protect you from the hazards of the internet.

Best overall: NordVPN

Why it made the cut: NordVPN boasts reliable service, hundreds of servers, and enticing extra features like threat protection. It’s also relatively easy to set up.

Specs

  • Server count: Over 5,500 servers in 59 countries
  • Connection limit: Supports 6 device connections at once
  • Home country: Panama
  • Free/trial version: None
  • Standard plan price: $11.99 per month, $59.98 per year, or $126.96 every two years
  • Student discount: 15 percent off

Pros

  • Many, many servers all around the world
  • Reliable speed and service
  • Trusted name
  • Expansive premium options

Cons

  • Somewhat expensive
  • No free version
  • Past data breach

Of all the picks on our list, NordVPN is probably the biggest brand name in the space. Even after the brand’s reputation took a hit after an unauthorized server breach in 2018, NordVPN remains one of the most qualified VPN providers out there, delivering consistent speeds, secure connections, and a baffling number of servers to choose from. 

As with many other premium providers, Nord supports every platform out there—Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, etc.—so it’s a one-stop-shop for all your devices. If you’re willing to pay a bit more, it can expand into a full digital security suite with a password manager, data breach scanner, and up to 1 TB of encrypted cloud storage.

Realistically, most students probably don’t need all the bells and whistles, but Nord’s basic VPN plan is more than worth the cost. It’s a strong all-around VPN client, which makes it perfect for people who don’t necessarily have specific security needs.

Best free: ProtonVPN

Why it made the cut: Most free VPNs are sketchy at best, but ProtonVPN delivers a costless upgradeable service that gives premium plans a run for their money.

Specs

  • Server count: Over 1,700 servers in 63 countries (premium)
  • Connection limit: Supports 10 device connections at once (premium)
  • Home country: Switzerland
  • Free/trial version: Yes, speed-capped
  • Standard plan price: $10.52 per month, $75.69 per year, or $126.10 every two years (billed in Euro)
  • Student discount: None

Pros

  • Best free tier of any VPN
  • Supports more connections than most
  • Upgradeable

Cons

  • Premium version is expensive for limited feature set
  • Free version lacks extra features

Look, we get it. Not everyone has $60 a year to throw at a security program, especially not while they’re in school. But you need to be careful if you’re looking for a free VPN. Many don’t work, and some may do more harm than good. ProtonVPN, from the makers of the secure email platform ProtonMail, is a great option if you want to get a little VPN protection, but don’t want to pay for it.

The free version of ProtonVPN stands out for one very specific reason: It is the only free VPN service from a trustworthy company that doesn’t have a data cap. That means you can use it as more than a “trial” option, protecting all of your internet usage on whatever device you decide to protect.

Now, to be clear, ProtonVPN’s free service doesn’t compare to its premium plan. You only get access to three servers, which means your internet speeds will drop more, especially if you’re geographically far away from these locations. It’s limited to one device at a time, so you can’t protect your full range of devices, and your internet speed takes a big hit. Additionally, ProtonVPN blocks streaming services like Netflix and Torrent sites like BitTorrent on free accounts. It’s hard to complain, though, when you’re getting dependable protection for no charge.

If you use the free version of ProtonVPN and like it, you can always upgrade your account to the premium version, which improves on the free version’s shortcomings. It offers 1,700 servers in 63 countries and supports a sky-high 10 simultaneous device connections. It’s a great service, albeit a bit overpriced when you compare it to more popular clients like NordVPN and ExpressVPN. 

ProtonVPN is a strong option for students who want to try out a free VPN to see what all the fuss is about. Its premium plan doesn’t offer the best value, but the free service is a great deal.

Best for phones: ExpressVPN

Why it made the cut: ExpressVPN’s tremendous server coverage and easy-to-use mobile interface make it the best VPN for mobile phones, as well as one of the best overall options, too.

Specs

  • Server count: Over 3,000 servers in 94 countries
  • Connection limit: Supports 5 device connections at once
  • Home country: British Virgin Islands
  • Free/trial version: None
  • Standard plan price: $12.95 per month, or $99.95 per year.
  • Student discount: None

Pros

  • Many countries served
  • Extremely reliable speed and service
  • Easy-to-use UI

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Only 5 simultaneous connections

ExpressVPN just works, and that’s why it’s a great VPN for students. Its colorful UI is easier to grasp than many of our other picks, especially on mobile, making it a strong option if you specifically want a VPN for your phone. (That said, the service is also compatible with computers, tablets, and other devices.)

ExpressVPN’s mobile app is more intuitive and visually appealing than its counterparts. At the same time, it’s a very powerful tool, with servers in nearly double the countries of most VPNs. It’s also one of the fastest VPNs out there, though it doesn’t have as many servers as some of its competitors.

If there’s a problem with ExpressVPN, it’s the price. Its monthly and annual subscriptions cost significantly more than other popular services. That said, you are getting great protection and a robust VPN service. Plus, it also has the best-reviewed customer service of any of the providers on this list. If you’re prepared to splurge on digital defense, ExpressVPN is a worthy VPN choice. That said, other services realistically offer similar services at a lower price. 

Best for Chromebook: Tunnelbear

Why it made the cut: While the rich feature sets of premium VPNs are nice, Tunnelbear offers great basic services for a lower price than the biggest brands.

Specs

  • Server count: N/A (Servers available in 40+ countries)
  • Connection limit: Supports 5 device connections at once
  • Home country: Canada
  • Free/trial version: Yes, but capped to 500 MB
  • Standard plan price: $9.99 per month, $59.98 per year, or $120.00 for three years
  • Student discount: None

Pros

  • Cheaper than most premium VPNs
  • Easy to set up on all platforms, including Chromebook
  • Appealing UI
  • Yearly security audits
  • Free trial

Cons

  • Bare-bones feature-set
  • Only 5 simultaneous connections
  • Doesn’t work with some streaming services

If you aren’t the most tech-literate person and get intimidated by terms like DNS and IP addresses, Tunnelbear is a small, but reliable, VPN client that keeps things extremely simple.

Tunnelbear is an extremely basic VPN. It lacks many of the security tools offered by other VPN services, such as antivirus protection, and it doesn’t support a router-side setup. It also has a few kinks: Users report that it doesn’t play well with Netflix and other streaming services. Still, it delivers solid speeds and offers servers in more than 40 countries. Its charming and intuitive user interface features cute bear mascots, which help make the service more appealing to those who feel a bit intimidated by the tech talk that dominates other VPN websites.

Tunnelbear is especially easy to use on Chromebooks, thanks to its native Android app and Chome extension. It’s easy enough to use that kids just learning the ropes of computers may be able to figure it out. If you’re in the market for a VPN that does the basics for cheap, Tunnelbear is worth a look.

Best for studying abroad: Cyberghost

Why it made the cut: A well-established VPN brand, Cyberghost has the most servers of any name on this list. It’s also surprisingly cheap.

Specs

  • Server count: 7,900 servers in 91 countries
  • Connection limit: Supports 7 device connections at once
  • Home country: Romania
  • Free/trial version: None
  • Price: $12.99 per month, $51.48 per year, or $78 every two years.
  • Student discount: $33 a year for 1 year

Pros

  • Cheaper than most premium VPNs
  • Ridiculous server density  
  • Competitive speeds
  • Supports 7 devices at once

Cons

  • Not the best UI
  • May not work with streaming services
  • No independent security audits

Quantity doesn’t always translate to quality, but Cyberghost’s ridiculous volume of international servers makes it an obvious choice for foreign travelers and students who are looking to study abroad. It’s also one of the faster VPN services out there, according to multiple VPN speed tests. Though ExpressVPN technically serves three more countries, Cyberghost has more than double the number of servers, which should improve performance across various regions.

Cyberghost is a solid, well-rounded VPN—but it’s not perfect. For one thing, it hasn’t gone through an independent security audit since 2012. While there haven’t been any highly publicized privacy breaches in that time, stalwarts like NordVPN and Tunnelbear have been audited more recently, making them a bit more trustworthy. For another, a lot of users have reported having issues using Cyberghost with popular streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max, which is a major bummer for those hoping to spoof their location to access content from other countries. Cyberghost’s UI is a bit clunky compared to NordVPN and ExpressVPN, too.

Overall, Cyberghost is a very strong option for global travelers and students hoping to get a lot of value for their dollar. 

Best budget: Surfshark

Why it made the cut: Surfshark isn’t the most well-known VPN provider out there, but offers several advantages over household names, including speed, cost, and number of connections.

Specs

  • Server count: 3,200 servers in 95 countries
  • Connection limit: Unlimited
  • Home country: The Netherlands
  • Free/trial version: None
  • Standard plan price: $12.95 per month, $47.88 per year, or $59.76 for two years 
  • Student discount: Three free months with a two-year subscription.

Pros

  • Very good value
  • Fast speeds
  • Unlimited devices on one account
  • Good mobile app

Cons

  • Less well-known than other brands
  • Lacks some extra features

Surfshark is by far the newest product on this list, as it was founded in 2018. It’s a newcomer with more to prove than our other picks, but it makes the list thanks to some very enticing features. It is the only provider on our list that lets you connect as many devices as you want on one account. It’s also consistently rated as one of the fastest VPN services out there, and features a stylish mobile app.

It does have its downsides, though. Its network is significantly smaller than that of NordVPN or Cyberghost and it lacks some of the expansive features that the other VPNs have, such as a password manager. It does have its own antivirus option, though.

More importantly, though: Surfshark is one of the cheapest reputable VPNs, making it a great choice if you want to pay a little and get a lot.

FAQs

Q: Does Netflix block VPNs?

Yes, Netflix and other streaming services try their best to block VPNs whenever possible. Users like to leverage their VPNs to fool Netflix into thinking that they’re from another country in order to access region-locked content. Some VPNs are better at dealing with this than others, but the truth is that no VPN will fool your favorite streaming service 100% of the time, so it’s a bit of a crapshoot.

Q: Will my school know if I use a VPN?

Yes, if you connect to a VPN on your school Wi-Fi, your school will be able to see that you’re using a VPN. However, due to the encryption, they will not be able to see your web traffic, passwords, and other information protected by the VPN. Some VPNs like Surfshark have a “camouflage mode” that supposedly prevents your ISP from determining that you’re using a VPN.

Still, be mindful of your school’s policies on VPNs before using one on your school’s network. We would not recommend using one on campus if you’ve been specifically told not to.

Q: Can my internet provider see my VPN?

Yes, your internet provider can see that you’re using a VPN. However, they will not be able to see your traffic.

Q: Why do schools block websites and services?

While we can’t speak for the great academic institutions out there, we assume that schools block certain websites in order to encourage you to, you know, actually do your work. Grabbing a premium VPN will give you a way to rebel against this tyranny by playing Super Mario Bros. in study hall on your Chromebook. Just don’t blame us when you get detention.

Q: Should I use a VPN on a college network?

Yes, you should use a VPN on a college network if at all possible. If your university has a rule against VPNs, however, it’s probably best to consult with your institution’s IT before trying to circumvent it. Public networks are hotbeds for malware and identity theft, so we very much recommend getting a VPN if you can.

Final thoughts on the best VPNs for school

If you haven’t figured it out by now, all of these best VPNs for school get the job done in one way or another, so it’s really up to you to determine which one fits your price point and lifestyle. A premium VPN packed full of features is a really nice thing to have in a pinch, but basic services like Surfshark and Tunnelbear work just fine too.



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