A banner advertising Apple's back to school promotion

Back to school shopping season is officially here. Apple is offering college students a $100 Apple Store Gift Card if they purchase a new Mac, or a $50 gift card with the purchase of an iPhone or iPad.

mac_group-80566b6f03150c5d7621f41d3c4f983fIt’s a slightly different offer from last year, when Apple offered students a gift card to the iTunes Store that they could use to buy media, or apps from the Mac and iOS App Stores. People who get the gift card can still turn around and spend it on an iTunes gift, or they could choose to spend it on accessories for their new device like a case.

In order to qualify for the offer, the buyer must be a college student (incoming first-years are okay), a parent buying for a college student, or an educational staff or faculty member from any grade level.

Those people will also get education discounts on any Mac that they purchase, which can cut the price of a new Mac by up to $200 and land them a discount on AppleCare extended warranties.

Students who can choose to wait may want to pass on buying an iPhone or iPad with this promotion. Apple usually releases new iOS devices in the fall (iPhones in September and iPads in October), and it looks like the iPhone is going to get a new design this year, with a larger screen. Apple’s promotion is a great way for those people who don’t care about power to save a few bucks, but students or educators who want the latest and greatest should probably wait a few months.

While its computers may not dominate in the broader marketplace, Macs have been a hot item for college students, in part because of their iconic design. Attracting students seems to have worked for Apple, too: the company’s Mac business is growing, even as most Windows PC manufacturers have seen shrinking sales in recent years.

Apple is one of the first computer retailers to kick off a back to school sale this year. Dell is offering students a free tablet if they spend $699 or more on a computer, while Microsoft doesn’t seem to have announced any specific promotions from its online retail store. (The company does offer a variety of educational discounts, though.)

The promotion will run until September 9, so students have a couple months to do their shopping.

[This story has been updated to add the end date of Apple's sale.]

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