If you are heading back to school and your school has implemented a hybrid or fully remote policy, you’ll find yourself suddenly relying on technology a lot more than you expected pre-pandemic. From accessing online lectures to submitting assignments via Google classroom, studies have gone virtual. And spending a lot of time online means learning how to protect yourself and maintain online privacy.
That’s where Virtual Private Networks, called VPNs, can help. If you use public Wi-Fi networks, your data could be at risk. If you are logging into important sites (banks, school document folders, etc.), you need to be extra careful about the security of your network. VPNs help protect your data by encrypting your activity, hiding your IP address, and blocking trackers. Depending on which VPN service you use, you can also access location-restricted content, securely share private data, and block ads.
Nearly 4.32 billion people use the internet on their phones, so most VPN services today offer mobile VPNs. These are the same VPN servers, just made to work well with smartphones, tablets, and other on-the-go devices. Choosing the right mobile VPN comes down to understanding your needs. Do you want to share private files with your family and friends from your dorm? Or do you need to access location-restricted content? Knowing your purpose can help you narrow down what you need in a mobile VPN.
Here are the top mobile VPNs that’ll keep your online activity safe while you browse from your dorm.
Cost: Packages ranging from $3.30 to $11.95 a month.
NordVPN is a highly rated, efficient, and relatively affordable VPN service provider offering 5,289 servers across 60 countries. It is one of the fastest and most secure VPN networks, so you can stream content, download heavy files, or use multiple devices at once without worrying about lag and data leaks. It works with Android, iOS, Chrome, and Firefox and you can use up to six devices at once.
What truly sets NordVPN apart from other VPN service providers is its split-tunneling feature that lets you access both local and location-restricted content from other countries at the same time. Plus, it uses multifactor authentication, so your account stays secure.
The only downside is that there’s no free option. You do get a free trial when you buy any of its packages, but there is no obligation-free trial period that most other VPN providers offer.
Cost: $12.95 per month for a one-month plan, $9.99 per month for a six-month plan, and $8.32 per month for a 12-month plan.
Like the name suggests, ExpressVPN is fast. It’s quite user-friendly and gets the job done quickly, so if you’re the type of person who gets frustrated when things buffer, ExpressVPN could be a great option for you. ExpressVPN works with iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, Linux, game consoles, smart TVs, routers, and pretty much anything eldse you can think of. It also offers access to 160 locations across 94 countries, so you have plenty of servers and device combinations to choose from.
Plus, ExpressVPN, like NordVPN, supports split-tunneling so you can choose which apps are connected to the network and which are accessed through your local server. It also has a kill switch and leak protection so, even if your connection drops, you still stay protected.
The only problem? It’s quite expensive. We know how hard it can be to save money as a student, so it’s important to know that while ExpressVPN offers some brilliant features, it may a bit heavy on your wallet.
Cost: Free, $7.99, and $11.99 a month.
If you loved the idea of ExpressVPN but want something cheaper, maybe even free, go for Hotspot Shield. Hotspot Shield offers access to 115 locations across 80-plus countries. You can use it on up to five devices including Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Smart TVs, routers, and others.
It’s appealing to students because it has a free plan, but bear in mind that the free plan is limited to 500MB usage per day. The connection speed for the free plan is also lower at only 2 Mbps. The paid options, on the other hand, have much to offer. You get speeds up to 1 Gbps for use across a whopping 25 devices. This is massive, even for a large family. With the paid plan, you also receive access to antivirus protection, password manager, and spam-call blocker for all-around protection.
The downside is Hotspot Shield is not as secure as NordVPN or ExpressVPN. Its logging policies don’t offer full privacy and anonymity, so we wouldn’t recommend using it for highly private activities. It’s a great option for daily student activities, though.
Cost: One month for $12.95, $6.49 a month for a six-month plan, and $2.49 per month for a 24-month plan.
Surfshark offers a browser-based VPN so you can automatically block ads and stay safe from malware while masking your location. With any package, you can access 3200-plus servers in 65 countries for hassle-free browsing and instant “location-hopping” as they call it. Like most other VPNs, Surfshark has a kill switch and a whitelist to protect your data even if your connection drops.
The best part? You can use unlimited devices. It works across nearly all platforms, so if you frequently switch your devices, this could be the perfect option for you.
The sad part? There’s no split tunneling. It also doesn’t have any free-to-use options, so you have to buy the pricey one-month package to see how it works — something that isn’t affordable for student on tight budgets.
Cost: $12.99 a month
If you love torrenting and streaming, CyberGhost could be a great VPN pick for you. It is optimized for streaming and fairly fast, so you can enjoy your favorite entertainment with little to no lags Even better, CyberGhost boasts an impressive network offering 7,429 VPN servers in 110-plus locations. You can connect up to seven devices at a time, and it works well with MacOS, iOS, Windows, Android, Android TV, Linux, and more.
CyberGhost offers a free trial and a 45-day money-back guarantee that works out to be a decent option for students looking to try different options before making a large investment.
The downside? It’s not as user-friendly as the top picks on this list. It’s also not very secure, so we recommend sticking to regular school activities and safe streaming when using CyberGhost.
If you’re an avid gamer, streamer, or someone who doesn’t have patience for lags, we recommend investing in a pricier, high-speed VPN like ExpressVPN, NordVPN, or even Hotspot Shield.
If you don’t engage in heavy browsing and are looking for something simple and affordable to get the job done, we would suggest using free VPNs or freemiums like Hotspot Shield. That way, you can use the free plan when the budget is tight and switch to a paid version if you see the benefits.
Many VPN service providers like NordVPN offer frequent discounts, especially around the holiday season, so you can bag a pricey VPN package at a surprisingly low cost, saving you plenty of money while having access to amazing features. You can also check if there’s a student discount or simply pool money with your friends to get a shared subscription.