Do I Need A VPN As An Online Student?

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Last Updated on March 12, 2024 by Alexandra Markin

Every online student should be using a VPN to prevent personal information from being exposed. You wouldn’t leave your front door unlocked, so why leave your online activity open? These days, there isn’t much difference between those two statements.

Laptops, tablets and smartphones now represent the gateway to learning for online students. We’re all connected over Wi-Fi and 5G networks, allowing us access to unlimited information at all times to do research, access online learning platforms and remotely hand in assignments.

But with this convenience comes added risk if you don’t take the proper precaution. Hackers, malware, viruses and scammers can all easily access your personal information if you’re not using a VPN.

I’ve had a NordVPN subscription since early 2020 and I wouldn’t even consider using an internet connection without it. As an online Business Management Studies graduate, I inherently know the risks of browsing the internet unprotected and want to help keep you safe as well.

What Is A VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a subscription service that encrypts your online activity, hiding your banking information, passwords and everything you do on every device that requires an internet connection.

Personal data is a valuable commodity these days, no matter who you are. Even if you’re not doing anything against the law online or think what you do online is boring, someone is always interested in profiting off you. Your internet service provider, company websites you visit and hackers are a few examples of who’s looking to make money from your online data.

11 Reasons Why Every Online Student Needs a VPN

Just because you’re an online student who doesn’t use the internet on a university campus doesn’t mean your internet connection is any safer.

How often do you stand in line to get groceries while checking your emails, scrolling through Instagram or making notes in your phone? Unless you’re connected to a VPN, anyone is able to see what you’re doing, potentially steal your personal information or infect your device with a virus.

Here are the top 11 reasons why every online student needs a VPN.

1. Data Security On Public Wi-Fi Connections

Public Wi-Fi is a necessity for online students who constantly travel or are on a budget and have a limited data plan.

However, public Wi-Fi is usually unsecure, meaning there’s no password and no special screening process, such as entering your name and email to connect to guest Wi-Fi (common at restaurants). Absolutely anyone can access a public Wi-Fi network, including hackers who are waiting for potential victims to connect.

One of the most common places students use public Wi-Fi is at the library. You may feel safer connecting to public Wi-Fi at the library, but it’s no more secure than at a coffee shop, movie theater or mall. Because most public libraries are government funded, they don’t have the extra capital to pay for more secure networks to offer to their patrons for free.

Good study sessions can last hours, exposing your information for long periods of time. Before you pack up and head to the library for your next session, sign up for a VPN subscription so you can focus on your exams and not hackers stealing your credit card information. You’ve got new stationary to buy later!

Related Content: What To Bring To A Library Study Session

2. Data Privacy When Using Apps, Services And Subscriptions

Beware: your favourite apps can be huge proponents for leaking your personal data. Not surprisingly, Facebook and Facebook Messenger are the worst offenders for collecting your personal information.

Unfortunaly, it’s not as easy as just deleting your account. Facebook has tons of active groups that serve as a valuable platform for students to connect with each other, especially online students who don’t have the benefit of in-person interaction.

If you’re a student who uses Facebook Marketplace to make extra money for tuition, using the Facebook Messenger app is a must.

Subscriptions you use such as Amazon Prime and Netflix also collect your personal data.

While it’s impossible to completely stop apps, services and subscriptions from collecting all your personal data, you can limit some exposure such as your location and Internet Protocol (IP) address by using a VPN.

3. Data Privacy From Governments

If you attended a Canadian high school, you probably had to read (and then write an essay on) the famous novel 1984 by George Orwell.

1984 depicts the life of citizens living under totalitarianism rule, where “Big Brother” surveils their every move.

Although this novel is fiction and was considered “futuristic” at the time of publication, it draws a scary amount of parallels from then to now.

Governments today do indeed have the tools and resources to collect and monitor our personal data. This was brought to the public spotlight in 2013 when Edward Snowden revealed that the United States government was actively monitoring the communication records of not just criminals, but law-abiding citizens as well.

Since then, various laws have been enacted regarding the collection of personal data by the government, but those laws don’t fully address the invasion of privacy.

In 2016, Snowden’s story was made into a movie based on the real-life events. Snowden is a movie every student should watch, especially if you’re majoring in IT, business or marketing.

You can watch Snowden and other biographical thriller films such as Wikileaks on Amazon Prime.

Join Prime Student with your university email address and you’re eligible for a 6-month free trial! Start your free 6-month trial here.

If data surveillance from the government concerns you, having a VPN subscription can help protect your online data.

And if you haven’t read the novel 1984 (or used just used Cole’s notes to write your essay instead of actually reading the book) get a copy and actually read it. It’s just as relevant today as it was then.

4. Data Privacy From Your Internet Service Provider

An internet service provider (ISP) is the company you pay each month to access the internet. Telus, Rogers and Shaw are major ISPs in Canada, AT&T and Verizon in the United States, and Virgin Media and BT in the United Kingdom.

Even though you may love your internet service provider (and yes, sometimes even their customer service can be good) they have full access to everything you do online. They can see which websites you visit and how often, what content you watch and your geographical location (as tracked by your device).

Unfortunately, personal data collected by your ISP can potentially be sold to third parties. If you use a VPN, your ISP will not be able to see your browsing history, therefore; your data won’t be available to be sold.

Also, a data breech can happen to anyone these days, including corporate giants (remember the Government of Canada data breech in 2018-2019?). A VPN doesn’t offer 100% protection of course, but you’re way better off than not using one.

Keep in mind you might pay one company for home internet and Wi-Fi, and another company to access the internet on your smartphone. A VPN subscription like NordVPN offers protection on up to 6 devices with one subscription.

Your best line of defense is awareness and knowledge. And a VPN subscription. You put time and effort into your studies – don’t forget to do the same for your personal life.

5. Security When Studying Remotely And While Travelling

Going away for the weekend or visiting family and friends in another country? Having a study session at the library, beach or restaurant?

One of the biggest benefits of being an online student is that you can study anywhere, so this is one of my favourite reasons why every online student needs a VPN. Safety first, always.

Could you imagine losing access to your laptop, all your assignments and even your bank account while you’re away from home? Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?

A VPN provides encryption from the cybercriminals who prey on tourists and those “desperate” for a Wi-Fi connection due to a limited data budget for their cell phone plans.

Related content: Signs Of A Bad Online Instructor (And How to Handle Them)

What the NordVPN app looks like on a mobile device.

6. Access to Content (Almost) Anywhere In The World

Amazon Prime Video in the United States is a bit different from Amazon Prime Video in Canada, meaning they don’t always have the exact same content.

Want to watch a popular show but it’s not available in your area? A VPN allows you to spoof (make it look like you’re in a different country) your location, allowing you to watch almost unlimited content.

What if your significant other is in another country and you want to (remotely) watch a movie together using Amazon Prime? You might not have access to the same shows, but if you have a VPN subscription, you’ll be able to access content in other countries.

Using a VPN is not illegal in Canada and most countries to access this type of content.

7. Protection Across Multiple Devices

Because you don’t exclusively use your laptop or smartphone to access the internet, a good VPN provider such as NordVPN allows you to secure up to 6 devices with one subscription.

Think you don’t have 6 digital devices to secure? There’s a good chance you probably have 6 devices on this list. Most of us have more:

  • Laptop
  • Desktop
  • Router
  • Smartphone
  • Tablet (for taking digital notes)
  • Smart TV
  • PlayStation
  • Xbox
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Kindle Fire
  • Amazon Firestick
  • Chromecast
  • Raspberry PI

Please note that a VPN doesn’t automatically connect all your devices. Choose which ones you want to protect, connect your VPN to each one and enjoy safe browsing.

It’s surprising how many devices use an internet connection.

8. Incognito Mode Isn’t The Same As a VPN

Chrome’s incognito mode (or private browsing mode on apple products) isn’t the same as a VPN.

Incognito mode only hides the browsing history on the specific device your using. It does nothing to encrypt your data or hide your IP address.

9. Increased Security For Online Banking And Shopping

Although your bank is doing everything they can to protect your information, logging on to your bank account and making transactions can still be intercepted by hackers.

Using a VPN encrypts your sensitive data before it even leaves your device and connects to the internet. This means that no one can see your data (even your bank) or intercept your credit card number when making online purchases.

Related content: Credit Card Tips for University Students

10. Relatively Easy To Use

Even if you’re not tech savvy, VPNs are relatively easy to use and initially set up on all your devices.

If you have working knowledge of a computer, using a VPN won’t be a problem. There may be a slight learning curve, such as going through two-factor authentication for credit card and bank accounts every time you log in, but it’s worth it for the extra security.

Choosing a VPN provider that has great customer service will allow you to step through any issues that may arise without a hassle.

11. Save Money While Online Shopping

Did you know that some companies offer different prices based on your location when shopping online?

A VPN masks your location, allowing you to connect to different regions and look for the best price on certain items.

Flights and hotels are the best example of this, as prices can vary widely based on where you’re located.

Do I Need A VPN At Home?

Even if you don’t use the internet much outside of your home, the answer is still yes – you do need to use a VPN at home.

When you’re at home, you don’t have to worry as much about someone spying on your Wi-Fi network because you own the network hardware (your router). However, without a VPN your data is not encrypted, meaning your ISP can see everything you do online, and hackers can still potentially steal your data.

You need to use a VPN at home, even if all you do is study from your couch.

What Happens If You Don’t Use A VPN?

You may be thinking “But I’m an online student and do most of my studying in my living room. Why use a VPN at home?”

Every online student needs to use a VPN at home to avoid these unfortunate scenarios:

  • You could receive more phishing scams. This is a type of online scam that involves a hacker sending you a legitimate-looking email from a well-known company to try and get your credit card number or personal information.
  • A virus or malware (malicious software) could infect your computer, deleting that lengthy assignment you’ve been working on for days.
  • Your ISP could be selling your data.
  • Limited data access in other countries. For example, an online university library in the UK may not allow access to someone from Canada, so setting your VPN server location to London will allow you access to the information you want.
  • You have a higher chance of becoming a victim of identity theft.

Limitations Of A VPN

Although every online student needs a VPN to help protect their online privacy and security, it doesn’t offer 100% protection.

Here are some limitations to be aware of when using a VPN:

  • Using a VPN to visit unsecure websites. Visiting websites that use HTTP instead of HTTPS are not secure and have a much higher chance of exposing your data to hackers. You’ll know if a website is secure if it has a lock icon in the address bar to the left of the website URL (such as this one!)
  • Your social activity is still analyzed. Each time you interact with a profile on Instagram or take a quiz on Facebook, that website is still able to use that data to tailor the content you see and in-app ads. They won’t be able to see your location (IP address) but they can still analyze what you do within the app.
  • You don’t practice necessary web safety behaviors. If you don’t have anti-virus software, ignore virus alerts or don’t keep your operating system and apps up-to-date, this puts you at risk for attacks. See an update alert? Deal with it ASAP.
  • A VPN can slow down your internet speed. Unless you buy a high-quality VPN subscription, using a VPN connection can slow down your browsing speed.
  • You use weak or duplicate passwords. Using weak passwords, or worse, using the same password for multiple accounts puts you at high risk to be hacked, even with a VPN. Use a password manager to organize and secure all your passwords (and bonus: never forget them again)!
  • Companies can track what you do while on their website. If you have cookies enabled on your browser, companies can still track what you do and tailor those metrics to improve your experience on their site. This is one of the ways bloggers and website owners make money, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

How To Choose The Best VPN

There are many VPN providers to choose from, and they are NOT all equal. It pays to do your research before you buy.

Here are 6 things to consider when choosing a VPN service provider.

1. Never Use A Free VPN

The old saying “You get what you pay for” is especially true when choosing a VPN.

Ironically, most free VPNs log and sell your data to third parties – exactly what a VPN is supposed to prevent. Because there is no subscription fee, they need to raise capital somewhere to continue to offer their “free” service.

On the other hand, more expensive does not mean better, so take a look at the company’s reputation and features.

Public library study session: What a NordVPN connection looks like on a laptop.

2. A Strict No-Logs Policy

A good VPN provider will have a strict no-logs policy, meaning they never track what you do online.

NordVPN is one of the world’s leading VPN providers, routinely undergoing independent audits to verify their no-logs policy.

They were most recently verified by VerSprite, a global leader in cybersecurity consulting and advisory services. Read the full article here.

3. Good Customer Service

Can you talk to a real human either over the phone or via online chat support? How fast do they respond?

The best VPN services provide real-time customer service, have knowledgeable representatives and are able to quickly and effectively fix any issues you may run into.

Although VPNs are relatively easy to use, you may need to initially configure any software that is linked to the cloud, for example, Microsoft Office.

When I first got NordVPN my Microsoft Office programs weren’t automatically syncing to the cloud. I contacted their customer support via online chat and they helped me change my Domain Name System (DNS) server addresses for MS Office & OneDrive. At the time I had no idea what that meant, but it was actually a great real-life learning experience since I work in online marketing and knowing how to manage DNS severs is necessary.

4. Protection On Multiple Devices

As an online student, there are multiple devices you need for your studies. A laptop, tablet, router and smartphone name a few. Not all VPN providers offer the same features, so check how many devices are covered with a single subscription.

5. Country And Server Availability

Not all VPN providers are equal. The more servers a company has, the better. The best VPNs have servers in multiple countries, such as the Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa, India and the Middle East.

A VPN server is a secure server that relays your data safely through your internet connection. The closer a server is to your actual location, the better the connection speed, which is why it’s important to have a wide variety of servers across the globe.

6. Money Back Guarantee Period

A good company stands by their service. Do they offer a money back guarantee period if you aren’t happy with their service or change your mind?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Why Every Online Student Needs a VPN

Is A Free VPN For University Students A Good Idea?

Using a free VPN as a student is never a good idea, even if you’re on a strict budget. There are some things that you need to pay for, and a VPN is one of them.

Best VPN For Students

I highly recommend NordVPN as the best VPN for students.

I’ve been with them for years and they have great 24/7 customer service, data security and coverage for up to 6 devices. The also have a great blog on all things VPN – perfect if you’re new to this!

Is Using A VPN Illegal?

If you’re new to the world of VPNs, you may be wondering “Is using a VPN illegal?” In most countries, using a VPN is not illegal. However, Russia and China both ban VPN use, so if you’re travelling make sure to do your research before you go.

It’s up to you to do your research on the laws of your country before you buy.

Are you an online student that uses a VPN? Share your experience in the comments!

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