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The Best VPNs for School and College in 2023

For today‘s students, access to the open internet is an indispensable tool for learning and personal growth. But restrictive school blocking policies force many to seek workarounds using virtual private networks (VPNs). This comprehensive guide will examine the leading VPN options for students and provide expert insight into safe usage.

Why Schools Restrict Internet Access

School internet blocking has become pervasive:

  • 80% of schools block social media according to a 2022 survey of US schools.
  • The same survey found 69% of schools block gaming sites and apps.
  • Video streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu are restricted at 58% of institutions.

IT administrators cite reasons like:

  • Prevent cyberbullying and harassment through social media
  • Stop illicit and illegal activities online
  • Enforce safe searching to filter adult content
  • Ensure web activity aligns with educational values
  • Maintain student productivity and focus during school hours

But many argue this overly limits access to today‘s digital tools for learning, experimenting, and preparing students to navigate the modern internet responsibly.

Enter VPN usage.

The Rise in Student VPN Usage

With so many popular sites off limits, VPN usage has exploded among students looking to circumvent restrictions:

  • 31% of US students in grades 7-12 admitted to using a VPN to unblock sites according to an October 2022 McAfee report.
  • 13% of middle schoolers say they use VPNs according to the 2021 State of Digital Civility study.
  • 22% of high school students reported the same.
  • In a 2021 Pollfish survey, 15% of US college students indicated regularly using a VPN.

Top student VPN uses include:

  • Accessing social media (65%)
  • Unblocking video streaming sites (61%)
  • Playing blocked games (43%)
  • Shopping online (38%)

But are VPNs the right choice for students seeking fuller digital access? Let‘s weigh the pros and cons.

Benefits of Student VPN Usage

VPNs provide students key upsides like:

  • Bypassing content filters – Unblock access to social media, entertainment, shopping, news sites.
  • Improved privacy – Keep school IT/ISPs from monitoring browsing activities.
  • Accessing regional content – View sites like BBC iPlayer normally geo-restricted outside of the UK.
  • Preventing bandwidth throttling – Stop school from limiting streaming quality and video calls.
  • Securing public WiFi – Prevent snooping on unsecured school networks.
  • Enhancing gaming – Reduce lag and latency by connecting to gaming-optimized VPN servers.

However, these benefits must be weighed carefully against the very real downsides.

Potential Problems with Student VPN Usage

While VPNs offer clear advantages in theory, challenges arise in practice:

  • Using VPNs violates most institution acceptable use policies.
  • Getting caught can result in loss of network access or worse.
  • VPN usage can be detected through traffic analysis.
  • Free VPNs sap speeds, sell data, and place privacy at risk.
  • Adding tunnels may reduce network performance for all users.
  • Accessing adult content with a VPN bypasses school safeguards.
  • VPNs could allow cyberbullying and harassment through unblocked social media.

Students should thoughtfully analyze both sides before proceeding.

How Schools Block VPNs and Detect Usage

School IT departments have an arsenal of technical measures to restrict and identify VPN usage:

  • Blocking known VPN IPs – Allowlisting approved destinations and blocking IPs of major VPN services.
  • Port blocking – Restricting access to standard VPN ports like 500 and 4500.
  • Traffic analysis – Identifying apps exchanging encrypted VPN tunnel packets.
  • Protocol blocking – Disallowing protocols like OpenVPN that enable VPN connections.
  • VPN app detection – Identifying VPN client apps installed on school-issued devices.
  • Network analytics – AI-driven scanning tools identify suspicious usage patterns indicative of VPNs.
  • Web filtering – Next-gen firewalls block access to VPN provider websites.

In most cases IT can eventually determine if a student is accessing a VPN, despite attempts to bypass restrictions.

Consequences Students May Face If Caught

Possible repercussions for violating school internet policies through VPN usage include:

K-12 Students

  • Loss of school network and WiFi access
  • Removal of school-owned device privileges
  • Phone calls home to parents
  • Detention or suspension
  • Failing class grades in some cases

College Students

  • Disconnection from campus residence hall networks
  • Disciplinary warnings and marks on academic records
  • Suspension of network access for extended periods
  • Legal charges in severe cases
  • Expulsion in extreme instances of illegal behavior

Top 3 VPN Recommendations for Students

If weighing the benefits and risks of using a VPN and proceed responsibly, these three providers offer an optimal mix of quality, security, and affordability for students:

1. NordVPN – Best Overall

With over 5,700 worldwide servers and consistent top speeds, NordVPN earns its place as the most widely-used VPN among students.

Key Features

  • Automatic connection on WiFi
  • Double VPN for added encryption
  • Onion over VPN for anonymous browsing
  • P2P support for torrenting
  • Obfuscated servers to hide VPN usage
  • Kill switch and DNS leak protection
  • Strict no-logging policy

Speed & Reliability

  • 5700+ servers in 60 countries
  • Average download speed of 105.13 Mbps (only 3.2% decrease vs. no VPN)
  • 99.9% uptime and reliability


  • $3.29/month billed 2 years (58% off regular price)
  • 7-day free trial

Verdict: With best-in-class speeds, watertight security, and lowest cost per month of the top providers, NordVPN is hard to beat for most student use cases.

2. ExpressVPN – Fastest Speeds

ExpressVPN is renowned for its blazing connection speeds perfect for gaming, streaming HD video, and bandwidth-heavy usage.

Key Features

  • Lightway protocol for faster speeds
  • Split tunneling to exclude specific apps
  • Obfsproxy to disguise VPN traffic
  • Private DNS across platforms
  • Password manager and other tools
  • 30-day money back guarantee

Speed & Reliability

  • 3,000+ servers in 94 countries
  • Average speed of 200 Mbps (only 8% drop vs no VPN)
  • 99.95% uptime with high reliability


  • $8.32/month billed yearly (49% off regular price)
  • 7-day free trial

Verdict: With its combination of class-leading speeds and a robust feature set, ExpressVPN is a strong choice for media streaming and online gaming. But lower monthly cost options are available.

3. Surfshark – Most Affordable

For budget-conscious students, Surfshark offers impressive value and capabilities at a fraction of competing VPN rates.

Key Features

  • Unlimited device connections
  • AES-256-GCM encryption
  • Whale activity scanner
  • MultiHop feature for double VPN
  • Camouflage mode to hide VPN usage
  • 30-day guarantee

Speed & Reliability

  • 3,200+ servers in 100+ countries
  • Average speed of 215 Mbps (only a 6% reduction)
  • Consistently up and available


  • $2.49/month billed 2 years (83% off regular price)
  • 7-day free trial

Verdict: With its rock-bottom pricing and generous device limits, Surfshark is ideal for cash-strapped students needing solid VPN protection on a budget.

Free VPN Risks – What Students Should Avoid

The allure of a free VPN is obvious. But significant downsides leave students‘ privacy and security vulnerable:

  • Data caps – Strict monthly limits like 2GB defeat the purpose.
  • Slow speeds – Overloaded free servers cripple bandwidth-hungry uses.
  • Logging and tracking – User data pays the bills when there‘s no cash fee.
  • Annoying ads – Non-paying users get bombarded with constant promotions
  • Lack of support – Volunteer-based community support can be uneven.
  • Few features – Free plans omit key offerings like kill switches or split tunneling.

With identities and academic futures on the line, students should steer clear of free VPNs despite the price tag.

How to Choose the Right VPN as a Student

Selecting the optimal VPN comes down to a few key factors:

1. Reliable speeds – Look for consistently fast connections during peak usage times.

2. Watertight encryption – Seek providers using AES-256, OpenVPN, and other secure protocols.

3. Leading no-logging policies – Only use VPNs with independent audits confirming strict no-logging.

4. Top-tier apps – Well-designed apps improve ease of use across devices.

5. Generous simultaneous connections – Allow using VPN on all phones, laptops, tablets, and attached devices.

6. Affordable pricing – Find discounted student rates under $10/month.

7. Terabyte allowances – Don‘t settle for restrictive data caps each billing cycle.

Matching needs to the right VPN product results in the best experience.

Installing a VPN on School Networks and Devices

Once a suitable VPN provider is selected, installing on school networks takes a few steps:

On your personal smartphone or laptop:

  • Download the VPN app for your device platform (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, etc).
  • Sign up for an account and activate through the provider‘s instructions.
  • Log into the VPN app before accessing any blocked sites.

For gaming consoles and streaming devices:

  • Configure the VPN connection directly on your home router, then connect school devices through it.

On a shared school computer:

  • Use VPN browser extensions like NordVPN‘s to enable protection only in your browser.
  • Alternatively, connect using VPN router or personal hotspot as a workaround.

On a school-managed tablet/Chromebook:

  • Exercise caution if installing VPNs – device activity is likely monitored.
  • Utilize browser extensions or hotspot connections instead.

Integrating VPN protection into school environments calls for careful consideration.

Paying for VPNs Privately and Safely as a Student

Students should take measures to keep prying eyes away from VPN subscriptions:

  • Use gift cards purchased with cash rather than credit cards.
  • Create accounts with non-identifying credentials not associated with your identity.
  • Setup accounts on devices away from school networks when possible.
  • Enable multifactor authentication using a personal mobile number to add security.
  • Use a school email as a last resort – IT departments can access inboxes.

Taking steps to obscure ties between identities and VPN usage is advised, even if well-intentioned.

Niche Use Cases for Students

Beyond unblocking social media and streaming content, VPNs provide students specialized access in cases like:

  • Studying abroad – Access school resources blocked overseas.
  • International collaborations – Jointly work on projects across borders.
  • Remote learning – Access class materials securely from off-site.
  • VOIP communications – Place free worldwide calls over VPN lines.
  • Visiting home virtually – Stream content from a home country unavailable locally.
  • Researching blocked topics – Access journals, papers limited by geography.

Today‘s globally connected classrooms provide unique needs a VPN can fulfill for students.

Expert Tips for Safe and Responsible Usage

Once the choice is made to utilize a VPN despite the risks, experts advise students to follow best practices:

  1. Use paid services – Free VPNs put privacy at risk warned 38% of surveyed cybersecurity professionals.
  2. Limit usage – Enable VPN connections only when required, don‘t run 24/7.
  3. Utilize added features – Take advantage of kill switches, IPv6 protection, and VPN obfuscation modes.
  4. Connect smartly – Tailor connection locations and protocols to access specific content securely.
  5. Never do illegal activities – VPNs themselves and providers forbid unlawful usage.
  6. Update apps and devices – Maintain software to close vulnerabilities a VPN might miss.
  7. Think twice on school hardware – Any VPN usage on institution-managed devices leaves you exposed.
  8. Turn off when done – Don‘t forget to disconnect when finishing use of blocked apps and sites.
  9. Avoid high-risk connections – Stay away from servers in tightly surveilled cyber regimes.

Making informed choices is imperative to balancing VPN benefits and risks.


For digitally-native students today, access to the wealth of knowledge online is an imperative for growth and opportunity. VPNs provide a way to sidestep restrictive school blocking measures. But violating internet use policies does carry consequences if caught. Students must weigh ethical concerns while finding a safe middle ground.

If proceeding, options like NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN offer the right blend of affordability, security, and performance for students. But all VPN usage should be approached thoughtfully, with safety as the priority. With some informed analysis, students can flourish with a carefully managed level of access and autonomy online.


Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.