Computer Best Practices

Optimize Your Personal Computer for School

Follow these tips to securely access Penn State resources, create and save files for your courses, and know what to expect for your access to Penn State systems after leaving the University.

Ensure that an antivirus program is installed on your computer. Penn State’s IT Security Office provides additional information about several antivirus software options for Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. 

You will not be able to use Penn State’s Virtual Private Network unless an antivirus program is installed and running on your computer.

If you travel or use publicly accessible networks, such as free WiFi in coffee shops, bookstores, etc., you should install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) client, which creates an encrypted connection from your location to the Penn State network. Such a connection is useful when accessing library resources from a distance and required for accessing the campus wireless networks. Penn State's official secure network connection is GlobalProtect and is offered at no cost to students through Penn State Software

Visit Penn State’s IT Knowledge Base for more information about GlobalProtect, including installation instructions and device-specific guides for all operating systems.

All Penn State students have access to Microsoft Office 365. You can download the desktop applications for Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and other programs directly from Penn State’s Office 365 website

The OneDrive application provides individual file storage, allowing you to save files online so that they will not be lost in the event of any issues with your computer. Files that you save in OneDrive are secure and available to you by logging in with your Penn State Access Account. You can also choose to share files that you save in OneDrive to allow others to view them and work together with you. 

It may be helpful to create folders in OneDrive for each of your classes to hold course assignments, handouts, and notes.

You will lose access to Office 365, including access to files you have saved in OneDrive, two weeks after you graduate or leave the University. Penn State’s IT Security Office provides additional information about access to Penn State systems after leaving the University.

You will also lose access to your Penn State email account six months after you graduate.

Note that if you do not enroll in courses for a fall or spring semester, and do not graduate or request a leave of absence, you will lose access. If you do not enroll in courses for a summer semester but plan to return in the fall, you will still have access unless you do not enroll in any fall courses by the end of the regular course drop and add period for the fall semester. 

If you would like to keep any files you have created, you should save them on another device. It may be helpful to do this at the end of each semester to ensure that you will have copies of your files in case your enrollment plans change.

Creating and Saving Backup Files

To save your files on another device, you can copy the contents of your Penn State folder and create a compressed zip file. Many operating systems include a basic zip utility.

  • If you use Mac OS X — In Finder, click on a file while pressing the “control” key (or right click), then select  “Compress [filename]" or “Create Archive of [filename]" on some older versions of Mac OS X. A zipped copy of the file will appear in the same directory.
  • If you use Windows — Right-click on a blank spot on your desktop and select “New” from the context menu, then select “Compressed (zipped) folder.” 

Save the compressed zip file to another device such as an external hard drive or flash drive. It may be helpful to choose a name for your compressed zip file that will allow you to quickly identify when you made it (e.g., “”).

Get to Know Penn State's Online Resources and Systems

Check Your Penn State Email Regularly 

It is important to check your Penn State email regularly as essential communications from Penn State will be sent through that account. You can access your Penn State email anywhere online using the Outlook application in Office 365. You will use your Penn State Access Account to log in to Outlook. 

If you do not plan to check your Penn State email regularly, you can set it up to forward messages to your personal email account

Because the Penn State Directory is publicly accessible, you may receive spam and phishing emails. Suspected phishing emails should be forwarded to [email protected]. Remember: Penn State will never ask you for your Access Account password. Learn more about how to identify phishing attempts and protect yourself

Find Free Software Training 

Several resources are available to help you learn the technology you need to complete course assignments. Visit our Technology Trainings page to learn more. 

Be Ready to Access Content Outside of Canvas 

Some of our courses use additional content provided via a publisher-provided website that requires a code to access. This code is usually provided in a new textbook sold by our provider, Barnes and Noble College (BNC), or it may need to be purchased separately. Please review your course syllabus carefully for required course materials before ordering.