Is it a good idea to use a VPN at school or on campus? Yes, for the most part. However, there are a few scenarios you need to watch out for – you can read about them below.
- Why Use a VPN at School or on Campus?
- When You Shouldn’t Use a VPN at School or on Campus
- Can Anyone See If You’re Using a VPN On Your Personal Device?
- VPN Features You Need for School Wi-Fi
- Three Top-Notch VPN Providers You Should Try
- In Conclusion
Why Use a VPN at School or on Campus?
You’d be surprised how much stuff a VPN lets you do, especially on relatively limited campus Wi-Fi.
#1 Unblock the Fun Part of the Internet
Tried to use Instagram, Twitter, and other social media sites on the campus Wi-Fi and found out they don’t work? No problem, you’ll just hop on your roommate’s Netflix account and unwind. Wait, that doesn’t work either?
Don’t go resetting your router yet, as your connection is probably fine. However, the school network admins most likely blocked those websites with a firewall.
Why? An all-encompassing reason is that “education is more important.” Now, we agree with the general sentiment. Moreover, studies show that social media wreaks havoc on your mental health and attention span.
However, it shouldn’t be your school’s business to police what you do in your free time. Yes, you’re using their Wi-Fi – but with the costs of living on campus being so high nowadays, they’d better let you access whatever you want.
#2 Secure Your Logins and Payment Data
As a student with tuition and bills to pay, the last thing you need is some script-kiddie stealing your email or PayPal login, debit card details, and other sensitive info. VPNs encrypt your data – turn it into gibberish to outsiders, essentially – so that doesn’t happen.
Technically, Wi-Fi encryption should do the same thing. However, it has several weaknesses you should know about:
- Even the latest Wi-Fi encryption standard (WPA3) is vulnerable to attacks that could expose the network password, which leads us to our next point.
- Anyone with a Wi-Fi password can see your network traffic by using Wireshark or other network analysis software.
- Evil Twin hotspots are a thing. Hackers can clone any Wi-Fi network and make it look like the real thing. Once you’re connected, the attacker has free access to your online data.
All of these can be easily prevented, as VPNs encrypt your data before it ever leaves your device. Even on an Evil Twin network, the cyber attacker would only be able to see an encrypted data stream. Like reading some alien script with virtually no way to decipher.
#3 Hide Your Browsing History
What you do on the Internet in your spare time is nobody’s business but yours. At least, that’s how things should work in a perfect world.
However, if you use your school’s Wi-Fi, the network admins are able to see everything you do online. Not only that, but the local Internet provider can do so as well. Fortunately, you can prevent that from happening by using a VPN.
Remember, VPNs encrypt your data so neither hackers nor your ISP or the network admins can see your online activity.
#4 Protect Against Denial-of-Service (DoS) Attacks
You’ve finally managed to get your favorite multiplayer game to work on your dorm Wi-Fi. Now you’re about to face a new (old?) problem. Sore losers. Ever get suspiciously disconnected just as you’re about to win the match? Well, one of your opponents might have used a DoS attack to make that happen.
What is a DoS attack? Basically, if someone has your IP address, they can flood your connection with requests until your system can’t handle them – causing you to go offline.
Using a VPN protects you from DoS attacks in two ways:
- Your real IP address is hidden from the attacker, meaning their DoS attempts will be directed at the VPN server.
- VPNs have built-in DoS and DDoS protection since they deal with such attacks on a much larger scale and on a regular basis.
Safe to say that some random CS:GO player won’t put a dent in their defenses.
When You Shouldn’t Use a VPN at School or on Campus?
If you’re going to use a VPN on college Wi-Fi, don’t do so on a school-provided laptop (or other devices). You could technically install and use a VPN, but they have ways of knowing what you do on the laptop besides checking your network traffic.
For example, they could install a keylogger on the system and log your keystrokes. As you can imagine, any sort of privacy is out the window in that scenario. We recommend sticking to your own smartphone and/ or laptop when privacy is concerned.
Some institutions may also impose bans to prevent students from torrenting with a VPN or using other websites that violate copyright rules. Yes, the broke student life usually doesn’t leave much room to pay for entertainment – but try to avoid any shady stuff on-campus Wi-Fi.
Can Anyone See If You’re Using a VPN on Your Personal Device?
As mentioned, network admins can see everything that happens on the school network. Sure, a VPN will hide your browsing and other online activity, but it’ll still be obvious that you’re using a VPN.
However, if your provider offers VPN obfuscation (also called stealth servers), your encrypted traffic can pass by unnoticed. This is because all data encrypted by the VPN is disguised as regular HTTPS traffic, which is used by a majority of websites nowadays.
Obfuscation is also useful when attempting to unblock streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and others that filter VPN traffic.
All that being said, even obfuscation can’t hide how much data you’re using. Another reason educational organizations block entertainment websites is to conserve bandwidth. As such, if you start torrenting or binge-watching hi-def Netflix shows, someone is bound to notice your high bandwidth usage.
The network admin console will also show that an outside IP address is present on the local network, especially if you connect to a server in a different country. As long as you don’t exaggerate with the data usage, you’ll most likely fly under their radar.
After all, nobody is going to stare into a network console all day looking to catch VPN users.
VPN Features You Need for College Wi-Fi
Based on what we’ve discussed so far, here’s a TL;DR of what features your VPN needs to survive the minefield of college Wi-Fi:
- Your school, streaming sites, and other services usually hire specialized companies to gather VPN IP addresses for blacklisting purposes. As such, you’ll need a provider with thousands of servers at their disposal.
- As explained above, a provider with obfuscated servers will help you bypass streaming site filters and disguise your VPN-encrypted data as regular Internet traffic.
- Finally, the VPN app needs to be compatible with all your devices and support multiple connections on a single account. No use securing your smartphone and leaving out your laptop or tablet.
Support for the IKEv2/IPSec protocol is not required, but it makes switching between Wi-Fi and a mobile connection much smoother. Doing so while using other encryption protocols (like OpenVPN) requires you to reconnect to the VPN after switching networks, which can quickly get irritating.
Split tunneling is also a neat – though optional – addition, allowing you to choose which apps use the VPN. Let the school ISP’s servers handle some unessential apps, as VPNs tend to slow down your connection.
For example, you could exclude the YouTube app and have videos load faster while simultaneously securing your browser for some online payments.
Three Top-Notch VPN Providers You Should Try
Don’t know where to start your search? Here are some quick recommendations:
A little on the expensive side, but with over 3000+ servers in 94 countries, you won’t have any trouble unblocking any content or eluding network admins. You can also use their service on up to five different devices at the same time, which is a decent amount.
You’ve probably heard of them through your favorite YouTuber. If not, know that they have a whopping 5400 servers in 59 countries and allow a maximum of six devices on a single account.
One minor complaint is that their app doesn’t feature split tunneling. Thankfully, the service is fast enough that you won’t feel the difference.
A newer provider with a more modest offering (1700+ servers in 63 countries), but with room to grow. What’s nice about Surfshark is that they allow you to connect from an unlimited number of devices.
Realistically, five or six should be enough, but you could probably shave a few dollars off a yearly subscription if your roommates chip in.
Two basic rules: steer clear of installing a VPN on school-owned devices, and don’t torrent on the campus Wi-Fi. Mind you, they can’t see that you’re torrenting, specifically. Just remember that they can guess what you’re doing based on the amount of bandwidth you’re using.
Otherwise, you’re free to use a VPN at school or on campus, as long as it’s within reason. Don’t go overboard on data usage, and you’re pretty much invisible to network admins.