Apple doesn’t try to hide the fact that they want college students using their products.  For years now they’ve been giving away iPods and printers to new Mac purchasers during back to school season, and their strategy is pretty sound. I took the liberty of diagraming it below.

Parent buys Mac for student -> Student loves Mac ->Student gets job ->Student buys Mac

Seems simple, but hell, it’s going to work on me.

Anyway, if you’ve stepped foot on a college campus at any point over the last five years, you can probably tell that it’s working.  A recent study confirms this, and though the numbers are a little spongy, it’s clear that Apple is the most popular computer manufacturer among college students. Keep in mind this is comparing Apple to Dell, Asus et al., not Microsoft — an important distinction.

The most shocking statistic here is that of the students planning on purchasing a new computer soon, nearly half said they wanted a Mac.  This is a pretty jaw-dropping figure considering Apple’s market share as a whole is something less than 10%.  If this study is even close to accurate, Steve Jobs will probably start buying up diamond-crusted dialysis machines (with multitouch) as these kids start earning paychecks.

As anybody who follows Apple will tell you though, the company is betting its long-term future not on laptops and OS X, but on iPads, iPhones and iOS.  I wrote earlier about how the iPad seems poised to infiltrate campuses around the world, and the latest news out of Cupertino shows us just how serious Apple is about seizing the education market.  Schools that want all of their students to have access to, say, the same PDF annotating app for their iDevices can now purchase that app in bulk for a discount, and distribute redemption codes to students.  Schools have been giving away computer software for years to ensure students all had the required programs for classes, and now they can do the same with iOS apps.  I’m not saying that this will cause your school’s IT department to beat down the doors at your local Apple Store, but it does remove a very important hurdle for colleges hoping to “officially” support Apple’s touchscreen lineup.

It remains to be seen just how big a dent the iPad ultimately makes in the student market, but it would be unwise to bet against Apple at this point, especially with this new bulk-purchasing initiative.  Think about your own school.  What percentage of students there would you say own a Mac?  Now add in the students that use a PC but also an iPhone.  How about iPod Touches? iPads?  If your experience is anything like mine, you probably have a very big percentage in your head.  As Apple gets more serious about pushing iPads and other iOS devices in higher education, I wouldn’t expect that number to go anywhere but up.