I got a "I'm at Best Buy, what should I buy?" call from my friend Jon. So, opinions vary on this, but if you are getting a Mac, then the MacBook Pro without  Touchpad makes a lot of sense as a budget model with 8GB of memory and 256GB hard drive. When you add the AppleCare, it is a pricey but reliable option. As a student, about $1,500 will get you a very decent machine for writing papers and browsing the internet. But if you want something that is cheaper then good Windows machines are the place to go, then the equivalent models that seem to be reliable and which also weigh 3 pounds are: 1. Dell XPS 13. Thin and light, the main thing is the reliability issues if you look at the web. You don't really need the touchscreen version, but get 8GB and 256GB of disk at a minimum. It's$1300 with a 1080p screen.
2. HP Spectre X360. This is the perennial competitor to the Dell and is the same form factor and size. \$1300 gives you the 1080p screen and 8GB and 256GB drive, so a little less crisp but cheaper than the MacBook Pro.
3. Lenovo X1. This is all carbon and looks nice but seems to be having reliability issues, so probably behind the Dell and the HP.