Laptops are the perfect educational tool for students. They can handle an innumerable amount of tasks and serve many different functions that allow students to consolidate all of their class assignments and home studies into one convenient location, which simplifies workflow and increases productivity.
The two most important things to look for in a student laptop are portability and battery life. This laptop will likely be carried in a backpack or shoulder bag from class to class, so you will definitely want a system that is light and easy to transport. There is also no guarantee that you will have access to an auxiliary power supply in your classroom or on campus, so you will most likely want a battery that lasts up to several hours per charge.
Desktop real estate can be limited in your class, so you want to make sure your laptop is compact and economical in size, preferably around 14″ X 10″ in general dimensions.
As far as individual specifications, you can get by with most base configurations. A 1.66GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, a 40GB hard drive, and a standard DVD/CDRW drive should suffice, but you may wish to upgrade certain components depending on whether or not you want to use your notebook for any extra curricular activities, such as gaming or multimedia production.
Unless you intend to do higher-level networking, or unless your school requires domain-based authentication to access the school network (check with your IT department), Windows XP Home Edition should more than meet your needs for an Operating System.
Lastly, you will need some office suite software to process and edit your reports and class assignments. Microsoft Office Basic will be able to handle most of your needs, however, if you plan on doing any slide-show presentations or website creation, you will want to go with Office Pro.
These are the main things you need to know and consider before purchasing a student laptop. This is just a general outline. Feel free to make additional customizations if you have specific requirements for school.