6 Best VPNs for School, College and University (Unblock Websites)

Many schools, colleges and universities are notorious for blocking popular websites, with particular attention being given to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Furthermore campus networks have a common tendency to block VPN connections.

Although we are full proponents of academic excellence, we believe there’s no harm in getting your mind off those long essays and books for a few minutes to enjoy your favourite sites on the web and to socialise with your friends. So we’ve put together a guide to the best VPN services for unblocking any website at school or college.

Summary

Provider Features Price Links
1 ExpressVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Zero logs
  • Live chat
$8.32
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
2 ibVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Zero logs
  • Smart DNS
  • Custom apps
$7.95
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
3 Private Internet Access
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Live chat
$6.95
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
4 VPN.AC
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom Apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Zero logs
$9
/month
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Read Review
5 VyprVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Anti-DPI tech
  • Live chat
$9.99
/month
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Read Review
6 NordVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • VPN+Tor
  • 256-bit keys
  • Custom apps
  • Live chat
$8
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review

Quick Links


 

Dexter's laboratory
If you don’t know this guy, we’re getting old :(


Websites blocked at school and work

As we’ve mentioned, websites and VPN connections get blocked all the time on school networks and campuses, and this is evident in the sheer amount of complaints made by students on various forums, asking for potential solutions and workarounds (case 1, case 2, case 3 etc).

Many of the biggest websites have found themselves blocked, with the inclusion of social networks, P2P services and gaming sites. The reasons behind the blocks are fairly straightforward – social media is deemed too ‘distracting’ to allow on the premises. Moreover, sites like Facebook and Twitter contain some sensitive and explicit content, some of which is not appropriate for all ages. Netflix, YouTube, Skype and BitTorrent indexes like Pirate Bay are often made inaccessible in order to save network bandwidth and subsequently cut costs.

The problem lies in the fact that not all of these sites and services are mere tools for procrastination, as some really do possess a wealth of educational and social benefits that are useful, if not essential for students living in the digital age (Instagram, you’re out).

Reddit blocked at school
/r/mathematics or /r/gaming? Guess which one got Reddit blocked.


VPN blocking

TheĀ  secondary issue is that schools and colleges have caught onto students using VPN services as a workaround to their network restrictions. Consequently, local firewalls have likewise started blocking weaker types of VPN connections – much like the Great Firewall of China.

This has caused many presumptions among students that VPNs have been defeated by firewalls and have thus lost their usefulness. This is not the case.

VPN connections use varying levels of security, and these are referred to as ‘encryption protocols’, ranging from PPTP (weakest) and L2TP/IPsec to OpenVPN and SSTP (strongest). As you may already be thinking, the first two, PPTP and L2TP are indeed the suspect protocols getting outweighed by your campus firewall. But how is this happening?

In essence, the firewall is not actually blocking specific protocols, but it is blocking certain ports as well as encrypted traffic that tries to pass through them. Use of these ports is essential for successfully establishing a VPN connection. Because PPTP and L2TP protocols are configured to use a single port each (PPTP uses port “TCP 1723” and L2TP requires port “UDP 1701” respectively), both become ineffective once the firewall starts blocking the only available gateways between the user and the network.

Using OpenVPN to bypass network firewalls

On the other hand, OpenVPN is not just more versatile with given choice of usable ports, but the protocol was actually designed to securely circumvent restrictive firewalls. OpenVPN is capable of listening on multiple ports (this process is referred to as ‘port-forwarding’), running TCP and/or UDP sub-protocols. By default, it uses UDP port 1194 and TCP port 443.

While it is common for firewalls to block UDP ports and some TCP ports like port 80, they are likely to allow room for TCP 443. This is the default port for https:// (SSL) traffic, or in other words, ‘typical protected web’ traffic associated with major websites, online banking and so on.

Blocking this port would lead to making much of the internet inaccessible.

Luckily, plenty of VPN providers offer OpenVPN as a core protocol. Some, although no many, provide in-app port forwarding, meaning you can change and test available ports within their custom software.

The other obstacle is that not all providers specify which ports are being used for OpenVPN connections within their apps, therefore it’s also recommended to go the more traditional DIY route by manually configuring your purchased VPN using the official OpenVPN client.

This isn’t a difficult or a long process, but it does require additional downloading and minor tweaking of this compact piece of open-source software.

What makes the OpenVPN client advantageous is that it lets you test out your VPN over numerous ports. The best configuration guide for the protocol can be found on your VPN provider’s website, plus their support team will be more than obliged to help you get set up. Or you can check our tutorials on how to manually configure OpenVPN on Windows or on Mac OS X.

Another option is to utilise the innovative proprietary technology – “Chameleon” by VyprVPN, which was specially designed to combat tough firewall restrictions. Chameleon is a very sturdy, advanced version of the 256-bit SSL OpenVPN protocol and functions by further enciphering standardĀ OpenVPN packets, in effect, masking VPN traffic even more from being recognised by deep packet inspection on ports.

SSTP protocol

In terms of security and strength, the SSTP protocol is often regarded as the strongest, hence why it is used by many universities and companies to protect their own internal traffic. SSTP uses SSL 3.0 and, like OpenVPN, also uses the desired TCP port 443.

User authentication is encrypted with 2048-bit SSL/TLS certificates, while traffic is scrambled with resilient 256-bit SSL keys, making SSTP almost impossible to crack.

The downsides to this protocol include significantly slower speeds, making it rather pointless when you need to stream and download multimedia. Additionally, because the protocol was developed by Microsoft, it has only really been optimised for Windows users.

It is possible to find SSTP clients for Mac (some providers like TorGuard offer this) and there’s also a nifty SSTP client available for Linux, however not many VPN companies currently provide SSTP. We would therefore suggest opting for a decent OpenVPN TCP connection.

Conclusion

In summary, overcoming irritating firewall restrictions at your school or campus isn’t all that tricky. Primarily, you need to have a good VPN as well as some basic knowledge on how to use it.

We recommend only investing in VPNs that offer flexible and clear OpenVPN settings. At a bare minimum, your provider should be able to run an OpenVPN connection via TCP port 443, however the more ports there are to test out, the better.

Even more credit goes to the provider if they have clearly labelled their OpenVPN server range as either TCP or UDP; or alternatively, if their software has a universal UDP/TCP switch. Nevertheless, you can always make use of the OpenVPN client, with which you will be able to choose and trial out various tunnel ports.

After much deliberation, we’ve carefully compiled a list of the most suitable VPN services to use at your school or university.

Taking into account all the points made above, each of the listed companies offer very adaptable settings and more.

So the next question comes down to the other important factors such as relevant node locations, speeds and anything else that’s relevant to your individual requirements. All of this information can be found in our dedicated service reviews. On a final note, BestVPNz wish you all the best with your studies!

Provider Features Price Links
1 ExpressVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Zero logs
  • Live chat
$8.32
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
2 ibVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Zero logs
  • Smart DNS
  • Custom apps
$7.95
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
3 Private Internet Access
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Live chat
$6.95
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
4 VPN.AC
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom Apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Zero logs
$9
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
5 VyprVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • Custom apps
  • 256-bit keys
  • Anti-DPI tech
  • Live chat
$9.99
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
6 NordVPN
  • Torrent-friendly
  • VPN+Tor
  • 256-bit keys
  • Custom apps
  • Live chat
$8
/month
Visit Provider
Read Review
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2 thoughts on “6 Best VPNs for School, College and University (Unblock Websites)”

  1. if i am guest at an event in a high school and are using their wifi would hidemyass,ipvanish,or strongvpn be able to bypass their web filter/firewall?

    • Hi Guy,

      Yes it would. If you are using a strong enough protocol such as OpenVPN over an unblocked port, for example – TCP 443, your VPN connection would be able to bypass the local firewall with no problems.

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