Despite what your holiday shopping anxiety is telling you, buying a great gift for the college student in your life is actually kind of easy. Whether they just moved into a freshman dorm or just graduated, college students have one thing in common: They are new to adulthood and therefore lacking the well-designed stuff that makes adult life easier, cozier, and a lot more fun.
To help you find a gift they’ll love, we talked to actual college students and recent grads about the most memorable gifts they’ve ever received, the gear and gadgets they use every day, and the items topping their wish lists. Here are 23 of the best gifts for college freshmen, gifts for college graduates, and all the students in between.
Best overall gift for college students
Of the six students who recommended wireless headphones, four called out AirPods as the ones they have or the ones they want. Ashley Lee, a junior at Brown University, says wireless is “useful when working out or doing busy work and chores, because you don’t have a cord connecting the headphones to your phone so you can move about more easily.” Kira Sommer, a recent graduate of George Washington University who we spoke to for an article about dorm-room essentials, says, “Please, please, please invest in a good pair of headphones,” explaining that students blasting music or video games in shared spaces can cause a big problem. But there’s no need to invest too much. Carl Escoffier, a recent graduate of Leeds University and a new student at Goldsmiths, says “no student wants or needs $500 Beats by Dre to truly enjoy music.” What college students want “is to be able to play music from their phone without any faff or cables,” he says. “AirPods solve that problem, without being ostentatious or overly pricey.” When we spoke to Kim Tang, a second-year RA at The College of New Jersey, and Sarah Rebarber, a student at Columbia University, for our story on what to pack for college, they both told us that AirPods are the wireless headphones they see most at school. And Pia Mileaf-Patel, a recent Brown graduate, says she really wants a pair but would never buy them for herself, which is why she says “they make a great gift.”
Best (less expensive) gift for college students
Four of the students we consulted recommended this affordable and portable Bluetooth speaker. Maxx Grossman, a senior at Tufts University, calls it “quality but portable.” He says that having a portable speaker is nice because “I often find myself wanting to play music for a party or while hanging out with friends.” Both Mileaf-Patel and Escoffier agree that the Flip 4, which is also waterproof, making it able to withstand accidents and spills, would make a great gift. Christel Langué, a graduate of Lehigh University, told us that she can’t imagine life without a bluetooth speaker. “They come in handy all the time,” she says.
Best beauty gift for college students
In just a few short years, Glossier’s pink bubble packaging has become iconic. It’s also become something of a status symbol among teens, young adults, and a certain subset of dewy skin-fluencers. Along with the Flip 4, above, Langué and Mileaf-Patel share an affection for Glossier products. Mileaf-Patel says that “seeing a package from Glossier on my porch would make me so happy.” Langué describes her “LOVE” for the Glossier gift set — which includes a Milk Jelly Cleanser, a Priming Moisturizer, and the status-y Balm Dotcom — in all caps, calling it a “great starter set for someone wanting to dabble in skincare.” Glossier sets also come as trios of Balm Dotcom, or a combo pack with Boy Brow and Lash Slick. If you’re giving a gift to someone who already has a medicine cabinet full of Glossier products, Stanford University senior Amanda Kim Mai Tu suggests Glossier You perfume. “I’m finally trying to ditch the same Victoria’s Secret body spray I’ve used since high school, and a lot of friends have recommend the Glossier You perfume.” Tu’s friends say the scent is “subtle and compatible with a variety of body chemistries,” so it would be a great universal gift.
Best status water bottles to give to college students
There are a surprising number of trendy water bottles to choose from in 2019. But our polls of college students and RAs found that the insulated wide mouth Hydro-flask is king. Tang told writer Karen Iorio Adelson that she has noticed more and more Hydro Flask bottles around campus: “People like them because they can hold more water than S’well. Also, they’re just trendy now.” For another option, Tu and Chloe Kazuko Boehm, who just graduated from Tufts, recommend the insulated and Strategist-approved Zojirushi. According to Boehm, it “literally keeps drinks hot for days.”
Best status dorm appliance to give to college students
When we polled more than 30 college students, recent grads, and RAs to find out exactly what first-year college students should bring with them to school, a mini fridge was the most covetable item of all the recommendations (which included string lights, mattress pads, and extra seating, to name a few). Having one — especially one with a built-in freezer — seemed to be the holy grail of dorm goals. Justin Feliciano, an RA at the University of Connecticut, recommends this Whirlpool style, which he’s still using after three years. He likes it for its “freezer component, storage drawers for produce and dairy, and adjustable knob to change how cold the fridge gets.”
Best all-weather shoes to give to college students
Mileaf-Patel, Julie Schwartzberg, a student at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, and John Grund, a junior at the Savannah College of Art and Design, all cited Chelsea-style Dr. Martens boots as must-have footwear. “I want to get some new boots that are more sophisticated than the beat-up ones I have now,” Grund says. Mileaf-Patel likes them so much that she “wore them to death.” Escoffier also likes Chelsea boots, but he prefers Blundstones for their unmatched durability and because they’ll probably last you all four years in school.
Plus some cozy socks to wear with them
Boots are only as good as the socks worn with them. Mileaf-Patel and NYU freshman Cameron Stowell told us they would love to be gifted a pair of wool socks. “SmartWool socks are so practical, and they’re comfortable,” says Stowell. “They’re the perfect pair of socks in the winter. I like the plain brown ones.”
Best gifts if you were considering giving a sweater
Sweaters are almost a great gift, but the students we consulted would prefer a fleece. Mileaf-Patel calls her fleece, “truly my favorite piece of clothing.” She likes fleece because it’s both comfortable and very on-trend. “I used to intern for Sandy Liang, who makes the coolest ones IMO,” she says. “But they are definitely a splurge. I’m waiting for it to get cold so I can wear mine.” Langué’s favorite fleeces come from Aimé Leon Doré; they’re less expensive than a Sandy Liang fleece, but will still cost you upward of a couple hundred dollars. If you’re looking to spend less, Escoffier has a more budget-friendly recommendation: Uniqlo. In order to survive the brazen cold at British universities, you need something “oversize and fluffy,” he says. He likes this Uniqlo fleece jacket because it’s “easy on the eyes and the pocket.”
Most practical stocking stuffer
According to Tu, an extra-long power cord is a godsend to anyone living in a dorm. Where she lives, the “outlet-deficiency problem is very real,” she says.
Best multi-purpose gift for college students
“There are so many times I’ve needed to get home or call an Uber but couldn’t because my phone died,” says Rebecca Lee, a junior at Brown. “Studying abroad in a new country has only exacerbated that need.” Which is why she wants a portable charger. Tu recommends the RavPower because it can also charge a laptop. “I’ve been caught so many times in class or meetings with a dying laptop and nowhere to charge, desperately wishing I owned one of these.”
Best gift for college-age photo and video enthusiasts
If you’re willing to splurge, buying a quality camera that isn’t attached to a smartphone would wow any college student who’s interested in photography or video. “I love making videos, so having something smaller and easier to transport would be awesome,” says Howard Lin, a recent graduate of the University of Florida. “My dream would be the Sony Alpha A9, but it costs quite a bit” — as in, more than $3,000. So instead, he says he would be happy to settle for the RX100.
Best (less expensive) gift for trendy photo college kids
Maybe you want to encourage a love of photography without spending quite so much money. In that case, Mileaf-Patel recommends a film camera. “There’s something more satisfying about having film developed,” she says. Lo-fi disposable cameras like this Fujifilm camera are experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Mileaf-Patel suggests giving “a bunch of them.”
Best entertainment gift for college students
Eight students told us they either have a projector, know friends with a projector, or wish they owned one. As Caroline Tien, a senior at Haverford, says, “you can’t go wrong.” Having one will score you major cool points, whether you’re hosting bigger groups or just your new best friend. This model comes recommended by Meg Schwieterman, a sophomore at the University of South Carolina, who has a simple set of instructions for using it: “Tack a sheet up on the wall, make a batch of microwave popcorn, and host a movie night!”
Best time-saving gift for college students
Tu told us that “university printing has finally worn on my last nerve, and I don’t want to squander the rest of my senior year waiting for the old dorm desktops to load,” so she’s hoping for a basic compact printer. This HP OfficeJet printer would be a great gift for any college student, she says, “and their friends would get a lot of mileage out of it as well.”
Best planet-saving gift for college students
Also on Tu’s wishlist, but perhaps more appropriate for her stocking, is this set of reusable Baggu tote bags. She calls them “my number-one, college-student gift recommendation,” saying “these have SAVED ME so many times. I use them at the grocery store and hang one bag off each of my bike handlebars — there’s no other way I could get everything home myself.” Tu also told us that her sister just started college this year and has to carry her laundry across the street to wash it, so she’ll probably be getting her one of the Big Baggus for the holidays to help.
Best problem-solving gift for college students
Instead of a bulky toolbox, give a pocket knife. “If I had to be specific, I would choose the SwissChamp in hardwood,” says Justin Lee, a senior at Brown University. “I feel like there will inevitably come a time when having a multipurpose tool like this would come in handy, especially when traveling.”
Best red Solo cup alternative to give to college students
“Wedding registry–type things make sense,” says Cassidy Olsen, a soon-to-be graduate of Tufts. “A lot of us are moving into places for the first time permanently. I know nothing about glassware, so I couldn’t say what glassware, but a combo of drinking glasses and wine glasses would be good.” Tu agrees that nice but not too expensive glassware makes a great gift. She says stemless glasses like the Bormioli Rocco Bodega tumblers are “easy to clean and store, and one step up from Solo cups.” We here at the Strategist love the Bormioli Rocco Bodega short tumblers, which do double duty as wine glasses and drinkware.
Best mood-setting (and odor-reducing) gift for college kids
Though some dorms won’t allow them, fancy scented candles are a top gift idea among college students. Eight of the college students we talked to for our piece about stylish dorm accents said that scented candles are essential to creating an inviting atmosphere. UPenn graduate Shiv-Louis van de Ven and Mileaf-Patel also point out that scented candles cover up unpleasant smells. Mileaf-Patel says she’d like to receive anything from Boy Smells, or any other “fancier-than-what-you’d-just-pick-up-at-the-store brand candles.”
Best gift to protect college students’ feet from dirty floors
We all understand the importance of a good pair of shower shoes, even if we’ve never lived in a dorm. But Escoffier makes the case for slippers as another way to protect your feet from scummy dorm floors because, according to him, “no one knows how to clean a floor.”
Best gift for keeping college students’ floors clean
As if to confirm Escoffier’s claim that college students need help keeping their floors clean, Langué admits that she hates cleaning her floors, but for a different reason: “This sounds so stupid, but I hate cleaning my floor because of how obsessive I get about it. Can someone get me a Roomba? PLEASE!”
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