In my unscientific but thorough survey of gift ideas for college students, I would say some 94.8 percent of all college students have, at some point, either received a copy of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go or had it quoted at them. It’s a classic read, but as far as gifts for college students go, it’s clichéd — and you can give a practical, useful, and unique gift to a college student that’s better than that. To make things a little easier, I spoke with actual college students about the most memorable gifts they’ve ever received, the gear and gadgets they use every day, and the items on their wish lists to find the best gifts for college freshmen, gifts for college graduates, and all the students in between.
Best gifts for college students on campus
Ashley Lee, a sophomore at Brown University, recommends wireless headphones. “These are useful when working out or doing busy work or chores, because you don’t have a cord connecting the headphones to your phone so you can move about more easily.”
If they’d prefer over-the-ear headphones, writer Steven John likes to give the B&O Play H4s as gifts. “The bass is rich, but not overbearing, thanks to excellent equalization. The treble and midrange are clear and never sharp. They’re pricey, they’re kind of big, but they sound great.” They also look nice, which is important for gift-giving.
These Bluetooth speakers are “quality but portable,” says Maxx Grossman, a junior at Tufts University, and they’re nice because “I often finding myself wanting to play music for a party or while hanging out with friends.”
“The best thing about college is the fact that I can take naps. I am a daily napper,” admits Brown University sophomore Rebecca Lee. “This throw blanket is perfect when I don’t want to mess up my bed and want a quick, cozy cover-up.”
We at the Strategist also love a good monogrammed gift, and this wool Pendleton blanket would be the perfect item to monogram with your college student’s initials. (It’ll also be a good way to ensure their roommate doesn’t “borrow” it.)
Several college-aged women I’ve spoken to would love to get Glossier products as a gift. “I’ve been lusting after my own Glossier set for a while,” admits Hannah Levin, a senior at Tufts University. “Also, their highlighter.”
“I like to keep track of my runs,” says Grossman, who’s involved with the Tufts’ outdoors club, which is why she recommends a FitBit.
For the student who takes copious notes, “maybe a black rOtring mechanical pencil,” says Samuel Grund, a senior at Oberlin College. “I had one before, but it broke, sadly. No fault of the pencil though. I was just careless. It’s the best pencil I’ve ever owned.”
“Teeth are super important. Actually, there’s a huge correlation between gum disease and dying, and also, the condition of your gums and your teeth does predict a lot. So you might as well keep it healthy,” says Sachi D., a senior at Smith College who wants what the Cut’s Kathleen Hou called “a game-changing electric toothbrush.” According to Sachi, “I think it’s an underrated thing that people don’t pay attention to, and it’s actually really important … Or maybe I’m just a hypochondriac, and I’m afraid of dying.”
Best gifts for college students who are studying abroad
“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. “Studying abroad in a new country has only exacerbated that need,” which is why she wants a portable charger.
A new camera would be a great gift for an aspiring filmmaker — or just a student who’s excited to share their study-abroad experience with family and friends. “I love making videos, so having something smaller and easier to transport would be awesome,” says Howard Lin, a senior at University of Florida. “My dream would be the Sony Alpha A9, but it costs quite a bit so most likely not. I think a Sony Rx100 Mark V.”
If you’re looking for a digital camera under $500, Steven John likes this one for everyday use: “If you want a camera that’s easy to use, tough enough to be tossed in your purse, backpack, or glove box, and that takes good pictures, too, then the Nikon CoolPix A900 Digital Camera is your go-to choice.”
For a practical travel accessory, give a pocket knife. “If I had to be specific, I would choose the SwissChamp in hardwood,” 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 clothing for college students
Ashley Lee also wants a nice down jacket. She likes this one from Patagonia, because “it’s really warm and less bulky than a winter coat or [longer] parka, so it’s perfect for days that are rainy and cold.”
Christine Evans, who’s studying fashion at Parsons School of Design, has been coveting a Burberry rain jacket for years. “Truthfully, my dad has always always worn one since I was little and I’ve always admired it. I really like the look and fit of the coat and we’ve always kind of talked about the style of it. He said that when I’m older, he would get me one when the time was right!” And graduation seems like as good a milestone as any.
For a rain jacket that’s a bit more practical yet still stylish, there’s this transparent, plastic jacket from Levi’s.
Both Julie Schwartzberg, a student at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, and John Grund, a sophomore at the Savannah College of Art and Design have cited Chelsea-style Dr. Martens boots as must-have footwear. “I want to get some new, more sophisticated boots than the beat-up ones I have now,” Grund explains.
Evan Sayles, a soon-to-be graduate of Tufts University, would like things for his postgraduation apartment. As he told us in our gift guide for 21-year-olds, “I’ve been asking around, trying to source some household supplies that I could move into my new apartment like kitchen supplies. Something small, portable, but would add utility in my life.” That could include a set of kitchen knives, like this all-purpose, three-piece set from Global. It’s on the expensive side, but if cared for properly, these knives will be useful for years to come.
“Wedding registry–type things make sense,” adds Cassidy Olsen, another soon-to-be graduate of Tufts, “because 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.” We here at the Strategist love the Bormioli Rocco Bodega short tumblers, which do double duty as wine glasses and drinkware.
Speaking of wedding registries, a set of matching flatware would be nice so that they can retire (or maybe even return) the dining hall forks and knives they may have stolen over the years. Senior writer Lauren Levy fell into a rabbit hole of stylish flatware while putting together her wedding registry and “flirted with the idea of Hay’s Everyday Silverware,” which she calls “basic and standard, but also have their own distinct shape, feel, and style.”
A cookbook is always a good gift for a beginner cook, and Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of Manhattan’s Dirt Candy, relied on this one when she was in college. “Will you ever cook from it? Well, I did when I was in university, and the approachable recipes were a great way to ease me into the kitchen,” she said, adding, “And for me, it’s almost like a scrapbook, reminding me of when I tried to make Gypsy Soup, of hours spent poring over the recipes for Vegetable and Walnut Pate, Stuffed Eggplant, and Lentil burgers, trying to figure out how to tweak these dishes to make them better, learning from what they were doing, and slowly, page by page, without even knowing it, becoming a chef.”
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