The holiday season is quickly approaching, and you’ve hit a wall — you want to give your college student the perfect gift, but you aren’t sure what they actually want. And while we think advice about budgeting, saving and refinancing student loans is the best gift of all, getting your college student something fun and practical will likely elicit a much more heartfelt “thanks.”
Here are 14 practical gift ideas for college students that can be budget-friendly and useful for years to come.
It’s always the right size, and it’s always the right color. And with college students now graduating with an average of $29,800 in student loan debt, monetary gifts that can be used for fun or study are surely welcome.
You can also consider gift cards from Visa or Mastercard that can be used anywhere, or cards to stores with a lot of options, like Target or Amazon. You may be tempted to buy a card for your child’s favorite store, but you never know how much their taste has changed since they left for college.
2. Contribute to the cost of books
Despite the rise of technology, college textbooks are typically still required — and they’re still very expensive. The average college student in the U.S. spends over $1,200 per year on books and supplies, according to the nonprofit The College Board.
Save your college student some stress by purchasing their books online and having them sent to their dorm at the start of the semester. Request a course catalogue from your student so you know exactly which books to buy from the college bookstore.
Price: $400 to $1,200 for an academic year’s worth of books
3. Noise-canceling headphones
College campuses are hardly known for being quiet. Whether it’s a coffee shop with loud music or a disruptive roommate, finding the perfect study atmosphere can be difficult. Consider purchasing noise-cancelling headphones for your college student to help them focus the next time they’re writing a paper or cramming for a test.
When shopping for a pair, remember that there is a difference between noise canceling and noise isolating, and features like shape, battery life and warranties will likely all come into play. The price will definitely vary: these headphones from Bose fall in the middle of the price spectrum, while these from Sony are top-of-the-line.
Price: $20 to $500
4. A subscription service for something useful
Time and money management are not always a top priority for college students, leading to multiple servings of instant ramen noodles a week and messy dorm rooms. Save your college student the time required to visit the store by getting them a subscription service for something useful.
Flawed produce companies like Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods offer fruits and veggies at a steep discount (as low as $22 and $16 per month, respectively), while services like Grove Collaborative offer eco-friendly cleaning products and other home essentials.
Price: $8 to $70 for food services
5. A DSLR or instant camera
The rise of Instagram has led to many college students developing a proclivity for photography. If your child has shown a penchant for taking photos, consider getting them a DSLR camera, which they’ll be able to use for years to come.
If you’re looking for something a little bit more budget-friendly but still trendy, consider getting them an instant camera from Fujifilm or Polaroid. The Fujifilm Instax Mini 9, for example, comes in a variety of colors and is sold for as low as $50. (Don’t forget to buy a few packs of instant film to keep the gift going all year long.)
Price: $50 to $750 for basic equipment
6. Clothing and boots for inclement weather
If your college student moved somewhere cold or rainy for school, you can buy them boots, accessories or apparel that will make coping with the elements a little bit easier.
Brands like Sorel, UGG and Sperry all offer boots that are both stylish and practical. For apparel, consider a versatile jacket that can go between seasons. And don’t forget about accessories, like earmuffs, hats and touchscreen gloves (we love this $45 pair from The North Face), to round out the look.
7. A top-of-the-line laptop case
If your college student has been toting around their laptop either without a case or in a cheap one, consider getting them a high-end case or laptop bag for the holidays. A laptop is pricey after all — make sure to protect your investment.
Brands like Dagne Dover, Herschel Supply Company and Society 6 all offer trendy options, while OtterBox sells super-protective cases that can withstand nearly anything. If you’re looking for something stylish and sturdy, consider the Ryan Laptop Bag from Dagne Dover, which retails for $135 or $155, depending on the size.
Price: $15 to $155
8. An alarm clock
Research shows that over 48% of people ages 16 to 34 use their cellphone as an alarm clock, according to YouGov, a data and analytics company. Many college students sleep with their cellphones either on their nightstand or in bed with them so it’s nearby come morning.
However, sleeping in such close proximity to a smartphone can both worsen sleep quality and make it that much more tempting to lie in bed surfing social media in the morning. A traditional alarm clock will not only help your college student get more restful shut-eye, but it’ll force them to get out of bed right when they wake up. This alarm clock from Philips is a great option: It gradually wakes users up by using natural light that mimics the sunrise.
Price: $13 to $50
9. A fancy carry-on suitcase
If your college student has to fly in order to come home for the holidays, a nice carry-on suitcase could be a gift that they’ll appreciate for years to come — and maybe even prompt more visits home. Consider one from Travelpro, Tumi or Away. The Away carry-on suitcase ($225) is particularly popular right now, as it comes with a built-in laundry bag and combination lock, as well as an ejectable battery that can charge cellphones, tablets and laptops.
Price: $35 to $900 for high-end pieces
10. A fitness studio membership
For the fitness enthusiasts out there, membership to the on-campus athletic facilities might not cut it. Consider giving your athletic college kid a gift card for ClassPass, a fitness subscription in which members can visit multiple studios. Or, if you know exactly what type of workout they prefer, consider gifting them enough money to cover their monthly yoga, barre or spin membership.
Price: varies by location and class type
11. A charging cellphone case
Many college students have jam-packed schedules, especially when internships and part-time jobs are added into the mix. Help them avoid the all-too-common scramble to find an outlet on campus and gift them a chargeable cellphone case. Countless options are available on sites from Amazon and Best Buy to Apple and Zagg.
Price: $25 to $129
12. Amazon Prime membership
Amazon Prime is great for ordering everything from books and batteries to shoes and detergent. Plus, it also comes with myriad other perks like Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Music, a streaming platform. You might want to consult with your kid before purchasing the membership, as there’s a discount for students.
Price: $59 per year with student discount, $119 per year without
13. A high quality coffee machine
Nothing fuels a late-night study session like a cup of coffee, but sometimes a regular cup of joe just doesn’t cut it. In fact, the National Coffee Association (NCA) found that while year-over-year coffee consumption has remained steady, interest in specialty and gourmet brew grows with each passing year.
Yet daily runs to the local coffee shop can get pricey. Save your college student some time (and money) by gifting them a high-quality coffee maker or a one-cup coffee machine like a Keurig (or a Nespresso, if you’re feeling particularly generous). Make the gift last all year by purchasing a large bag of gourmet coffee or a decent supply of K-Cup pods to go with the machine. You can also give them a gift card to somewhere like Bed Bath & Beyond, which sells coffee and K-Cup pods.
Price: $60 to $300
14. An Instant Pot
Although some college students love to cook, time and space constraints can make it difficult. Help your college student prepare meals quickly and easily by getting them an Instant Pot for the holidays. This cost-effective pressure cooker can be used to make anything from rice and mac and cheese to burgers and fish in a matter of minutes.
Price: $60 to $140