It’s hard sending a kid off to college! Whether you’re getting ready to say goodbye to your own kid, a family member, or to a close friend who’s headed off to school, it’s never easy.
Aside from the sadness at seeing someone you love leave town, it’s also not easy in the practical sense – college kids need a lot of stuff! Not only do they need to be ready for classes, with books and laptops and backpacks, they need to set up a dorm room or apartment as well. They’ll need everything from laundry baskets to soap to speakers.
If you’re wondering where to start or what college kids really need when they head off to school, we’ve got you covered! We have an expert list – compiled by someone who has experience sending kids off to school. Find out what gifts for college students really are helpful, so you don’t waste your time and money on things they don’t need.
This list has everything from dorm essentials to fun treats kids will love getting in the mail! You’re sure to find gift ideas for the college students in your life and help them make the transition away from home a little easier.
60 Useful College Gift Ideas
Awesome college student gifts for every college kid!
50Ft LED Strip Lights
These lights are easy to install and take down at the end of the year, and they can change the whole feel of a dorm room with just a button! Students can adjust the brightness, change light colors, and even set the lights to sync to their music. They can put on a fun, multicolored show when they’re hanging with friends or choose a soothing mild light to study by.
Tiny dorm rooms rarely have space for a nightstand or table near the bed! A bedside shelf gives students a spot to charge their phone, place a book, or keep their glasses when they go to bed. The shelf doesn’t take up much room but provides a much-needed spot for bedside items.
Weighted Blanket For Adults
Weighted blankets can help with a number of sleep issues! They can calm stressed-out students, they can lead to a better night’s sleep, and they can even help legs and sore bodies recuperate from an intense workout. Gift one to your favorite college student and see if it helps with sleep troubles.
Women's Sherpa Sweatshirt
Sure, there are times college students dress up, but for those morning classes, comfort is key! This sherpa sweatshirt is perfect for girls to pull on on chilly mornings and head to class. It comes in a variety of colors and patterns – you may even want to get her more than one!
Amazon Mini Fridge
Having a fridge in the dorm room can be an excellent gift for college students – especially those who have trouble getting out of bed and to the dining hall for breakfast! This mini fridge is perfect for keeping snacks and drinks in. The flat top also functions as an extra shelf for storing food or dishes.
Photo Fairy String Lights
Some students may not want overwhelming LED lights all around their room and may prefer these charming twinkle lights instead! They can be strung over a bed or on the wall, and the lights are interspersed with clips where students can hang pictures of their friends and family.
2-Piece Carry-On Luggage Set
If your college kid doesn’t have a luggage set yet, this is the perfect time to buy them one! They’ll need something to pack clothes in to move back and forth to school, and to come home to visit. This set includes a carry-on bag with in-line skate wheels and a tote with a strap. It comes in a variety of colors so you can pick one that will stand out on the baggage carousel.
Starbucks Gift Card
Lots of college students are watching their money carefully, so anytime they get a gift card for a special treat that wasn’t in the budget, they’re thrilled! You can grab a Starbucks gift card to send in just about every increment from $25 on up. Or, grab a couple and send them to your college kid throughout the year as a nice surprise.
Reading Bed Pillow
There usually isn’t a lot of seating in dorm rooms, and certainly not a lot of comfy seating! A pillow to prop up and read or work can be a wonderful college student gift. This one has pockets on the sides and a convenient handle for carrying it around.
Washable Laundry Bag Backpack
When you’re listing all the things to buy for college, don’t forget a laundry container! A backpack like this one makes lugging laundry up and down stairs to the machines (or to Mom & Dad’s!) much easier. It fits 4 loads of laundry inside, so they should be able to get all their clothes to and from their room in one trip.
Hooded College Sweatshirt
Everyone needs a sweatshirt that proudly proclaims their school on the front! This hoodie has a fleece lining and screen-printed university logo and name. The unisex fit means it should suit both guys and girls.
Sleep Eye Mask
There are a lot of fun parts of dorm life, but one drawback is that two people sharing a room but on different schedules can be tricky. It’s likely at some point that your college kid will be trying to sleep while his roommate is desperately trying to get a paper in on time. A sleep mask is perfect for blocking out the light while he sleeps. This mask has contours so the wearer can blink and not worry about eyelashes hitting the mask, and it completely seals out the light for a good night’s sleep.
Glowing Neon Pineapple Sign
This quirky room sign is a fun, inexpensive way to add personality to a drab dorm room! It’s battery-operated and just needs three AA batteries to work. It’s an amusing addition to a desk or dresser to add a little whimsy.
Sunrise Alarm Clock
It’s a little more pleasant to feel like you woke up to the rising of the sun than to the blaring of a phone alarm! This alarm clock not only mimics the rising of the sun, but it has white noise to fall asleep to. It also has adjustable lights so college kids can turn on a soft-glow reading light to study.
Healthy Snack Box Variety Pack
College kids will probably get their share of unhealthy food if they want it, but they’ll also appreciate a healthy variety of snacks. This would be a fun package to send at the start of finals to help make sure students are properly fueled and ready to conquer! The snack pack includes granola bars, popcorn, veggie straws, and more.
Amazon Gift Card
If you’re not sure what your favorite college kid needs while they’re away at university, an Amazon gift card is an excellent choice! They’ll be thrilled to have a little “fun money” to spend on whatever they’d like, without worrying about having to pay for it themselves. Gift cards may not seem like a very exciting purchase, but they do make wonderful gift ideas for college students!
Women's French Terry Fleece Jogger
These joggers are immensely comfortable. However, they also have some style to them, so she can wear them to bed or wear them to class. Or, let’s face it, both. They also come in a variety of colors, so she may even be happy with several pairs!
Clever Fox Planner
There are smartphones and tons of apps to help college students plan and stay organized. However, some people do much better when their plans are written out on paper. This planner is a great option. It doesn’t have dates inside, so your college student can customize it to begin and end whenever they want. This would be a fun present along with a really nice pen for writing in the new planner!
Wheat Straw Dinnerware Set
While it’s true that some of us may have gotten our first set of dishes by stealing them from the university dining hall, we certainly don’t advocate this or admit it out loud. This wheat straw dinnerware set is a much better option – cuter than the school dishes and without the side of larceny. The dishes are sturdy and eco-friendly, and the pastel color is perfect.
Asobu Coldbrew Portable Coffee Maker
Students can save plenty of their valuable money by making their own coffee rather than stopping at a cafe for their caffeine! This device makes the perfect cold brew coffee, and will likely save them a whole lot of money to boot. They can make up a batch in their room or the dorm kitchen to drink the next day, and they won’t taste the difference between that and store-bought.
Leather Tote Shoulder Bag
If you’re looking for gifts for college students who are on the older end and getting ready for internships and job interviews, this leather tote bag is a great gift idea! It’s a simple, elegant brown leather bag that will fit a laptop, water bottle, tablet, make-up, and a variety of other essentials.
Wallet Ninja 2.0
While they’re living in a dorm, there probably isn’t a need for a college student to own an entire toolset just yet. If the problem is big enough, either the front desk or maintenance department should be able to help. However, it’s useful to have some small tools for minor repairs. This Wallet Ninja has an eyeglass screwdriver, nail puller, box opener, screwdrivers, a can and bottle opener, and many more small tools.
Men's Sherpa-Lined Hoodie
The ladies don’t get all the sherpa fun! These hoodies are lined with deliciously comfy sherpa inside to keep him warm and comfortable during chilly morning classes or on cold winter days. The sweatshirt also comes in a variety of colors – it could be fun to find his college colors and grab one in that shade for him!
Laptop Bed Desk
Since dorm desks are notoriously uncomfortable (and probably covered with papers), sometimes it’s nice to work on another surface. This bed desk has a storage drawer for pens or chargers. It’s big enough to fit a laptop and mouse, so students can get work done while sitting in bed. It also folds flat to store, which is a big deal when you have so little space.
Duffel Bag With Shoe Compartment
This duffel bag is perfect for weekend trips home, to visit a friend, or to head on a road trip with some college buddies. It packs into a small, flat envelope, so it’s easy to store. When open, it can hold enough clothes for several days. It also has several pockets and a shoe compartment.
This bedside caddy not only holds things that are useful just before bed, it provides extra storage space in a very small dorm room! The caddy will fit a laptop, magazines or books, a phone, a water bottle, charging cables, glasses, and more. It simply hooks on the end or head of the bed so that all those items are in easy reach.
Tile Mate Bluetooth Key Finder
If you have a college student who’s constantly losing things, a Tile Mate may be the perfect gift! It attaches to their key ring, and they can track their keys with the accompanying app. If the keys are within Bluetooth range, they will actually make a noise – otherwise, the app will help your student track them down.
Inspirational Coloring Book
College can be stressful! Fortunately, adult coloring books are an inexpensive but effective way to relax and fight stress. Your son or daughter can also indulge their creative side with a coloring book while they take a break from studying for a bit. This coloring book has a bunch of inspirational sayings to remind them that they’re up for all this work.
3 Tier Mesh Utility Cart
This utility cart is very useful in a dorm or first college apartment! It can be used to store snacks and food, books, art supplies, or various other items. It’s inexpensive and easy to assemble and disassemble. It also rolls, so it can be moved around easily.
Spotify Gift Card
Spotify is another service that college students will appreciate not having to pay for! Send along a gift card worth a few months of free service. They’ll be thrilled they can listen to their favorite bands, podcasts, and audiobooks without having to worry about the cost.
Apple MacBook Pro
A new laptop isn’t a must for college…but it would certainly be appreciated! The newest Mac has the longest-running battery ever in a Mac, plus an M1 chip. It has an 8-core CPU for faster performance, including faster graphics for games (and, of course, they’ll only be using it for studying *wink*).
Broke Millennial Finance Book
They’ve taken a lot of challenging classes to get to this point, but one thing most teens miss is a good class on managing money! The Broke Millennial series helps teens and twentysomethings manage their money responsibly. When you consider that credit card companies gleefully push debt on vulnerable college kids, there’s no better time to give them a good foundation for finances than right now.
Womens Fuzzy Socks
Sometimes it’s hard to settle into a new place, but one thing that helps is comfy clothes and bedding! These socks are perfect for hitting the chilly floor first thing in the morning, or for wearing on cold nights. The plush socks don’t itch and come in several colors.
Full HD Supported Video Projector
They’ll have the dorm to hang out in or the apartment where everyone wants to be, with a projector! They can show movies on the side of a wall, or on the screen that’s included with the projector. They can also play video games or stream TV shows on the projector as well.
Hydro Flask Reusable Water Bottle
Water bottles make great gifts for college students, and this is one of the most popular brands! Make sure your student stays hydrated throughout the day, heading to classes and work and sports and anywhere else they have to be. This Hydro Flask is BPA-free and non-toxic and comes in a variety of colors so you can pick their favorite.
Gel Pens for Adult Coloring Books
These gel pens are perfect for using in an adult coloring book when students need to unwind and take a break from studying! They’re also great for journaling, or lettering, or leaving nice notes for friends down the hall. The pens come in a zip-up carrying case and come with 60 refills.
Face Flower Planter
Plants always cheer up a room and have health benefits for their owners as well! This quirky planter is a fun way to add humor and a unique vibe to a dorm room. You can add a cascading plant to mimic long hair or a spiky succulent for a different hairdo.
Heavy Duty Bike Lock
Bikes are the transportation of choice on a lot of campuses. In fact, it’s often faster to get to class on a bike than by car, thanks to paths through campus. Unfortunately, because so many college students bike, it’s also a great target for bike thieves. Make sure your college student’s ride stays safe with this heavy-duty bike lock. It’s cutting-, leverage-, and drill-resistant so it’s hard to take off without the key. However, the bike lock is small enough to toss in a backpack when it’s not being used.
Small Dry Erase Board With Markers
Everyone texts and Snapchats these days but there’s still something fun about leaving a friendly message or a goofy drawing on a friend’s whiteboard hanging on their dorm room door. Get a whiteboard for your student and they can leave notes, write messages for roommates, and use it for lots of other useful tasks.
Bluetooth Speaker MusiBaby Speakers
A Bluetooth speaker is a great addition to a dorm room or apartment! Students can use it for studying or to play music while having a few friends over or for any other mood they’re in. They can also bring the speaker along to the park or beach for an afternoon. This one is waterproof, and you can pair two speakers for more volume.
A microwave is a hugely helpful device for a dorm room! Students can heat up a nighttime cup of tea or reheat leftovers to save on an extra meal. And, of course, it’s perfect for that college staple – ramen! This microwave is compact, has several settings, including a reheat function, and is perfect for a small room.
Chocolate Gift Basket
We want our college students to be healthy, of course. But sometimes it’s nice to get a special treat! This gift basket includes a variety of chocolates – chocolate pretzels, nut clusters, truffles, and more. They’re great for indulging a sweet tooth and for students to share with a roommate or other friends.
Home Desk Wood & Steel Organizer
This organizer is perfect for organizing personal items that your student needs every day! It has a spot for a phone, watch, glasses, keys, coins, and everything else we all seem to need each day. Designating one spot in the room for these items means they are less likely to lose track of those important items when they need them.
Victrola Portable Suitcase Record Player
A record player is a fun and festive addition to any room! This one is especially suited because it closes like a suitcase, making it easy to bring back and forth to school and protecting the player when it’s not in use. Choose from a variety of fun colors, and maybe grab a few records from a thrift store to go with it! This makes the perfect Christmas gift for college students to bring back after winter break.
ProactivMD Face Moisturizer With Sunscreen
One fun, inexpensive gift idea for a freshman going away to school for the first time would be a basket of products like shampoo, soap, face wash, and sunscreen – things they’re used to their parents providing that now they’re going to have to remember to buy themselves. This sunscreen is specially formulated for sensitive, acne-prone skin and will protect their face while they’re at football games, sports practice, or just out in the sun headed to and from class.
Monsdle Travel Laptop Backpack
This sleek black backpack is a step above the canvas packs with lots of straps that many students use. It has space for a laptop, plus two main compartments for books, binders, and other school items. A USB port makes charging phones easy, mesh side pockets for water bottles, and pen pockets to keep things organized.
YETI Rambler 20 oz Tumbler
YETI is one of the best brands when it comes to drink insulation! This coffee cup is perfect for bringing hot drinks to class or wherever else your student is headed. The Magslider lid keeps the cup closed so the drink won’t slosh, and it fits standard cup holders so it can go in a car or on a bike. It also comes in a variety of fun colors.
Combo Pack Face Mask Sheets
These sheet masks are a lovely way for your student to take 10 minutes to themselves for a little pampering. They’re also a fun idea for a dorm night with roommates and friends – everyone can do a mask! This set comes with 24 masks that have green tea, cucumber, collagen, vitamins, and other ingredients that are good for the skin.
College Team Spirit Mug
This mug is more understated than a lot of college gear, but is a fun way to show school pride! Pick a mug with your student’s college on it, and it comes with watercolor-inspired illustrations of mascots, school buildings, and other items from college life on campus.
Atomic Habits Book
The earlier students and adults can form good habits and make them stick, the better! This book shares strategies to form good habits, break bad ones, and keep them up over time. The author focuses on small tweaks and behaviors that add up to awesome results.
AirPods make a great college student gift for just about anyone! The fit is comfortable, the AirPods sync up easily with Apple devices, and the sound quality is excellent. The AirPods work for more than 24 hours on one charge, and they’re easy to toss in a backpack or bag to bring wherever your student is headed.
Mesh Shower Caddy Tote
Shower caddies are one of the many things freshmen need to have to be ready for life in the dorms! This would be a fun present to pair with a set of bath towels, hand towels, and washcloths. The mesh caddy lets water through in the shower and dries quickly. It also has a key hook for a dorm room key, plus plenty of room for toiletries, hairbrushes, and other essentials.
Netflix Gift Card
Now that they’re no longer living at home, it’s possible a college student might really appreciate a Netflix subscription for their dorm or apartment! It’s one less expense to worry about. It also means they can have friends hang out for movie night or to watch the latest Netflix series together and take a study break for a bit.
Mellanni Twin Sheets
Sheets are one of the many new things college students need for their dorms! These Mellanni sheets come in a wide variety of patterns and colors, so you should be able to match just about any decor. They’re inexpensive, but very good quality for the price. In fact, it would be useful to gift two sets for when one needs to be washed.
Beats Solo3 Wireless On-Ear Headphones
These headphones are great for popping on to listen to calming music and drown out background noise while studying! They’d also be great for listening while on a bus or train to school or for longer airplane travel. They have 40 hours of battery life and excellent sound quality.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Instant Camera
These bright little cameras are a whole lot of fun to bring to band, theater, or sports practice. They’re also great for goofy pictures hanging out in the dorms, or for parties and other events. Students can take selfies or group photos, then accessories with frames, stickers, and other fun add-ons.
Sherpa Throw Blanket
A soft, comfy throw is a quick way to make a new room feel like home. This sherpa throw is super soft and comes in a variety of colors. It’s perfect for snuggling up in to study or to bring along to a park or beach on a picnic.
La Roche-Posay Hydrating Facial Cleanser
Make sure college kids continue a healthy skin care routine once they’ve gone away to school with this cleanser. It’s gentle on skin and is hydrating for dry skin. It’s especially great for winter! It’s also oil- and fragrance-free, and is inexpensive enough that if they like it and they run out, they can likely afford to replace it themselves.
XL Ultra-Strong Lightning to USB Charging Cable
There are plenty of times an extra-long charging cable could come in handy. If your teen likes to study in the library or at a coffee shop, it’s possible they’ll need a longer cord to reach an outlet. Even in their own room, the outlets may require longer cords. This cable stretches 10 feet and is extra-strong so it won’t break easily. It comes in several colors so you can get one that won’t easily be confused with a friend’s.
College Gift FAQs
What is a Good Gift for Someone Going to College?
There are lots of good gifts for someone going to college! If you’re looking for something to send during the school year to brighten their day, a care package with snacks, homemade treats, or something fun like face masks they can share with roommates are all good ideas.
If you’re looking for a good gift for someone who just graduated and is heading to college, a t-shirt, mug, or sweatshirt from the university where they’re headed is a good idea.
What to Get the College Kid Who Has Everything?
Consumables like snacks, luxury spa products, or a Starbucks or other food gift cards are always appreciated by college kids! You could also get them a gift card to somewhere like Target or Amazon – chances are, they’ll need something during the school year and it will be a relief not to have to spend their money on it.
You could also get a college kid something sentimental, like a framed photo of friends or family – or a string of twinkle lights with space for several pictures they can hang up.
What Do First Year College Students Need?
It feels like first year college students need everything! They need gear for school itself – a good backpack and laptop, pens, binders, paper, and headphones. They may need a few new clothes, depending on the state of their wardrobe. If they’re going away to school, they’ll also need all the dorm or apartment necessities – towels, soap, shampoo and toiletries, sheets, dishes and silverware, and other items to set up a home away from home.