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Great Gifts for College Students

Updated on May 9, 2016
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy writes about family, home life, parenting, money-saving tips, and many other topics, as well as essays and occasional humor pieces.

Ideas to Furnish Dorms and Apartments


A Gift to Keep Warm Them | Electric Blanket

What to Give a College Student

College students can spend four or more years in a home away from home, where they create a microcosm environment for their daily lives.

If your son, daughter, niece, nephew or friend going away for college, it can be hard to pick gifts they'll need or that are appropriate for their new life.

You want to show them you care, but it may have been a while since you were in the starting-out phase of life, and you need to think in that mode when you're selecting a gift.

Gift cards are always welcome, but they're not always as personal. And, students may not be aware of some very practical needs they'll have once they get to campus.

Is your favorite student going from a warm climate to a cold one? Give them a cosy blanket to cuddle in, so they'll know they're wrapped in your love. Add a box of hot chocolate mix packets, and they'll be set for those chilly winter nights!

Read on for some other gift ideas any college student will likely need or enjoy.

Tips for Organizing a Dorm Room

Gifts for Studying and Relaxation

If your student doesn't have a late-model laptop, and if you really want to splurge, consider gifting him or her with a super-lightweight computer such as MacBook Air. The "Air" is ultra portable and amazingly fast, which is a plus for note taking and study times.

iPads are also great gifts for students, and can hold a ton of e-Books, videos and photos. Most campuses have ample Wi-Fi access, and your student can take class notes, do online research and keep up with emails with these handy devices.

If there's no television provided (this can vary, but chances are there won't be one), you can buy a moderately sized flat-screen TV for a reasonable price these days. They'll love you for it.

And, if there's no desk in the unit where they'll be living, consider giving them a place where they can study and do term papers. Make certain it will fit in the room, though, by checking the available space and where outlets are positioned (for computer access).

Great Video Tour of Dorm Room!

How to Pick a Gift for a College Dorm or Apartment

Find out what type of room your student will have? Here are a few things to ask:

  • Size of the room or apartment?
  • Kitchen facilities?
  • Size of bed?
  • Color of walls?
  • Color and type of flooring?
  • Is there a living or community area?
  • Do the furnishings include lamps?
  • Shower, or tub? Or both?
  • Adequate closet or storage space?
  • Is a desk provided?

If you know where the dorm or apartment is that will house your student, do a bit of research before you select a gift.

You can either contact the campus housing office or the apartment complex, and with the questions above, you'll have a good idea of where they'll be living.

Ask whether there are online photos you can view. Some apartment complexes have virtual tours on their websites, and many campuses also post photos of typical dorm rooms.

The color scheme is important, because chances are your college student won't be allowed to paint the walls or do any major redecorating. And they also may not have a good eye for how to select items that will enhance the area visually.

Now that you know where they'll be living, you can use the information to pick a gift that will help welcome them to their new home.

Gifts for a Student's Bedroom or Dorm Room

These gift ideas will work in a dorm or an apartment. Pay attention to quality - your college student might be using these things for several years.

  • Sheets with a high thread count: Pick a neutral color or one that complements the walls or the bed covering. But most importantly, make sure the sheets fit the bed (is it an extra-thick mattress?) and that they have a good thread count.
  • Electric Blanket: Why electric? If your student is sharing a room, there might be a fight over the thermostat. An electric blanket can helpl solve those issues in the winter. If your student is renting an apartment, an electric blanket will save on utility bills.
  • Comforter: Comforters serve a dual purpose - they're attractive, and also warm. No need for a bedspread if you have a comforter that looks good in the room.
  • Throw rugs: Many dorms (and also some apartments) have tile flooring, which is cold and uninviting, but holds up well. A few small throw rugs can add a comfy feel to the room. Look for colors that complement the bed covering or window coverings if possible.
  • Bedside Lamp(s): Many furnished apartments or dorms don't have this type of accessory. Pick something that will blend with any type of d├ęcor or furniture, and that can be used as a reading lamp for late-night studying.
  • Night Light(s): If you need a small 'stocking-stuffer' type of gift, a good quality night light is a great idea. As with the thermostat, your student and his or her roommate may have differing ideas about when it's okay to turn on the lights. A nightlight can help them reach an agreement that works for both of them.

Will your college student have a private bedroom, or a shared room? This makes a difference; you may want to send matching items if you're giving them something that will be in the same room as another student, especially for items such as comforters and bedspreads.

Gift Cards are Always Appreciated for Bathroom, Bedroom and Other Areas

Don't forget that your student will need towels, washcloths, bathmats and a shower curtain!

Other bathroom gifts can include storage shelves, caddies for make-up or toiletries (especially if they're sharing a bathroom), and a soft throw rug for under the sink. Girls will enjoy picking these out themselves, so gift cards for Target, Bed Bath and Beyond or Amazon are great for them.

As with the bedroom and living areas, check to see if there are colors you'll want to match (or avoid). If the bath area has tiled walls, what color are they? Nobody wants to suffer four long years with towels that clash with the shower walls!

Since good towels can be pricey (but worth it), and it's fun to coordinate that little room where you might spend a lot of time primping or reading, gift cards are great ways to help someone furnish their bathroom. Or any other room, for that matter.

If your student is headed to a smaller school in a remote area, keep in mind that there may not be the choice of stores you find in bigger cities. If they like online shopping, Amazon has gift cards these days, and they'll deliver anywhere in the USA. Amazon does not charge shipping for purchases over a certain amount (usually $25), but bath stores or other stores might add a charge. Take that into account when selecting which type of gift card to purchase.

Video| Cooking in Dorms

Gifts for Cooking or the Kitchen

Many college dorms are designed with multiple bedrooms and a community area where the students can cook, study and visit with each other. But they often lack some basic comforts your college student probably enjoyed at home.

These gift ideas will please any student:

  • Small Microwave: Especially helpful for apartments, which often don't have built-ins.
  • George Foreman Grill: With the small version of this popular grill, your college student can make a panini sandwich or a perfectly cooked steak in just minutes. Clean-up is easy, and you don't have to heat up the entire kitchen by turning on the oven.
  • Toaster Oven: Speaking of the oven, toaster ovens are great for college life. They're more flexible than a regular toaster and as with the portable grill, they don't heat up the entire room.
  • Small Slow Cooker: If you choose this gift, send along some favorite recipes that are converted for single or double servings. Your student will soon learn the joys of coming home to a meal that's already cooked and sending out tantalizing smells when they open the door.
  • Plastic Storage Containers: A bit on the practical side, but very helpful for leftovers or for a portable meal they can take to campus.
  • Good Knives: Just one or two good knives will be a huge blessing, and will last them for years beyond their college experience.
  • Cookware: A starter set of good cookware is a great gift, and as with the appliances and other things listed above, it will last long beyond the years they're on campus.
  • Dishes: You can get attractive dishes at discount prices, and they'll add charm to your student's mealtimes.
  • Utensils: Whether it's knives, forks and spoons or serving pieces and spatulas, an unfurnished dorm or apartment will need a good starter supply of these items.

How to Ship Gifts to College Students

Unless your college student has ample room to haul things to the dorm or apartment (which can be across town or across the country), arrange to have items shipped directly to their new address.

You can easily get shipping directions and instructions from the campus housing office or the apartment manager. This will save the hassle of the student trying to cram everything into a car, and it also avoids the risk of having items removed from their original packing.

Pay attention to the size and shape of the package, as well as the weight. Awkward shaped items can cost more, even if they're not heavy. A George Foreman Grill will weigh less than a microwave, and a folding lamp might be light, but cost more for the size and shape of the final package.

Anything that comes in its own box and packing will likely be heavier but well-protected for shipment.

Don't forget the convenient choice of having Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond or Amazon do the shipping for you! Items are pre-packed (in the right packing) and shipping is often cheaper than if you take it to UPS or the Post Office yourself, because of the discounts big merchants get.

Everything will arrive boxed from the store or online outlet, which means there's less breakage, and the student can also return an item if they don't like the color or it isn't right for their dorm or apartment.

Since you've saved all that time in packing or mailing things, spend another day with them and then send them off with a hug, a few tears, and a lot of love!


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