Top Gift Ideas for College Students

Posted by CapWay in College LifeJuly 10, 2019(Last Updated November 28, 2022)5 min read
Key Takeaways
  • Many college students struggle financially; therefore, a simple gift that contributes to their needs can relieve financial stress.
  • As college students are navigating a new stage in their lives, gifts like cash, gift cards, or living essentials can be beneficial.
  • Regardless of the gifts you want to give a college student, one of the most impactful gifts is being the person they can rely on for support during their college years.
Are you ready to make some real money moves?

College life is about transitions. It could be transitioning from a high school senior to a college freshman. On the other hand, it could be a college senior preparing for the transition into true adulthood after graduation. Either way, things can be challenging for a college student.  


Navigating life during college includes making new friends, finding where and with whom you fit in, and hoping to have an overall positive college experience. Unfortunately, while the goal is to have as many positive experiences as possible, there could also be some negative impacts, such as a college student's mental health. In addition to mental health struggles, financial struggles are another known struggle for many college students.


Being a college student is expensive, especially for students that may be first-generation college students or come from lower-income families. All students need a support system, and they may need meaningful gifts from family and friends to let them know that you care about them and their academic careers.


If you know a college student and want to help them adjust to college life while excelling in their college career, here are some of the best gifts to give this holiday season and beyond. 


Gifts that are Needed


The best way to figure out what a student needs most is to ask them. Once they have transitioned into full-mode college life, they will better understand what they need to make it a successful semester.

One tip is to hold off on sending a gift until their semester has started. For example, buying a gift for the Christmas holiday can be super helpful to students because they may have burned through the money and gifts they received at graduation. They will also better understand what gift could help them have a better spring semester than their fall semester, which is part of the continuous process of ensuring a positive college experience. 


Gifts That Make Their Lives Easier and Enjoyable


There are two kinds of gifts for college students. One is a gift that is nice to have. The other kind is not necessarily a 'fun gift,' but it makes life easier and is a setup for a positive experience. We want to focus on the latter.


If you know a student who is moving or has moved to a new city to attend college, gift them their next monthly transit pass. Whether for the purpose of commuting to campus or exploring the city, a transit pass is a great gift that will instantly make their transition to a new city and new school easier. 

Also, consider these three presents. One gift is buying textbooks for the next semester. Two other gifts to consider that may help make a college kid's life more enjoyable are plane tickets or noise-canceling headphones. By purchasing a plane ticket, the student can head home during their next break to spend time with family and friends. Likewise, a gift of noise-canceling headphones or even a portable Bluetooth speaker can make the college experience enjoyable by helping the college student to focus or zone out when needed.


Cash is Flexible


Sometimes simplicity is key, and cash is one of the best gifts to receive as it is so versatile. Cash can be a great gift for a college student since it can be used for many different things–needs and wants. For example, the student could use the money for necessities like textbooks and food. But, on the contrary, the student could use the cash to treat themselves to some wants, such as a spa day or new shoes. 



Furthermore, if the student has no use for the money right now, the money can be saved for a later date, added to their emergency fund, or invested in several ways. 


Gift Cards as an Alternative to Cash


If you don't want to give cash, an alternative is to give a gift card. Gift cards provide college students the freedom to find something for themselves versus receiving a gift they may not want.

Gift cards will save both parties time because it removes the task of returning or exchanging an unwanted gift. Especially regarding a college student's time, it helps avoid spending time in line at the store or shipping center trying to exchange or return a gift they didn't like or need. 


Living Essentials


College students need access to all types of living essentials, such as bedding, bathing items, and cooking essentials. However, sometimes it may be difficult to purchase some living necessities when money is tight. Therefore, gifting essential items can help prevent or lower financial stress levels.


Recommended Read: How to Save Money When Grocery Shopping


Decorations to Make Them Feel at Home


Whether it is a freshman who lives on campus or an upperclassman moving into their own apartment, students spend a significant amount of time in their pesonal living space. Therefore, when students are in 

their dorms or apartments, it is essential to have personal items to customize their space and make it feel like an extension of their life back home.


Purchasing home decor such as posters or bringing pictures from their bedroom back home will help them customize their living space and feel more comfortable when they are away from home.


Lifestyle Gifts 


Editorial credit: Guillem de Balanzo /


The student in your life is not a robot. School is stressful, and they will need outlets to help them destress. Some great gifts could be paying for a year's worth of a monthly subscription, like Netflix or Apple Music. (Keep an eye out for subscriptions that offer student discounts.)


Recommended Read: How To Save Money Using Your College ID


Gifts on a Tight Budget 


One of the best gifts you can give a loved one is your time. If you are on a budget or don't have enough money to purchase a gift, consider planning a special day with your loved one. A memory of your time together will be a gift they can hold onto forever.


First-year college students may also appreciate advice about building good study habits or how to focus and pay attention in class. If you have attended college, you can share some of your best tips and past experiences. However, regardless if you attended college in the past or not, it's essential to offer college students emotional support by being present in their lives and checking on them. 


The Money Wrap-Up


The transition to a post-secondary institution can be rather difficult for some students. Therefore, the most important present a college student can receive is loved ones who are supportive, attentive, and care about their well-being. Ensure that alongside the materialistic gifts bought, you are making sure they are doing well mentally, emotionally, physically, and academically above all else.

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