Graduation gifts tend to get all of the attention, but giving a gift to someone heading off to college is a nice gesture that will mean a lot during what can be a stressful time. To help identify actually good practical gifts to give to someone heading off to college, we enlisted professional organizers Kate Pawlowski and Ann Lightfoot, co-founders of Done & Done Home and authors of the forthcoming book “Love Your Home Again.”
“Trying to find the perfect gift for college students can be particularly daunting,” Pawlowski and Lightfoot say. “They have limited space to pack and transport their belongings and once they get to their dorm, they typically have very little room and storage to work with.” With that in mind, they recommend looking for gifts that students will actually use, and that won’t take up a ton of space and will help make their lives easier, less stressful and more efficient.
With their help, we’ve rounded up 21 great practical gift ideas for college students that will help with studying, dealing with tech, living in a shared space and staying healthy.
“This laptop desk is the perfect solution for working comfortably and efficiently,” Pawlowski and Lightfoot say. “It has an extendable mouse pad and slots for phone and tablet so every conceivable device will be within arm’s reach. No excuse for not texting Mom back!”
Pawlowski and Lightfoot call the Rocketbook “a college game changer!” They love the notebook and Frixion pen (included) that allow students to take notes, schedule meetings, sketch and write assignments that can be sent to a cloud service. Best of all, “with the swipe of a damp cloth, the notebook is ready for the next class! No need for multiple old-school paper notebooks filling up a backpack.”
Technology is grand indeed, but sometimes old-fashioned pen and paper is grander. A great journal, like this multi-coloured Junque Journal that has lined, dotted and blank spaces, gives college students looking for a break from screens a fanciful space to jot down all their ideas and dreams.
“Zipstrips, wires, cables and not enough outlets,” Pawlowski and Lightfoot say, are “every college student’s worst nightmare!” They love this super-fast charging dock that’s compatible with multiple devices to help simplify the situation.
A power strip with multiple outlets and USB ports is another way to give the gift of juice to someone heading off to school. This model has a 5-foot cord, which will turn even the most inconveniently placed outlet into something serviceable.
Small tech gifts are great for students, because they’re super useful and they don’t take up a lot of space. Extra juice for your phone is always in style, but you can make it even more stylish by giving the gift of a blinged-out portable power bank.
An extra-long phone charging cord is one of those “How did I ever live without this?!?” items. This 6-foot charging cord comes in basic black, as well as in more giftable shades of red and pink, elevating it from mundane tech accessory to a cute present that also happens to be super useful.
“Remember in the olden days when you had to highlight important passages and then transcribe them yourself into a notebook with an actual (gasp!) pen? Who has time for that?” Pawlowski and Lightfoot joke. The Scanmarker allows students to “highlight” relevant content straight onto their computer or phone for studying later. “It can also read sentences aloud in real time and translate text in over 40 languages,” they note, adding “it almost makes school sound fun — almost!”
“While it may not be the most glamorous gift you’ve given anyone,” Pawlowski and Lightfoot say, “a shower caddy is a necessity when living in a dorm. Even if the showers only have to be shared by a couple of people, having personal items contained in one place makes things easier on everyone.”
For students who love their beauty, grooming and personal care products, a shower caddy probably won’t be enough to contain all those goodies. This hanging toilet bag manages to be roomy and compact, providing a lot of storage for small items.
Ziploc bags are a super-popular way to store all sorts of things, and the brand has capitalized on that by expanding their product line to include reusable travel bags. The set of 10 bags includes five of the “Essential Stuff” size bags (approximately 5 by 8 by 4 inches) and five of the “Skinny Stuff” size bags (approximately 4 by 8 inches). The Essential Stuff bags feature an expandable bottom that provides more room and flexibility to fit bulky or oddly shaped items.
Small personal care items make great gifts for college students because, well, they’re small. We love this ice roller for lots of reasons, one of which is that, in addition to being great for cooling down on a hot day, it’s also fantastic for reducing stress and soothing a hangover, making it an incredible multi-use tool for collegiate self-care.
Another small personal care item we absolutely adore is the Goshi Exfoliating Shower Towel. Our reviewer calls it “the Japanese wonder towel” and praises it for its superiority over the loofah and shower pouf for all-over body scrubbing.
College students are not known for their excellent sleeping habits — to be fair, dorms are partly to blame! When it’s time to get some serious shut-eye, a great sleep mask can help to block out light from your roommate’s late-night study session. The Mavogel sleep mask is our pick for best sleep mask, and it makes for a thoughtful gift for any college kid.
There’s nothing like sharing a room with strangers to make you realize that your sleepwear is not fit for company! A cute pajama set makes a great practical gift for someone heading into dorm life, and we love that this set comes with a matching eye mask to signal to annoying roommates that you aren’t to be disturbed.
“No one wants to send a young adult out into the world unprepared,” Pawlowski and Lightfoot say. “To put everyone’s mind at ease, a first aid kit full of OTC medications for common ailments, a thermometer, bandages and disposable gloves will do the job! Running out to a pharmacy when you’re under the weather is no fun and the recipient of this gift will thank you when they have everything they need in one place.”
When it comes to being prepared, sometimes it’s the person with the scissors who is able to save the day! Scissors are extremely useful — and extremely easy to overlook when packing for college, making a set of fancy scissors a fantastic practical gift idea for someone heading off to school.
It’s best not to load college students up with too many small appliances that will go unused and take up precious space in teeny tiny dorm rooms. But for the right student, namely one who is obsessed with looking just so, a small, portable clothes steamer is a great gift.
Just as with the clothes steamer, the gift of our favorite cold brew coffee maker won’t be ideal for most people heading off to college — but for the right person, it will be something they truly cherish.
$199 at Therabody
Massage guns are popular tools for post-workout recovery, making them a great gift for the student who is super into running, powerlifting or other high-energy physical activity. While many massage guns can be bulky, loud and quite expensive, the Theragun Mini gets high marks for being quiet, small and comfortable to use, and its under-$200 price tag makes it a reasonable option for gift-giving.
Last but certainly not least is the ultimate practical gift: a gift card or cash! You can never go wrong with money, regardless of what form you give it in, but to make it feel special, presenting it in a personalized card holder is a nice touch. For students who will be taking a car to school, or for those who commute, consider giving a prepaid gas card.