56 gifts for college students that they'll actually want to use, according to a recent grad

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  • The best gifts for college students can make a big impact on their quality of life, not least of all because they're probably juggling their classes and social lives on a shoe-string budget.
  • Below, I've rounded up 50+ gifts that, as a recent college grad, I'd wager most college students would love to receive.
  • Still looking for gifts for a recent or upcoming grad? We've also put together lists with ideas for college graduation gifts for him, for her, and graduation gifts under $100.
  • Sign up for Insider Reviews' weekly newsletter for more buying advice and great deals

If you're looking to make a big difference with a gift, shopping for a college student is a good place to begin. They have classes, internships, second jobs, social lives, and relationships to manage, and they probably have far less money to support themselves than they wish they did.

Useful and thoughtful gifts can make a disproportionate difference in their quality of life, especially when it's something they'll both use frequently and couldn't afford on their own.

As a relatively recent college graduate, I can tell you from experience that the list below is a really good place to start your shopping.

Check out all 56 gifts for college students:

This list includes a Sponsored Product that has been suggested by Gravity Blankets. It also meets our editorial criteria in terms of quality and value.*

An Amazon Echo Dot for hands-free calls, alarms, music, updates on the weather, recipes, and more

Echo Dot (3rd Generation), available at Best Buy, $29.99

The Amazon Echo Dot is the most popular Amazon device for a reason — it's compact and has all the capabilities of Alexa (weather updates, recipes, music, news), which is the main reason most people buy an Echo device. A newer version of the Echo Dot was recently released, but the 3rd generation is a bit more affordable for comparable quality.

The world's most comfortable shoes

Wool Runners, Men, available at Allbirds, $95

Wool Runners, Women, available at Allbirds, $95

Startup Allbirds makes wildly popular shoes out of soft, sustainable materials. Their Runners made out of super-soft merino wool have been nicknamed "the world's most comfortable shoes." You can find a full review here. 

A weighted blanket

Gravity Blanket, $189, available at Gravity Blankets

Similar to the comfort created by swaddling babies, weighted blankets utilize deep-touch therapy to help users get deeper, more restful sleep, while also helping to reduce anxiety and stress — something they'll thank you for during finals week. In addition to its classic weighted blanket, we'd recommend Gravity's Cooling Weighted Blanket for hot sleepers, stuffy dorms, or those who attend warm-weather schools. 

*Sponsored by Gravity Blankets

Colorful reusable straws that can go through the dishwasher

Reusable Silicone Drinking Straws, available at Target, $10.97

Trying to adopt more eco-friendly habits is one of the great characteristics of younger generations. These reusable straws are colorful, bendable, and convenient. They're also dishwasher-safe. 

A portable projector that's the size of a soda can

Anker Nebula Capsule Smart Mini Projector, available at Walmart, $299.99

Anker's Nebula Capsule is a powerful and versatile mini projector, and its portability makes it a great option for college students who may be moving in and out of dorms and off-campus housing. It's 1 pound and the size of a soda can, but it has surprisingly crisp image quality and 360-degree sound. It's also quiet and has a continuous playtime of four hours. Find a full review here.

A personalized passport cover and luggage tag set

Passport Cover and Luggage Tag Set, available at Leatherology, $65 

Beautiful passport sets are a great gift for plenty of reasons. They're useful, likely something they won't have already bought themselves, and are often associated with the joy and excitement of travel. Sometimes, you want to own one thing for a long time — and luggage tags and the memories that accompany them are one of those items.

A smartphone-sized travel photo printer

Fujifilm Instax Mini Link Bluetooth Photo Printer, available at Staples, $99.99

Mini portable Bluetooth printers make turning iPhone photos into tangible memories quick and easy — which is especially convenient for decorating a dorm. All they'll have to do is download the app (which also has internal photoshop elements and features like themed stickers and collages) and connect via Bluetooth. 

Trendy and convenient Apple AirPods

Apple AirPods with Wireless Charging Case, available at Best Buy, $159.99

If you're after the title of their favorite relative of the year, here's a good place to start. AirPods are both easy to use and functional as well as trendy. The newer generation of AirPods can be purchased on Amazon for $200, but we also liked the earlier generation (which is slightly cheaper).

The most popular Fitbit

Fitbit Charge 3 Fitness Activity Tracker, available at Macy's, from $119.95

Fitbits track the wearer's health and fitness to offer insights into their sleep and physical activity. They can set personal goals and get real-time updates during workouts. This one is water-resistant up to 50 meters, and its battery life can last up to seven days. 

A great game for a night in with friends

Cards Against Humanity, available at Walmart, $25

Grab a fun card game they'll inevitably end up pulling out to play with friends on the weekend nights and snow days. Check out What Do You Meme, too.

A professional, compact backpack that can go from school to internship

ICON Backpack, available at Incase, $199.95

A backpack is the most versatile bag for a college student that's transitioning from internship or job to classes — but they probably don't want to bring their banged-up JanSport into the office. This model has adjustable padded shoulder straps and a sternum strap, a pocket for everything (including a side-access iPad pocket), and the exterior is professional, sleek, and slim enough to be work- and public transportation-friendly. 

A splashproof portable Bluetooth speaker for messy college events that call for music

JBL FLIP5 Bluetooth Speaker, available at B&H Photo, $89.95

Beach days, tailgates, outdoor parties of any kind (once it's safe enough for them to return)— grab this under-$100 Bluetooth speaker for the many occasions when loud music and a spill-friendly speaker are going to come in handy. 

Popular wireless over-ear headphones for quality noise-canceling during studying, traveling, and working out

Beats Solo Pro Wireless Noise Cancelling On-Ear Headphones, available at Amazon, $179.99

If there's one thing every college student needs, it's good wireless headphones. They'll use them at the gym, at the library, and commuting to class and internships. This brand-new Beats pair has rich sound, active noise canceling, and up to 22 hours of listening time. And if they let the battery run out, a 10-minute charge converts to three hours of playback. You can also find steep discounts on other Beats headphones now that a new model has launched. 

If they like to study in public spaces, you can't go wrong with Bose's pricey but unbeatable QuietComfort II headphones either. If they're a runner and need something lightweight and in-ear, you should opt for Jaybird Vista.

A savvy suitcase for traveling on holiday breaks

Carry-On, available at Away, $225

Away's hyper-popular suitcases deserve their hype. Their hard shell is lightweight but durable, their 360-degree spinner wheels make for seamless traveling, and the external (and ejectable and TSA-compliant) battery pack included can charge a smartphone five times over so they never have to sit behind a trash can at the airport for access to an outlet again. It's also guaranteed for life by Away. Find our full review here.

We also recommend Calpak. 

A book about capitalizing on the huge choices to make in your 20s

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now, available at Barnes & Noble, $15.50

The decisions you make in your 20s can greatly impact the rest of your life. The best defense is a good offense and your grad should know now, before any life-altering events crop up, how to get the most out of their "defining decade."

College merchandise for game days, tailgates, and spirit events

Shop American Eagle's Tailgate Apparel

Particularly if they're going to a school with a big sports team, you can be sure they'll both need and appreciate all the fan gear. 

One of the all-time best facial cleansers for a clean and effective routine

Luna 2 Facial Cleansing Device, Men, available at Skinstore, $169

Luna 2 Facial Cleansing Device, Women, available at FOREO, $199

FOREO's cult-favorite Luna 2 cleansing device gently and effectively cleans with thin, antimicrobial silicone touch points, and it removes 98.5% of dirt and makeup residue without irritating the skin. Plus, it's 100% waterproof and the battery life lasts for a few months per charge. Find a full review from a female reporter and a male reporter here.

A candle to remind them of their favorite place or hometown while they're away at school

Homesick Scented Candle, available at Amazon and Uncommon Goods, from $28.93

If they're away from family and friends while at school, a reminder of home is a wonderful thing to have around. 

A wireless charging case for their Bluetooth devices

mophie Power Capsule External Battery Charger, available at Walmart, $18.95

This travel-friendly case charges wireless devices on the go — perfect for students with packed schedules and a lot of tech that they love using.

An iPad for Netflix binging in their room, as well as for quick trips home that don't warrant a laptop

Apple iPad 128 GB, Latest Model, with Wi-Fi, $329.00

Budget-friendly: Fire HD 10 Tablet, available at Amazon, $149.99

They won't want to lug their laptop everywhere, and they may either already have a TV in their college house or not have the room for one. A tablet is small enough to be travel-friendly but large enough for convenient Netflix binging or note-taking. If you want more iPad options, find them here.

A monthly subscription of personalized new makeup, hair care, and skin care samples delivered to their door

Birchbox Three Month Subscription Gift Card, Men, available at Birchbox, $30

Birchbox Three Month Subscription, Women, available at Birchbox, $45

College students like to look and feel good, but tight budgets aren't conducive to trying a lot of new, often expensive grooming products. Birchbox sends samples of new and beloved products once a month, so they can test out new finds and discover products they may want to buy a full size of in the future. It's also just fun to get a monthly gift that's all about them. 

The best electric toothbrush overall

Oral-B White Pro 1000, available at Best Buy, $29.99

We rated this the best electronic toothbrush you can buy overall. If you're looking for something a little trendier, you should pick up a Quip toothbrush.

A Brooklinen gift card for really nice sheets

Gift Card, available at Brooklinen, from $50

Few things sound so nice as comfortable, beautiful sheets that you don't need to buy for yourself. Brooklinen is one of our favorite startups to shop at, and we ranked their sateen cotton sheets (from $139) the best luxury sheets you can buy.

A funny but useful book full of expert and student advice on everything from finances to relationships and dorm life

The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College, available at Barnes & Noble, $15.99

For everything from sharing a bathroom with 40 strangers to social network do's and don'ts, this funny but useful New York Times bestseller runs the gamut. 

Childlike cereal for adults

Four Flavors, available at Magic Spoon, $39

Magic Spoon is a new "childlike cereal for adults" that's high in protein and low in sugar — and all four flavors are delicious. Here's one way to show college kids it's completely possible to transition to adulthood without losing all the joy of being a kid. You can read more in a personal review here. 

Framed memories

Gift Card or Frame a Memory, available at Framebridge, from $25

Help them bring some of their best memories to their college home — whether it's from friends now studying across the country, family, or best-loved locales. Framebridge is relatively affordable, but decor is one of the luxuries plenty of college students shirk to save elsewhere — even though it can make their home a much more inviting, happy place.

An inexpensive way for them to get the iced coffee they love at home

Takeya 2-Quart Cold Brew Iced Coffee Maker, available at Bed Bath & Beyond, $34.99

The Takeya Cold Brew Maker is an inexpensive, easy way to make cold brew from home — something that can save them hundreds of dollars per year. Find a full review here.

A monogrammed leather shave bag so they can keep all their things in one place that isn't a plastic shower caddy

Leatherology Small Shave Bag, available at Leatherology, from $90 (available for monogram for $10)

The dreaded truth of college is that you'll most likely need to schlep your shower belongings to a communal area if you live in the dorms. No one wants to rely on a plastic shower caddy to do that. Grab them a leather shave bag that they'll use for years to come — they probably wouldn't justify the expense on their own, and they'll be grateful to have it. 

If you're looking for a chic aesthetic, Dagne Dover also makes a great neoprene toiletry bag named the Hunter (from $35) that's built to accommodate makeup. If they have a lot of toiletries, you'll probably want to get the large size for $55.

A really nice blazer they can wear to an internship or interview

The Oversized Blazer, available at Everlane, from $170

Bonobos Jetsetter Slim Fit Stretch Wool Blazer, available at Bonobos and Nordstrom, from $350

Most college students probably don't have a wealth of professional clothing to pull from for high-pressure situations like interviews and a big internship. Help them make a good impression, and see your money go to good use, with a blazer they can use repeatedly and for years to come. We've also created a list of our personal favorite workwear stores — plus the best styles to buy from each one. 

A battery pack that charges an iPhone twice as fast as the original iPhone charger

Eleject PowerPie, available at Amazon, $49

I said before that college students primarily need a good pair of wireless headphones. They also need a portable external charger. This gift is extremely convenient — whether for traveling, stalled subway rides, or nights out trying to connect with friends. It will also give you peace of mind to know the odds of them getting stuck somewhere unfamiliar with a dead phone are lessened. 

A nice watch they can wear to internships from a popular startup

Gunmetal Sandstone, Men, available at MVMT, $110.70

Lexington, Women, available at MVMT, $95

MVMT makes beautiful watches for men and women at great prices, and they feel more contemporary to wear than most on the market. It's a versatile, sentimental gift you can feel good about giving because you know they'll feel good — and perhaps more put-together — wearing it. 

A cult-favorite tumbler to keep their drinks just the right temperature for hours spent in the library

Hydro Flask 40 oz.Water Bottle, available at Hyrdo Flask, $49.95

This HydroFlask will keep cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours and hot drinks hot for up to 12 hours with the lid on. 

A laundry hamper with adjustable straps so they don't need to drag laundry blocks or flights of stairs

Cuddly Nest Oxford Laundry Bag 2 in 1, available at Amazon, $16.99

Not all dorms have elevators, and if they have to travel downstairs or across the street to do their laundry, they're not going to want to drag a hamper. 

An Amazon Prime membership

Gift an Amazon Prime membership, $119

An Amazon Prime membership is one of those things that immediately makes life easier and ultimately better. If you decide to gift one, the recipient will enjoy free two-day shipping; access to the Prime Now app, which provides free two-hour delivery on tens of thousands of items; Prime Video, Amazon's streaming video service; Prime Music; the Kindle Lending Library; Prime Reading; Prime Audible Channels; unlimited photo storage, and more.

If you want to see how Amazon Prime ($119 for the year) actually gives you a lot more than free shipping, you can read about the benefits of the service here.

A cookbook made for mornings where food is necessary but complicated recipes are absolutely not

The Hungover Cookbook, available at Target, $7.99

This cookbook is filled with everything they need to know to assess and improve a hangover, including dozens of comforting recipes. 

The most comfortable lounge pants we've ever tried for lazy weekend mornings

The Lounge Pant, Men, available at MeUndies, $68

The Lounge Pant, Women, available at MeUndies $68

MeUndies is a popular LA startup that makes some of the most comfortable underwear we've ever tried. Their lounge pants, however, are the real hidden gem — perfect for lounging around on weekend mornings or heading to the dining hall, and they're sleek enough to avoid looking too unkempt for the comfort. 

A key-, wallet-, and iPhone-finder

Tile Mate with Replaceable Battery, 4-Pack, available at B&H Photo, $59.95

You can't go wrong with a tracker for their keys, wallet, or phone. The Tile Mate is compact, thoughtful, and useful for everyone — especially an oft-frazzled college student. 

Tools they will undoubtedly need and be grateful to own, but likely won't buy themselves

Stalwart 130-Piece Tool Set, available at The Home Depot, $25.97

They're going to need tools at some point, and they're probably going to be underwhelmed by the prospect of spending money on such an unexciting purchase. You could also send them off with a First Aid Kit.

The best pillow you can buy

Premium Adjustable Memory Foam Pillow, available at Coop Home Goods and Amazon, from $59.99

Make sure they're optimizing their sleep with the best pillow you can buy. Thanks to the shredded memory foam, they'll get the support and comfortable "sinking in" sensation of a traditional memory foam pillow, but none of the excessive heat or firmness that can be a problem with solid foam. Read more in our Buying Guide here.

A lightweight, business casual laptop bag

Ryan Laptop Bag, available at Dagne Dover, from $135

Weston Laptop Bag, available at Dagne Dover, from $135

They can take this laptop bag everywhere from class to the library to their office internship without batting an eyelash. Which, considering how much college students juggle, is a big convenience. Find a full review of the laptop bags here. 

An undated planner that uses efficiency hacks to break down a 10-year plan into daily stepping stones

BestSelf Co. Undated Daily Habit Planner, available at Amazon, $31.99

The Best Self Co. Journal breaks down daunting long-term plans into bite-size steps that make forming good habits easy, efficient, and stress-free. College invites you to plan for the rest of your life — and decide all of a sudden what you want to be — and the question can feel ambiguous and daunting. This should help. Plus, it has no dates so you can give it for any occasion — not just the New Year.

Gift a customized Grafomap poster, from $49

Commemorate their college town, hometown, or favorite place in the world with this customizable graphic map so they can keep it with them wherever life takes them.

A ten-minute breakfast that will save them money and time

Dash Rapid Egg Cooker, available at Target, $17.39

The Dash Rapid Egg Cooker looks gimmicky but is actually deceptively useful. It's compact, and it makes virtually every kind of egg (hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, or omelets) perfectly, and in under 10 minutes. 

The most comfortable socks they'll own

Women's Ankle Sock 4-Pack Gift Box, available at Bombas, $56

Men's Snowflake Calf Sock Gift Box, available at Bombas, $65

Bombas makes the best socks on the market. They benefit from upgrades like a supportive honeycomb stitch, blister tabs built into ankle-height styles, and a Y-stitched heel and "invisitoe" that minimizes annoying bumps. Even if it seems like socks aren't an exciting gift, comfort is pretty much always a hit in college. 

It was also founded to address that socks are the number one most requested item in homeless shelters. Every time customers buy a pair, they give a thoughtfully designed pair to someone in need. The company has donated more than 41 million pairs of socks to homeless shelters since 2013.

A hyper-useful extra-long, reinforced phone charger

Native Union 10-Foot Extra-Long Charging Cable with Leather Strap, available at Amazon $34.99

If they're going to be tethered to devices, you may as well make it a long leash. Dorms often have sparse or inconvenient outlets, and everything is pushed up against and covering any would-be useful outlets anyway. This long charging cable means no matter where one is, they'll have power — and they won't have to sit at the foot of their bed to reach it. 

A gift card to a popular wine subscription club

Gift Card, available at Winc, from $60

Winc is a personalized wine club — and we think the best one you can belong to overall. Members take a wine palate profile quiz and then choose from the personalized wine suggestions. Each bottle has extensive tasting notes and serving recommendations online, and makes it easy to discover similar bottles.

However, it's worth noting that this works best for students living off-campus. It may not be convenient for students who live in dorms and have to walk far to a campus post office. 

An instant coffee maker for busy mornings

Keurig K50/K-Classic Coffee Maker, available at Best Buy, $79.99

Keurig K55/K-Classic Coffee Maker, available at Amazon, $79

If they drink coffee, they're going to appreciate having easy, fast access to it for the many rushed mornings ahead. A Keurig is intuitive and ubiquitous. If you'd rather steer them away from single-use plastic K-Cups, grab these reusable and compatible cups as an accompanying gift.

A comfy Patagonia pullover they'll rely on a lot

Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T Pullover, Men, available at Patagonia, $119

Women's Better Sweater 1/4-Zip Fleece, available at Patagonia, $82.99

It's a good bet that many of their peers will also have this Snap-T pullover from Patagonia. It and the Better Sweater are long-held favorites, and both are comfortable classics that they'll no doubt come to rely upon. 

A Patagonia sweater is also a particularly good gift for students who are invested in sustainability. The company has been turning plastic bottles into polyester for its clothing since 1993, and continues to do so today.

A gym bag that can transition to a professional setting

Herschel Supply Co. Novel Duffel Bag, available at Nordstrom, $90

Just like bringing a beat-up JanSport into an office, lugging a multi-colored nylon gym bag in isn't ideal for anyone looking to prove their gravitas despite being the youngest person there. Herschel Supply Co. makes reliable, versatile bags, and this one has a separate compartment for gym or dress shoes. 

A NutriBullet blender for fast, easy smoothies

NutriBullet Pro 13-Piece Set, available at Bed Bath & Beyond, $67.99

Whether they're moving in with roommates or finally moving in alone, they need a NutriBullet. It's convenient, doesn't require a ton of space, and makes fruit smoothies in under 30 seconds. This is particularly great for the health-conscious, or anyone who can't finish fruit or veggies fast enough; if it gets a little too ripe to eat, throw it in a smoothie to avoid waste.

A microwave-safe ramen cooker for the most stressful or time-crunched nights

Rapid Ramen Cooker, available at Walmart, $9.07

There will be plenty of late nights filled with cheap and tasty ramen. If they're going to eat it anyway, at least let them make it quickly and perfectly every time.

A media streamer that transforms a normal TV into a smart one — so it plays shows and movies from Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and other streaming services

Roku Ultra 4K/HDR/HD Streaming Player, available at Kohl's, $79.99

Most college students aren't forking over a monthly payment to cable. This streaming player is the best one you can buy overall, and it transforms an otherwise 'dumb' TV into a smart one that can stream shows and movies from their Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Prime Video, and others all in one spot.  

A super soft throw blanket they'll find themselves cocooned in many times

BEDSURE Sherpa Fleece Blanket, available at Amazon, from $15.99

Grab their favorite candy, this sherpa-lined fleece blanket with over 4,400 five-star reviews on Amazon, and a Hulu gift card to make sure they spend at least a few nights in, relaxing and watching movies with friends. 

Gift cards — perhaps the best gift you can give a cash-strapped college student

What a stressed, broke college student needs most is money and probably a hug. If you're looking for a way to gift maximum convenience, gift cards are a surprisingly thoughtful way to do that — either for their favorite restaurant, transportation, school books, or music to keep them occupied during long library hours. Check out more gift card gifts here. 

Everything: Visa Gift Card / Amazon Gift Card / Gift Amazon Prime Membership

Coffee: Starbucks Gift Card

School books: Amazon Gift Card 

Entertainment: Netflix Gift Card / Hulu Gift Card / Sling Gift Card / StubHub gift card

Transportation: Uber Gift Card

Decoration: Framebridge Gift Card

Furniture: Amazon Gift Card / Wayfair Gift Card

Music: Spotify Gift Card

Sheets: Brooklinen Gift Card

Groceries and food: Whole Foods Gift Card / Chipotle Gift Card

Clothes: Nordstrom Gift Card / Everlane Gift Card

Tech: Best Buy Gift Card

Travel: Delta Gift Card

A gift card to ClassPass so they can go to tons of boutique fitness classes without the expense

Gift Card, available at ClassPass, choose your amount

Boutique fitness classes are expensive. ClassPass makes them less so. Once in-person fitness is safe again, college students can drop into diverse exercise classes at tons of different specialized studios for $15 or less per class (about half their traditional cost). If they like to be active, are looking for a newfound favorite class, or like yoga as much as boxing classes, this is a great gift they'll actually use.

Concert tickets to enjoy with friends

Live concert and game tickets, available at StubHub, from $15 per person

Life doesn't stop just because you're studying. When it's safe to do so, encourage your loved one to take time to enjoy activities outside of campus with friends by giving them a solely-for-fun allowance (ie a gift card) to spend on concerts, games, and plays. 

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