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The 2020 Guide to Buying for a College Boy (Gifts for Girls Too!)

By Publisher
| Last Updated October 14, 2021

What's the perfect present for someone in college? Boy gifts, girl gifts, grad gifts, going-away gifts…the range of occasions and options can make anyone's head spin. After all, everyone has different tastes. You need to think about what kind of gift your recipient would appreciate most. Is there something they would enjoy but would never buy for themselves? Would they like a novelty gift that will be good for a laugh? Or should you go with a functional gift that can make their life easier?

Only you can answer those questions. But this guide is here to help make it easier. Whether you're looking for a whimsical birthday gift, a classic graduation present, or a practical going-away gift, you may find inspiration in this list.

The guide below includes dozens of fun and practical ideas for college student gifts. We've even included specific sections for guys and girls as well as sections for occasions like graduation and going away to college. Read on to discover how you can add a little joy to a college student's life!

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Fun and Practical Gift Ideas for College Students (for Any Occasion)

College GiftsThe process of choosing awesome gifts for college students (girls or boys) starts with deciding what type of present will send the right message.

Are you looking for a quirky gift that will add a little fun to your student's day? Or are you hoping to come up with a useful item that can make college life easier?

Whatever the case may be, you're bound to find something in this list to suit both your taste and your budget. Check out these college student gift ideas:

1. Care packages: Do-it-yourself care packages for students can include things like socks, single-serve soups, beauty or grooming products, gift cards, or even cold, hard cash. Basically, anything you think the student in your life will appreciate is fair game. The amount you spend is up to you. (If you're short on time, you might want to consider a pre-packaged gift basket full of goodies.)

2. Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School by Adam Ruben : If you're looking for gifts for grad students that can help them de-stress and decompress, this book may be the answer. It's a tongue-in-cheek guide to life in graduate school, offering hilarious tips on such things as how to feign productivity and sleep through boring seminars.

3. Meals in a mug cookbook: College kids often have precious little time to cook, so why not give them a recipe collection that's tailored to their needs? Seeing how to make quick and easy meals in a mug might even persuade the student in your life to skip the ramen and go for something a little more nutritionally satisfying.

4. Stress Ball Paul: The tension and stress of college life can sometimes be overwhelming, but one look at Stress Ball Paul (who's already curled into a fetal position) can make a student laugh even while they squeeze out their frustrations.

5. Piled Higher and Deeper comics: Do you know anyone who could use some comic relief from higher education? As a unique comic strip that focuses on life in grad school, Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD) is one of the funniest gifts for PhD students you can get.

6. Microwave pasta cooker: Macaroni and cheese is practically one of the basic food groups for college students. These handy devices let them cook noodles in the microwave in their dorm room in less time than it would take a pot to boil.

7. External battery: Keeping students' electronic devices juiced up while they lounge in a park or sit on a bus is a whole lot easier with an external battery. Some batteries can power multiple devices at once and are so compact that they easily fit in a pocket.

8. Miracle cube timer: This is one of the best college gifts for students who need help managing their time. Whatever number is facing up on the cube is the number of minutes that will count down before the alarm rings. With no buttons to push or dials to fiddle with, it's super easy to time a study session or workout routine.

9. Wireless speaker: What college student doesn't love music? Give them the gift of portability with a wireless speaker so they can listen to their favorite music at the beach, near the pool, or anywhere else they want.

10. First aid kit: Accidents happen, and there's no way to know when things like bandages or antibiotic ointment will be needed. Fully stocked first aid kits are great college gifts that ensure a student is prepared to deal with minor cuts and scrapes.

11. Giant stress ball: Sometimes a regular-sized stress ball just doesn't cut it. Sometimes you need to beat up a soft ball that's about the size of your head. Giant stress balls can be great gifts for college kids with lots of nervous energy.

12. Bed shelf: Anyone who's ever been stuck in a top bunk knows how difficult it can be to find a safe place to put down a book or digital device. A sturdy shelf that attaches to a bed frame is a great solution. Most shelves can securely hold up to 20 pounds.

13. Breakfast sandwich maker: A hot homemade breakfast is less than five minutes away with these breakfast sandwich makers. Your recipient can add their own ingredients and watch the machine do all the hard work. Cleanup is a snap, too.

14. "Whatever, I'm Late Anyway" wall clock: Need a novelty gift for that student who can never seem to get anywhere on time? This wall clock may not be that useful for telling the hour, but it's sure to elicit a chuckle or two from anyone who sees it.

15. Noise-cancelling headphones: Dorm life doesn't always lend itself to quiet study. Many college students appreciate having a set of noise-cancelling headphones that can provide high-quality sound and block out voices and other distractions while they're trying to get some work done.

16. Wake-up light: Part lamp and part alarm clock, these lights simulate a natural sunrise by gradually getting brighter 30 minutes before the alarm goes off at the scheduled wake-up time. It's a kinder, gentler way for students to start their day.

17. Bed tent: Privacy can be at a premium in a dorm room, so why not give your college student a way to stake out their own personal space? Bed tents are quick to put up and typically fit any standard twin-sized bed.

18. Friendship lamps: Here's a cool way to let your college student know you're thinking about him or her. With these paired lamps, touching one causes the other to light up in a customized color, even from a distance. They can be a bit tricky to use on a college Wi-Fi network; these tips can help.

Gifts for College Guys

College GiftsFinding cool gifts for college boys can be a real challenge.

Do you go with something they can use or something that will make them laugh? Maybe you want to indulge their passion for sports, their love of music, or their need for sustenance. (Pizza is one of the basic food groups, right?)

If you need a bit of inspiration, have a look at the following suggestions for both quirky and practical presents for college guys:

1. NFL seat belt pads: If your guy is a football fan and a vehicle owner, let him demonstrate his team spirit by using these seat belt pads that celebrate different NFL teams. Each pad is made of soft polyester and attaches easily with Velcro.

2. Portable pizza pouch: This is one of the greatest gag gifts for college guys who consider pizza a food staple. The re-sealable pouch holds a single slice, and the detachable lanyard lets him carry his snack with him wherever he goes.

3. Swiss army knife: Having an assortment of tools like a knife, a screwdriver, some scissors, and a set of tweezers all in one device can be super handy when you're in college. Your recipient can add it to his key ring and carry it in his pocket.

4. Instant air hockey game: Who needs an arcade? This compact game table plugs into the wall and then provides the continuous airflow you need for an authentic air hockey experience—just on a smaller scale. At slightly over three feet long, this game is small enough to fit on your table or desk, but big enough to be able to get into the game and have a lot of fun.

5. Custom photo puzzle cube: These custom cube puzzles make good personalized gifts for students (and great college boyfriend gifts). You upload six photos to put on the cube and it becomes a puzzle that your guy gets to solve. Be sure to choose photos that will work in a square size.

6. Hat with Bluetooth: Now your college guy can keep his head warm and enjoy his favorite music at the same time. These beanies include Bluetooth headphones that can be paired with a phone and provide up to six hours of play time.

Gifts for College Girls

College GiftsTrying to think of fabulous college girl gifts, but coming up empty? That's not an uncommon problem. In one study, a psychologist discovered that people of both sexes find it more difficult to come up with good gift ideas for women than for men. In fact, it took the male study participants about 30 percent longer to think of appropriate gifts for their female friends than for other guys. But don't worry—we've got you covered.

Here are a few fun and functional suggestions for college gifts for her:

1. Sheet mask set: Bring the benefits of the spa right to her dorm room! Pamper the college girl in your life with a set of facial masks that will keep her skin hydrated, clear, and feeling amazing.

2. Charging wristlet: Your girl doesn't have to sacrifice fashion for function. A charging wristlet will give her a stylish way to power her phone while she's out on the town. She could use the wristlet as her primary purse or drop it into a bigger handbag.

3. Essential oil diffuser: Let her fill her room with an aromatic mist that can soothe and calm her mind, elevate her mood, or even ward off sickness. Essential oil diffusers are easy to use and come in a variety of styles.

4. Heated slippers: If your girl constantly complains about having cold feet, heated slippers might make the perfect gift for her. Some have microwaveable inserts, while others are wired to a power supply. You can choose a classic look or go for styles that resemble narwhals, unicorns, or even s'mores.

5. Pizza necklaces: This is one of the coolest college gifts for girls who relish being connected to their besties. Each necklace is one slice of a larger pizza. Some sets come with six slices; others go up to eight.

6. Leggings: Casual and comfortable is a way of life for most college students. If the girl you're buying for is into leggings, she'd probably appreciate a new pair. You can get basic monochrome ones or look for ones with funky designs.

Going-Away-to-College Gifts

College GiftsWhat would make the perfect present for a student who will soon be off to college?

Figuring it out can feel like an important challenge. After all, leaving home for higher education is a major milestone in a person's life. There are so many new things to learn and new responsibilities to take on.

In fact, going away to college can bring on huge culture shock for many students. They may have to adjust to having roommates, doing their own laundry, and navigating a strange new world. Dealing with such monumental changes all at once can seem pretty overwhelming.

So why not focus on thoughtful gifts that evoke memories of home or make the transition to this next chapter of life a little easier?

You're sure to find something suitable in this list of going-away-to-college gift ideas:

1. String lights with photo clips: Give your college student an easy way to decorate his or her dorm room and keep his or her favorite photos from home on display. String lights come in various lengths, and some models offer the option of being plugged in or running on battery power.

2. Personal safety device: Any student that is going to have evening classes or spend time at poorly lit bus stops could use a personal panic button that sounds an alarm to scare off would-be assailants. Some models also include flashlights.

3. Ramen cooker: Rare is the college student who doesn't rely on ramen to satisfy some hunger pangs. Why not make the process easy and quick with a microwave ramen cooker? Your student could be chowing down on perfectly cooked noodles in four minutes or less.

4. Laundry bag with instructions: Is your off-to-college student a newbie when it comes to laundry? This heavy-duty canvas bag can serve as both a carrier and a reminder of the steps involved in cleaning clothes properly.

5. Monogrammed towels: In a communal environment like a dorm, it's easy for personal items to get mixed up. A set of monogrammed towels can make it easy for your college student to identify which of those sopping heaps on the bathroom floor belong to him or her.

6. Homesick candles: Different scents can stir up powerful memories. If someone you know is moving to an entirely new state for college, you might think about getting them a candle that's been specifically crafted to embody a scent reminiscent of their home state.

7. Luggage: Every student who goes away to college has to have some way of transporting their gear. Depending on their needs and your budget, you may want to look at roller suitcases, duffels, or tote bags.

Graduation Gifts

College GiftsDo you know someone who is finishing school and about to embark on a great new adventure?

Embracing adulthood and heading out into the real world can be both exciting and scary, so you may want to present your grad with a useful item that can help smooth his or her path.

The good news is that choosing a gift for the new college graduate in your life doesn't have to be a difficult or expensive endeavor. Here are a few awesome graduation gift ideas:

1. Passport holder: Is your new grad off to see the world? You may want to give them a convenient and secure way to carry their passport and credit cards. Most holders include RFID-blocking material that keeps personal details safe from digital theft.

2. The New York Times: 36 Hours USA & Canada: Graduates with wanderlust may appreciate this book that features a collection of short itineraries designed to make the most out of quick trips around North America. The book includes photos of attractions as well as maps for each city.

3. Convertible bag: An all-in-one bag that can be used as a backpack, messenger bag, or briefcase is one of the most useful gifts a graduate could receive as they head out into the world of work. There are styles and colors to suit every taste.

4. Wallet: Now that your graduate is starting a new chapter of life (one that hopefully includes some income), he or she might appreciate a new wallet. If you really want to be a star, you can pre-fill it with some cash or gift cards.

5. Watch: A stylish watch can be an elegant fashion accessory that adds to your grad's professional appearance as he or she launches a post-college career. You have a huge array of options to choose from, but keep in mind that a classic look is probably best.

6. Lap desk: Give the grad in your life a desk that lets them work from the comfort of their bed or sofa. Some models include LED lights, cup holders, or separate slots to securely hold both a tablet and cell phone.

7. Photo book: A photo book of memories is one of the best going-away-to-college gifts for friends or family. Companies like Shutterfly, Costco, and Walmart offer simple ways to upload your photos and create a book in minutes that your loved one will appreciate for years to come.

Gifts for Students From Teachers

It's common for elementary and high school teachers to get bulk gifts for students such as notebooks or personalized pencils, but even at the college level, some instructors like to give their students a little something at Christmas or at the end of a term. Consumable treats are the best bet for student gifts: Providing special in-class snacks like chocolates, cookies, or bags of popcorn can bring a smile to college students' faces and let them know their teachers appreciate their hard work.