The 20 best gifts for college students they'll actually need
They'll thank you later
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Shopping for college students can sometimes prove to be incredibly difficult, even with so many options out there. I mean, you were that age too at some point, so it should be easy, right? But alas, they’re interested in trends that haven't reached the rest of the world yet, which makes picking out a gift they'll really love pretty tricky.
Don’t worry, though, because we have a list of both practical and fun gifts that the undergrad on your list will actually use. From the freshman to the student abroad to the one in their first apartment, we’ve got you covered. These are the best gifts for college students of 2021, according to Reviewed.
1. For the student who has to start cooking for themself: Our favorite countertop microwave
Most college dorms—especially freshmen dorms—are notoriously sparse in the kitchen department. If your kid wants to cook up some popcorn for movie nights or a bowl of quick instant ramen during exam season, consider gifting them a microwave. This Toshiba model is one of our favorite countertop microwaves for its quiet performance and ability to do everything from pop popcorn to prepare some frozen dinner. It's also super compact so it can easily fit in your child's dorm room.
2. For the active student: Fitbit Charge 4
A fitness tracker makes a great gift, whether your recipient is trying to avoid the Freshman 15 or just wants to see how many steps they’re actually taking to and from class each day. This year, we recommend the Fitbit Charge 4, which is the upgraded version of the best fitness tracker we’ve ever tested. We especially love that it’s waterproof and has an updated battery life, making it our top choice for your active student.
3. For the student who needs real sheets: Brooklinen Luxe Core Sheet Set
Is your college student living their best life on those Threshold sheets from Target? Help them sleep in style and comfort by upgrading them to a real set of sheets any adult would be proud of. Our testers loved this set from Brooklinen, which topped the charts on our list of the best bed sheets you can buy. They're not cheap, but they are long-lasting and colorful, so you can grab the set that best matches your student's personality.
4. For the student who needs to focus: The best wireless earbuds and noise-canceling headphones
Music is a great distraction for the walk to class and for zoning into a long study section. But to truly plug in, your student is going to need an amazing pair of headphones. Apple AirPods are our favorite wireless headphones for iPhones as they’re both trendy and feature better sound than your typical Apple headphones, with the same classic look.
If they prefer complete sound blockage, we recommend the Sony WH-1000XM4, which are the best noise canceling headphones we’ve ever tested. They’re comfortable and keep the rest of the world out, so students can (hopefully) crank out that late-night paper and be prepared for all their exams.
5. For the student who likes to party: Anker Soundcore 2
No proper party is complete without music. A portable Bluetooth speaker is what every student needs so they can bring the jams from their dorm rooms to their friend’s apartment and even on spring break. The Anker Soundcore 2 has a nice sound and it’s easy-to-use, so you don’t have to worry about getting it set up. It’s also the best portable speaker under $50 we’ve ever tested.
6. For the student who needs a quick caffeine boost: Nespresso VertuoPlus
Coffee is expensive and students don’t always have time to make it to a coffee shop before their 8 a.m. classes. With a pod maker though, they can easily and cheaply (compared to Starbucks, at least) make a cup of coffee in their dorm room in less than a minute. The Nespresso VertuoPlus is easy to use and makes the quickest cup of coffee of all the single pod coffee makers we've tested. Be sure to start them off with a travel mug, too.
7. For the student in need of a stylish bookbag: Coach Zip Top Tote
Carrying numerous books and a tablet to class can be a hassle, especially if your giftee doesn't have the right purse to hold them. Enter the Coach Zip Top tote, designed to look both sleek and stylish and hold all their notebooks and class essentials. Available in two colors (Black and Chalk) this top-rated bag was loved by Coach shoppers for its roomy size and classic, clean design. It's even got a cellphone pocket and a zipped center compartment to keep all of their belongings safe.
8. For the student that wants some mood lighting: Himalayan Salt Lamp
Students that want to spruce up their dorm room décor will love this Himalayan salt lamp that will provide a soft warm glow to their space. It's got a 4.6-star rating from more than 17,500 Amazon customers, who loved the soothing amber glow and different dimmer settings. Whether they need a nightlight or just something to calm them down during midterms, this salt lamp is the gift to give.
9. For the student who needs to stay hydrated: S’well water bottle
Forgetting to drink water throughout the day while running from class to class is easy in college. That’s why students should come prepared with a S’well, which is one of the best water bottles we’ve ever tested. The S’well comes in plenty of gorgeous patterns and will actually keep water cold throughout the day thanks to its insulated stainless steel material. I mean, who wouldn’t feel trendy with a marbled water bottle?
10. For the student who’s always busy: The best portable charger
Between going to class, attending club meetings and getting dinner with friends, the last thing students want to worry about is if their phone battery will last them the entire day and night. So they don’t have to go looking for the nearest outlet in the middle of class, arm them with this portable charger from Mophie, which is our favorite battery pack. It delivers its most effective charge through its USB-C port and is slim enough to fit into a backpack or even a pocket.
11. For the student who loves to snack: A microwave popcorn maker
Popcorn is the perfect healthy snack and it's an easy way to satisfy those late-night munchies. College students can easily stick a bag in the microwave, but if they’re a true snacker (or just prefer to eat as healthy as possible), they’ll want to make their own. This popcorn maker is super fun and allows students to choose their serving size and how much butter and seasoning is going on it—as long as they have plenty of popcorn kernels stocked up.
12. For the student who loves movies: The best way to stream
Netflix in bed is always nice, but it’s more entertaining when you can watch it on a TV screen instead of a laptop or phone. With a Roku Ultra, the best streaming device we’ve ever tested, students can upgrade whatever old TV they brought with them to college so they can watch Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and basically anything else. It’ll transform their dorm room into the best space for a movie night.
13. For the student who’s studying abroad: The best checked luggage
If you're shopping for a student who’s about to be whisked away on a semester abroad, they're going to want the trendiest suitcase on social media. The Large Away Suitcase is the best hard-sided suitcase we’ve ever tested because not only is it completely Instagramable, but it also has plenty of packing space and a charging port for their phone. If the large is too big, Away also makes carry-ons that are great for quick getaways, such as when your student goes country hopping for the weekend.
14. For the student who's always cold: A thick, warm sweater
Surviving those cold lecture halls or walking to class in the winter can easily be remedied by a thick, cozy sweater. There's a number of top-notch options out there for every kind of style. We've listed some of our favorites right below so you can choose between a stylish quarter-zip, a classic pullover or a colorful sweater.
- Get the Madewell Women's Striped Telluride Pullover Sweater from Madewell for $92
- Get the Patagonia Men’s Better Sweater Quarter-Zip Pullover at REI from $82.93
- Get the Free People Women's Cosmos Graphic Pullover from Free People for $168
15. For the student who misses home: Candles that smell like home
Whether they’re at school across the country or down the road, college students always get a bit homesick no matter what they tell you. To remind them of home, get them a candle that actually smells like their hometown. These Homesick Candles have scent profiles of different states so they can be reminded of the peaches and barbecues of North Carolina or enjoy the smells of apple-picking in Massachusetts.
16. For the student who loves makeup: Glamcor Riki Skinny Mirror
A lighted mirror can be game-changing for students trying on new makeup trends, taking selfies or creating their favorite TikToks. Our favorite lighted makeup mirror is the Glamcor Riki Skinny, and for good reason. This item is portable, compact and smart—it connects to your phone's Bluetooth! There are six buttons on the mirror that do everything from show you how much battery it's got left and a camera button that snaps a picture when it's connected to your giftee's smartphone. There are even modifiable lighting settings, so your giftee can decide how much brightness they need. Not to mention, there's even an attachable phone holder that'll capture those picture-perfect moments during their college years.
17 For the student tired of cleaning: Eufy 11S
The eufy Robovac 11S Slim is our favorite affordable robot vacuum on the market and it's also the perfect addition to a student's dorm room. It provides excellent suction and comes with smart navigation capabilities, so they won’t have to worry about it bumping into their desk or chair while it cleans. We also loved how it picked up around 11.6 grams of dirt per run (that's more than your average Roomba!) and that it was whisper-soft, perfect for those in-the-zone study hours. Just be careful if they've got throw rugs or mats around, as this affordable robo-vac can sometimes get caught in them.
18. For the tea-drinking student: The best electric kettle
A cozy night in isn’t complete without a warm cup of tea. If your student loves tea but doesn’t have a stove or microwave to boil water, they’re going to want an electric kettle. Believe us, heating up water in the microwave is for peasants and you just end up burning your hand on the mug. Plus, there's nothing worse than waiting for a dormmate to finish burning their popcorn just to heat water.
Cuisinart makes our favorite electric kettle, and we love that it boils water really fast and lets you choose the temperature to boil the water to. Pretty neat and perfect for a dorm room.
19. For the student who loves gaming: Acer Nitro 5
Whether they're taking a study break or just blowing off some steam, a gaming laptop is a must—especially as dorm rooms are too small for your kid to carry their entire gaming setup. The Acer Nitro 5 is our favorite budget gaming laptop for its bright full HD display, high frame refresh rates and decent battery life. It's on the heavier side (about five pounds) and has a clunky plastic body but at its low price point, it's definitely worth every penny.
20. For the photography student: An easy way to print your best shots
Everyone takes a ton of pictures for social media these days, especially students. But even if pictures don’t make it to Instagram, they still deserve to be printed out. The Polaroid Hi-Print makes it easy to print out photos straight from your phone, which is why it’s our favorite portable photo printer. Students can use it to print out some squad photos to decorate their rooms or quickly print out images for a school project.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.