19 Gifts For College Students That They'll Actually Use

2022-07-30 02:41:04 By : Mr. Frank Zhao

Useful finds your student will actually want to pack.

If you’re overwhelmed by all the stuff involved in sending kids off to college —choosing what to purchase, packing it all, hoping they’ll use everything at least once before the dorm dustbunnies claim the goods as their own — you’re not alone. Finding gifts for college students that they’ll actually end up using can be tricky.

So we’ve compiled a list of the best gifts for college students that help solve day-to-day problems, from electronics organization to keeping the coffee budget under control. While most, if not all, of the things listed below can be found at higher price points, we’ve also prioritized affordability because the last thing your kid needs is a blanket so expensive they’re afraid to stain it with their late-night snacks.

Check out the list below to find 19 gifts for college students that they’ll actually use to have a successful first semester.

We only include products that have been independently selected by Scary Mommy’s editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

This removable PopSocket phone grip has space to store an ID and several cards.

PopSockets are super popular for a reason, and this version does double duty. The PopGrip component, like a big button that sticks out from the back of the phone, will help your kid hold and maneuver the phone without one hand—and the card holder underneath is big enough to house a college ID used to swipe into all campus buildings plus credit or debit cards. The PopTop itself, i.e., the round top part of the PopSocket, can be switched out for fancier designs (there’s even one with a built-in mirror), and the whole thing is easy to slip on and off a phone as necessary.

User review: “This is an amazing wallet. I recommend them to all of my friends! Perfect for a night out without worrying about losing your bag, a quick trip into the store, a trip to the beach. It is amazing. I can fit my passport card, DL, and credit card in it with ease, and no fraying or breaking. I’ve had it for literal years all through college. Now I still use it every. Single. Day. It’s amazing.”

This inexpensive, quick-drying mesh bag has lots of space and is easy to store – just hang it on a hook.

Sharing a bathroom with a hallway full of strangers probably isn’t comfortable for anyone, at least in the beginning. But having a shower caddy that fits everything easily, including a towel, should help your college student dread trekking to the communal bathroom less. The number one attribute of this popular caddy is probably the space (it has a large central pocket and eight more around the sides), but the fact that the mesh material dries quickly is another big plus.

User review: “My college student loves this so much, we bought one for his younger sibling. It does what you need it to do: holds all your shower supplies and then dries out quickly.”

A small, professional-looking academic planner with more than 80 pages for extra notes.

For the new college student who’s unapologetically old-school, this faux leather planner with monthly and weekly pages (plus more than 80 pages for extra notes at the back) is a small but mighty organizational tool. It comes with calendar stickers, an inner pocket, and a pen holder — and its A5 paper size makes it easy to tuck into a backpack or purse.

User review: “I love this planner. This is the second or third one I’ve bought from this company and it is wonderful. They last all year and they are perfectly laid out and have plenty of space for all the day to day life activities I need as a college student during the school year, and as I tackle my fully adult life in the summer. Highly recommend.”

This coffeemaker brews a single cup of coffee straight into an included travel mug.

When they’re headed to an early morning class or practice — or trying to get through the last few pages of a tricky paper — coffee is a must. This single-cup brewing machine doesn’t take up much space, has a reusable filter, and comes with a travel mug instead of a glass or metal coffeepot, so they won’t have to worry about extra waste (or cleaning time).

User review: “The coffee maker takes up a small corner of my desk and is so simple to use and easy to maintain. The cup that comes with is really sturdy and easy to clean.... This would be perfect for a college dorm room, especially because there's no heating element underneath the cup and a metal cup rather than a glass pot means no danger of broken glass.”

This widely loved card game that favors quick reflexes is appropriate for any age – but would be the perfect icebreaker for new dorm-mates.

Dorm-room entertainment doesn’t necessarily have to get more complicated or expensive than this. Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza is a simple but beloved card game (with 36,000+ reviews and a 5-star Amazon rating) that involves taking turns putting cards down in the center of the table and trying to slap the pile first when a match or special card comes up. It’s easy to learn, but hard not to get overinvested in.

User review: “This game is more mind bending and crazy than you think. Don’t let the cuteness fool you. This game is by far the most competitive and fun party game to play with friends!!”

These headphones with battery-operated noise-cancelling technology are an excellent value.

When your student really needs to get down to work, they’ll appreciate these headphones with a battery-powered noise-canceling option. While other brands of noise-canceling headphones may be trendier or more completely soundproof, these are a great value, so if they don’t make it through your student’s entire degree without getting lost or beaten up, they can be replaced (even multiple times) for less than the cost of competitors.

User review: “These headphones are perfect for when you're on the 'quiet' floor of the library, and that one person starts eating a bag of carrots... ugh that's the worst! I also like how they fold up, I'm in college, so I just smoosh them into my backpack. They're much more comfortable than earbuds for studying, they don't hurt your ears. Side note: I definitely prefer these to bluetooth headphones - you don't need to charge them, all you need is a single battery.”

This water-repellent laptop case has front pockets for chargers or accessories and comes in six different colors.

Everyone wants that shiny new college laptop to make it through to graduation — and this functional, affordable case will help keep your computer in tip-top condition. It’s water repellent and has two additional outer pockets that zip shut, so accessories like earpods and chargers won’t get lost.

User review: “This baby has single-handedly kept my laptop alive throughout grad school. That means shoving in backpacks, taking on road trips, getting caught in the rain, unfortunate coffee spills, etc. The inside cushioning is SO SOFT and dense enough that my laptop is perfectly snuggled in there and no harm can come to it. I have straight up spilled an entire cup of coffee on my computer inside this case before, and there wasn't even a trace of dampness inside when I unzipped it to check. It's sturdy, it's waterproof, it has nice zippable pockets on the outside, and it feels awesome to put your hand inside the fluffy soft lining. I have nothing negative to say. Thanks for keeping my computer alive, Lacdo sleeve.”

A straightforward cookbook with 100+ recipes that are easy but still appealing.

If your student won’t be relying on the dining hall for every meal, give him or her a hand in the cooking department. Pamela Ellgen’s 5-Ingredient College Cookbook recognizes the challenges of college cooking and offers 100+ ideas more interesting than frozen pizza or microwaved ramen.

User review: “I love this book. The recipes are super easy and fast, and they taste amazing. As a college student with depression who never learned how to cook, this book has helped me tremendously in feeling like I can accomplish cooking a real meal. And they're healthy and affordable too!”

A warm microfleece blanket that comes in 26 colors and can be machine washed and dried.

Don’t underestimate the comforting power of a cozy blanket. This affordable microfleece throw comes in 26 colors — enough to match any dorm room design scheme — and has 4.5 stars and 126,000 reviews on Amazon. Best of all, it can be thrown in the washer and dryer at the end of the semester.

User review: “Gave to my daughter in college and her friends kept taking it from her because it was so warm and soft. So, I bought her another one. LOL. Highly recommend this product.”

This bluetooth speaker is under 5 inches long -- plus, it's portable, waterproof, and plays for 10 hours on one charge.

This compact speaker has everything your child needs for study music, dance parties, or outdoor adventures with their new friends: it’s small, wireless, waterproof, and holds a 10-hour charge. And the attached clip makes it easy to tote around on a backpack, belt, or shower caddy.

User review: “This little speaker goes with me everywhere. It’s small enough to fit in my purse or backpack. The sound is exceptionally good for how small it is. The blue tooth connectivity is flawless. And it’s water proof! I love using it all the time, everyday and everywhere. It’s my new best little friend. And although I have three other blue tooth speakers (one an Aiwa boombox, the other a Sony and a Boss small box speaker) I use this JBL more than my other ones. It’s just so portable.”

This hamper's two extra (washable) liner bags make trips to the laundry room that much easier.

Some may wait much, much longer than others... but eventually, every college student is going to have to do laundry. Make laundry day a little bit easier with a hamper set that includes two washable liners; once full, they can be pulled right out of the bin and lugged straight to the laundry room.

User review: “I brought this to college and absolutely LOVED it- it fit perfectly in my small college closet and the inside liner bag was so easy to use and carry down to the washers and dryers! I literally love this product so much- one of the best things I brought to college for sure.”

This dorm-ready clip-on nightstand started as a Kickstarter project and now has tons of fans.

This good-looking clip-on shelf is great for dorm rooms where space is at a premium, and can accommodate up to 15 pounds of stuff. It’s easy to install and remove — all you need to do is tighten clamps around the side of the bed — so no need to worry about ruining any dorm furniture, either. Reviewers note it’s especially useful for students who have medical items they may need access to at night, with one mom writing, “I purchased the larger one which is good for books, water bottle, glasses, phone....but my son uses it for all of his diabetes items. This shelf keeps a blood glucose kit, juice box, glucose tablets, phone, and glucose monitor within arms reach which is necessary during the night.” There are several different versions available, including one with a cupholder and one that slides under a mattress if there’s nothing else to clamp onto.

User review: “We got this for my daughter’s dorm room. The kids lifted their beds for more floor space, which all but eliminated the possibility of a bedside table. BedShelfie is the perfect answer. It’s nicely constructed and sturdy; she had it attached to the bunk frame in less than 5 minutes. It is a good value for the price; a nicely made shelf that will be able to go with her through college and beyond.”

This ultra-popular insulated water bottle fits in cupholders, doesn't leak, and keeps drinks hot or cold for hours.

Help them stay hydrated and avoid plastic waste by getting them a high-quality water bottle they’ll want to take everywhere. This leakproof bottle can keep drinks hot for 12 hours or cold for 24, and has a standard lid that can be swapped out for a sport cap or one with a straw, depending on preference. It’s pricey, but reviewers agree that in this case, the quality and durability are worth it.

User review: “This bottle changed my life. I love the hook cap and the ability to swing it around. Perfect college water bottle.”

This large-capacity nylon duffel comes in multiple colors and only weighs a pound.

Perfect for move-in day, a weekend trip, or just stashing in a suitcase and filling up with dirty laundry to bring home for the holidays, this bag fits a lot without weighing very much at all.

User review: “Sturdy, with plenty of space and super light. Works well for my son when he comes home from college during summer and needs to bring back [an] almost full closet. He uses it in addition to his carry-on. Completely stuffed bag was still under 50lb. for check-in. And then it can be machine washed (handwash cycle) and hang dried. Looks like new after 2 years.”

This small, portable charger is compatible with Apple and Samsung products.

This one’s pretty simple: a portable charger from a reputable brand that can fit easily in a purse or backpack, and ensure your newly-minted college student’s phone won’t die, even on busy class days or trips off-campus. Note: Charging cords and AC adapter are sold separately.

User review: “Fits easily in my pocket. Most importantly it works! Fast charging, enough capacity to charge my phone multiple times over multiple days, and withstands plenty of me dropping it and yanking the cord out awkwardly and accidentally.”

A prettier power strip for your personal electronics, this charging station can hold your earbuds, phone, tablet, and smart watch.

Give them a leg up on organization with this charging station that can handle pretty much all their handheld devices. All they need to do is set up the charging station and plug it in; then they can use any of the five included short cables (which include USB, lightning, and type C cables), or their own cables, to charge each device. Keep in mind that it only works for Apple watches, not other smart watches (of course, to be 100% sure it’s compatible with your student’s tech, check the specs on the product page before purchase).

User review: “This little box does all I hoped for. It looks nice with the natural wood and is perfectly pre-fit for my AirPods, my I phone, my I watch, and my tablet. And only one cord coming out of the back, it solves the cords everywhere dilemma as well as the “never enough outlets” problem.”

A small fan that pivots and has three speed options.

There’s a decent chance your student’s dorm room won’t have AC... and even if this gift is initially met with eyerolls, expect a thank-you text as soon as it’s up and running. Small and easy to reposition, with three different speeds and a pivoting head, this fan will make a big difference. Plus, reviewers note it’s not too loud.

User review: “Bought this for my college-bound daughter. She finds it invaluable in her small dorm room! The multi adjustable function of this fan makes it super useful so she can get the air where she needs it. Leaves it on all night, quiet enough to sleep. And it's super cute as well. I highly recommend.”

A top-of-the-line travel mug with great temperature control and a convenient handle.

Yes, $38 is a lot of money for a travel mug, and yes, we said earlier that we were prioritizing affordability. But there’s a reason these vacuum-insulated stainless steel mugs have a cult-like following... not only do they keep drinks hot or cold for a long time, but they’re also really durable. With any luck, your student will still be using this by the time they start their first job. (There are plenty of other sizes, too; and while some prefer a mug with a handle, the same-size tumbler with no handle might be better for backpack life.)

User review: “Tried so many mugs I could open a store. Even expensive ones were not to my standards. Wanted something that would work right or left handed, kept liquid cold, and was easy to clean. Well, this one checked all of those boxes and more!”

$30 of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or snacks.

At the end of the day, they’re not gonna say no to free coffee. And if they do, try a gift card to Lyft, Uber/UberEats, Netflix, Hulu, or another favorite streaming platform instead. Gift cards to Amazon, Instacart, or their local grocery store are also great options.

The best gifts for college students are things that make life easier without taking up too much space. Choose one of the 19 gifts on this list and you can feel confident your present won’t be “forgotten” in the closet at home once the car is all packed up. What a win-win for everyone.