College students are usually still figuring out what they want: what to major in, what jobs and internships to apply for, where to live after graduation, what to microwave for dinner. We aren’t always the most helpful for Christmas gifts, either — sometimes you’re looking for a more creative suggestion than cash or coffee gift cards.
So here are some ideas for every college student, from the eager freshman setting up his dorm room to the graduating senior collecting timeless items for post-grad life.
Freshman year is when we realize the importance of organization — and more often than not realize how bad we are at it. For girls, organizing is easier when it’s pretty, so try gifting a practical yet attractive storage ottoman like this one, or this gold set of desk accessories.
Freshmen are also tasked with turning bland white dorm walls into a cozy living space, so if you’re shopping for girls try one of Rifle Paper Co.’s art prints of an inspiring quote, bright florals, or her favorite city.
Monogrammed towels and a laptop sleeve also make great gifts — I received both as gifts when I started college and used them both every day. For towels, the Company Store has 27 different colors and a variety of monogram styles. Madewell has a beautiful leather laptop sleeve that comes in either black or tan, and can also be personalized.
For stocking stuffers, try a lanyard to hold a student ID like this one from Mark and Graham, or a classic baseball cap for early mornings that don’t include much time for styling hair (this one from Smathers & Branson is hand-embroidered with the American flag).
For me anyway, sophomore year was the year I switched from caring about how “cute” things were to how they could make my life easier. Some practical (but still aesthetically pleasing) gifts for sophomore girls include a planner, like one of these from Made-in-America brand Appointed, or a makeup bag (I have one like this from Kestrel and I use it all the time).
For the guys, you can’t go wrong with a streaming subscription (to somewhere like HBO Max), a hammock (like this one from ENO), or a portable charger (like this one from LinearFlux that my brother swears by).
Slippers, notecards, and these handy scrunchies that can hold your keys/chapstick/cash/etc. make great stocking stuffers for sophomore girls. These Etsy notecards can be personalized, and these velvet slippers will keep her feet warm around a cold dorm.
Spikeball is a fun gift for the athletic college guys in your life (my friends love it). Sophomore year is also a great time to really start traveling: visiting friends over break, taking weekend camping trips, traveling to tournaments, or going to the beach for spring break. A duffel bag like this one is a staple for weekend adventures.
For me, junior year was when school stopped being as intimidating and I gave myself way more time for fun. I’d just finished my first summer internship, so I was really starting to feel like an adult. In that vein, an espresso machine is a great gift for any sleep-deprived college student. I can personally vouch for this one by Cuisinart. For tea aficionados (like my roommate, who goes through several cups of Earl Grey per day), try an organizer like this one or an electric kettle (she uses this one).
For the college junior who’s starting to feel put together and is tired of sleeping in mismatched sweatpants and ratty T-shirts, nice pajamas are always welcome (especially if the dorm bathroom is down the hall). For women, try these soft pajamas (top and bottoms here) that come in a variety of plaids, and try these soft flannel pajama pants for guys.
Other great gifts for girls are a book stand (like this one from Barnes and Noble) for well-postured studying, or a cheese board like this one (my friends and I love to grab cheese and fruit from the grocery store for a charcuterie picnic).
For guys, try shirts like these from J. Crew, that can look professional for internships and job-searching without the hassle of using an iron. These earbuds from MPOW are a high-quality alternative to Apple AirPods.
Another gift that’s good for guys or girls is a neck massager like this one (the girls on my hall junior year had one of these that was always being used). A diffuser (like this one) is also a great gift for girls, especially if scented candles aren’t allowed in the dorm.
Senior year is a combination of starting to collect quality items that will serve well after graduation, and also just wanting comfy things to distract from our senioritis.
If you don’t mind splurging a bit, a jacket from Barbour is a great quality item that will never wear out. I have this one, and I wear it every day between September and March, with everything from jeans to winter dresses. Find the men’s version here.
Another item I’ve found myself wanting is delicate, high-quality jewelry that can be worn every day. Check out Mejuri for handcrafted staples like this one.
Other great gifts for graduating seniors are a picnic blanket (I have one like this, which has a waterproof layer underneath), or a panini maker (like this one) for seniors who are preparing to rent their first apartments and are getting sick of PB&J.
Another handy item for girls is a silk or satin pillowcase (those fabrics don’t absorb moisture from your face like cotton does), especially in cold or dry parts of the country. This one won’t break the bank. Try gifting your senior guy a pair of practical leather gloves like these cashmere-lined ones from Sportsman’s Guide.
No matter what you get us for Christmas, we’ll be grateful for the thought after a long COVID semester.