The top gifts for college students


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The best gifts for college students offer convenience, practicality and a little bit of fun. Whether your college student needs gadgets, dorm room necessities, or new apparel, you can send them off with something extra special this year. However, shopping for college students can be difficult—especially with so many options out there.

While parents of college students may have a difficult time adjusting to this new independence, giving your college-bound student a gift will make them feel closer to home. To help narrow down your choices, here are gift ideas for college students to prepare for the new school year, whether they’re a recent high-school graduate or entering their last year on campus.

Related: When do you have to start paying back student loans?

Apparel and Accessory Gifts for College Students

College students need to be prepared for any situation on campus, whether that’s a winter storm, an interview or a visit to the school’s gym facilities. Clothing and accessories are college gifts that will always be appreciated.

1. Backpack

A good-quality and versatile backpack is a college staple. Your college student may want a waterproof bag with plenty of compartments with room for books, a laptop and other personal items. The backpack should also be comfortable to carry around throughout the day and durable enough to last for several semesters.

2. Messenger bag or tote bag

An officer-ready tote or messenger bag can be great for internships or interviews. Plus, it can be used beyond college.

3. Activewear

Whether they’re playing on a college team, a regular at the gym, or just like the style and comfort, activewear can be a useful gift for most college students. There are many different styles and brands at various price points.

4. Gym bag

For college students who may use the school’s gym facilities or participate in a sport, a gym bag is essential. Make sure to get an appropriate size bag depending on how much they need to carry.

5. Outdoor winter gear

This may not be as important if they’re attending school in a warm location, but students need warm winter clothing when they’re walking back and forth between classes. Your college student may need warm winter boots for the snow, a heavy coat, thick socks, a hat and gloves. Be mindful of where your student is headed off to school. Depending on the region, they may have different needs.

6. Waterproof gear

The last thing a college student wants is a wet bag while they’re carrying their textbooks and laptop. A waterproof backpack and an umbrella should help protect expensive gear, and a raincoat and boots should keep your college student dry between classes.

7. College hoodies/sweatshirts

One popular gift for college students is a hoodie or sweatshirt with the school’s team logo. This can typically be found through the college’s website or they may sell them on campus as well.

8. Loungewear

The dorm will be home for the next couple of semesters so it’s important to be comfortable. Loungewear can be found online or in stores and come in a variety of styles and prices.

9. Professional attire

A professional outfit is a must for the college student going on interviews or for any formal gathering. If you don’t feel comfortable picking out an office-ready outfit, there are subscription services available with styles based on the information filled out by the recipient, or a gift card to a specific store may work as well.

Dorm room gifts for college students

There are too many dorm room college essentials to list. The little things go a long way and can help make college life more comfortable and enjoyable.

10. Bedding/blankets

Most colleges only supply a mattress, so students must bring their own sheets, blankets and pillows. Colleges typically have dorm beds with a twin XL mattress, but it should be confirmed with the school before buying bedding. Make sure to buy an extra set of sheets so that they always have a clean set.

11. Basic kitchenware

Whether your college student has a dorm room kitchen or will mostly be eating in the dining hall, basic kitchenware is a necessity for a quick meal or a late-night snack. Basic kitchenware includes utensils, knives, plates and bowls, cups, and food storage containers.

12. Laundry basket

Dorms typically don’t provide a washer and dryer in the dorm room so students will need to bring their laundry to the communal laundry room.

13. Alarm clock

Getting up on time for classes can sometimes be a struggle so your college student may need a little help. A digital alarm clock should do the trick even for the heaviest of sleepers.

14. Bathrobe

Aside from the comfort and luxury that bathrobes may bring, they’re a necessity for college. A bathrobe will give a little bit of extra security when your college student goes to take a shower.

15. Storage

Dorm rooms are usually small, so your student will want to maximize every inch they have. There are tons of great storage solutions from under-bed bags and bins, over-the-door storage racks, and hanging strips or hooks.

16. Desk supplies

Desk supplies are a must-have and make great gifts for college students. Consider desktop organizers, pens and pencils, a lamp, and also a comfortable desk chair.

17. Lap desk

A lap desk can make a convenient gift for college students to make studying around campus more comfortable. They’re portable and perfect for taking notes or setting a laptop.

18. Streaming service

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on streaming services, and college students are typically on a tight budget. Get a gift card for one or a couple of streaming services to gift your college student.

19. Personal safe

If your student has expensive or important items, it’s important they’re kept in a safe location. A small personal safe to protect valuables can give your college student some peace of mind when living with a roommate.

20. Games

Board games or card games are perfect for a relaxing night with roommates and friends.

Food and drink gifts for college students

College cuisine doesn’t have to be instant ramen or dining hall meals. Before purchasing any kitchen appliances, contact a residential assistant to double-check if they are allowed in dorm rooms at the student’s school.

21. Insulated water bottle

It’s a simple gift but a leak-proof insulated water bottle will keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot for hours.

22. Microwave

A microwave for a college dorm needs to be compact as college students aren’t working with much space. It should be big enough to fit a full-sized plate but small enough to fit on a narrow counter.

23. Mini-fridge

A mini-fridge is good for keeping drinks cool or storing a few snacks.

24. Electric multi-cooker

Multi-cookers, like the InstantPot, are simple machines but can take dorm room dishes to the next level. With a multi-cooker, college students can free up space and replace multiple kitchen appliances: rice cooker, frypan, pressure cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker and steamer. Worth noting again, before buying any kitchen appliances — confirm they are allowed in the dorm rooms at your student’s school.

25. Coffee maker

It may be nice to get a coffee from the local coffee shop every morning, but the cost can add up. College students on a budget can save some cash by using a coffee maker instead.

Tech Gifts for college students

When picking out a tech gift, choose something that will make school life a little easier and maybe add some fun in between classes. The right gadgets will make workloads more seamless and save your student time and energy.

26. Laptop

A laptop is an essential school supply. While there’s always the library, laptops give students the freedom and flexibility to work on academic assignments anytime and anywhere. Laptop quality, functions, features and prices vary widely, so make sure you know what your college student is looking for in a laptop.

27. Portable charger

A portable charger ensures your college student can study, take notes and work on assignments without worrying about their battery dying. Portable chargers come in a variety of forms with a range of features.

28. Noise-canceling headphones

Dorm rooms and other areas around campus sometimes don’t make the best environment for studying. Noise-canceling headphones give your college-bound student a distraction from the surrounding noise.

29. Power strip

You can never have too many power outlets. Your college student’s dorm room may not have enough outlets for their needs.

30. USB flash drive

College students may need a reliable USB flash drive to use when going to the library to work on a project, when a printer isn’t working or when moving large files. Flash drives come in a range of storage capacities and prices.

31. Portable bluetooth speaker

It may not be a must-have, but a portable bluetooth speaker is a fun gift for college students. There are even waterproof models for a little extra protection.

The Takeaway

Still, stumped when it comes to finding gifts for college students? Cash or gift cards go a long way and it allows your college student to purchase exactly what they want or need. A gift card can be used for their favorite restaurant or store or some cash can go towards college books, saving for college tuition, or anything else they may need.

SoFi offers an online cash management account with no account fees, no-fee overdraft coverage, and the ability to get paid up to two days early. Plus, SoFi Money members with recurring monthly deposits of $500 or more each month will earn interest at 0.25%.

Learn more:

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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College move-in day tips for parents

College move-in day tips for parents

Attending college is a big milestone that both parents and students look forward to for many months.

While this is a highly anticipated event, college move-in day can be a very stressful and emotional day for both students and parents. Attending a college that is out of state can be another nerve-wracking factor.

Moving can be challenging, especially if it’s hot or you have to climb up several sets of stairs. While you might not feel prepared, there are several things you can do ahead of time over the summer that can help make the day go smoother and faster.

Getting organized beforehand is one surefire way to prepare for the big move as a college freshman. Here are a few ideas to help you and your child get ready for move-in day.

Related: Do you have to apply for a parent plus loan every year?

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Being prepared and learning what the college dorms allow students to bring can relieve some potential headaches. Colleges typically post a list of items that students can bring and ones that are prohibited in the residence halls.

Sticking to the basics is a good start since your child can buy more items from a local store or have it shipped to them at a later date.

Recommend that your child contact his/her roommate over the summer and discuss their interests and what items each of them are bringing. This can be one way to help avoid bringing duplicates, especially for larger items like futons.

Another idea is to coordinate the time you are going to move in so you can assist each other during the process. This can also be helpful if the parents are interested in meeting each other.

Packing can be a frustrating task, but one way to expedite the chore is to have your child label all the containers and boxes. If you have items that are more fragile, consider putting them into heavy plastic containers so they are less likely to be damaged during the move.

Additionally, consider making a list of must-have items, to limit the chance that something important is forgotten. For example, bedding, computer, school supplies, a first aid kit, and basic tool kit, which can be extremely useful on move in day.

If your child is attending a college that is out of state or in a different climate, you may have to build out a more weather-appropriate wardrobe. For instance, if your son or daughter is moving to a college in the Midwest from Florida, you might buy and pack weatherproof boots, jackets, scarves, gloves, and other clothing suited for colder temperatures.

If he or she is attending college in a warmer climate, consider packing more t-shirts and shorts and leave some of the sweatshirts and wool sweaters at home.

Once you’ve organized and packed all of your child’s belongings, it’s time to decide how you’ll get everything to campus. This will likely depend on factors like how far away the school is.

Consider renting a SUV or moving van if the university is within driving distance if you own a smaller vehicle. If you plan on driving, pack the car strategically, so items you’ll need first (like cleaning supplies), are easily accessible when you arrive.

If you’re planning to fly to the college, another strategy may be to mail some of the belongings to the residence hall ahead of time, if it is permitted.


While going to college is really exciting for you and your family, consider limiting the number of people you bring with you on moving day. You know the saying “too many cooks in the kitchen,” well the same philosophy can apply to a move.


Having too many people could actually slow down or complicate the process. Plus, it’s likely that many students and their parents will all be in the residence halls at the same time. Dorm rooms can be pretty small and having more people in the hallways could create more chaos and tension.

Instead, consider planning a visit when there is more flexibility. Many colleges have a family weekend in the fall. This could provide an opportunity for a longer, more relaxing and fun visit, especially if grandparents, aunts, and uncles also want to tag along.

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Since many students move in during late summer, it can help to be prepared for heat (and humidity, depending on the local climate). It’s likely going to be hot, especially if the residential dorm does not have central air conditioning and only window units or getting to a top floor requires traipsing up and down several flights of stairs.

Consider bringing a fan to help circulate some air while you get everything settled.

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Doing all that heavy lifting is no easy task. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes for the move and bring another outfit to change into later as you tour the campus or grab dinner with your child.


Bringing water and snacks is generally a good idea too, especially if you are moving furniture and other heavier items. Putting the drinks in a cooler will help keep them cold, especially if the room does not have a refrigerator. Make sure you have enough for the roommate and his/her parents.


Determine whether the residence hall has a dolly or other items that you can borrow because they can help make the move easier. Signing up for those items early can help ensure that you can use them the day you move in. Otherwise, you can buy one from a local hardware store or split the costs with a roommate or another friend who is living in the same residence hall.


Students who have other friends who are also moving in during the same day might want to consider connecting beforehand so they can help each other move, especially bulky or heavier pieces of furniture.


During the unpacking process, your child might find that he or she brought too many personal belongings, or packed things they either don’t actually need or don’t have room for.

For instance, if the roommate also brought a television and there is not room for two, you could pack yours up and take it home.

Worrying about whether your child has enough necessities like sheets, toothpaste, and food is a parent’s job. You could stock up their mini fridge with some basic items or favorite foods. But there’s likely several stores on or near the campus.

If your student lives near a grocery or drugstore, he/she can buy other items later on or they can have the items delivered to them. Many retailers offer free shipping and stores at college campuses often have special offers suited for students.


Move-in day can be emotional, for everyone involved. As hard as it is to say goodbye, try not to hang around too long—let your child adjust to his or her new surroundings, hang out with their new roommate, make new friends in their residence hall, and get ready for their first day as a freshman.


Beyond move-in day, financing your child’s education is a large responsibility and can be complicated. While there are some ways to prepare for college, like filling out the FAFSA to apply for federal aid, some families do not receive enough to pay for tuition and room and board entirely.

After exhausting federal aid options, private parent student loans are one way to finance the increasing costs of attending college. Parents can help pay for their son or daughter’s higher education costs by taking out a loan also.

Learn more:

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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