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It's that time of year again, and college students around the country are looking forward to the end of the semester. As a bonus to finals ending, they may get to celebrate a holiday or two. Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year's, Festivus — each an opportunity for gifting hopeful college students something they want or need.
To help you avoid gifting something they don't need, we've compiled our staff's best recommendations for holiday and Christmas gifts for college students. Our top five unique gift ideas reveal what college students really want this holiday season, while our top 10 everyday essentials are gifts that will keep them smiling any time of year.
Here is your quicklist of the best Christmas gifts for college students in 2019:
Top Five Unique Gift Ideas
The Top Five Unique Holiday Gifts for College Students
1. Noise-Canceling Headphones
College campuses can be noisy places. Particularly for students living in crowded dorms, it's sometimes hard to find a quiet refuge to get work done. This holiday season, you can help solve this problem by giving the gift of silence: noise-canceling headphones.
Every student needs a pair of noise-canceling headphones to help them drown out distractions, listen to their favorite tunes, and control their media diets — all while getting some much-needed study time or exercise.
There are a few good options for over-the-ear headphones, such as Sony and Bose. The Bluetooth-enabled Sony WH-1000XM series and the Bose Quiet Comfort series are both popular and effective when it comes to noise cancellation.
Students who don't like hefty, over-the-ear headphones might prefer a pair of Apple AirPods Pro or the Sony WF-1000XM3, both of which — despite being small and lightweight — come with active noise cancellation.
2. Subscriptions to Streaming Services
We all need mindless distractions from time to time. While college students love their streaming entertainment services, they may not subscribe to all of them. A great holiday or Christmas gift idea is to add one of these services to a student's arsenal of distractions, which will help get them through the school year.
For TV shows and movies, Netflix and Hulu are the most popular, along with pricier options like HBO Now. Although it doesn't have a "gifting" option yet, Disney Plus is a brand new addition to this category and includes the Marvel and Star Wars film libraries.
For music, consider gifting subscriptions to Spotify or Apple Music, which accepts iTunes gift cards. If your gift recipient is a hipster audiophile, they might like Tidal, which streams in high fidelity.
3. Gifts to College Savings Funds
If you haven't come across news headlines about the skyrocketing cost of college, here's a quick summary: Student loan debt has reached $1.6 trillion, and tuition is increasing more than eight times faster than real wages.
While pitching in to a college savings fund might not sound like the most exciting gift idea, your grandson, niece, or grand-nephew — whoever the young college hopeful is — will likely appreciate the gesture more than a store-bought gift.
In fact, gifts to 529 college savings plans, which may be tax deductible and exempt from gift taxes, have increased in popularity in recent years. In 2017, Fidelity reported a 40% increase in gifts to 529 plans over the previous year, largely due to the rollout of online tools to facilitate these deposits.
Many financial institutions have started to offer e-gifting options that make this process simple. To learn more about contributing to a college savings fund, check out this guide by Saving for College.
4. Gym or Yoga Memberships
Stress isn't just a mood killer; it's a serious problem on college campuses. One of the best ways to prevent burnout from anxiety is through regular exercise, which is why we recommend helping college students with the costs of staying healthy.
Most college students have access to a campus recreational center, but while the location may offer convenience, the classes offered may not align with a student's needs or preferences. These days, there are so many more options for maintaining physical and mental wellness, so don't be afraid to ask whether a student needs help paying for fitness classes.
Membership to a local yoga studio or nearby boot camp class are good choices for students who want a different workout but who may not have the cash for a monthly membership. If you're not sure what kind of workout the recipient is interested in, ClassPass is a great option since it can be used at fitness studios around the country.
For students who may not have time to travel to a studio for a workout, the Glo app offers meditation and yoga classes through an online platform so students can work out from anywhere using only a phone or computer.
5. Cash Money $$$
Cash... a quaint paper currency, or a source of flexible spending? You may have heard that Gen Z doesn't like using cash, but don't believe it. At BestColleges, we like to emphasize the fact that college hopefuls are cash-strapped and struggling to afford not just tuition, but also the rising cost of living around the country.
College students today may not want another tech gadget or Amazon-bought dorm accessory, which is why a cash gift is a great idea for the holidays. It gives students the flexibility to buy what they need and relieves you of the responsibility of choosing something they may not want.
But if you're worried about sending cash in the mail, or if you're just a tech-savvy grandma, you don't have to give physical cash. There are a number of ways to easily gift money to struggling students, including Venmo, PayPal, and Apple Pay, which can all be found in your phone's app store.
Here are just a few things college students can spend their liquid cash on: rent, groceries, gas, books, tuition, fees, parking, loan payments, and so much more.
Everyday Essentials: 10 Holiday Gifts for College Students
1. Subscription Services to Food and Products
Paying for a year's worth of goods or services in advance is a great gift for college students. Subscription services have expanded greatly in the last year, now offering monthly packages of essentials like food and beauty products.
Love with Food is a subscription service that sends a box of different snacks each month, which is especially convenient for college students who hate or don't have time for grocery shopping. Birchbox sends recipients a box of small beauty products monthly. Creative options include House Plant Box, a monthly house plant delivery service, and Book of the Month Club, for the avid reader.
2. Portable Chargers
For the college student always on the go, a portable charger from brands like Anker is a great holiday or Christmas gift idea. When students have long days on campus or are traveling home, a mobile charger eliminates worries about depleting phone batteries.
Anker mobile chargers come in a variety of designs, with some so small they can easily fit in your pocket. Larger models have enough battery capacity to fully charge 7-8 phones, making long days away from outlets much less stressful.
3. Uber or Lyft Credits
College students are famously strapped for cash, but that doesn't mean they should be stuck walking all the time, especially if they live somewhere that doesn't have a good late-night transit system.
Make it easier for college students to get home after a late night of studying — or partying — by gifting them with credits for a rideshare app, like Lyft or Uber. It'll make their lives a lot easier, and you'll rest easy knowing that your college student can get home safe.
4. Instant Pot
Eating at the dorm cafeteria or surviving on instant noodles is fine for most college students, but if yours is a little more ambitious in the cooking department, get them an Instant Pot. Instant Pots are a multi-use cooking tool that allow you to saute, steam, boil, slow cook, or pressure cook — all in one bowl, without the need for a stove or oven.
Instant pots can make rice, risotto, soups, hard boiled eggs — even cheesecake! It's the perfect tool for countertop cooking, even in a small space like a dorm room.
The one caveat here is that some schools ban pressure cookers in dorm bedrooms, so be sure to check with the school where your student attends.
5. Portable Bluetooth Speaker
An essential accessory for any music-loving college student, a portable bluetooth speaker allows you take your music everywhere you go. Both Bose and JBL offer high-quality speakers, some of which have waterproof designs. The JBL Clip even features the ability to clip onto backpacks or other fixtures, making it convenient to carry.
Whether you're going to the park, the beach, or on a road trip, a portable speaker ensures that your life is never without a soundtrack.
6. Full-Spectrum / Light Therapy Lamp
The BestColleges staff is definitely revealing their Seattle origins with this gift idea, but the Pacific Northwest isn't the only region plunged into darkness during the winter months. A full-spectrum lamp ensures that college students get some much-needed Vitamin D when they are stuck inside cramming for midterms and finals.
For light therapy lamps, Verilux makes a slim, compact lamp that students can set up on their desk or nightstand for a daily dose of light therapy. Another option is the Philips SmartSleep light, which dims and brightens to mimic sunset and sunrise. With a customizable time-setting option, the lamp-and-clock combo can help students regulate their sleep schedules.
7. Storage Ottoman
Dorm rooms are small and space is always at a premium, but that shouldn't mean students need to give up all of their worldly possessions just to have enough space for friends to visit. Before your student applies the konmari method, get them a storage ottoman.
These comfy storage solutions make great seating for guests, or they can be used as a footrest; but they can also store all those extra clothes that are only used during winter or library books that somehow never made it back to the library. Ottomans also come in a variety of colors and shapes, so they can be personalized to match anybody's dorm room decor perfectly.
8. Gift Cards (for Things College Students Actually Like)
While gift cards occasionally get a bad rap as being low-effort gifts, giving a college student a gift card that helps with week-to-week expenses like gas, groceries, or a meal at their favorite restaurant is sure to be appreciated.
You can also opt to get a gift card tailored to the personality or interests of the student. Do they love hiking, fishing, or everything about the great outdoors? Try a gift card to REI or Patagonia. Is maintaining a healthy, organic diet a top priority? Consider a Whole Foods or Daily Harvest card instead. Whatever their interests or lifestyle, there's a card out there for them.
9. Fuzzy Slippers
It can get cold in a dorm room. Having a pair of warm, fuzzy slippers will help students keep their toes warm and remind them of the comforts of home, even if they're miles away.
There's nothing better than slipping your tired feet into a plush pair of slippers at the end of a long day of running between classes, and it's sure to give an extra boost for getting through writing that end-of-term paper!
For an added bonus, try a funny pair of novelty slippers. They're a great way for students to show school pride, dress up like a favorite fictional character, or stand out at the dorm sock hop.
10. All-Purpose Tool
Whether you are trying to hang a painting, open a bottle of wine, fix a broken dorm room shelf, or assemble an IKEA chair, an all-purpose tool is a great gift.
Companies like Leatherman offer a multitude of tools to choose from, so gift-givers can ensure that every piece of the tool is completely usable for the student. You can also customize the hardware for a unique look. Victornix's classic Swiss Army knife is another great option, and both are good ideas for stocking stuffers.
The Best College Holiday Gifts When You've Run Out of Ideas
Eating in the dorm cafeteria is a bonding experience for most college students, but there are always days when you study too late at the library or stay out at a student club too long and miss dinner. What's a student to eat when the cafeteria is closed?
Enter Instant Ramen and Cup Noodles, the food that has kept college students fueled and happy for decades. Instant Ramen comes in a variety of delicious, salty flavors, including vegetarian and vegan options. Plus, using just a few extra ingredients, students with finer palates can upgrade their ramen, to produce culinary masterpieces.
No night indoors is complete without a Snuggie. The original blanket with sleeves is the perfect marriage between cozy and practical. Whether you love to toss and turn and need a blanket that will cling to you, or you want the option to reach for your hot cocoa while staying comfy on a chilly winter day, the Snuggie has got you covered.
3. Twin XL Bed Sheets
Twin sized bed sheets are a staple of dormitory living, and sheets of the extra long variety guarantee that they'll fit over any oddly shaped mattress edges. They might not be the most show-stopping gift on the planet, but it can never hurt to have extra sheets on hand.