The 20 best gifts that college students actually need

·10 min read
These are the best gifts for college students.
These are the best gifts for college students.

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For whatever reason, shopping for college students is almost always incredibly difficult. 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.

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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: Home Chef

Best gifts for college students: Home Chef
Best gifts for college students: Home Chef

Goodbye mom's cooking and hello 3 a.m. Taco Bell runs. Living in the real world means making your own meals, which your college student is about to learn the hard way. Help them out with a subscription to our favorite meal delivery service, Home Chef. Not only are the meals delicious, but each comes with a recipe your grad can keep and re-use as much as they see fit. Kitchen supplies are not included, so if they still need to equip their first kitchen, consider pairing some kitchen essentials with a Home Chef subscription.

Get a gift card to Home Chef starting at $50

2. For the active student: The best fitness tracker yet

Best gifts for college students: Fitbit
Best gifts for college students: Fitbit

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. In college, I absolutely loved my OG Fitbit Flex and had days when I nearly hit 30,000 steps while living in the furthest dorm from campus. 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 upgraded battery life, making it our top choice for your active student.

Get the Fitbit Charge 4 at Amazon for $129.89

3. For the student who needs real sheets: Brooklinen Luxe Core Sheet Set

Best gifts for college students: Bed sheets
Best gifts for college students: Bed sheets

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.

Get the Luxe Core Sheet Set from Brooklinen for $121.50

4. For the student who needs to focus: The best wireless earbuds and noise-canceling headphones

Best gifts for college students: AirPods
Best gifts for college students: AirPods

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 and they’re quite trendy with even better sound than your typical Apple headphones, but have the same classic look.

But if complete sound blockage sounds better, 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: A great portable speaker

Best gifts for college students: Anker speaker
Best gifts for college students: Anker speaker

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.

Get the Anker Soundcore 2 at Amazon for $39.99

6. For the student who needs a quick caffeine boost: The best pod coffee maker

Best gifts for college students: Nespresso
Best gifts for college students: Nespresso

Coffee is expensive and students don’t always have time to make it to a coffee shop before their 8 a.m. classes. But with a pod maker, 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. Be sure to start them off with a travel mug, too.

Get the Nespresso VertuoPlus at Amazon for $197.95

7. For the student without a meal plan: A coveted Instant Pot

Best gifts for college students: Instant Pot
Best gifts for college students: Instant Pot

Once a student moves into an apartment off-campus and no longer relies on a meal plan, they'll need to start cooking their own meals. But between juggling classes, clubs, and a social life, it's often much easier to resort to Domino's. Save them and their wallet by getting them a pressure cooker, which can cook things like butternut squash risotto and easy spaghetti super quickly. Plus, if they have a lot of roommates, they can whip something up when the oven and stove are occupied or make a big batch to feed the whole house.

Get the Instant Pot Ultra at Amazon for $139.99

8. For the student who's picky: An Amazon gift card

Best gifts for college students: Amazon gift card
Best gifts for college students: Amazon gift card

We get it. Shopping for college students is hard and sometimes you really don’t know what they want. Get them an Amazon gift card so they can order whatever their heart desires. They’ll definitely appreciate that they can get the snacks, supplies, and tech products that you never would have known they needed. Remember: It’s the thought that counts!

Get the Amazon.com Gift Card at Amazon for $50

9. For the student who needs to stay hydrated: A statement water bottle

Best gifts for college students: S'well water bottle
Best gifts for college students: 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?

Get the S’well 17 oz Water Bottle at S’well for $25

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.

Get the Mophie Powerstation PD Portable Charger at Amazon for $43.20

11. For the student who loves to snack: A microwave popcorn maker

Best gifts for college students: Popcorn Maker
Best gifts for college students: 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.

Get the Cuisinart Pop and Serve Popcorn Maker at Amazon for $12.99

12. For the student who loves to play: A fun game that goes anywhere

Best gifts for college students: Spikeball
Best gifts for college students: Spikeball

Give you student a reason to leave their dorm room and go outside with Spikeball. This unusual game is kind of like volleyball, except you’re hitting the ball on a net that’s on the ground. Trust me, it’s both challenging and fun. It’s the perfect game to bring out on the quad or to a tailgate for a quick competition.

Get Spikeball at Amazon for $59.95

13. For the student who’s studying abroad: The best checked luggage

Best gifts for college students: Away luggage
Best gifts for college students: Away luggage

If you're shopping for a student who’s about to be whisked away on a semester abroad is 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 your 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.

Get the Large Away Suitcase at Away for $295

14. For the student who's always cold: A thick, warm sweater

Best gifts for college students: Patagonia sweater
Best gifts for college students: Patagonia sweater

There’s something about college that just screams students in Patagonia layers. Not only are the thick, outdoorsy clothes cozy for cold lecture halls, but they're also always in fashion. The quarter-zip is a classic look that will make students put together when they’re rushing out the door.

15. For the student who misses home: Candles that smell like home

Best gifts for college students: Homesick candle
Best gifts for college students: Homesick candle

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.

Get Homesick Candles starting at $34

16. For the student who loves makeup: Our favorite beauty subscription box

Best gifts for college students: Boxycharm
Best gifts for college students: Boxycharm

If your student loves trying out new makeup products, they’re going to love Boxycharm. It’s the best beauty subscription service we’ve ever tested because it delivers high-quality samples of some of the best-selling brands that are curated to the subscriber's makeup preferences. Plus, who doesn’t feel special whenever they get a package in the mail?

Get Boxycharm Subscription Box for $21

17. For the student who likes hanging around: A portable hammock

Best gifts for college students: Hammock
Best gifts for college students: Hammock

Picture a generic college campus and students hanging around on the grass and in hammocks might comes to mind. Students will love getting an ENO hammock so they can lounge around on the quad without laying on the grass. It’s easy to hang up for a no-struggle study sesh in the trees, and it's just as easy to pack away if they doze off and are late for class.

Get the ENO DoubleNest Hammock at REI for $69.95

18. For the tea-drinking student: The best electric kettle

Best gifts for college students: Tea kettle
Best gifts for college students: Tea 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 me, 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.

Get the Cuisinart PerfecTemp Electric Kettle at Amazon for $99.95

19. For the student who loves movies: The best way to stream

Best gifts for college students: Roku Ultra
Best gifts for college students: Roku Ultra

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.

Get the Roku Ultra at Amazon for $92.50

20. For the photography student: An easy way to print your best shots

Best gifts for college students: Portable photo printer
Best gifts for college students: Portable photo printer

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.

Get the Polaroid Hi-Print at Amazon for $99.97

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The best gifts for college students of 2021: 20 gifts college students actually need

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