IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

50 gifts college students want — and need, according to a college student

The college years are hard enough. These gifts can make them easier.
Kara birnbuam / TODAY

Final exams and winter holidays are often too close for comfort. Believe me, I’m a senior in college and have spent the last three Decembers focusing so intently on my classes that I struggle to get into the holiday spirit until the holidays are almost over. Returning home for the winter break is truly my light at the end of the tunnel. The warm hugs from my parents and excited bulldozing from my dogs immediately corrals me into the holiday mood, but I must say that exchanging gifts with those I love is definitely the cherry on top.

That said, I know more than anyone that shopping for college kids can seem like an impossible feat. I say this, not only as a student, but as an expert in the shopping space as I've also spent the last few months attending press previews and interviewing experts for gift guides such as this.

Equipped with that firsthand expertise, I'm here to share with you the best gifts for college students, according to a college student. From practical gifts to tech finds, I've rounded up the best gift options for the 2023 holiday season. 

To shop this gift guide by category, click on the links below or keep scrolling to see all 50.

Best fashion gifts for college students | Best practical gifts for college students | Best beauty gifts for college students | Best tech gifts for college students | Best unique gifts for college students | Best gift cards for college students | Best gifts for your college roommate

Best fashion gifts for college students

Dickies Cuffed Knit Beanie

Adored by college students of all genders, Dickies designs classic streetwear that prioritizes style and comfort. This cuffed beanie is soft enough to keep any college student’s ears warm. Trust me, I love staying warm and cozy and find that this hat keeps me comfortable when it’s cold and rainy in New York City.

The Pillow Slides

Any college student or alumni can tell you about the floors of their dorm room. They’re often cold, speckled and due for a deep cleaning. Protect and pamper your college student’s precious toesies with a pair of slides that feel so comfy they will think they are walking on pillows.

OFFLINE By Aerie Real Me Hold Up! Corset Sports Bra

Thanks to its flattering cropped fit and range of eye-catching and classic colorways, this corset sports bra is a total compliment magnet. Whether I wear it as work out or going out top, my friends always tell me just how cute it is. If you’re shopping for a college student who loves coordinated sets, you can also grab them a pair of matching leggings.

Men’s Cuddl Duds Sleep Top

This cozy men’s sleep shirt is a wardrobe double agent. A great top to wear to catch some post-class zzz’s in or to throw on for a leisurely meal in the cafeteria.

JCPenney Regular Fit Blazer

If you’re shopping for someone who loves the dark academia aesthetic, they’ll swoon over this blazer from JCPenney. The linen style has two front flap pockets, sized to fit their phone or glasses.

Nike Fleece Joggers

Between late nights at the library and early morning classes, comfy sweatpants are a college student’s best friend. You can’t ever go wrong with a Nike Fleece Jogger — it’s available in an assortment of chic colors and is machine-washable (perfect for the student who’s still mastering the art of laundry).

Melissa Possession Jelly Sandals

Nostalgic wear is big on college campuses right now. We're talking '90s movies Halloween costumes and Uggs as soon as the autumn leaves hit the ground. Now, jelly sandals are having their moment, with search volume for "adult jelly shoes," currently spiking according to Google Trends. This throwback style is made of 30% recycled factory waste and features a cushioned footbed for arch support, according to the brand.

J. Crew Performance Polo Shirt 

With so little storage space in a college dorm room, multi-functional clothing is a necessity. This performance polo shirt is moisture-wicking so the college student you’re shopping for can wear it to class and to campus parties without worrying about sweat stains.

Nike Men's Blazer Mid '77 Vintage Sneaker

It’s all about the vintage shoes this year, proving yet again that a classic never goes out of style.

Ugg Tasman Slipper

If you're planning to step foot in a lecture hall any time soon, expect to see more than a few pairs of Ugg slippers. While they have a hefty price tag, they're sure to last for years. Associate social editor Dani Musacchio previously voiced her love for the style. “I bought them in college and they’ve been going strong for over six years. They’re my go-to indoor/outdoor slippers.”

Dr. Martens 2976 Men's Boot

Much like sneakers and slides, Dr. Martens boots have become a mainstay on college campuses in recent years. The sturdy, stylish boots are fit for job interviews and seminar classes alike, making them a staple shoe for college students.

The North Face Hydrenalite Down Jacket

Would it be considered irony to look so cool in this jacket but be so warm at the same time? Your English or philosophy major should be able to give you the answer to this one.

Best practical gifts for college students

OXO Good Grips Cleaning Brush for Electronics

Snacks are essential for late night study sessions. Unfortunately, those snacks also come with crumbs. This cleaning brush will help your college student enjoy their favorite treats without worrying about the mess.

Candle Wax Warmer Lamp

Not allowed to light candles in their dorm? This wax warmer lamp from Amazon offers a fire hazard-free way of scenting their space. Pair it with your college student's favorite candle and they will love you forever.

Stanley Holiday Quencher H2.0 FlowState Tumbler

Think of the viral Stanley tumbler as an adult sippy cup. The 40-ounce water bottle was once so popular that it had a waitlist of 150,000 people eagerly waiting for it to be restocked. The tumbler has a narrow design that fits in cup holders and features double-wall vacuum insulation to keep your drinks hot or cold.

Henson Shaving Henson AL13

Aerospace technology meets your college student’s face with this smooth take on a bathroom sink classic. It’s designed to limit skin irritation and amplify your college man’s smooth baby face.

Keurig K-Express Coffee Maker

Studying into the wee hours of the night can be exhausting. Give your coffee-loving student a caffeine boost with this great new brewer from Keurig. It brews coffee, cocoa and tea in minutes without taking up a huge amount of dorm room or kitchen apartment space.

Michelin Jump Starter and Power Bank

I don’t want to tell you how many times I killed my car battery in college. I also don’t want to tell you how many times I have killed my car battery post-college. It’s a problem, and I am working on it. Prepare your college student for life’s little forgetful moments with this jump starter and power pack. Brings car batteries back to life in moments and revives cellphones in a pinch.

Food Network 10-Piece Nonstick Cookware Set

The cafeteria is closed, Mom and Dad are miles away and your college kid needs to fend for themselves without burning the house down. While I can’t guarantee your college student won’t start a small kitchen fire, I can say this cookware will highly limit the chances of food getting stuck on the pan.

Pom Pom at Home Bamboo Sheet

These sheets are so soft and comfortable, they legitimately qualify as an excuse for oversleeping and missing class. It also makes for an amazing housewarming present for their first home away from home.

Best beauty gifts for college students

Naturium The Perfector Salicylic Acid Body Wash

Naturium believes that “high-performance skincare should be and can be clinically effective, skin compatible and affordable.” This salicylic body wash is adored by Shop TODAY editors and college students alike. Formulated for all skin types, the body wash includes time-released salicylic acid for gentle and effective exfoliation.

Color Wow Dream Coat Supernatural Spray

This award-winning spray and Shop TODAY editor favorite combats humidity and fights frizz to keep your hair smooth and glossy. Whether the college student you’re shopping for has an important job interview coming up or likes to look their best for class, this spray will keep their hair in flawless, frizz-free condition.

Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balm for Hydration & Shine

Gift your college student with a stocking stuffer that will make them squeal. The Summer Fridays Lip Butter Balm took social media by storm this summer. The hashtag #lipbutterbalm has more than 30 million views on TikTok and the most popular hues are constantly selling out. While $24 might seem like a high price tag for lip balm, it’s worth it. I use the balm regularly and find it keeps my lips smooth all day long. Plus, it comes in seven scented shades.

BYO BLUSH Color Changing Blush Oil

After associate editor Shannon Garlin tried this blush, she thought, “This blush is pure witchcraft!” The bestselling blush has a clear formula that rapidly changes color based on your skin’s pH level.

Dior Lip Glow Oil

Cancel chapped lips with this nurturing and beautifying lip oil from Dior. The oil features color reviver technology that reacts to the moisture level in your lips to adapt its color.

Suturun Adjustable Laptop Stand

A standing desk would be ideal for any college student, but limited space and budget always seems to get in the way. Here is the ultimate ergonomic pivot! This laptop stand promotes good posture without cramping room space. Plus, it's compatible with all laptop sizes, according to the brand.

Fujifilm QuickSnap

In the era of modern nostalgia and Instagram film dumps, your college student will appreciate this newly popular gadget of the past.

SteelSeries QcK Gaming Surface

A favorite mousepad among esports athletes and sure to be a super cool addition to your teen’s room and gaming experience. Who doesn’t enjoy a light show while doing homework, or while playing "Call of Duty"?

Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Shopping for a music lover? This speaker has the college-student stamp of approval. Waterproof, dustproof and packed with 14 hours of playtime, this speaker is great for those who love to set the vibes for dorm parties and park hangs. Plus, it’s great for study sessions where classical music is a necessity. 

Apple AirTag 4 Pack

Have an absent-minded would-be professor in your life? Kid knows everything about Shakespeare and absolutely nothing about where he left his keys? Well, call off the search party and call in the bounty hunter of lost things. The Apple AirTag helps your forgetful college student keep tabs on their keys, backpack, purse, wallet, you name it! What once was lost will forever be found!

Scanmarker Air

Taking and sharing notes has never been so easy! With just a slide of this scanning pen, notes go from paper to screen instantly. If this isn’t efficient studying, I don’t know what is.

Dyson Pure Hot+Cool

This uniquely designed gift straddles the line between tech and practical. The Dyson Pure Hot+Cool is a compact 3-in-1 system which can purify, heat, or cool the air in your college student’s dorm room or apartment. Great for college students with allergies, for kids that are always hot or always cold, or hungry students prone to leaving the pizza box on the floor for days.

Best unique gifts for college students

Personalized Song Keychain

A creative addition to your college student's lanyard (they get tired of looking at a school ID and car keys) and the perfect way to say I love you. This keychain is fully customizable — just add your desired picture, song and time duration.

Tsrarey Sunset Projection Lamp

Did your college student go to Hawaii for spring break?! Nope! Don’t panic, that’s just your college kid posing in front of their sunset lamp. Let your teen enjoy the relaxing sunset ambiance from the comfort of their own room.

Kucco Knot Pillow

Decorative and cozy, this is a great accent piece for any dorm room or college apartment.

The Cookie Joint "Fries Before Guys" Gift Basket

I thought the cookie was perfect as is, but a cookie fry basket may have me thinking otherwise. Cookies shaped like french fries paired with chocolate and marshmallow dipping sauces, this tasty basket is a must have finals week snack, a “thinking of you” basket after a roller coaster break-up or for any day your college kid needs a sweet treat.

Electrohome Kingston 7-in-1 Vintage Vinyl Record Player

For the college kid who loves a smooth groove. This isn’t just a record player; it’s a 7-in-1 musical experience. With this versatile player, your teen can rock out to Mom’s old vinyl collection, connect to the tunes of today via Bluetooth or just jam out old-school to FM radio. The coolest feature of this player? It can digitize vinyl records and CDs. Mind blown.

Best gift cards for college students eGift Card

While gift cards may have the reputation of being a lazy gift, they are beloved by college students. We are eternally short on cash, so gift cards give us the power to treat ourselves to whatever we want. With Amazon selling everything from college essentials to beauty best sellers, a gift card from the major retailer is a score. 

Starbucks Gift Card

Last Christmas, my aunt gave me a Starbucks gift card that I stretched throughout the entire spring semester. When I was having a bad day or simply needed a little extra caffeine to finish my homework, I’d head to Starbucks and treat myself to an oat milk mocha. I thought of my aunt each time I ordered my caffeinated treat and savored the gift card to the last cent. 

Bookshop Gift Card

I’m an English major, so I know firsthand that books can be expensive. That’s why a gift card to a bookstore can help the college student you’re shopping for succeed in their studies. This bookseller connects readers with independent booksellers and “every purchase on the site financially supports independent bookstores,” according to the brand.

Lululemon Gift Card

If you’re not sure whether your giftee is eyeing Align leggings or an Align tank, they’ll likely appreciate a Lululemon gift card to make the choice themself. 

Uber Gift Card

Since Mom and Dad aren’t around to pick them up after a late night out with friends, an Uber gift card can supply a safe ride home. The gift card also applies to Uber Eats, so your kiddo can treat themselves to a tasty meal when the dining hall menu is less than appetizing. 

Live Nation Gift Card

Shopping for someone whose dorm room is covered in band posters? They’ll love a Live Nation gift card, so they can finally score tickets to see their favorite artist live. 

Best gifts for your college roommate

Zeiss Warm Eye Masks

Shop TODAY editors love these eye masks, and for good reason — they are so easy to use. After a long day of staring at a computer, your roommate will love tearing a warming eye mask out of its package for immediate warmth that eases eye strain.

Leeleberd LED Lights for Bedroom

If you and your roommate haven’t hopped on the LED light bandwagon, here’s your chance to do it for a great price — $13. The set comes with two 50-foot rolls of LED lights that you can control right from an app on your phone.

Heart Flowers Hook Pillow

Is your roommate lacking in room decor? Or do they love sitting in a pile of pillows? Either way, they’ll love this throw pillow adorned with heart-shaped flowers. 

Williams-Sonoma Winter Forest Candle

While it’s often prohibited to burn candles in college dorm rooms, candle wax warmer lights will allow you and your roommate to enjoy your favorite scents without the fire hazard. This wintery candle is commerce coordinator Alexa Arent’s favorite holiday scent. 

Say it Do it, Truth or Dare Card Game

Hoping to get closer to your roommate? This truth or dare card game includes 52 cards with prompts that you and your roommate will actually want to answer. During an hour-long car ride, I played this game with a group of NBCUniversal Pages and Interns and we couldn’t believe how much fun we had while genuinely learning more about each other. 

Tranquility Temperature Balancing Weighted Blanket

“Lying under a heavy blanket can, indeed, be very soothing,” behavioral sleep psychologist Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg told Shop TODAY in a previous interview. This option features a removable cover for easy washing. Customers also love this pick for its lower price tag and soft micro-plush feel.