My pick for the most useful gift for college freshmen is a College Cookbook. Jump to my review of the ‘Prep’ College Cookbook below.
I like it because nearly every college freshman needs to go through a learning curve of cooking for themselves for possibly the first time in their life. It’s therefore a super useful gift!
In my search, I also found some other gifts that are good quality. All of them are reviewed below.
My shortlist of the 7 best gifts for college freshmen are:
- Tool Set.
- Portable Speakers.
- Cards Against Humanity.
- ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac.
Best Gifts for College Freshmen
1. College Cookbook
Quick Review: A college freshman is about to start cooking for themselves – perhaps for the first time in their life. Help them eat a healthy and well-rounded diet with this cook book.
You can help wean your freshman friend off ramen noodles and toast! A college cookbook needs to present easy, fast and healthy recipes that a freshman can learn from scratch. This cookbook does the trick. It gives healthy and simple recipes for absolute beginners.
While you’re at it, you might want to give them a helping hand by buying them a few pots and pans so they’ve got the right utensils to do their cooking!
Quick Review: Earplugs are a MUST for anyone living in a dorm. Freshmen will have housemates coming home from parties late and playing music during study time. This is a super practical gift.
A set of earplugs are an essential on any college freshman’s packing list. College dorms and share houses are notoriously noisy places.
I selected these ear plugs because they’re well packaged as a gift. They come in two separate boxes to keep them clean and safe fore reuse. The carry bag is also classy packaging for presenting the ear plugs as a gift.
This set also has very positive reviews online for being comfortable, reusable, and remaining in your ears.
3. Cards Against Humanity
Quick Review: This is a wildly popular fill-in-the-blank game for college students. Students need to use crass and politically incorrect cards in their hands to create the funniest fill-in-the-blank statement.
The college freshman in your life needs card or board games in their home! They’re a great icebreaker or way to spend a night with new friends. Cards against humanity is so popular for college students that the company has released a “college extension pack”!
The game is full of funny yet politically incorrect statements … so make sure the person you’re getting it for has a sense of humor.
Help a college freshman make new friends – get them this game!
4. Laundry Hamper
Quick Review: A freshman is at that moment in life when they’ve got to start doing their own dirty laundry … literally. This great laundry bag lists the instructions – just in case they forgot.
A laundry hamper or bag like the one above will be a gift that a college freshman will use over and over again. It’s a great “going away gift” if the college freshman is on their way to a college town. Alternatively, it’s a great gift if they’re about to move into a new shared house or dorm.
This one comes with a fun list of instructions, too. You’ll never forget to separate the whites ever again! I love the final instruction on the list: “While folding, call your mom.”
Quick Review: A fun, fast-paced game to play with friends. It is easy to learn and easy to carry around to bars, pubs and your friend’s dorms. It’s totally addictive!
Bananagrams is my favorite game in the world. I played it with my friends at college endlessly. It’s so addictive and easy to learn that everyone who ever plays it has to go out and get their own copy, too!
This game is a fast-paced word game where people have to create their own crossword puzzle out of the words they randomly draw from the bag. Everyone essentially has their own scrabble board and is in a race to complete their board before everyone else.
Get this if the college freshman in your life is a scrabble fan or word games fan.
6. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Quick Review: The ultimate novel for young adults, On the Road tells the story of a young man exploring life on the open road.
As a freshman, I was inspired by the idea of reading all the great classics. I read books like Catch 22, 1984, The Great Gatsby … and of course, On the Road. It’s an inspiring book about young adults drunk on freedom. The main characters (Sal and Dean) go on road trips around postwar America. The protagonists soak up Beat culture and the Jazz scene at the height of the late 1940s. This book is a classic American novel that’s frequently shared around the college dorm.
7. Tool Set
Quick Review: A tool set is incredibly useful when moving into a new home. It’s surprising how often you’ll need a screwdriver, hammer, pliers, Allen wrenches, and so on.
When I moved homes earlier this year, I realized just how desperately I needed a tool set. It started with changing lightbulbs. The light got stuck in the socket and I needed pliers to get it out. Then I bought a bed frame. I needed Allen keys for that. Next came repairing the vanity unit doors. That required a screwdriver. I needed a tape measure to ensure I got the right sized furniture.
Within a week, I had to go out and get a tool set.
All adults need a tool set – so get the college freshman in your life a set for themselves!
Quick Review: The idyllic image of college life is a lazy time lying around with friends. This hammock can help that idyllic image come true.
Could the college freshman in your life benefit from a little relaxation time? This hammock would do really well in the backyard of a shared college house. Imagine a lazy Saturday afternoon reading a book (On the Road?) and swinging in a hammock! You could be the person who makes that college dream come true for one lucky freshman!
9. Portable Speakers
Quick Review: A set of portable speakers will be great for all sorts of college events – from sunny afternoons on the college green to tailgate parties before the college football game.
This blue tooth portable speaker from UBL is highly respected in the industry. It comes with wireless blue tooth connectivity and up to 20 hours play time on one charge. It easily connects to smart phones and MP3 players to play crisp, high quality music anywhere you like. What’s great about this specific speaker is that it is also waterproof, meaning it can really handle wet weather accidents! I’ve used these speakers myself and was impressed by how loud they go, the audio quality, and how crazily long the battery can last before needing a recharge.
Quick Review: Gift the college freshman a small, fun and easy to learn musical instrument. They don’t need to become a pro, but a little rendition of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” might be a hit!
College is a time to practice new artistic endeavors. A ukulele is an incredibly easy to learn instrument that would go down a hit! This particular one above comes with some training materials so the college freshman in your life can get started immediately. I also like that this one comes with a great carry bag to protect the ukulele on those long trips from the college town, back home, and back again every semester.
11. Deck of Cards
Quick Review: A deck of cards is a small and easy to carry source of entertainment. It’s also super versatile. You can play many hundreds of games (and magic tricks!) with this one gift.
Cards are a versatile gift that just about any college student needs. They can be pulled out for a game among friends between classes or before a party. In their down time alone, they could learn magic tricks with the cards or play a simple game like solitaire.
Other games you can play with cards include: Black Jack, Rummy, Poker, Euchre, Canasta, Go Fish, Cribbage, and 500. I’m sure there are thousands more!
12. Alarm Clock
Quick Review: An alarm clock is a necessity for any student waking up early to get to class in time! This one also shows the temperature which is a really cool addition.
Without mom to wake him up, the college student in your life is going to have to start looking after himself. Get his (or her) day off to a strong start with a high-quality alarm clock.
I like the large display of this one. It shows the time in big, clear blocks and the display is dimmable for perfect lighting. It also shows the temperature so you’ll always know what outfit to wear for the day.
The alarm has weekend mode so that you can sleep in on days you don’t have classes.
An alarm clock isn’t just a practical gift – one like this is also a classy decoration for a college dorm room.
13. External Charger
Quick Review: With a full day of classes, external chargers can come in very handy. Never be caught without phone charge again.
A portable charger is a gift that sits at an affordable price point and an accessory that is beneficial for everyone – guys and girls! Make sure you get one with USB-C quick charge to get the best quality out of the charger. Not all chargers are equal, and I’ve found the quality tends to correlate closely with price for external charging banks.
Many college backpacks also come these days with an external charger slot for you to insert this charger and charge on-the-go. If you consider buying a backpack as a gift for a college student, make sure you get a backpack with a special storage pocket for the external charger.
14. Coffee Flask
Quick Review: A student with regular morning classes needs coffee on the go. Help them out with a coffee flask!
A coffee flask is a great idea for a thoughtful gift. It’s small, practical, and will be used very regularly. Students will be on-the-go all day at college. So, help them keep moving with a nice large hot coffee that lasts all day.
College students are also (usually) quite poor. They can’t afford to regularly buy coffee from the barista down the street, so they need to make it at home. They can use the coffee flask to save money by filling up their coffee before heading home.
15. Messenger Bag
Quick Review: A messenger bag is a classy gift for a guy or girl at college. They are designed specifically for carrying laptops and other supplies college students typically use.
A messenger bag is a bag that is usually carried over the shoulder. The best messenger bags come in waterproof or water resistant materials. You can select form a canvas or leather finish on the bag. I tend to look for messenger bags with easy-to-access external pockets and a large internal pocket for a laptop. The laptop pocket should be well padded to protect your laptop from bumps during travel.
I’ve written a great review of the best messenger bags for guys and girls – with images of different fashions and types. Check it out:
16. Graphing Calculator
Quick Review: A graphing or scientific calculator is a necessity for any student doing an engineering, economics or mathematics degree. That makes this a very practical gift for someone at the beginning of their college time!
Calculators are at a good price point for a gift. They’re usually between $30 and $100 which is a little painful for a college student … but a good price for a gift.
The difference between a graphing calculator and a regular calculator is that graphing calculators plot graphs, solve simultaneous equations, and can work with algebraic variables. They’re therefore much more advanced cognitive tools than your regular old calculator. They’re an absolute necessity for college-level math. Most college courses also allow graphing calculators in exams.
Quick Review: A backpack is a staple in the college student’s wardrobe. Either a backpack or messenger bag will be required for getting supplies to and from class.
This is a great idea for girls and guys at college. It fits in the right price range for a gift ($30 – $100 range).
If the college student in your life is tech engaged, aim to get a backpack that has external charger slots and a hole for headphones. Other things to consider when buying a backpack include: waterproofing or water resistance, anti-theft locking, and an appropriate size (26L, give or take).
For a full outline and images of the best backpacks for college students (for guys, girls and unisex), take a look at my full review of college backpacks:
18. Noise Cancelling Headphones
Quick Review: A good set of noise cancelling headphones can be worn for listening to good quality music, gaming on the computer, or blocking out noises from housemates at night.
A good set of noise cancelling headphones is a great gift. They’re good for ears (far better than earbuds) and create great quality sound. I like to go for headphones that have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of about 27dB. This means they’ll reduce external noises by 27 decibels.
Another good thing to look for in noise cancelling headphones is active noise control technology. This technology sends neutralizing sound waves into your ears that cancel out external sounds very effectively.
Lastly, consider getting quality padding for around the ears and on the headband for good comfort.
I recommend the FMLOVES Active Noise Cancelling Headphones which block out 85% of ambient noise. You can check my full review of these headphones here:
19. A Vacuum
Quick Review: Here’s another great gift for someone who’s moving out of home for the first time in their lives.
A good vacuum will last a college student for the whole length of their degree. Good quality vacuums should have both a stand-up and hand-held function. I love the hand-held ones (like the Black and Decker dustbuster range) for their ability to do quick mop ups of messes. They’re also very easy to store.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the vacuum needs to be compact enough to be stored in a small space in a shared dorm. Go for a small, compact, but versatile vacuum.
Lastly, many vacuums these days are cordless. A cordless vacuum is more versatile and can be used for cleaning cars. However, they will also often be less powerful and the batteries are well known for losing power within a year or two.
Check out your options in my full review of vacuums for college students:
20. Laptop Lap Desk
Quick Review: A laptop lap desk is a great gift for a student who studies at home, lounging around on their bed or couch.
A laptop lap desk is a portable desk that can be used to study anywhere you want. Bring the lap desk out to make studying in bed or on the couch so much easier!
My preferred lap desks are very easy to fold and store when not in use. They should also have storage compartments within them for holding your laptop, notebooks, pens, and charging cable.
I recommend the Mavo Craft Lap Desk. You can see my full review of this lap desk here:
Quick Review: A pair of sock is a great gift for any occasion. Consider socks that are themed to whatever degree the person is studying.
Click here to check the price of these themed socks on Amazon now.
Albus Dumbledore once claimed that socks are the greatest gift one can receive. They’re simple yet comforting.
If the college student in your life is going to a cold college town, a pair of very warm Merino wool socks would come in very handy.
Another option is to get socks that are themed to the degree. If they’re studying teaching, try some teacher socks. If they’re studying math, get some socks with mathematical equations on them. Physics? Get a pair with a picture of Einstein on them.
22. Shower Caddy
Quick Review: When you’re sharing a shower in a dorm or shard house you need a shower caddy! It’ll help you keep all your gear in one easy convenient place.
A shower caddy is a tote bag for carrying your belongings in and out of the shower with you. A good shower caddy should be a mesh design so that water trickles right on out of the tote bag. It should also have enough room for your shampoo and body wash and towel. A good shower caddy will also have space for your keys so you can keep them safe while you shower.
23. Care Package
Quick Review: A care package is a great gift to let the college student in your life know they’re loved. Send a hamper of goodies any time of the year – but especially at study time!
A care package is a hamper of snacks and goodies that you send directly to a loved one. It usually contains bags of chips, snack bars, and packets of candies. You can also get care packages that are full of healthy snacks for your health conscious college student.
Get a care package with a good variety of gifts, and make sure it’s got a really positive review on Amazon so you know you’ll be getting a hamper that’s full of value.
Quick Review: A bike is a great way of getting around a college town. College towns are usually compact little towns where someone can get anywhere in 10 to 15 minutes on a bike.
College is a great time of the life to get a bike. You can ride the bike to and from class during the week and to the cafe on weekends. If the person you’re getting the gift for is outdoorsy and sporty, consider getting them a multi-gear mountain bike with good suspension. If they’re more of a city person, get them a cool town cruiser.
I’ve put together a great review of the best bikes for college students – take a look at the 7 bikes I recommend:
25. Smart Reusable Notebook
Quick Review: A reusable notebook is an environmentally friendly way to take notes. With tech integration, reusable notebooks are now also amazing at sorting your notes for exam time.
A reusable notebook looks and feels like any ordinary notebook. Except, once you’ve written your notes, you upload them onto a cloud, and wipe the notebook clean to start again the next day! The sheets are made of plastic polymer but feel and act just like paper. Ink can be wiped from the notebooks using a damp cloth.
Once the notes have been uploaded to your cloud, they can be easily (and sometimes automatically) sorted ready for study time. Search through your notes for key concepts and keywords online to save yourself time and effort while studying.
A smart reusable notebook can be reused for the rest of a college degree!
The best gifts for freshmen are gifts that get them ready for life at college. Give them a gift that will make moving out of home or living in a dorm easier. You can also get a gift that’ll make studying easier: such as a notebook, backpack or laptop desk.
I hope this list of gift ideas was useful to you. If you have any other gift ideas for a freshman, please do share your ideas below!
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]