7 useful gifts I actually wanted as a college student
Jun 19, 2023
Things to make college life easier.
The life of a college student can be really difficult, filled with stress and a lack of necessities. In order to pay for my education, I held two to three jobs at a time which meant I hardly had any openings in my schedule between work shifts, attending classes, and completing homework assignments. There were times when I hardly ever slept and didn't have the time to take care of my basic needs.
It's in times like these that I really appreciated getting thoughtful gifts from family members and friends that helped make college life a little easier. So, I'm here today to share gifts I actually appreciated receiving in college.
This one is pretty much a given. In order to keep up with notetaking and assignments it helps to have a reliable device. I always had to save up and buy my own devices in college, but it would have freed up my grocery budget quite a bit if someone had been nice enough to get a laptop for me. Ideally, one with plenty of battery power and the performance necessary for running programs I needed for my classes.
Each degree is a little different, so some students are better served with one of the best laptops while others will find working on one of the best tablets serves them better. Regardless, these are what I consider the best laptops and tablets for school.
Best all-rounder student laptop: Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 7 | See at Best Buy
As you can see from our Editor-in-Chief Daniel Rubino's Lenovo Yoga 9i review, this laptop very well could be the best option out there right now. It has a 14-inch display and features an Intel 12th Gen i7-1280P CPU as well as an integrated Intel Iris Xe GPU to handle just about anything you can think to throw at it. Additionally, it is large enough to tote around but not too bulky to make it hard to use on a desk.
Best for engineers and creatives: Razer Blade 18 | See at Amazon
As our Channel Editor, Ben Wilson said in his Razer Blade 18 review, this laptop exceeded his expectations in terms of the RTX 4090 mobile GPU's performance. It provides a flawless experience when running more graphically intensive programs making this gaming laptop ideal for students using 3D modeling software, video editing software, or other demanding creative/engineering programs.
Microsoft Surface Pro 9 | See at Amazon
More and more students find that working with a tablet is the best way to get through school and it's a great choice for people who primarily access programs on the cloud or work online. As our Senior Editor Zac Bowden said in his Surface Pro 9 review, this tablet has absolutely been refined. Use it to attend virtual meetings, research information, and complete assignments. When combined with one of the best Surface Pro 9 accessories, the Keyboard and Slim Pen 2, it can be incredibly easy to type up notes or write them out directly on the screen too.
Between attending classes, working on assignments, maintaining jobs, and paying for school, I hardly had any time (or money) to take care of my basic needs, such as grocery shopping. This led to me opening my pantry on several occasions only to find it bare. Sometimes, I went weeks on end eating disgusting Frankenstein concoctions like rice and mustard because that's all I had at the time, and I couldn't afford anything else.
This is where the gift of food really can make a difference to college students and make sure they get the nutrition they might not get otherwise. Thankfully, getting food to another person is a whole lot easier these days, such as with:
Best meal kit delivery: Hello Fresh
I absolutely love this amazing food delivery service and use it myself. Each week, I get to choose up to three nutritious meals via the Hello Fresh app and then everything needed for these meals is sent to my home along with the step-by-step illustrated instructions for how to make them. A Hello Fresh meal typically feeds two people, which means each meal could supply not only a dinner but also leftover lunch for your intended student. Alternatively, they can be helpful for dinner dates or feeding multiple people in one apartment.Alternative options: Dinnerly | Home Chef
Best Grocery delivery: Walmart Grocery
When my younger brother was in college, I always sent him a box of groceries for his birthday and he always told me that it was one of the best things anyone had ever given him. This ensured that he got the basics like milk, rice, and bread, but more importantly, it helped him get the more nutritious basics like fruits and vegetables that he didn't usually buy. Plus, I always threw in a few fun things like cookies and chips since I remembered being unable to purchase those kinds of things myself. Walmart is a great place or order from or you can go with Amazon Pantry or another local store that offers delivery. Alternative option: Amazon Pantry
Best meal delivery: DoorDash Gift Card at Amazon
Stressful testing periods like finals week take a lot of time and energy away from students, but being able to order any kind of food for delivery using DoorDash or a restaurant gift card can really help make things more bearable. I personally suggest going with a gift card for DoorDash since this allows the student to have food delivered directly to their door from a wide list of nearby restaurants. They get to eat without wasting valuable study time.
Alternative options: Grubhub | UberEats
As immortalized by the movie The Shining, "all work and no play" can make you go crazy. So having some kind of way to relax after a tough day of study is helpful, like with a streaming service. Of course, now that Netflix is cracking down on password sharing, getting your own access to the streaming service is necessary. That's where having a subscription to Netflix, Disney Plus, Max, Hulu, or Prime Video is really helpful.
Having this kind of thing in college helped me and my roommates make friends by allowing us to host movie nights or binge shows with a returning group of people. I still look back on those moments as some of the most fun times in my college life.
#1 Streaming Service: Netflix
The most popular streaming service available today offers a wide range of shows and movies to entertain you for hours. With Netflix, you'll be able to watch hits like Stranger Things, The Witcher, The Crown, The Umbrella Academy, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and much more. With ads, it's just $6.99 per month or you can pay $15.49 per month for the Standard add-free subscription.
#2 Streaming Service: Amazon Prime Video
This service is connected to your Amazon Prime account and subscribers gain access to classic hits as well as original content. Catch up on Good Omens, Chuck, Psych, New Girl, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, and much more. It's usually, $14.99 per month or $139 per year. However, the student membership brings it down to $7.49 per month or $69 per year.
#3 Streaming Service: Disney Plus & Hulu
Now that Hulu and Disney have combined, you actually gain access to two streaming services with a $9.99 monthly membership. That's a nice value. As expected, Disney Plus offers Disney cartoon classics, Pixar films, Marvel movies, and more while Hulu has Community, Adventure Time, Bob's Burgers, Family Guy, What We Do in the Shadows, and much more.
In addition to books and supplies, students in certain degrees also need to pay for software or program subscriptions. For instance, I took illustration and graphic design classes, so I paid for the Adobe Creative Suite in college. Meanwhile, one of my brothers went into engineering while another studied architecture, but both needed some sort of CAD program to do their work. You'll want to consult with your student to see what programs they need, but these are some common ones:
Note: The heavily discounted student versions of software often require proof of current student status in the form of a school ID and/or school email. So, make sure to have that ready when you go to subscribe.
Best for writing assignments: Grammarly
You can think about Grammarly as spell check on steroids. Not only does the free version help identify spelling errors in your assignments, but it can also suggest different ways to word yourself. Meanwhile, the Premium version gives AI assistance with vocabulary suggestions and lets you know what kind of tone your writing sounds like from formal to casual. It's a helpful spelling aid for any student from those who hate writing to those pursuing an English degree. The Premium subscription is $25 per month.
Best for creative majors: Adobe Creative Cloud | See at Adobe
This suite of programs gives you access to Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, InDesign, and Acrobat pro to handle a wide range of assignments. Photoshop is a versatile tool used in several fields including digital drawing, illustration, advertising, and more. Illustrator and InDesign are usually necessary for graphic designers. Premiere Pro is a powerful video editing software used in the industry. Meanwhile, Acrobat Pro makes it far easier for students to manage, sign, or edit PDFs, which can really come in handy with assignments and internships. The Students & Teachers subscription is just $19.99 per month, much cheaper than the full $54.99 per month.
SketchUp Studio for Students
This simple 3D modeling program is often utilized by engineering or architecture students to design mechanical parts, 3D-printable mockups, building concepts, and more. SketchUp Studio for Students is only $55 per year compared to the standard $119 per year membership cost.
I couldn't afford coffee in college, so I had to do without. 😭However, coffee is often a frequent and steady intake with college students, which makes constantly purchasing it from places like Starbucks or local coffee shops extremely expensive. That's why I love having my own Keurig coffee maker that allows me to quickly make a single serving that I can take on the go. It's far less expensive than buying my breakfast drink each morning and I love how fast it is. I really wish this had been available to me in college.
Keurig K-Iced Single Serve Coffee Maker | See at Amazon
I'm a huge fan of iced coffee in the summer and hot coffee in the winter. So if I could go back and do school all over again I'd make sure to have one of these babies to handle all my coffee desires. Simply place a K-Cup inside the machine, make sure there is enough water, and then tell it how much coffee you want it to release. It can make both cold and hot coffee.
K-Cup Pods | See at Amazon
Don't forget that your student will need K-Cups to go with their machine. There are several different flavors to choose from, but perhaps the most popular is The Original Donut Shop Medium Roast. This box comes with 72 K-Cups.
Alternative options: Starbucks K-Cups | Keurig Coffee Lovers' Sampler
Reusable K Cups | See at Amazon
Of course, if your student doesn't like pre-made K-Cups, they can fill up these reusable ones with the ground coffee of their choice and still use it in a Keurig machine. I like having six pods handy since this allows me to make sure that I always have clean ones when I need a little boost in the morning.
My college roommates and I didn't have a lot of money, so we didn't want to spend too much on heating and cool our apartment. This made winters incredibly cold and summers really hot. However, I became considerably more comfortable once I purchased a small heater that doubled as a fan to keep my room at a good temperature all year.
Andily Space Heater | See at Amazon
The exact heater I used in college is no longer available, but this one is very similar to it. It offers three heating modes and a fan-only mode. Plus, for added safety, it automatically turns off if tipped over or if it starts to overheat. I love that its small size makes it easy to tote around to different rooms but it's still powerful enough to warm up the area.
Some of my favorite college memories revolved around celebrating the end of a semester by going somewhere fun with friends. However, I often had to decline outings if they were too expensive for my budget. So, if you can afford to give a college student the ability to get out and do things with friends this can be very appreciated.
It might take a little more creativity depending on what's available near your student, but getting tickets to a local play, movie theater, theme park, concert, comedy show, or other event can really help break up the monotony of student life. You might even help them make lasting memories with lifelong friends or assist with the cost of a date.
AMC Theaters Gift Card | See at Amazon
I rarely ever had any money to go out and see movies in college so having something like an AMC Theaters gift card would have allowed me to spend more time with my friends whenever they wanted to go out. AMC is one of the biggest chains in the US, but you'll want to see what theaters are near your student before purchasing a movie theater gift card.
You might see giving money or a gift card to a student as a kind of cop-out, but really it gives them the freedom they need to take care of themselves. That's the beauty of it. Whenever I was given cash for my birthday or the holidays, it often went toward school supplies, groceries, and rent. Sometimes it made it possible for me to go shopping so I could replace my overly worn-out clothes and shoes. Other times, it even allowed me to splurge and get something nice for myself, which I usually couldn't afford to do.
Gift card tip: I usually preferred gift cards and cash that wasn't designated for anything specific. This made it so that there was no added pressure on me to use it a certain way and allowed me to take care of pressing needs.
The Gift of freedom: Visa Gift Card
Visa Gift Cards are available in a number of different denominations including $25, $50, $100, and $200. They can be used at a number of different locations and do not have any fees that sap the total amount of funds after purchase. I loved it when I got gift cards like this because I could spend them wherever I wanted.
Fast gift card: Amazon eGift Card
Since tons of tech, school supplies, apartment furnishings, appliances, and more are available on Amazon one of these gift cards can really help a student out in various ways. If you're student is in quick need of assistance, these Amazon eGift Cards can be sent right away to your intended recipient. You can customize the design as well as a personal message. Predesignated amounts are available in $25, $50, $75, or $100. You can also enter a custom amount up to $2,000 if you'd like.
College can be an insanely stressful period in life where students don't have a lot of time or money to take care of their needs. This being the case, giving gifts that are actually needed and appreciated could really help out during difficult times.
You can't go wrong with providing one of the best laptops or best tablets as student assignments are largely conducted on these devices. If your student simply needs to write and access distant programs on the cloud, then a tablet like Microsoft Surface Pro 9 with a keyboard accessory will work perfectly. Meanwhile, students using complicated programs downloaded locally will need a laptop like the Lenovo Yoga 9i. If they're using more demanding software then you might want to go with a more powerful option like the Razer Blade 18, though.
Another area I was always happy to receive help in was food. Students lead such busy jam-packed lives that it can be hard to find time to go shopping for groceries or even have the money to buy them. So, providing meals, DoorDash gift cards, or individual food items is always helpful.
Lastly, if you're not sure what to get a college student, cash or Visa gift cards are always a good choice. This allows them to take care of their needs while still allowing them to feel adult freedom.
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Self-professed gaming geek, Rebecca Spear, is one of Windows Central's gaming editors with a focus on Xbox and PC gaming. When she isn't checking out the latest games on Xbox Game Pass, PC, or Steam Deck; she can be found digital drawing with a Wacom tablet. She's written thousands of game guides, previews, features, and hardware reviews over the last few years. If you need information about anything gaming related, her articles can help you out. She also loves testing game accessories and any new tech on the market. Best all-rounder student laptop: Lenovo Yoga 9i Gen 7 | See at Best BuyBest for engineers and creatives: Razer Blade 18 | See at AmazonMicrosoft Surface Pro 9 | See at AmazonBest meal kit delivery: Hello FreshAlternative options: Dinnerly | Home ChefBest Grocery delivery: Walmart GroceryAlternative option: Best meal delivery: DoorDash Gift Card at AmazonAlternative options: Grubhub | UberEats#1 Streaming Service: Netflix#2 Streaming Service: Amazon Prime Video#3 Streaming Service: Disney Plus & HuluNote: Best for writing assignments: GrammarlyBest for creative majors: Adobe Creative Cloud | See at AdobeSketchUp Studio for StudentsKeurig K-Iced Single Serve Coffee Maker | See at AmazonK-Cup Pods | See at AmazonAlternative options: Reusable K Cups | See at AmazonAndily Space Heater | See at AmazonAMC Theaters Gift Card | See at AmazonGift card tip: The Gift of freedom: Visa Gift CardFast gift card: Amazon eGift Card