Featured Image

The Essential College Student Gift Guide for Parents

The traditional Christmas your child experienced growing up is hard to re-enact when they're miles away on a college campus. How can you make Christmas morning memorable and give them gifts they'll use at school?

It feels like the fall semester just started, when your college student packed their bags for their college adventure—but the holidays are already around the corner! Shop for the college student (or students!) in your life by picking out gifts they will actually use and enjoy on campus.

Here you’ll find some of our favorite gift ideas for college students. They’re split into two sections: dorm items, and gifts and services that are good for freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

From pretty to practical, these gifts are sure to be a hit.  

College dorm gifts

It'll never be their childhood bedroom, but you can help make their new dorm feel like home with these essential items. 

Personality-packed bedding

Standard dorm room furniture rarely sparks creativity. However, the bed becomes a focal point, particularly when it’s decorated with bedding that reflects your college student’s style and personality. 

When it comes to the comforter, go for fun, vibrant patterns and colors to pair with more muted decorations. Or stick with a neutral comforter so they can use bolder throws, pillows, and other accessories. A couple hearty sheet sets are all they’ll need to get through the year. Breezy cotton sheets are perfect for hot summers, and cozy fleece sheets are snuggly in the winter. And don’t forget to check if they need extra-long bedding!

Accent pillows

A few accent pillows can brighten up any space, and that’s especially true in a dreary dorm room. Adding two or three pillows will add texture, pattern, and color for more visual interest. They’re also easy ways for your student to show off their interests to their new friends. From their favorite sports teams to school colors, fun patterns to their favorite quotes, there’s a style of pillow out there for everyone.

Throw pillow

Potted plants and succulents

Every space benefits from some nature, and the dorm room is no exception. A few low-maintenance plants or hard-to-kill succulents are perfect for bringing freshness to your college student’s dorm. Not only are they easy additions to the space but some plants are even known for cleaning the air and helping to get rid of illnesses, which is always welcome in tight dorm quarters.

Folding chair or floor pillow

If the room allows, a folding chair or a pair of floor pillows can create easy extra seating for hangouts or an instant reading nook. They can also be tucked under beds and in closets when not in use.   


It’s not uncommon for dorm rooms to feel cold and sterile. A simple small or medium-sized rug can go a long way at bringing warmth into your student’s room. Though patterns are fun, it may be more practical to stick to a shag rug that’s relatively neutral. That way it can easily blend with any roommate’s bedding and décor too.


Mirrors are perfect for making even the smallest dorm room feel much bigger. Not only will a mirror make it easy for your student to get ready on a Friday night, it’s a simple way to create a focal point that’s both functional and eye-catching. Hang one over the dresser for easy access, or save space with a wall-mounted or behind-the-door option.

Table lamp

It’s often the first thing your student sees in the morning and the last thing they see at night. A cute little table lamp is an easy gift that your student will use every day. Typical dorm room fluorescents can be harsh and unforgiving, so introducing warmer lighting sources like a bedside table lamp will keep things productive and more soothing, especially when they’re studying into the wee hours of the night.

Extra storage

There’s a reason many dorm rooms are—well—less than pristine, and that’s lack of storage space. With few built-in storage options available in the standard dorm, items like under-the-bed bins keep miscellaneous belongings out of sight and out of the way. A set of decorative boxes can store things like cold-weather gear or art supplies when not in use.

Corkboards and hanging tools

Corkboards and various hanging tools have become synonymous with dorm wall decorating guides for a reason. Your student is in the midst of starting a new life away from home, so give them an easy-to-use system for hanging pictures of family and friends, for old memories and new ones.

House plant

Gifts and services for every year of college

Is your student’s dorm already decked out to the nines? Make sure they also have these campus essentials for every year they’re in college.


  • School supplies: They’ve got four years ahead of them—four years full of broken pencils, excessive paper usage, and overstuffed backpacks ready to tear apart at the seams. Teach them about minimizing waste, of course, but also help them replenish their supplies as they get low with this gift.
  • Planner/agenda: If your student doesn’t have one already, an agenda is a great way for them to stay on top of their assignments, meetings, and the many other priorities they’ll have as a student. And despite having fancy calendar apps on their phone, plenty of students say they still like using a paper planner. Easier to color code. (We respect that.)
  • Hand sanitizer: Hey, those shared bathrooms aren’t exactly germ free…
  • Camera: College will be some of the greatest years of their lives. Students should capture them! Even if they use the camera on their phone like they’re the next Annie Leibowitz, a real camera can help them hone their photography talents.
  • Wallet: Give your student one compact case where they can keep their dorm key, college ID, phone, money, etc. Don’t make them use that embarrassing, freshman-identifying lanyard.
  • Swiss army knife: All the tools they need in one tiny, handheld gizmo. Just make sure it’s a school-sanctioned tool.
  • School spirit gear: Help them build up their wardrobe with t-shirts, sweatshirts, pajama pants, and anything else with their college name and logo.
  • Travel mug. They’re going to need something sturdy to carry that coffee with them to class. A trendy travel mug will do the trick. 
  • Journal. They say journaling is one of the best ways of tracking your growth and making sense of your goals, dreams, and plans over time. Sounds like everything college is about!


  • Tickets/gift cards to local places: Your student finally has the guts to go out and explore a little bit. Give them a boost with some money to spend. Bonus if the business also offers a student discount.
  • An e-reader: Whether they’ve declared their major or are still exploring, enable them to download e-books relevant to their career interests or just so they can read fiction to unwind before bed.
  • Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime subscription: Sometimes, they need a break from studying. Watching an episode (or 10) of their favorite show can do the trick. A subscription to one (but probably not all three!) of these streaming services will be much appreciated.
  • Slippers: Give those worn-out shower flip-flops (and your student’s feet) a break with some comfy slippers.
  • Workout equipment: So, your college student gained the freshman 15, huh? Help them burn it off! Give them some sneakers, weights, and other workout wear can keep them healthy. A gym membership can make a nice gift too, but double-check to make sure they don’t already have a free campus gym membership.
  • Portable speakers: Those tiny speakers on their phone and/or laptop were acceptable freshman year. Your student is in the big leagues now. Plus, with decent speakers, they can host shindigs in their dorm—as opposed to wandering out into the cold, scary world.


  • Bulk store membership: They grow up so fast, don’t they? When you grow up, you need more stuff. Might as well get that stuff in bulk.
  • A portfolio: We’re thinking a nice leather portfolio or folder for starting their internships—and, of course, for that first job they’ll have after graduation.
  • Outdoor gear: Now that their majors are declared and the tests are tougher, students need to take a break and venture into the great outdoors.
  • Noise-canceling headphones: By junior year, students need to tune out the world and focus.
  • A goat: Your college student is starting to grow up and care about the world. Encourage them by giving an animal to a third-world family in need in their name through a group like Heifer International.
  • Magazines: They know what they want to do for a living, so help nourish their career interests with a magazine or trade publication subscription, whether print or digital.


  • Coffee maker: Be honest: you need this to get through your day. Your student does now too. Give the gift of caffeine.
  • Class ring: Yes, it’s a little pricey, but it’s a great way for college students to carry their alma mater with them everywhere (without getting a full-body tattoo of the college mascot, of course).
  • Briefcase: Any work-type bag will do, but make sure they’re not walking into an interview with a tie-dyed backpack.
  • Recipes: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking might not be ideal, but that’s okay. There are plenty of easy cookbooks/websites out there for the beginner.
  • Business cards: Nothing says “I’m done with college and insanely professional” like custom business cards. Good for networking as well as entering raffles for free lunches at local businesses...
  • Diploma frame: It’s sweet and symbolic, and will also ensure they graduate on time (right?!). 

There you have it! More dorm gift ideas than you (or your wallet) probably know what to do with. What are your favorite gift ideas for your special college student? Share in the comments, or get in touch over social media.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

christmas gifts for students college gift ideas college student gift ideas college students gifts gift for college student

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Lexie Knutson

Lexie Knutson

High School Class of 2021

This whole website has helped me overcome the attitude I had before. I was scared to even approach the thought of college because it was so much. I knew it wasn’t just a few easy steps, and I panicked mostly, instead of actually trying. Without realizing it, CollegeXpress did exactly what I usually do when I panic, which is take it one step at a time. With college I forget that because it’s more than just a small to-do list, but this website was really helpful and overall amazing. So thank you!

Melanie Kajy

Melanie Kajy

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously during my senior year of high school. I started off using the college search to find more information about the universities I was interested in. Just this tool alone gave me so much information about a particular school. It was my one-stop shop to learn about college. I was able to find information about college tuition, school rank, majors, and so much more that I can't list it all. The college search tool has helped me narrow down which college I want to attend, and it made a stressful process surprisingly not so stressful. I then moved to the scholarship search tool to find scholarships to apply for because I can't afford to pay for tuition myself. The search tool helped me find scholarships that I was eligible for. The tool gave me all the information I could ever need about a particular scholarship that was being offered. The CollegeXpress scholarship search tool is so much better than other tools offered, like the Chegg scholarship search. Thanks to CollegeXpress, I was able to apply to tons of scholarships in a relatively easy way!

Kory Gilbertson

Kory Gilbertson

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me explore my views on college in that "why do I wanna go to a certain school" way. It’s helped me explore the best fits in all of these outstanding choices. All these college admission counselors can access my accolades showing them how I could help their college. This source of information helps me show these admission directors who I am and what I'm interested in. Thanks to this platform, my experience for education will be better than most, and I'm so grateful for all that it has provided for me.

Jeannie Borin, M.Ed.

Jeannie Borin, M.Ed.

President and Founder, College Connections

I frequently visit CollegeXpress to answer questions from students and parents. There are countless hot topics in admissions that need to be addressed. I enjoy reading what my colleagues post and gain additional insight from different perspectives.



High School Class of 2019

CollegeXpress has helped me by opening my eyes to new opportunities. I learned about such easy ways to get financial help to achieve my dreams while also learning about myself and who I truly am. I know this isn't a very long explanation of what CollegeXpress has done for me, but nonetheless, I believe it's crucial to how I developed as a person throughout my time as a college student.

College Matches