Best Gifts for College Students – Top 5 Smartest List For 2020
It’s not difficult to make a list of the obvious “stuff” a freshman at college will need. Sheets and a pillow for the bed, clothes (and clothes hangers), a laptop and charger – those items would all go onto a student’s packing list without a second thought.
Other necessities like toiletries, zip-loc storage bags and flip-flops (to wear in often-dirty showers) might not occur to the student, but will certainly be added to the list by her mother. If her father gets in on the action, he might suggest a safe for the student’s valuables (ones disguised as college books are actually available) or a mini-toolkit to handle any disasters that might arise in her dorm room.
The Groom+Style team agrees that all of those should be on the list, along with other relatively obvious items like a laundry bag or basket, a desk lamp, and a portable fan. But none of those items are any fun – and they certainly couldn’t be called cool.
That’s why we set out to compile our own list of the top 5 must-have items for the first year of college. None of them meets what might be called “basic human needs.” All of them, however, will add greatly to a student’s quality of life as she gets used to living on her own in the often-tumultuous environment of a college dorm.
What Will College Life Be Like?
For most first-year students, it’s going to be crazy. Just living in a building – and on a campus – with thousands of other teenagers can turn the average student’s perceptions and feelings upside-down. The responsibility of living without parental supervision and the difficulty of starting out with very few friends can create incredible stress and uncertainty. It can also lead to some very bad decisions which hopefully will be looked back on as nothing more than “learning experiences.”
On the academic side, the shock to a freshman’s system will be just as strong. Daily homework assignments will be replaced by syllabi that cover an entire semester, and it will be up to the student to properly manage her study time side-by-side with the rest of her on-campus life. And unless she’s the type to spend hours and hours at the library, her studying and assignments – and cramming for midterm and final exams – may have to be done in an environment filled with loud music, loud voices and a haze of sweet-smelling smoke.
Most students come through this trial by fire (and smoke) just fine. The best prescription for making it during the first difficult semester, though, is comfort.
What Makes a First-Year College Student Comfortable?
It’s naturally comforting to make friends and find interesting classes early in the freshman year, but that’s not something that can be packed into a suitcase or the trunk of a car. The comfortable bedding, pillow, and clothes that are already on the list will definitely help, as will familiar wall hangings, stuffed animals or personal mementos.
But today’s first-year students depend first and foremost on their phones and devices, and like any generation of freshmen, on their music. Anything that guarantees uninterrupted connectivity and access to apps and tunes will be among the most important items any student can bring when starting college. That will help ensure the level of comfort needed to survive an uncertain and sometimes unruly living environment.
There’s something else that can ease the stress: eating. No, we’re not talking about downing a pint of Ben and Jerry’s after being dumped by the cool guy in Math 101 (although that impulse is completely understandable). What we’re referring to is having a good selection of (fingers crossed) nutritious snack food and a way to prepare it. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a readily-available source of coffee or tea for early-morning classes or late-night study sessions, since most dorms don’t have a 24-hour Starbucks downstairs.
The final ingredient in Groom+Style’s “comfort prescription for freshmen” is entertainment. The music and phone apps we’ve already mentioned naturally play an important role in this category. But for students addicted to movies, TV, a favorite sports team or video game consoles, access to their preferred outlet for relaxation can be a life-saver.
It’s necessary to find out ahead of time what sort of wired entertainment will be available in the dorm room; some schools provide fully-equipped living spaces complete with cable or satellite television, while others outfit rooms with just a bed, a desk and a power outlet. Figuring out what equipment or services will have to be brought from home – often in partnership with a roommate-to-be – can turn a lonely room into a welcoming haven even in the midst of dormitory chaos.
Connectivity, food, and entertainment; it almost sounds good enough to go back and do the first year of college all over again. It’s certainly better than what we had in our freshman dorm, but today’s teens are far more accustomed to comfort than most of us were.
With that in mind, here are the review team’s top five suggestions. And if you find that the below items might not be the best fit, consider something that’s a bit newer that they’ve never seen before.
Top 5 Must-Have Items For the First Year at College
1. Cowin E-7 Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones
Earbuds are great, and most first-year students will probably own at least one set. But when there’s a raucous party going on upstairs and a roommate blaring a TV in a small dorm room, concentrating on work is impossible without a great set of noise-canceling headphones. The Cowin E-7s are those headphones, providing great performance at a very reasonable price.
These over-ear models deliver surprisingly good audio for their cost. The bass is clear and clean thanks to 40mm large-aperture drivers, while the midranges and highs are crisp and true. The solid frequency range of the E-7s let you hear surprising detail you never realized was hiding behind your speakers or earbuds. Couple that with active noise reduction technology that filters out almost everything (like loud parties) going on around you, and you’ve got superior sound without distractions.
Best of all, the Cowins are wireless. You’ll get up to 30 hours of Bluetooth connectivity between micro-USB charges for long-term listening, and pairing is simple with a simple on/off switch. There’s an onboard mic, side buttons for volume control and taking phone calls, and if you’re old-fashioned, you can connect an analog cable that will plug into the audio source of your choice.
The over-ear headphones are among the most comfortable you’ll find thanks to protein-based earpads and headband, the cups can independently swivel 90° for the perfect fit, and they’re extremely lightweight.
Students need to concentrate in order to work in a dorm room and that’s not always easy. The comfortable Cowin E-7’s are the perfect solution, delivering amazing sound quality while blocking out distractions – at a great price.
Facts and figures on the Cowin E-7 Active Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones:
2. Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle
The Groom+Style review team thought long and hard about putting a K-cup coffee maker in this spot, but then we remembered dorm life. A fabulous cup of Keurig coffee would be hard to beat in the confines of a dorm room, but that’s not the only use college students have for hot water. The Cuisinart CPK-17 can heat or boil nearly two quarts of water in a flash for making coffee, teas or the college student’s staple, Ramen noodles.
What really attracted the review team to this model are the seven presets which heat the water to optimal temperatures for delicate, green, white, oolong, herbal or black tea, as well as the ideal 200° for French Press coffee. There’s also auto-shutoff (to prevent fires) as well as a “keep warm” function that can run for 30 minutes, just enough to keep water at temperature for a second cup.
The design of this Cuisinart kettle is well thought-out. The handle is non-slip and stays cool, there’s a backlit window so you can see the water level, the scale filter can be removed for cleaning, a concealed heating element prevents minerals from building up, and a memory function lets you take the kettle off its base for a minute or two without losing the settings.
- Note – follow this link to check out our complete list of the best electric kettles
You’re not going to get the same coffee from the PerfecTemp Kettle that you would from a Keurig, and we won’t be offended if you decide the latter is a better choice. But this is an extremely versatile appliance which is cheaper than the Keurig and fits the dorm lifestyle perfectly.
Details on the Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle:
3. Viivant AirX Portable Charger
It may be an exaggeration to say that teens don’t go anywhere without their devices – but it’s not all that far from the truth. The one thing that continuous connectivity requires is a dependable portable charger, and this Viivant delivers.
The 10,000 mAh AirX is perfect for college students on the go, weighing only about seven ounces. It lets you charge two devices at the same time through the two USB smart ports, which determine the right amount and method of current delivery for fast charges. The Viivant works with Android, iOS, Galaxy and just about any other phone or tablet, providing dozens of hours of talk or play time before the charger needs a micro-USB “refill.”
It’s not just the ports that are smart. The design is, too. This model is slim and attractive with a matte finish and anti-skid features, and it will fit right into your pocket. Just as important, it has a removable protector to keep dirt and dust from getting into the ports when they’re not in use and has auto-start and auto-stop functions.
No student should arrive for her first year of college without the confidence that her devices will always stay charged. The Viivant AirX is just right for the task.
Specs for the Viivant AirX Portable Charger:
4. Igloo FR326M-D-BLACK Erase Board Refrigerator
Some dorm rooms come with mini-fridges. Most don’t. And any college student who can go more than a month without having immediate access to yogurt, juice (or – shhh – cold beer) is someone very special. A mini-refrigerator is almost essential for the student comfort we mentioned earlier, and this Igloo comes with something extra: a front door that doubles as a dry erase board for messages for a roommate, assignment reminders or doodling.
The FR326M is spacious for a mini-fridge at 3.2 cubic feet, and there are all the features you’d expect in a quality refrigerator, whether it’s large or small. There are slide-out glass shelves, an adjustable thermostat, a reversible front door – and yes, a freezer for that Ben and Jerry’s we’ve warned you about. It’s rather heavy for a mini, but the quality and features make it worth the extra hassle lugging it into the dorm.
Lots of freshmen will show up with a mini-fridge for their dorm room. The review team guarantees, though, that no one else will have one with an erase board front door or one that will work as well as this Igloo.
More info on the Igloo FR326M-D-BLACK Erase Board Refrigerator:
5. Roku Express
Many first-year college students leaving the comfort of their home, where they’re likely to have every entertainment option under the sun, will quickly begin suffering withdrawal without access to streaming entertainment. The low-cost answer is a Roku Express.
The hardware is ridiculously inexpensive since there’s only a one-time purchase price with no continuing charges. Sure, to get the good stuff you have to subscribe to your choice of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu or SlingTV, but there’s plenty of free HD material available, setup takes only a few seconds, and it operates via voice command, mobile app or remote.
Is something like the Roku Express really necessary for a college freshman? We’ll let you be the judge, but if a comfort zone is essential for surviving those first trying months away from home, access to all the streaming content imaginable is a great way to stay comfortable.
The facts on Roku Express:
1st Bonus Idea – Rise Nitro Cold Brew Lattes
Some college students can’t live without a coffee maker (or even an espresso machine). However, the majority are used to Starbucks (or mom) making their lattes for them, and don’t want to be bothered messing around with a machine. The perfect gift for that crew is an assortment of Rise Nitro Cold Brew Lattes, which are organic, healthy, and ready-to-drink.
Rise Brewing has become an industry sensation over the past few years. Its cold brew coffee is infused with nitrogen for a creamy head and distinctive “mouth feel”, and it has been copied by Starbucks and many other vendors. The latest product line from Rise successfully tackles a challenge that no other coffee company has mastered, creating yummy canned nitro lattes which don’t require refrigeration.
Rise offers a trio of flavors: classic, mocha and oat milk. They’re smooth, creamy – and unlike other brands’ canned coffee drinks, only slightly sweet with no artificial sweeteners. These nitro cold brew lattes are organic, ethically-sourced and made from Peruvian fair trade beans, low in calories and amazingly delicious.
Rise Nitro Cold Brew Lattes will be a hit in any dorm, but they’ll go fast once your college student’s friends discover taste them.
Details for Rise Nitro Cold Brew Lattes:
2nd Bonus Idea – The Bike Hanger 2.0
Bike hangers and racks have been a commonly-seen addition to college dorm rooms for decades. Most are simply hooks screwed into ceilings or walls (with varying levels of success), while others are metal racks that may be high on the utility-scale but are – in the humble opinion of the Groom+Style team – ugly.
The Bike Hanger 2.0 from KP Cykler is a very different animal: convenient, sturdy and sleek. It’s a classy way to mount and/or display a bicycle out of the way, whether it’s a gorgeous racing or road bike, or the beater that your favorite student uses to get to class and the local pizza place.
This unit mounts flush to the wall, with the protruding hanger that holds the bike shaped just like racing handlebars. The wall panel is made from stained brown oak with a distinctive embossed KP Cykler logo; the hanger is built from aluminum and chrome protected by brown bar tape, with cork bar ends. It’s also available in a Dark Knight Limited Edition black matte finish which blends perfectly with most carbon-frame bikes.
Mounting the Bike Hanger 2.0 is a snap. Screws are installed into the wall (wood screws for wood walls, wall anchors for drywall, plaster or plywood, dowel anchors for stone or concrete) and the unit slides securely onto them. Two screws are usually enough, but there’s a third slot available for heavy bikes. There’s also an adjustable offset, which allows you to slide a section of the hanger out further from the wall to accommodate the bike if necessary. The unit can be used to hang bikes with handlebars as wide as 60 cm without touching the wall.
Space is usually at a premium in college students’ rooms. The Bike Hanger 2.0 provides an easy, attractive way to get bikes off the floor and out of the way until they’re needed.
Looking at the details for the KP Cykler Bike Hanger 2.0:
3rd Bonus Idea – TwixT Strategy Game
Retro stuff almost always makes for great gifts – even stuff that was originally popular long before the recipient was born. And the TwixT strategy game is not only cool, it’s just as much fun as it was when the game was big in the 1960s. It’s also educational, having recently been awarded the highest honor given by STEM.org (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), but don’t let that scare you away. It really is a fun game for teens and adults as well as nerdy kids.
The concept is simple: two players take turns placing pegs on the board. They then race to connect the pegs, creating a chain that reaches from one side to the other. It gets complicated because each player is also trying to block the opponent from completing his chain at the same time. It’s something like a 3D version of tic-tac-toe on steroids in which strategy plays a crucial role, making it perfect for college-age kids who are into role-playing or strategy games.
It can cost you well over a hundred bucks to buy an original TwixT game from the ‘60s or ‘70s. However, it’s finally being produced again after 40 years, and the game is just as fun to play as it was when almost every home had a game of TwixT on the shelf.
More info on the TwixT Strategy Game:
4th Hamilton Beach 25475A Breakfast Sandwich Maker
“Don’t forget, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” said just about every parent ever, even though they know their college-aged kids probably don’t want a delicious, home-cooked meal before heading off to class. They just want an Egg McMuffin.
Here’s a way that both parents and students can be happy, since the Hamilton Beach Breakfast Sandwich Maker prepares a healthier version of the classic grab-and-go fast food breakfast in just five minutes. This multi-level appliance prepares a yummy sandwich very similar to the Golden Arches’ version, but with fresh ingredients.
First, you drop in the bottom half of a muffin, biscuit or mini-bagel and top it with any desired “inside stuff” like cheese, hash browns or pre-cooked ham. A cooking plate goes on top of that, and you break a raw egg into it. Top the egg with the other half of the bread, close the top, pull out the plate separating the ingredients, and in five minutes: homemade Egg McMuffin to go. It’s foolproof, and everything’s dishwasher-safe.
This cool sandwich maker also makes the perfect late-night snack for when students get home from partying. Just don’t let your kids know that you know about that part of their life away from home.
More info on the Hamilton Beach 25475A Breakfast Sandwich Maker: