A Holiday Gift Guide For the College Student

College-aged loved ones can be tough to shop for; no need to resort to a gift card, my blog assistant (and college Junior) Leyla is here to help with a gift guide! – Alison

With the holidays in full swing, we all may be finding ourselves struggling to find the perfect gift for a few important people in our life. For me, when it comes to buying gifts for my family, my younger brother always poses as the greatest challenge. He’s 18, is currently in his freshman year of college, and like most boys, doesn’t really care about clothes, shoes, or any of the things I would actually want to buy for him. So, when the holiday season rolls around and my brother refuses to make a wishlist (regardless of how many times my mom begs for one), I’m left clueless about what to actually get him.

Seem like a familiar challenge for some of you? Do you have college-aged students in your life and have not even the slightest clue about what to give them, or even what they like for that matter? Well, no need to fret, because I have compiled the go-to holiday gift guide for that special college student in your life. Boy or girl, freshman or senior, these gifts are sure to give all college kids a big smile.

holiday gift guide for a college student

L.L. Bean Boots, 6” – $99

Walking through campus on a rainy or snowy day is always an adventure. If you don’t have the appropriate footwear, you’re likely to wind up in class with wet socks, cold feet, or some awful combination of the two. Last Christmas, I asked for a pair of Black Matte Hunter Rain Boots and honestly, I have no idea where I’d be without them on rainy days. But sometimes, the Hunter boots are heavy, clunky, and I want some variety in my wardrobe. Well, behold, every college student’s dream: Bean Boots. Practically every student has them (except me… but don’t worry, they’re on my list this year). They’re comfortable (I’ve worn a friend’s pair before), sewn from leather, waterproof, and have a lifetime warranty with L.L. Bean. And the best part? The boots are handcrafted right here in the United States (shout out to Maine for these gems). Made for both men and women, these boots look great with some chunky socks pulled up, fleece leggings, a sweater, and a vest or scarf. The perfect footwear for a misty or snowy fall or winter day that will keep your student’s feet dry on their trek through campus.

A couple disclaimers: The boots run large, so consider ordering a full size down, and be sure to note that because these boots are very popular, they are often backordered, so check in advance before purchasing!

Spotify Premium Membership, $0.99 for Three Months or $5 per Month

If it’s something that all college students have in common, it’s listening to music. Whether we’re studying, walking to class, lounging in our rooms, or getting ready for a night out with friends, music is a staple item in all settings. But, college kids are poor, and buying songs for $1.29 each off of iTunes can get expensive. So, look into buying your college kid a Spotify premium membership. I’ve had one for two years, and it has absolutely changed my life.

The low down: Spotify premium is $10 per month, but for students (because the Spotify gods know we’re low on cash), it’s only $5 per month! And, right now, you can purchase a three-month Spotify premium membership for only $0.99. That’s a steal. Spotify is practically begging you to give it a try. But, note the fine print: the $0.99 for three months deal is only available until December 31, so hurry!

The difference between regular Spotify and premium: Regular Spotify has ads every 5 songs, only allows a certain amount of skips on mobile, and doesn’t allow songs to be played offline. Premium is ad-free, unlimited skips on mobile and desktop, and allows users to download playlists and songs to be played without WiFi.  Essentially, Spotify premium: $5 per month (for students). The number of times I have been on an airplane or a place without WiFi and have thanked myself for upgrading to premium: priceless.

Why Spotify > iTunes: Buying songs off of iTunes means that you’re stuck with the song forever. If the college student in your life is anything like how I am, they will love a song for a week, listen to it on repeat so many times they get sick of it, then move on and never listen to that song again. So, imagine if you did that once a week for the entire year. That’s $60+ you’re spending on music that you probably won’t ever listen to ever again. Or, you could spend $5 per month on Spotify to essentially buy all of the music in the world. Who’s the obvious winner here…

Scratchmap, $20

Dorm rooms are not the most cheery of places. Often times, the rooms are in old, rusty, worn out buildings with poor air circulation and walls that resemble that of a prison. For girls (especially freshman girls), decorating your first college dorm room is always an exciting time. I know that before my freshman year, I painted too many canvases, bought too many picture frames, and owned every type of command strip imaginable. Over the years however, I’ve gotten sick of the same things hanging on my walls, and I’ve been searching for something awesome to add some flair. Well, my prayers were answered, and I came across the Scratchmap.

What is it: This poster-sized map of the world is an interactive décor item. Basically, the concept revolves around scratching off where you’ve been. Track your travels by scratching off a country once you’ve visited that place and reveal the pops of color underneath. Not only is it perfect addition to a room to impress friends with how worldly and cultured you are, but it also serves as a reminder for all there is to discover in the world!

Oh the places you’ll go! Made in the UK (but available via Amazon Prime), and quickly becoming popular among young people, teachers, and all who love to travel. I keep promising myself that I’ll buy this for myself when I study abroad in Barcelona next semester, as it’ll allow me to track my travels all over Europe. A perfect addition for any room, and, bonus: it goes well with any bedspread. Extra bonus: it’s gender neutral, and definitely a good conversation starter.

Cards Against Humanity, $25

Apples to Apples goes to college. If you bring this game into any college dorm room, you will instantly be the life of the party. I guarantee this.

Tell me about it:Cards Against Humanity is a party game for horrible people.” This game allows for creativity, which means that college students can be as despicable and awkward as they want. Not only is this behavior during the game encouraged, but it's also sometimes the key to winning. Basically, the way this card game works is one player draws a main card, typically a sentence or a question with a blank, and all others players are to put down cards in their hand that finish the sentence. The goal is to make the sentence as crazy and weird as possible. Often times, the answers can be pretty dirty or strange, which is why this is sometimes called the PG-13 or R version of Apples to Apples. Aka: proceed with caution, parents. But let me promise you: it’s a hit among college students.

Grannies have played it: BuzzFeed had grandmothers play the game, they took a video, and it was great. Watch the video here.

Lilly Pulitzer Planner, $28-$36

College gets crazy. Not only are students expected to balance classes, but they’re also pressured to be involved in activities, have a job or internship, maintain a social life, and still somehow find time to eat and sleep. For me, I honestly have no idea where I would be if I didn’t have a planner. I schedule every single one of my days down to the minute, because that’s just how busy college can be. Because my planner is such a big part of my life, I take special pride in the book to be colorful, fun, and professional. And Lilly Pulitzer Planners do just the trick.

Each page of the planner leaves numerous lines for writing down exactly what needs to get accomplished that day (check out the website – they have multiple views of each planner), with months separated by fun designs. Over the years, I have generally stuck to the generic planner from Staples or Target, but I decided I wanted my planner to reflect more of my style more. So, I came across the Lilly planners and haven’t turned back since.

Kate Spade and other designer stores offer lots of other fun designs at a relatively low cost. I have friends who have owned some of these planners for years and they said it is definitely worth the extra $10 to spend, in comparison to other brands of planners. Cute, functional, and keeps your college student organized. What’s not to love?

Zipbuds, $24.75

I’m honestly not sure how I didn’t find these sooner, but I am so glad I did. Not only are they earbuds, but they are also earbuds that zip (zipbuds – I see what you did there with the name). Designed to not tangle in your jean pocket, backpack, or any bag, these buds provide comfort, functionality, and a quirky style. They also come in three different colors and have gotten some raving reviews on Amazon. I would be lying if I said I haven’t already added them to my Christmas 2015 wishlist.

For me, untangling my current earbuds is a daily struggle. Sometimes, I even have to untangle my earbuds more than once per day. I love to listen to music on my long walks to class, as do most college students, but when I finally arrive to lecture, I usually throw my earbuds in my backpack, and somehow when I go to take them back out, they’re in some jumbled mess that takes me a good minute or two to untangle. Obviously, this is a big waste of time. I read something once that says that the average person spends about 2 weeks of their life waiting for stoplights. And I’m convinced that I’ve already spent 24 hours of my life untangling headphones. No bueno.

Let’s make a deal: Besides never tangling, fans of these earbuds claim that not only are they comfortable, but they have good sound quality too. All of this for only $25? Seems like a great deal to me. Plus, added bonus: they’re available on Amazon prime. Aka, if you’re waiting until the last minute and only have a few days before it’s present time, these babies will come in just a couple of days. Now that’s something you can jam to.


  1. Emily
    December 11, 2015 / 1:02 pm

    My brother is now 25 and for the last … at least 6 years I’ve bought him a t-shirt for Christmas and for his birthday. I try to look out for ones during the year that have fun witty designs on – and because he hates shopping he’s doubly appreciative! (2x tshirts/year roughly keeps up with his rate of losing/ruining stuff..!)
    I would second Scratchmap as being a great choice 🙂

  2. snaphappy
    December 5, 2015 / 12:00 pm

    Some great ideas here!

  3. Pam S.
    December 4, 2015 / 1:13 pm

    Do not play Cards Against Humanity with your husband’s mother and auntie unless you know they are OK with offensive, dirty humor. It was mortifying. Considering the game has cards with dead prostitutes on them, I’d say this is R-rated at best. Also, it’s a riot of guilty hilarity if you don’t take it seriously. So, just beware.

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