Below I’ve updated my previous lists using input from high school and college friends; from $10-100s, you’re bound to get some great ideas for every price range. Your suggestions are welcome in comments.
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- One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book. Under $15, this is by far the most-often purchased item from my list of suggestions (based on an Amazon order summary over the past two years). People buy ’em by the bunches and it continues to be a gift my daughter continues to thank me for, years after I gave her the copy I bought for myself. My son likes the likes the Q & A a Day version.
- Yeti anything. THIS is the gift that came into its own in 2015. The high school and college set WANT one if they don’t have one! Want to make it REALLY special? You can order a customized monogram to make it almost impossible to lose for just a few dollars more.
- All-weather/rain boots. The good ones last forever and this time of year, they’re needed! But cute, cheap ones are good, too.
- Smartwool or Happy Socks. Kids know these aren’t el cheap-o.
Apollo Precision Tools 39-Piece Pink Tool Set. This is second in popularity behind the One Line a Day. The girl who owns this will be the most popular girl in her dorm. Under $25, it’s a great price for multiple gift-giving, too. Here’s a guy’s version of the same thing.
- Men’s travel/toiletry kit. There are inexpensive hanging toiletry kits or you can go with a more traditional (and nicer) Dopp Kit.
- Hanging Jewelry and Accessories Organizer. This one has 80 pockets but you can find them everywhere women’s accessories are sold.
- Pepper Spray. Especially for girls who might be traveling back and forth to work or class alone from their apartment, this is a gift of peace of mind.
- Monogrammed towels. I used to think this was too high falutin’ but a friend told me this was the ONE THING her college-graduating son had kept through two different dorms and two apartmets. He always knew which ones were his. You can pick up a deal (like this four-pack from Amazon) and have them monogrammed locally to save money.
- A hammock. Again, this is one of my kids’ Favorite Gifts of All Time. My sons and daughter love these Eagles Nest Outfitters DoubleNest Hammocks–they’re large enough for two, a help when a friend doesn’t have one for hanging out (singles are less expensive).
- A Terry Wrap. One size fits all, these are fantastic for dorm living if you have to walk down the hall to a shower.
- Jewelry. Pearl studs, something special from Tiffany & Co. or a classic piece of jewelry is always a good answer. DaySpring offers a faith-inspired line of Lisa Leonard hand-stamped pieces, too. Heirloom jewelry from a special family member is a precious idea.
- A watch. Betsy Johnson makes some whimsical watches for girls; and Fossil has great choices for guys.
- Nice Pen. This is a throwback if ever there was one, but there’s no denying even a student can appreciate the difference between a Bic and Montblanc. Perhaps a more realistic (and affordable!) alternative to Montblanc is a Cross Pen set. I received one and treasured it for years (and kept it longer than any other pen I’ve ever owned.)
Underbed storage. Because dorm or apartment space is at a premium, graduates can get a lot of use out of something like this. I LOVE my niece’s favorite–Scout Be-Low-Me (intermittently out of stock, but here’s another option).
- A piece of their hometown. I don’t know what this means for you, but for my kids a special gift is a plaque on a local historical bridge. If they’re inclined to appreciate something this abstract, look for something in their hometown.
- School/team apparel. If your graduate is headed to college, they’ll want to deck out in school mascot/colors. If not and you know they’re a big fan of a pro team, a nice tee or sweatshirt would be great.
Posters or Art. This is tricky–what YOU love, they might not. This is a better choice if you know the person well. Safe bets are campus buildings, sports-related scenes or inspiring word art. J’adore this one from allposters.com.
- Mattress topper or feather bed. (Another of my daughter’s top three favorite gifts; it’s become my go-to for gifts in this price range.
- Back of door full-length mirror; include Command Hanging Strips, easy on the walls. (I LOVE this innovation in hanging stuff! Removable tape + Velcro = winwin)
Binoculars. You can pretty much spend whatever you want for these but you can get a decent gift for a sports enthusiast / concert goer under $30.
- A flashlight. Today’s flashlights are smaller & better than ever. Don’t forget the batteries.
- Earbuds. My kids prefer Skullcandy. Combine it with an iTunes giftcard and they’ll love ya. Headphones are another option–you really do get what you pay for with quality headphones. My kids drool over Beats but you can get something decent for a quarter to half that price.
- An experience. Maybe it’s not a thing you should give, maybe it’s something to do. Hang gliding, hot air balloon rides, sky diving, zip lining, a Nascar experience–a great idea for the thrill seekers on your list (and Groupon and other deal sites seem to offer these on a regular basis).
- Deck of giftards. Restaurants, retail and entertainment will be VERY welcome to a poor student. Did you realize you can get just about everything at Amazon and not have to pay shipping?!
Luggage. This has been a standard for generations (I was so proud of my powder blue hard shell Samsonite forEVAH) and American Tourister’s 3-piece set seems like a quality buy for a reasonable price. Collapsible, rolling duffles are a good idea, too.
- A AAA Membership. Especially if your graduate has a long drive home from job or school.
- Laundry survival kit: put together something fun including a dirty clothes basket or heavy duty laundry bag and all-in-one detergent. I used to suggest including a roll of quarters but the colleges we’ve visited include free use of machines now.
- Hot pot & supply of Ramen Noodles. We’ve all been there.
- A small coffee maker. This Black & Decker Coffeemaker with Travel Mug is dual purpose. For those who can afford a Keurig, well…you’ll likely be giving one of their most favorite gifts of them all!
- Speaking of coffee, a French Press. I would never have thought a college student would want one, but my daughter and hallmates are sold on theirs.
- Umbrella. Go for school colors or a fun design; if it’s recognizable it’s less likely to get lost.
- Cordless Screwdriver. Practical but they’ll thank you when they need it.
First Aid Kit. You can buy one ready made
or put together a kit yourself. Include bandages, anti-bacterial cleansing wipes, Advil, Neosporin, Benedryl, matches, tape, gauze, scissors. Ummm, unless you’re making several of these, it might be more economical to buy the kit.
- Digital camera or if you know they have one, a camera case and memory cards.
- Adventure. Hang gliding, Skydiving, Rock Climbing, Repelling–if there’s some type of adventure in their backyard, surprise them with a MEMORY instead of a thing. Look for Groupon, Living Social or other deal sites.
Bookbag or Messenger bag. Look for great quality; if you can’t afford a good one, choose something else.
- A nice study Bible. It’s time to ditch the cheap paper student Bible they’ve used throughout high school. Leather makes it special. (This recommendation came from a graduating guy friend of ours–love it!!)
- Sound Machine. Drown out the sounds of dorm/apartment living. Wish I had had one.
- Dry erase board to hang outside their room. When we toured colleges with our kids, I loved seeing notes written to friends outside dorm rooms. Or, a bulletin or Memo Board (don’t forget the thumbtacks if it’s a cork board and Command Strips to hang it.)
- University-themed stadium throw or stadium chairs.
Nalgene water bottle. Fill it with their favorite candy & this makes an affordable gift if you have a lot to buy.
- Lap Desk. Another one they’ll appreciate more once they use it.
- Pocket knife. Yeah, I know it’s old school, but I like old school.
- Leatherman tool. These are easy to loathe until you find yourself in a bind and NEED one. I don’t know how many times we’ve used the one in our car. They’ll have it forever.
Tailgait Toss (aka Corn Hole). It’s curiously addicting once you start playing, and whoever owns a set brings the party with them.
- Sleeping bag. Feather-light and compactable, a nice sleeping bag is something the adventurer WILL appreciate.
- Cooler with wheels. For tailgaiting and roadtrips.
- Picnic blanket. My daughter stole mine and keeps it in the back of her car. A nice thing to have for outdoor concerts, lake outtings, beach, etc.
- Dorm fridge. One less thing they’ll have to buy for themselves.
- Microwave. Same as above (but if they’ll be living in a dorm, make sure it’s permissible).
- Portable GPS. Or teach them the antiquated skill of reading an actual map.
- Kindle or Nook. Not just for general reading but many (most? all??) textbooks are available electronically.
- iPad. Because it’s so much more than an e-reader.
- Laptop. Every student I asked for suggestions said this first. Every one. You can find laptops at fantastic prices here.