Buying a Christmas gift or graduation gift for a college student can be a challenge if you are not in frequent contact with members of this age group. As an academic advisor at a state university, I meet and talk to hundreds of college students and I definitely have a feel for their budgets, most prized possessions, and wish lists. Here are some of the best ideas for college student gifts that are designed to evoke a “Wow” and a “Thanks SO much!” from males and females alike. Gifts suggested range from $10 to $1000.
#1 Concert Tickets or Movie Passes
Do you know (or can you find out) what their favorite musical groups are? If one of those groups is coming to town over the next several months, purchasing tickets now through Ticketmaster or another outlet could be ideal. For metalheads, buy Judas Priest or Iron Maiden tickets; for students into radio rock, you could buy tickets for the Killers. You really need to know what they like! And be sure you buy decent seats too.
If you are not sure about their favorite groups, movie passes can be a welcome gift. Costco sells passes that can be used at Regal, Loews, and AMC Theaters or you can buy passes directly from theaters. Passes sometimes can’t be used during the opening two weeks of a new film, but they still have value that is appreciated by the college student set.
#2 The iPod Touch
Apple’s iPod Touch starts at about $200, so it is a big-ticket gift. It is sure to please because it combines the iconic iPod MP3 player with the functionality of a (pint-sized) portable computer with wifi access. College students can even watch videos and play video games with it. It is sort of like the iPhone without the phone! Because the iPhone itself requires a contract with AT&T (which is not a favorite wireless carrier for many, including me), the iPod Touch gives the college student 90% of the fun of the iPhone without having to make that wrenching shift of phone service provider.
The iPod Touch is available from the Apple Store on line here or from your local Apple store. A list of all Apple Stores in the U.S. is here. The iPod Touch is also available at Best Buy for what appears to be the same price as the direct-from-Apple price ($199.99 and up).
#3 Messenger Bag or Courier-Style Bag for Laptop
On our campus I have noticed a strong trend toward messenger bags for laptop computers, books, and papers as an alternative to the ubiquitous backpacks. Both guys and girls like this new style, although the girls will go in for flashier colors. A messenger bag is like a large envelope with a long strap that goes over the shoulder. Messenger bags designed for laptops have a padded compartment to protect the electronics from being banged around.
(Note: briefcases remain utterly verboten for undergrads; a person with a briefcase is always a professor or an older grad student who does not mind looking like a nerd.)
When selecting a messenger bag, be sure it will accommodate the size of laptop your college student owns-the wildly popular MacBooks have 13 inch screens, PCs are usually about 15 inches, with the “widescreen” models 17 inches. The tags on the bags will tell how large a computer can fit inside. Only the largest will fit the 17 inchers, so be careful to read those tags! Canvas, nylon, and microfiber are the most common materials; a leather bag would be too heavy and pretentious for a college student.
A truly staggering assortment of messenger bags is available from ebags.com, which is an on-line vendor I have found reliable. Stores that sell luggage or computers, or college bookstores are great places to find messenger bags. Prices are $25 and up, but as long as you steer clear of leather you can find very nice bags for about $50.
#4 Airplane Tickets
College students love to travel. Helping to fund their travel will make you very popular. For example, if you know a student who regularly travels back and forth from Pittsburgh to Baltimore via Southwest Airlines, or is planning a trip to Las Vegas over spring break, you could give a Southwest Airlines Giftcard, which can be worth any amount you choose from $10 to $1,000. Southwest Giftcards can be personalized with a message from you and delivered via e-mail (great for that last-minute gift!) or on paper via USPS for a $2.95 charge. The Southwest Giftcards can be redeemed in conjunction with on-line ticket purchases, which is how all college students plan their trips. The cards do not expire or decline in value over time.
Some other airlines allow you to purchase frequent flyer miles as a gift. Or, if you are a frequent flyer and have more miles than you know what to do with, you could use some of your miles to “buy” a ticket for a college student as a gift.
#5 Gift Certificate from their College Bookstore
A truly flexible gift for a college or university student is a gift certificate from their campus bookstore. Bookstores not only sell textbooks, but also school supplies, university logo items (sweatshirts, car decals, jackets), posters, computer software, recreational books, dorm room items and much more. For the graduating students there are all sorts of commemorative items available from mugs to diploma frames to note cards.
Other sure-fire gifts that are bound to please a college student include netbooks (micro laptop computers), small digital cameras, DVDs of favorite films, gift certificates from amazon.com. I do not recommend that you attempt to select clothing items unless you know the student very well.
Armed with these up to the minute suggestions based on observation of hundreds and thousands of college students, you will find selecting a gift for the college student on your list much less intimidating. Good luck!
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