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Great Gift Ideas for College Students

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Forget cash and gift cards. Everyone — even a super-cynical college student — enjoys the thrill of unwrapping a beautiful box during the holidays. Here are college-kid approved ideas for great gifts. Most fulfill that dual duty of small enough for a dorm room or cramped apartment and meaningful enough to get used.

Keurig Mini Coffee Maker: Yes, the pods are not eco-friendly (they are almost 100 percent non-recyclable), and yes, in a per-cup pricing model, it’s pretty expensive (figure 35 to 60 cents per cup); but it sure beats running to the local coffee shop each time your student needs a caffeine jolt. Make sure to include a box of K-cups in your student’s favorite flavors — whether it’s hot cocoa or herbal tea or good, old-fashioned coffee. For extra fun, get your student the Keurig Mini in one of the fun 12 colors — including Comet green. Other uses: Hot water for breakfast oatmeal or cup-o-noodle snacks. Price: As low as $80.

NutriBullet for making smoothies: For smoothie aficionados, nothing beats being able to chunk a bunch of stuff into a container and blend it all up into something smooth, nutritious and cheaper-than-at-the-juice-bar. The brand NutriBullet is the most well-known, but some cheaper options (as low as $20 for the Bella Blender at Macy’s) get great reviews. The downside for dorm residents: You’ll have to wash the pieces in your bathroom sink. For apartment dwellers, stick it all in the dishwasher. Price: Around $80 for the basic Bullet; less for other brands.

Adult coloring books: College students often handle stress by reverting to what they knew as children. That can include watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood or coloring with friends. Adult coloring books are all the rage on campuses these days — even among the left-brain crowd (who will color inside the lines). Make sure to include a fresh pack of colored pencils. Price: $8-$15 per book.

Wireless Bluetooth speaker: The options are all over the map, so look for the sweet spot of great customer reviews versus low price. The OontZ Angle Bluetooth Speaker holds a charge for up to 10 hours, is water-resistant and is about $120. A little cheaper is the Eton Rugged Rukus, which is solar-powered and claims to have an eight-hour battery life, although reviews say four to six hours is more realistic. The good news on these high-tech gadgets is that technophiles love to write reviews, making it easy for even a parent to sort out the good products. Price: $60 to $200.

Apples to Apples: Back in the olden days, people played board games on weekend nights. Remember Monopoly? And Risk? Apples to Apples is a game that requires no skill, at least three players (the more players, the more interesting the game) and can be started and finished within short periods of time (no need to keep the Monopoly board undisturbed for days at a time). It’s mindless enough for adults to play with young children, or college students to play at one of their wee-hours-of-the-night parties. Price: $20.

A grown-up weekender bag: It’s time to start adulting — and that means having a satchel other than your backpack or gym bag to take on short trips (Think: job interviews). You can absolutely break the bank on this item — prices rise into the $400 and $500 for an over-the-shoulder tote — or think a bit more downscale at Macy’s, Target or L.L. Bean’s well-rated Quickload Carry-On for $70. The key is separate compartments so your makeup bag or shave kit isn’t residing next to your shoes, tomorrow’s underwear and the nice tie or freshly pressed shirt that would otherwise end up in a wrinkled puddle at the bottom of the bag. Prices: As much as you’d like to spend.

Emergency Kit: Sometimes, you must push your college student into responsibility. Nothing says, “You can handle this,” like a first-aid kit. Again, prices are truly all over the map. From a $7 version picked up at your local drugstore, to doomsday prepper version at more than $600 — it’s all out there. The Boy Scouts of America has a list of the essentials, if you want to make your own. If you do that, you can include items specific to your student — allergy medicine, eyedrops, maybe even an emergency supply of shampoo. Tuck it all in a tight-fitting plastic box with handles, like this one from Container Store for $12, so it can move from home to car for camping trips with ease. Price: $7 and up.

Drink Tub: This will be wildly popular with your college student, especially if you end up getting the personalized version for about $25 from Walmart. For underage students, fill it with an assortment of Snapple or other specialty drinks. For older college students, a selection of beers from local microbreweries might be fun. The reason this will work in a dorm room or apartment is that students can use the tubs for dual purpose — as a place to store textbooks or even bath towels when not being used for entertaining. Tip: Read reviews to ensure the tub won’t leak as ice melts. Price: $20 and up.

Jeanne Spreier

Jeanne is a writer and editor who has worked in JSOM's External Affairs for more than seven years. She is also mother of three college-age kids who were born and raised in Dallas, and gets a lot of her Dallas know-how from them. On any given day, she would rather be outside somewhere. She earned her communications degree from the University of Kentucky. Read more articles

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