When thinking about gifts for college students, you probably think of laptops, smartphones, or tablets — or similar gadgets. These are awesome gifts, and most students would love to have any of them. In fact, most students would enjoy them so much that they probably already have one of each!
So where’s that leave you? You want to get them a gift that’ll be useful (or at least, sensible) for their time in the dorm, but you want to skip one of the more obvious choices. Don’t worry, we’ll show you the way!
Mini PC Gifts for College Students
Having a PC hooked up to the TV is game-changer. A whole world of entertainment becomes available. In school, though, it really doesn’t make sense to run out and get a second expensive computer just to hook it up to a TV. That’s where mini PCs save the day. They let you browse the web and watch just about anything you want online (please, don’t ask your college student what they’re watching online; neither of you will enjoy the answer) for a fraction of the cost.
Whether you want a small stick PC, a slightly more powerful mini computer, or a Chromebox, these are three of the best models out there.
1. Azulle Byte Plus Fanless Mini Desktop PC (Sponsored Listing)
If you want a mini PC with a little more under the hood, this is a fantastic one to look at. It comes with a solid Intel Cherry Trail T3 Z8300 1.44 GHz Quad-Core processor, 2 GB RAM, and 32 GB of storage. You can also get a model with 4 GB of RAM for $20 more, and quite honestly, I would recommend springing for the extra memory. Doubling the RAM makes a big difference in performance. We gave it a glowing review, so it’s definitely a good device.
Aside from the obvious benefit of increased power, getting a bigger computer like this offers more flexibility for ports. You get HDMI, VGA, two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, and an Ethernet port. With a smaller stick PC like the others we’ll check out, you get just one or two USB and HDMI ports, leaving you to use adapters to hook up additional devices.
When it comes to stick PCs, the Intel Compute is the name that always seems to pop up. It’s just a good little device that’ll handle basic computing tasks, and most importantly, it’ll play whatever video content you throw at it. It’s a bit less powerful than larger mini PCs, coming with a Quad-Core Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Processor, 2 GB RAM, and 32 GB of memory.
The power difference is pretty small, but again, you’re limited on ports, with the Compute stick featuring only two USB 2.0 ports. Still, if space is an issue, this will make a great gift that’ll make it easy for your student to watch whatever they want.
Now, the Chromebox shakes things up a bit, using Chrome OS instead of Windows 10. Its specs are similar; it has a 1.4 GHz Intel Celeron processor, 2 GB RAM, and 16 GB of internal storage. It also has an SD card slot, which opens up lots of potential expansion.
The negative here is that your student won’t be able to run Windows apps — no Office, no VLC, and so on. Anything that can be done in Chrome (or with Chrome apps), will work, but it is a bit limited.
Fitness Tracker Gifts for College Students
The freshman 15 is real. Going away to school will almost always mean gaining weight. For some students, they gain more than 15 pounds. At the very least, getting students a fitness tracker lets them see how lazy they’re being. Hopefully, seeing that the only steps they took were to and from class will motivate them to get out there and get some exercise. (That is if their aunts and uncles asking why they got so fat over the holiday break weren’t motivation enough.)
When it comes to fitness trackers, this one is king. Every review, whether from professionals or buyers, seems to rate it positively. It has all the goodies — GPS tracking, running data, heart rate monitoring, and sleep tracking. It also comes with smart watch features, so your student can keep up with their texts, emails, and social media without pulling their phone out during class.
Over on the Fitbit side of the equation, there’s the newer Charge 2, which has most of the same features as the Garmin, but it’s a bit cheaper. Choosing between the two is really going to come down to personal preference because there really isn’t one place in which one stands ahead of the other.
Game Console Gifts for College Students
A game console might seem counter to productivity for a student, and unless your kid is going to school to write about video games for MakeUseOf.com (we’re actually hiring), it is. However, attending college is a social experience — and a tough one. Similar interests are a great way to bring people together, and video games can definitely be one of those interests.
I actually met my best friend in college because he had an Xbox 360 and I didn’t (this was launch time when they were impossible to find). His door was open; I walked in, got schooled at Tiger Woods, and we were friends from then on.
The point is, while video games certainly won’t help your student get more work done, they could help them make new friends, and that’s an important part of getting an education!
6. Xbox One S
The Xbox One S is the newest console in the Xbox One line, featuring 4K upscaling and HDR. If you can find an original Xbox One, you might be able to save a few bucks, but the price difference on Amazon is basically nonexistent, so it just makes more sense to get the newer model, as it’ll be current longer and support new features should you get a new TV. Check out our review for all the information.
7. PS4 Pro
With the PS4, you do actually have a choice to make, because the standard PS4 is $100 cheaper than the Pro. That’s because, unlike the Xbox One S, the PS4 Pro is actually more powerful than original. That means that even if you’re using a 1080p TV, games will still look better (or at least, they’re supposed to — there’s been some issues at launch).
Because we mentioned getting the console as a bridge to new friends, getting the newest one could make your student’s dorm a bit more desirable. Money doesn’t buy friendship, but it certainly can break the ice. Plus, you’re getting a more future-proof console with 4K and HDR, which is always nice.
I almost feel bad including this because it’s basically impossible to find, but if you manage to get one, this is a perfect gift. It’s $60 for 30 original NES games with classics like Castlevania, Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3, Contra, Excitebike, and plenty more. Depending on the age of the student, you might tickle their nostalgia bone from their later childhood, or you might introduce them to a new world of games they’ve never experienced.
Backpack Gifts for College Students
“But Dave,” I hear you screaming at your monitor, “you promised us gifts we hadn’t thought of. Isn’t a backpack a little on the nose?”
Sure, a regular backpack that just carries stuff around is. These bags do much more than tote intoxicants. (Oops! I mean books.) A great pack lets the college student in your life charge their devices and carry around their video games. (Oops again! I meant school supplies!)
When I first wrote about techie backpacks for students, this was my favorite, and nothing has changed. I still use mine just about every day. It comes with a battery backup to keep devices charged, and it has cool channels for running cables and headphones through. It’s just a really nice backpack that’ll carry all of your student’s stuff while protecting their laptop, tablet, and other electronic devices. Plus, there are some smaller, more concealed compartments for… stuff.
10. MOS Pack
The MOS Pack is packed with more chargers and gadgets than you’d ever think you could want. If you want to get a backpack for your student that’ll truly get their attention, this one is worth a look.
Other Gifts for College Students
Before you run to your local department store and grab the college student in your life something they’ll never wear, get them something a little different! Not only are these gifts a bit outside the box, but they’re all actually useful (even if in some small way) to their university experience!
Do you have any odd ideas for gifts to give a college student, or will you just give the ones you know a pair of jeans that went out of style in 1996? Let us know in the comments!