What's a good gift for a college freshman?
September 6, 2006 9:39 AM   Subscribe

What on earth could I possibly buy as a gift for my 18 year old nephew who is starting college this month?

Please don't suggest money. I'm not giving him money or gift certificates. I don't want to spend a lot, but it would be nice to give something meaningful without being too corny. He's into skiing and running and will be majoring in business. He's not real academic, but is a pretty smart kid. Any suggestions?
posted by Lockjaw to Grab Bag (38 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
an ipod
posted by baker dave at 9:41 AM on September 6, 2006

A leatherman or Swiss Army knife. Or a small tool set.

All of these things he'll need.
posted by k8t at 9:41 AM on September 6, 2006

A really gorgeous high-quality dictionary.
posted by j.s.f. at 9:42 AM on September 6, 2006

Offer to buy one/some of his schoolbooks?
posted by inigo2 at 9:43 AM on September 6, 2006

Palm Zire.
posted by 4ster at 9:43 AM on September 6, 2006

Something fun for his dorm room is always appreciated...

Is he going to school somewhere where he'll get to ski often? If not, a skiing related gift won't be as useful...
posted by twiggy at 9:44 AM on September 6, 2006

I was going to suggest a tool kit as well. It was the single most useful tangible gift I got when going off to college. Even just a hammer and a couple screwdrivers and some picture-hanging wire would be useful.
posted by occhiblu at 9:45 AM on September 6, 2006

I second the dictionary. I have given them as graduation gifts and always got a great response.
posted by juggler at 9:45 AM on September 6, 2006

How about a really nice book bag or backpack that he can carry around campus?
posted by gfrobe at 9:47 AM on September 6, 2006

I always gave a dictionary until the internet got big. Now, who uses a dictionary? Get him a leatherman-- for sure he'll use it. Also, send him care-packages at midterm and finals time. He'll for sure appreciate that!
posted by orangemiles at 9:47 AM on September 6, 2006

thirding toolkit. Preferably one you assemble, since most the othe "premade" ones have low quality tools in them. Things I would include:
  • Set of wrenchs, combo open end and box end, sizes 1/8" through 1"
  • Set of Allan wrenchs
  • set of Torx wrenchs
  • set of jewlers screwdrivers
  • set of decent regular screwdrivers including short stubby ones
  • small hammer
  • pliers, regular and needlenose
  • side cutters
  • vise grips
  • drywall knife and extra blades (very handy as a general utility knife)
  • electrical tape
I'm sure other people can suggest additions I've forgotten. I'd guess this assortment of tools would set you back $50 if you buy decent quality, but not top of the line. Get a decent $20 tool box to put it all in too.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:52 AM on September 6, 2006

Many college bookstores are owned by larger corporate booksellers like Barnes and Noble. It is then possible to use gift cards from the bigger companies at the college bookstores. If your nephew's college has such a bookstore, a gift card would be great. He can use it to buy books, college sweatshirts, ramen noodles, batteries... anything sold in the bookstore!
posted by yogurtisgenocide at 9:54 AM on September 6, 2006

Maybe you could get some ideas from the The Penn State College Freshman Checklist. That list contains some of the suggestions listed above, including the always useful toolkit.
posted by Fat Guy at 9:55 AM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: Currently as a college student, the thought of a nice dictionary would be nice, but like orangemiles said, not very practical. As for the backpack, it is also a good idea, but it is hard to pick one that you think he will like and actually wear. Depending on what college he goes to, I recommend The College Prowler's "Off the record guide to: ... University" I read the one on my school two years after my freshman year, and it is dead on and it really reveals stuff (both good and bad) that I couldnt find in any other college guide book. I think that he would get a lot of use out of it.
posted by nyu2 at 9:57 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ditto the toolkit. My uncle works at an Ace hardware and we went through and bought a bunch of little things--screwdrivers, pliers, hex set, hacksaw, level, measuring tape, ratchet wrench kit, etc. I can't count how many times it's come in handy (and I still have it...)

I wouldn't go for a dictionary. It's a pain to move something that big around every year (I know, it's just one book, but add in textbooks, furniture, etc...) and the internet has basically stripped it of its utility.

What about a slanket?
posted by fuzzbean at 10:01 AM on September 6, 2006

A dictionary? I got like 3 of those for presents, and they stayed on my shelves all four years. Same with the thesaurus, and the dreaded "book of quotations." Here's a wide variety of cool gift ideas that would actually be useful and memorable, and not too expensive (~$50).

If you want to be the cool uncle/aunt: a beer bong, some of the fun drinking games they always have at linen's and things, or (less risky) a poker set. These presents might not be kosher with with his 'rents, but he's a business major...he'll def be doing alot of partying.

The practical: Cool computer accessories. A cool wireless mouse. Nice computer speakers. An external hard drive for when he invariably fills up his computer downloading movies off of his college network. A portable DVD player for those car/airplane rides to his college. A cool flat screen monitor (okay, more expensive). If he's 18, he probably already has an iPod (these are just other ideas).

The academic/stately/grown-up gifts: A nice, fossil, kenneth cole watch (okay, pricier). My friends and I still had our casio digital watches up until this point (ugh!). A pda would be cool, but i've decided that you're either a PDA person or not. The bookbag is a nice idea here. Maybe a really nice chair (pricier),

Tell me what kind of gift, and I can think of better ideas. Just don't get the dictionary. It's not going to get opened. ever.
posted by unexpected at 10:03 AM on September 6, 2006

A seven day alarm clock so he can get up in time for class every day.
posted by cushie at 10:07 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]


1. Organization: A good portable planner or Palm/Treo to get organized (I prefer the old school planners, personally).
2. Food: If you're within distance to visit him, treat him and a few of his new friends to a nice lunch or dinner. You have no idea how great it is to get a nice meal now and then.
3. Business: A monogrammed leather binder for holding papers, resume, and business cards is very slick and professional. It'll come in handy when he starts interviewing for internships or signing up for business frats.
4. Running: If he already has a nano, the Nike+iPod sport kit is very cool. It's a wireless accelerometer that syncs and tracks running performance on the iPod nano.

I second fuzzbean's slanket and unexpected's nice watch suggestions. I have this one and I get a lot of compliments from people who wear watches that cost more than my monthly rent.

And apologies to the above, but downgrade on the dictionary. They wouldn't be used for anything except a table to do shots off of.
posted by junesix at 10:29 AM on September 6, 2006

This may be too close to gift certificates, and will work best if he's going to college in an unfamiliar city: what about open tickets / season passes to some local attraction(s)? Depending on what he's into, a museum membership or hockey tickets might be a great way to get off-campus on the weekends, chill after finals, etc. If it's something he loves, he'll have you to thank for several fun experiences throughout the year.
posted by jessicapierce at 10:31 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: Wow! You guys came up with some great ideas! All of them are really thoughtful. Thanks so much. I like the tool box / leatherman idea as well as the gift card to the university bookstore. I'll get right on it!
posted by Lockjaw at 10:41 AM on September 6, 2006

A couple more ideas - I recently got a going-away-to-college friend a 2gb jump (or "thumb") drive. They're pretty cheap right now, and all the students I know say they live by them - to transfer assignments to/from computer at school, just for starts.
Also, if he had a car, I had considered getting him a pre-paid gas card (I know you said no gift certs, but this is a little different).
posted by dbmcd at 10:46 AM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I third the slanket. Dorms have wall units or really crappy central air systems, so it's impossible to maintain a consistant pleasant temperature. Having a nice blanket for the winter is a huge plus.

But maybe he lives in the tropics or commutes to school...
posted by cowbellemoo at 10:47 AM on September 6, 2006

I gave my cousin (10 years younger than me) a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. On a business card size of card stock, I printed all of the numbers and e-mails by which she could reach me. On the other side, I said that if she ever found herself in a tight spot and needed help of a "discreet" nature she could call me, no questions asked.

She's a good kid. But my sister and I were good kids too, and we both managed to get arrested for stupid reasons while we were in college. And nothing is worse than having to call your parents for bail money. A friend bailed me out, and I bailed out my sister.

Most kids push the boundaries a bit in college, and having someone who can help them out in a pinch (not necessarily jail) without judging them is a pretty great thing.
posted by kimdog at 11:25 AM on September 6, 2006 [8 favorites]

Practical gifts:
-big, cuddly bath towels & wash cloths
-an electric pencil sharpener, a three-hole punch, and a good stapler
-if he's going from a warm state to a cool state, something warm to wear
-a desk fan
-some of those plastic containers that fit under the bed to store things in
posted by leapingsheep at 11:25 AM on September 6, 2006

A box of condoms.
posted by Vindaloo at 11:38 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: Kimdog: what a great idea! Thanks, again!
posted by Lockjaw at 11:53 AM on September 6, 2006

End of summer you can always pick up some nice plastic dishes on sale, those are pretty useful for college kids. Or Nalgene water bottles, everyone has those.
posted by dagnyscott at 12:19 PM on September 6, 2006

Wow, a beer bong? Instead of encouraging binge drinking, why don't you encourage broadening his mind, man.

Get him a real bong or a pipe. And definitely a one-hitter. Coolest. Uncle. Ever.
posted by incessant at 12:34 PM on September 6, 2006

A small toolkit is a great idea. My host family gave me one when I was an exchange student, because my host father's company made them. I went on to use the tools all the way through university and my 20-something years. I still have them, although I've added to my collection.

(And I'm female, but I think your nephew might like the tools anyway. Maybe you could also pick up some ski tools.)
posted by acoutu at 12:57 PM on September 6, 2006

The only graduation gift that I still use to this day was the high-quality canvas duffle bag with my name embroidered on it. I love the thing. It's a present that will get me through my early 20's and on to the day where I'm not moving (seemingly) every few months. And when you're in the dorm it's better than those crap laundry bags you buy at bed bath and beyond.

I just came up to stay with my high school friend and I noticed he's still using his duffle bag that he got too.

Practicality, portability, can take some abuse and travel well.
posted by Sreiny at 2:29 PM on September 6, 2006

things I would have wanted when i was in college

a nice compact digital camera
dishes/cooking stuff (pots, pans, grills, woks, whatever)
a BIG ass messenger bag to haul my groceries in
a bicycle
a futon bed that folds in to a couch

posted by atom128 at 4:21 PM on September 6, 2006

Gotta put my two cents in on one thing: for God's sake, don't get him a dictionary.
posted by WCityMike at 6:31 PM on September 6, 2006

I second the USB thumb drive. They're getting cheaper all the time and I really could've used one when I was in university rather than carry a bunch of floppy disks around!
posted by aedra at 6:35 PM on September 6, 2006

I would, and indeed, adore dictionaries. Online dictionaries have no serendipity; no freedom or sense of discovery. The many times I've opened the dictionary to find one word, and discovered ten new words!

Ignorance is bliss, eh? He is going to university to grow and expand his mind, for heavens sake.

A beer bong? A set of tools? Some technical boondoggle? Good lord.
posted by oxford blue at 7:56 PM on September 6, 2006

Tool kit.
posted by number9dream at 8:10 PM on September 6, 2006

Bicycle. If someone handed me a free bicycle, I would have used it everywhere. Doesn't have to be the most amazing bike ever - it'd probably get stolen faster that way anyway.

Tie rack. Dorm furniture is often wooden, mostly shabby, and always snags your ties. I dunno, I'm into ties.

Guidebook. If he's going to school in or near a major city and is moving far from home, what about a guidebook to the area?
posted by mdonley at 8:03 AM on September 7, 2006

Oxford Blue ... I think your taste differs from most souls.

I'd of course be polite to whomever I got it, but a dictionary is about as exciting a going-off-to-college present as several packages of darned socks.

"The many times I've opened my dresser to look for one darned sock, only to find TEN darned socks!"
posted by WCityMike at 11:59 AM on September 8, 2006

All jokes aside, you can never have enough socks.
posted by oxford blue at 6:17 PM on September 10, 2006

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