What Christmas gift to give an older first-time college student who has almost everything he needs?
November 5, 2006 6:25 AM   Subscribe

I've read previous posts about what to get a college freshman, but this one is a bit different and the previous suggestions really don't apply much...

For Christmas, my best friend will be going to college for the first time. He already has a home (no dorm), owns a laptop, has a car, has a decent job, etc. I want to get him something that will be related to going to school next year, but something that's not too impersonal (like a gift certificate), or useless (like a dictionary - he's old enough that he has several of these floating around already). What are some gift ideas under $200 for a well-over-20 guy going to college for the first time?

I'm stumped, because he has seemingly everything he needs (laptop, usb drives, backpack, laptop bag, etc.). The gift must also be a little substantial (read "not cheap/cheesy"), because this is a Christmas gift, not just a 'going-to-college' gift.

Any suggestions, or should I nix the "school" gift idea for something less practical?
posted by jspierre to Shopping (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What will he be studying? As an older student he probably has a better idea of his major and career path than other students, so a classic text or other resource related to that would be good. For example, someone studying chemistry would get a lot of use from the CRC Handbook.
posted by TedW at 6:39 AM on November 5, 2006

Gift card at the local coffee joint? Being upper 20s, he'll need more chemical help staying up late than we did at 18.
posted by COD at 6:55 AM on November 5, 2006

A business or law student might appreciate a trip to a tailor's - maybe not for a whole new suit [unless it's that big of an Xmas prezzie], but maybe some tailored shirts?

A trip to a proper, professional tailor and getting something unique to the wearer that will last for years might be the ticket.

[This was not a massive hint for my own dream Xmas prezzie - swear]
posted by Chorus at 6:56 AM on November 5, 2006

someone studying chemistry would get a lot of use from the CRC Handbook.

As an undergrad, my university provided this to me free online, which was definitely more useful than the dead-tree version.
posted by grouse at 7:07 AM on November 5, 2006

I think that in any field there are going to be computer programs, textbooks, or some other item that the professor doesn't require the student to buy, but would be REALLY nice to have. For example, when I was studying swallowing disorders in school we were required to buy textbooks, but the bookstore also had CD-ROMs that were very nice but out of our price range. Just go to the bookstore and explain your situation...they'll be able to point out or special order some nice, pricey things that your friend might not splurge on. Also, if he's going back for the spring semester you could get him this gift before he goes shopping for his own textbooks.

Also (although this may be too cheesy), you could get him a nice, heavyweight school sweatshirt and then $100 worth of nice coffee, Mountain Dew, or something else caffeinated to help him study. The box you wrap it in will be huge, and it might make him laugh to think about how many late nights he'll endure.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:19 AM on November 5, 2006

A second monitor for his computer (if the laptop can support it). It's increased my productivity substantially.

If he's going into a humanities field, reference software such as Endnote. Saves tons of time writing papers. (These sometimes have academic discounts, so you might want to arrange a way to have a student / academic buy it.)

MP3 player or gift certificate for ITunes (somehow seems less impersonal to me than a regular gift certificate).
posted by underwater at 7:24 AM on November 5, 2006

Backup software and an external hard drive or DVD burner.
posted by grouse at 7:33 AM on November 5, 2006

KoolTools had a list recently of some X-mas present ideas for guys. I know it's not exactly school related, but it might give you some ideas.
posted by PJensen at 7:48 AM on November 5, 2006

I've always thought a decent pen was a nice, symbolic gift for someone going up to university.

I like the suit/2nd monitor ideas, though.
posted by Leon at 7:53 AM on November 5, 2006

A bike? Campus parking often sucks, particularly at large schools, and if he's commuting to school he may have to park a substantial distance from his first class - or might have a ways between classes. Obviously this depends on the school and the parking situation, but you can judge...

Alternatively, I'd go with something like a nice planner (or even palm pilot if you think he'd use it) or some school clothes.
posted by btkuhn at 8:21 AM on November 5, 2006

Nice pens seem like an appropriate gift. We'd do much better if you'd tell us what he's studying.

In the sciences, he might like a copy of Matlab. It's a very nice program for solving lots of complex numerical problems, although he'll have to learn to program to really use it. Mathematica might be a better choice, as it solves math symbolically--just put in the equation you see in the book, set your variables, and you have an answer.

Either of these programs would make life substantially simpler for anybody who has to do significant math on a regular basis. They might even be worth it to a business major, or something like that.

Books in the field, whatever that is, would also be appropriate, I think. You'd have to do a little research, but you could probably find $200 worth of books. I know that in my field, you could put together $200 worth of books with five minutes of research. The problem is, of course, that you may buy shitty books if you don't know what you're looking for.
posted by Netzapper at 8:34 AM on November 5, 2006

While Matlab is my bread and butter, and I thankfully did find someone else to fund it for me (my advisor), students can buy Matlab through their school at a substantially lower price. I'm sure Mathematica is the same.

Even though you said you didn't want to get an impersonal gift certificate, I think a gift certificate to a coffee shop near campus is a nice idea. It's not terribly impersonal as far as gift certificates go, because you know exactly what it's going to be used for, or I think it would be nice to tuck in a $5 certificate with another gift, even.

I agree that knowing what he's studying would be really helpful. If he's going back to school to start a new career, I think something more field-specific would be especially thoughtful and supportive.
posted by limicoline at 9:32 AM on November 5, 2006

I never understood pens as a gift. You don't use pens to work.

One thing that makes my work tolerable (electrical engineering freshman, fwiw) is a really nice drafting pencil. I personally love Alvin's. It seems like a small thing, but if the actual physical act of making marks on paper is enjoyable, it trickles up to the whole act of tooling academically.
posted by phrontist at 9:36 AM on November 5, 2006

An editor's desk, like this or this.
posted by redheadeb at 9:48 AM on November 5, 2006

You say he's got a laptop bag, but is it a cool laptop bag? Maybe you could give him a classy upgrade. My students seem to perfer those that are weather-worn if not actually falling apart.

Another thought: gift certificates for therapeutic massage. He'll need it to deal with all of his professors and their lack of acknowledgement of the practical knowledge he has gained through the years.
posted by ontic at 9:48 AM on November 5, 2006

Sitting and working for hours and hours can be hard on a body -- how about a massage gift certificate? Or something else ergonomics / posture related.

The backup software / external hard drive suggestion is really solid, too, I believe.
posted by amtho at 11:02 AM on November 5, 2006

a college freshman needs a uniform.
posted by krautland at 11:52 AM on November 5, 2006

Ditto on the massage.
posted by radioamy at 2:11 PM on November 5, 2006

Does he have an iPod?
posted by rossination at 5:00 PM on November 5, 2006

I'm seconding the iPod, and the bike.
I don't think I could have done college with out those.
Even if he has an iPod, one of those awesome newn Shuffles could be fun just for go to and fro on campus...or as a jump drive for school stuff.

A really nice planner would be good too. I got one for free from Neiman Marcus last year, and while it's an old fashioned pen and paper model....it's probably the best thing I've acquired in awhile. I can't live without it.
posted by dearest at 5:45 PM on November 5, 2006

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