10 Gift Ideas From Parents to College Students

Parents, form and function often win out when you are considering gifts for students.

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Finding the perfect gift for your college student—whom you may not have seen for weeks—can be one of the larger challenges during the holidays (or even birthdays). Ideally, gifts for your student can be fun, functional, and within your family budget.

One important thing to remember when giving gifts to college students is that most students are extremely busy and are still learning the details of managing an independent life. Consequently, they may not have the time or awareness to take care of the little things that matter, like buying a new backpack or sheets when their originals need replacing. They also simply may not know what will be required of them in new situations; for example, they may not know that having things like a nice pen and a professional-looking portfolio during a job interview can make all the difference.

[See photos of 10 gifts that are perfect for college students.]

In your role as a parent to a college student, try to blend both form and function when it comes to choosing gifts. Your student could probably use some new items for his or her residence hall room, so a gift certificate to a place that offers trendy patterns and styles at a reasonable price can do the trick. Additionally, remember that you are the parent, after all, so gifts that can help them deal with the unexpected (like a first-aid kit) might sound unexciting—until your student desperately needs first-aid cream, aspirin, and a Band-Aid.

[Get ideas for college care packages.]

Here are 10 ideas that can work for nearly any college student (and family budget):

1. Essential gift cards: Gift certificates for places that provide the basics—such as big-box stores and drug stores—can be lifesavers for the college crowd.

2. Emergency kit: Most college students don't have things like Band-Aids and first-aid creams on hand when they live on campus, but they inevitably end up needing them.

3. New backpack: Your student's backpack or laptop carrying case likely goes through some serious wear and tear throughout the year. Consider buying something new for the upcoming semester.

4. Online gift certificates: Living in a residence hall or college apartment often means entertainment comes through the computer. Consider a gift certificate to online entertainment sites, such as Netflix or Amazon.

5. A "survival kit": Many students don't realize they're out of important items until it's too late. Assemble a "survival kit" of the basics—soap, shaving cream, roll of quarters, toothbrush, and laundry detergent—just in case.

6. Job hunting kit: Give your student an extra leg up by providing the things he or she might not even know will be useful while job hunting: nice résumé paper, a portfolio, and a nice pen.

7. Book about your student's school: Your student picked—and stayed at—his or her school for a reason. Check the campus bookstore for a history of your student's college for a gift he or she will cherish for years.

8. Personalized business card holder: This is a great gift for seniors or those looking for internships. A personalized business card holder can polish off your student's new, professional look.

9. Bike accessories: If your student bikes on campus, consider gifting some bike accessories that are both functional and fun (like baskets, bells, and beads).

10. Basic replacements: When your student started college, he or she probably needed new, basic items such as towels and sheets. If items like these haven't been treated with care, they might need replacing.

[College students, get gift ideas for your parents.]