Sentimental Gift Ideas Perfect For College Move In Day

August 3, 2022

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Sentimental Gifts For Daughter

With college move in day fast approaching, the emotional reality of this milestone really starts to creep in.

The day your child leaves for college is a whirlwind at the end of a long countdown after weeks if not months of planning, shopping, organizing and packing. It ends up feeling like time standing still and whizzing by all at once.

So don’t forget to plan for when the move and setup is complete. Consider quietly bringing a few meaningful things to stash in the room for your new college student to find in the hours, days or even weeks after you leave.

We’ve pulled together some sentimental college going away gift ideas for you below. Some you can do without much prep time, but some you’ll want to get started on sooner than later. Sentimental personal touches can take a little time to put together!

Ideas below are sorted by the location where you might leave the little surprises…

Sentimental Gift Ideas For Bed/Nightstand

Leave something under their pillow on move-in day

  • A heartfelt letter, or how about a letter from each member of the family?
  • Or perhaps something a little lighter, even funny, especially if heartfelt may be too much for a child not quite ready to be away from family.
  • A book they’ve been wanting to read. Or check out The Invisible String children’s book for a sweet under pillow option. Or how about some college advice in the wildly popular “The Naked Roommate” book.
  • Their favorite candy or gum.
  • A picture or a collage of pictures that they weren’t expecting.

Hug blanketS

The “Hug Sleep” is becoming a must have weighted blanket alternative with the same intended results – calming, cooling, anxiety comforting pressure without the weight and cleaning difficulty of a weighted blanket. Made in the USA and machine washable.

Alternatively, check out BlankieGram Hug blankets at a lower cost. This is more of a soft throw blanket, perfect for naps or studying in bed.

ADd A Pet pillow To Their Dorm Bed

It is so hard to leave the family pet(s). Our fur babies don’t understand the change, and they don’t really Facetime very well.

Custom Pet Pillow For College

Make a custom huggable pillow from your pet’s picture (this link will give you 25% off your order), and put it on their bed at the end of move in day. Probably a little harder to be a surprise, but such a welcome addition to their new room away from home.

This is one of the most purchased items for students leaving pets at home.

Shared digital photo frame

A great idea to keep you feeling connected.

Pictures can be uploaded into the free Frameo app and automatically displayed on the frame via WiFi. You can share funny pics, a pet pic of the day, memes, etc. If you keep another frame at home, the student can send pics back to the family’s frame.

Be sure to choose a digital photo frame with WiFi and one that uses an app like Frameo, not one that can only be updated hands on with a flash drive or SD card.

Friendship/long-distance lamps

These are fairly new and an interesting concept.

The student has one lamp in the dorm, and a second lamp is placed at home. Someone on either end can simply touch their lamp to send a “message” to the other lamp (it changes color) without having to send a text or make a phone call. It very simply and easily lets someone on the other end know that you’re thinking about them. A nice idea especially in a dorm where a student may not want to disturb their roommate by getting out their phone.

Friendship lamps as a sentimental gift idea

The original inventor and manufacturer of Friendship Lamps is in the US. I love that they are Made In The USA, but they are pretty pricey. Note that the price is for 2 lamps. You can also add additional lamps if you want to add additional family members.

I did find some knock-off lamps on Amazon, but the low number of ratings and shaky reviews won’t allow me to recommend them here.

Barefoot Dreams blanket

Well apparently, Barefoot Dreams is all the rage with teens. Super soft blankets, socks, loungewear, slippers, etc. Definitely a splurge unless you can find a good sale. Well, the socks are reasonable, but the blankets are $$$$.

A warm blanket as a sentimental leaving for college gift

Alternatively, this is the most highly rated Barefoot Dreams dupe available at Walmart.

Desk/STUDY AREA Sentimental Gift Ideas

Open When Envelopes

Have you heard of the Open When envelopes? These are typically small envelopes labeled with various Open When occasions. Open When Tired. Open When You Need A Study Break. Open When Starving. Open When Overwhelmed. Open When You’re Not Feeling Well. You get the idea.

You can get some small envelopes and create your own. Or, you can order pre-printed envelopes and fill them with notes, pictures, mementos, gift cards, whatever you think will solve the Open When situation for your child. You can also attach the card to a small wrapped gift if what is inside is too big for an envelope.

Here are some options for pre-printed envelopes. There are a LOT out there.

Don’t forget a jar or container to hold the envelopes. Your local Michael’s or craft store probably has some good containers, or this is a 2-pack of small fabric storage boxes that would work well. Collapsible when not in use but probably useful around the dorm room for other items too.

Sentimental Going Away To College Gifts

Insert Yourself In Their Planner

If your student has a paper planner for school that you can access when they aren’t looking, consider putting a few post-it notes or handwritten notes on future dates.

Some ideas include the first day of classes, first day of finals, family birthdays, holidays when they won’t be home (think Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc), other meaningful days.

Still looking for a planner? Bloom has pretty and inspirational academic year planners.

Sneak messages into post-it note Pads

If your student is taking pads of post-it notes, put some handwritten think of you notes part of the way down the pad(s) so that they’ll find them at some point in the future.

hide motivation messages in post it notes

Words of Wisdom Book

Our high school has a “Senior Post”. Parents ask close friends and family to write notes, send pictures to their graduating senior, and these are mailed to or dropped off at the school. The student is presented with a large envelope containing their letters at the senior breakfast toward the end of the school year.

If your student has something similar either from the school or just a collection from graduation cards and celebrations, consider turning the letters, quotes or pictures into a keepsake Words Of Wisdom book. These are easy to make on Shutterfly or other retailers where you can make photo books. If you want to include entire letters, you can scan them in as pictures. Don’t have a scanner, here’s a quick post on how to scan with an iPhone.

Motivational Desk Calendar

This compact flip calendar has a daily dose of inspiration and positive affirmations. It has a page for each day of the year, but with no years printed on them, so this can be used year after year.

This is a more masculine inspirational flip calendar.

Leave an inspirational journal in their desk drawer.

Give them the opportunity to document their college journey or just doodle through stressful times and study breaks. Choose from various journals with motivational covers perfect for college students. I especially love the You Are Here To Do Incredible Things option.

This is a more unisex journal with daily prompts, habit tracking, sleep tracking and more.

Sentimental JEWELRY Gift Ideas


These stainless stell cuff bracelets have many inspirational words or funny sayings to choose from as inscriptions on the inside of the cuff. Crazy affordble and 4.8* rated.

You Are My Sunshine Bracelet

Tory Burch “Embrace Ambition” bracelet with pave crystals

Tory Burch Embrace Ambition bracelet

Beautiful custom latitude longitude bracelet – use the coordinates of home. How do you find those coordinates? Put your address into Google or Apple Maps, and you’ll see the coordinates there.

Sentimental Jewelry Gift For Daughter


Home State Necklace – can add a little heart charm to it as well.

Two State Long Distance Necklace – love this concept, and so many customization options too.

Mother-Daughter Necklace – affordable enough to buy one for each of you.

Compass Pendant – for the adventurous, curious and brave recipient.

MAKE NEW Friends In College Gift Ideas

These are not exactly sentimental ideas, but giving them some tools to meet others will help them find their people and acclimate in their new environment.

Create a Game Box or Basket – include dice, Uno, cards, Yahtzee score pads, paper cups to use for Yahtzee or Bunco, Cards Against Humanity (not PG), What Do You Meme (not PG), microwave popcorn, Twizzlers, chocolate covered pretzels, etc.

Decks of Cards and a Poker Set

Spikeball – just bring a Spikeball set outside, and people will show up and want to play.

Car Gift Ideas For College

Unisex Latitude-Longitude Keychain – use the coordinates of home. You can find coordinates on Google or Apple Maps after entering your home address.

Upgraded Lat-Long Keychain With Saying On Reverse – in order to have the keychain stamped on both sides, it needs to be a thicker grade. I love the idea of “Make Good Choices” printed on the reverse side of the coordinates! Choose a DS option for double sided.

Sentimental Gift Ideas Leaving For College

Rearview Mirror Car Charm – help them keep you in mind each time they get in the car.

Gas Gift Cards – college students can always use these! Leave one with a little note about using this card to bring you home soon.

Food And Drink Gift Ideas For College

Leave Their Favorite Treat And Enough To Share

Give them an easy way to meet their hall mates on move in day. Food.

Bake up a batch of your student’s favorite treat, or pre-order from somewhere like Insomnia Cookies or Crumble Cookies near campus and share with others on move in day.

Amazon Prime Student

Give the gift of Amazon Prime Student which comes with many perks including textbook savings, 6 months of LinkedIn Premium, and the recently added 2 hour grocery delivery (in select US cities) AND 1 year of GrubHub+ (where available). The first 6 months of Amazon Prime Student are free, and then it is half the cost of a regular Prime membership. My son likes having his own account because “then I won’t see what gifts he is buying for me”. Ummm…ok…..

Get Amazon Prime Student
Try Amazon Prime Student :
First 6 Months Free

Family recipe book

Get your student started with a family recipe and favorite recipe book. I recommend a 3-ring binder so that printed recipes can be easily added. You can get a plain 3-ring binder at your local big box store and design a cover to print and slide into the front.

Or there are several available on Amazon. Look for one at least 8.5″x11″ that will hold printed recipes. Took a bit to find one that doesn’t scream Grandma, this is a more modern recipe binder.

Why start this in a dorm situation that probably doesn’t have a kitchen? You can get them started with some easy microwave recipes. How about the Velveeta and Rotel melted cheese dip? Overnight oats. No bake energy bites. Chocolate brownie mug cakes.

And if you have other appliances such as an air fryer or a blender, that gives you even more recipe options. Trust me, they will tire of the dining halls and need some other options.

Coffee mug with family pics

Custom Picture Mug For College Student

A very simple option, and an easy one. You can make custom mugs at almost any online retailer these days. Shutterfly, Costco, CVS, etc.

Thanks for checking out our list of sentimental gift ideas for new college students. Hope you’ve found it helpful and inspiring! You can share this with friends or family using this URL:


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Important Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, a lawyer or a financial advisor. Please use this content as informational only and as only one input as you consider what options are best for you and your family. This is not professional advice.

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