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.
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.
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.
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.
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 $$$$.
I did find this Barefoot Dreams blanket at Nordstrom Rack on sale. Apologies if it is sold out by the time you see this – their items come and go quickly.
Alternatively, this is the most highly rated Barefoot Dreams dupe available on Amazon.
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.
- Pretty script Open When envelopes, set of 12. Use their phrases or customize your own. Envelope size 4.375″ by 5.75″.
- Kraft paper Open When envelopes, set of 20. Customization options available. Envelope size 5-7/8″ x 4.5″.
- More masculine look Open When envelopes, set of 12. Customization options available. Envelope size 5.2″x7.2″.
- 12 stickers to put on your own envelopes.
- Set of 50 5×7 blank/empty Kraft paper envelopes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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
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: www.positivelysquaredaway.com/leaving-for-college-going-away-gift-ideas
MORE HEADING TO COLLEGE Content
Our Facebook Group:
Our new Facebook group has really taken off since it launched in June, 2022. And while it has been primarily focused on ideas and deals for dorm essentials, it will transition toward supporting our kids (and ourselves!) once they are moved in. A place to share ideas for keeping in touch, calming their nerves and supporting each other. Please join us in the Dorm Shopping Recommendations and Deal Alerts group.
Our Other Helpful Articles:
- Get our detailed move in day plan in How To Prepare And Pack For College Move In Day. This article includes printables for move-in supplies, the order to pack the car and the recommended 4 phases for moving into the dorm. Pin or bookmark this article for later so you can find it!
- Trying to figure out the encasement vs the topper vs the protector? Check out our How To Layer A Perfectly Comfortable Dorm Bed.
- The decor and storage ideas are fun, but don’t miss our 25 Important Tips For Dorm Room And College Campus Safety.
- Don’t let them leave for college without understanding the Important Legal Forms For 18 Year Olds. So many parents are unaware of how the US privacy laws impact our ability to help our kids once they are legal adults.
- Check out our all things dorm food and drink article Dorm Appliances And Cooking Gadgets For New College Students, and don’t miss the sections on electrical safety in dorms as well as what not to bother to bring.
Our Amazon Dorm Shopping List:
We’ve compiled all of our Amazon recommendations from our many dorm planning articles into one list. Click here for our complete list of highly-rated dorm must-haves on Amazon.
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