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American college enrollment declined this spring. Still, about 16.2 million students were enrolled in higher education during the most recent semester. Nearly 340,000 of them were first-time students.
If one of those students is someone you care about, you may be considering a back-to-school gift. We've picked out six handy tech items for students facing virtual and in-person learning experiences.
We also know that you may not want to spend big bucks on gifts — college is expensive enough, after all. So all our gift suggestions cost less than $500 (as of publication). Scroll to the end for free and low-cost bonus gift ideas for college students.
At a glance: College student gift guide
Here's our pick for six items that almost any college student will appreciate.
We probably spend more time sitting and using digital devices than we realize.
Too much time in uncomfortable positions may cause repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. This laptop stand can help students create a comfortable work area for marathon study or play sessions.
At less than 1 inch thick and 3 ounces, it's slim and light enough to carry everywhere. Yet MOFT says it's sturdy enough to hold a heavy 15.6-inch laptop. Although not infinitely adjustable, the two 15-degree and 25-degree settings should work for most people. It can raise the laptop about 3 inches, helping most people find a comfy position.
It can also help computers stay cool and healthy by improving airflow around devices. The stand is made of vegan leather and fiberglass — great for people who value items' aesthetics. It has a low-residue adhesive backing so the computer stays secure.
It's available in seven colors, although you may pay a little extra for some.
When the pandemic hit the US in early 2020, many had to adapt to shared virtual schooling spaces. A good noise-canceling headset can help students block distracting background noise, allow them to focus, and make sure they're loud and clear on video calls.
Gaming headsets can double up for school and work-from-home tasks too.
This headset's features include "cooling gel-infused cushions" to help keep the user comfortable for long study sessions. It's made of bauxite aluminum and has a built-in retractable microphone. Its industry-standard 3.5 mm connector will work with many devices — no dongles needed.
At the time of this guide's publication, the black model had a 4.5 star rating on Amazon with nearly 38,000 ratings.
Few people enjoy hearing the alarm clock. But nearly everyone needs to use one sometimes.
According to one survey, most Americans hit the snooze button twice and take an average of 24 minutes to get out of bed to start their day.
If you know a student in that category, the iHome TimeBoost Glow has a programmable snooze feature. This device also has a speakerphone function and Bluetooth connectivity for streaming music.
The alarm allows users to program daily, weekday, and weekend alarm schedules. And with built-in integrated Qi wireless charging, they can charge their phone while they sleep.
It has a 5-watt USB-A charging port and eight programmable color-changing modes, allowing the device to serve as a low-key mood light, nightlight, and a visual alarm to signal that it's time to start a new day.
A printer and copier are devices you don't miss until you need them.
For students, this Brother laser printer is a useful item. It generates crisp, smudge-free, black and white pages with a high resolution of 2400 x 600 dpi. They can print wirelessly from mobile devices by downloading a free app. It's also Apple AirPrint enabled and equipped with a USB 2.0 port.
This device is multifunctional. Students can make copies, scan documents to email, and even send a fax. Environment-conscious people will also appreciate the ability to set the printer to automatically print on both sides of a page.
Despite the existence of email and other forms of electronic communication, faxing isn't dead yet. The healthcare, legal and financial industries still cling to, prefer, or even require faxes in some cases.
A bonus: Writing and editing professionals say printing a copy of something to proofread may help you catch more errors than reading something on a digital screen.
So having a device like this Brother multifunction machine can save students a trip to the library or big box office supply store when they need to create or share hard copies of documents. For more options, check out our list of best home office printers.
With more people studying and working online than ever, many use an extra monitor in the home office.
But students may not have a permanent desk setup. Instead, they might camp out in the library, a lab room, or a dorm room. If you'd like to gift some portable extra screen real estate, the SideTrack Solo Pro HD offers almost 16 inches of it.
That extra space is great for smoothing out video call experiences. Students will be able to put the video call app on one screen and their assignment or project on the other — no need to switch between tabs or apps.
It's a full HD LED display with built-in adjustments. The thin bezel means students can take advantage of nearly all that screen real estate. It works with Windows, Mac OS, and Chrome devices. However, their device will need a Thunderbolt USB-C or a USB-A and HDMI. SideTrak says two cords may be needed depending on the device.
A laptop is an essential piece of higher education student tech.
If it's been a while since you've bought a digital device for education or work, you might be surprised at what you can get for less than $500. This ASUS Chromebook is a good example.
It's a great choice for basic student productivity, especially if they're working mostly with web and cloud-based applications, or if they need a solid device for creating documents, conducting online research, video calls, and email.
It runs Google's Chrome operating system with an Intel 11th Generation Core i3 processor. It has 8GB of RAM, a 128GB solid state hard drive, a backlit keyboard, and a touchscreen. A built-in front-facing camera and microphone let students can make video calls right out of the box without extra accessories.
Bonus: Quick and easy gift ideas for college students
Did you forget someone you care about is starting college this year until you saw it in your social media feed? Maybe you have a big family and can't spend money on gifts for everyone. Or perhaps the person you care about already has the essentials.
In any of those situations, you might consider these three ideas:
Skillshare offers 50% off one-year memberships for college students. The site offers thousands of classes that teach creative skills like graphic design, music, and web development. To get the discount, students will need to sign up with a .edu email. It'll cost about $84.
Headspace is a meditation and mindfulness app. It can also help identify and practice skills to improve sleep and reduce stress. With the student discount, a subscription is $10 a year.
Free streaming: When it's time for your college student to relax, connect them with one of these free streaming options if they're not already using them. NBC's Peacock service is free at the basic level. Sling offers a selection of free news, sitcoms, reality shows and movies. No signup is required. And Crackle offers a free (but ad-heavy) experience with content from the last 50-plus years.