It’s midterm season and that college student you know is probably under-slept, over-caffeinated, wildly dehydrated, and maybe just a little homesick. Enter the college care package, chock full of goodies and pick-me-ups both practical and frivolous, all in the service of making life in a 200-square-foot shoebox a bit more enjoyable.
As a recent college grad, I can corroborate that dorm living takes a hefty toll on the mind, body, and spirit in equal measures. The care package inclusions that got me through my undergraduate years? Stashes of English breakfast tea and enough coffee to sustain a then-burgeoning, now-flourishing caffeine addiction that has haunted me beyond my four years of college. Plus a mini rice cooker—a piece of contraband that I buried in my sweater drawer during room checks. (Am I allowed to admit that now?)
While Starbucks gift cards and school supplies are always appreciated, if you’re looking for college care package ideas that are a little more personal, our staff has you covered. Think spicy salves for underseasoned dining hall food, pint-size appliances that can fit atop a mini fridge, and fuel for 11th-hour essay-writing. Below, the best college gift ideas for students in need of a bit of TLC from afar.
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At some point in college you’re either going to try coffee for the first time, nurse an addiction to it, or pretend to like it so you can sit for hours looking cool (I mean, studying) at a hip cafe. Your future bank account will thank you for learning how to make your own deeply satisfying DIY brew. Trade, a monthly coffee subscription company, prompts you to take a quiz and then, based on your answers, sends you coffee from a different roaster on the regular. Don’t yet know your flavor preferences? Learn by sampling. Try the one described as “comforting…chocolaty fudge with a toffee swirl” from Joe, the one whose “juicy pear and tangerine notes complement lingering brown sugar sweetness and fragrant vanilla” from Alma, and dozens more. —Dawn Davis, editor in chief
Most of my college essays would not have been written if not for the AeroPress I got during my first semester. Far and away, this single-serving device is the easiest way I’ve found to make a damn fine cup of coffee. It’s relatively cheap, durable, and unlike a pour over dripper, doesn’t need a fancy gooseneck kettle or kitchen scale to do the job. An Aeropress is like a coffee syringe: Just add a scoop of grounds, fill with hot water, then press the plunger. That’s it. But what really sets it apart as a college dorm coffee maker is its simple design, which is easy to clean (unlike the sandy bottom of a French press) and easy to store when not in use. Send one as a gift and your student will thank you—perhaps in a frantic, caffeinated text sent at 2 in the morning. —Nico Avalle, digital operations associate
A care package isn’t complete without a great thermos—they’re handy for keeping your coffee warm during study sessions, but they’ll also keep your boozy beverages ice cold at house parties and tailgates. This 20-oz. Zojirushi thermos is my go-to vessel for keeping tea, coffee, and hot chocolate warm. It has a lock to prevent spillage and will keep your beverages hot for up to eight hours. For something a little more stylish, I opt for the Fellow Carter Everywhere travel coffee mug. With rounded edges and five colors to pick from, this tumbler has a ceramic interior and a double-wall vacuum seal to keep your drink hot or cold for up to 12 hours. It’s available in two sizes: 12 oz. or 16 oz. —Genevieve Yam, assistant editor, Epicurious
When I think back to the (ahem, six) years I spent in undergrad, there are two things that would have made the experience markedly better: a trust fund and a Nespresso machine. I’m certain I spent far more on bodega coffee than I ever would have on pods, even in the early aughts. And while it’s possible to get coffee at all hours of the night in New York City, nothing good comes out of a deli coffee pot at 10 p.m.—when college kids who are cramming for an exam or writing a last-minute paper need it most. Unlike literally every other coffee maker, which all need at least minimal daily rinsing, a Nespresso machine requires absolutely zero maintenance (as long as you keep the water reservoir full and descale it every six months or so, that is). —Emily Farris, senior commerce writer, Epicurious
You might have heard: Instant coffee has come a long way. Look for dehydrated coffee from roasters who know what they’re doing, like New York’s Joe Coffee. It’s handy for anyone who doesn’t have access to a full coffee setup—or just doesn’t want to clean one, especially when there’s a paper or problem set due. Mix with hot water, sip, and go forth with your brilliant ideas. —Maggie Hoffman, digital director, Epicurious
Lockdown demonstrated in a visceral way just how much teens eat. My sons started complaining of hunger a few hours after I’d already made lunch for the household, giving rise to a meal I affectionately call “Second Lunch.” With papers, projects, final exams, and midterms consuming so much brain power, I suspect instant noodles from Momofuku might be an expedient and gratifying way to fuel the next study session. With 15 to a pack, there are enough to share with roommates during Second Lunch too. —D.D.
When I was in college, all the dining hall food was bland. Hot sauces are a must for doctoring up underseasoned mystery meat, achievable with just a spoonful. I like using something with an aggressive punch of flavor, like chili crisp (preferably Lao Gan Ma) or sambal (like this one from Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen). But you also can’t go wrong with a classic like Tapatío. —Olivia Quintana, associate manager, social media
These cookies are a college student’s love language. Throughout all the sleepless nights and existential crises of my college career, Insomnia cookies were there for me. When my parents knew I was going through midterms and finals, they would send a snack box of soft, warm cookies, showing me they were thinking of me despite being hundreds of miles away. These care packages included classic flavors like chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle, and double chocolate chunk, and they sell gluten-free and vegan options as well. They were gooey, chewy, great reheated, and the morale booster I needed during the craziest four years of my life. —Julia Duarte, art assistant
For Diwali my freshman year, my mother sent a gift basket from Harry & David with healthy snacks like nuts and sweet ones like caramel popcorn and chocolate truffles—plus a few of the brand’s iconic pears. Obviously, I loved all the snacks, but really good fruit felt like an extra-special touch of home during a time when I was eating a lot of dining hall omelets and soft serve. Five pears is a sweet spot that feels abundant but not wasteful; it’s not so many that they’ll end up slowly rotting in the back of a dorm fridge.—Sonia Chopra, executive editor
An electric kettle is your ticket to salvation when you live in a dorm room with no kitchen access. Whether for your morning cup of tea, your pre-class instant oatmeal, or your late-night ramen, an electric kettle lets you obtain sustenance without leaving your 10′-by-10′ abode. This beauty from KitchenAid will also provide a pop of color against the standard-issue brown dorm room furniture and will induce widespread envy each time you fill it up in the communal bathroom. —Kate Kassin, editorial operations associate
Less than a week into freshman year, my biggest fear was confirmed: The dining hall rice was mushy and lifeless. I called my mom for consolation, and, unprompted, she shipped me this tiny rice cooker with fragrant Japanese short-grain rice stowed inside and a note saying, “To remind you of home.” I tucked it away in my dorm room to make luxuriously fluffy rice balls for lunch or late-night snacks. I later discovered its uses beyond rice: I could make pasta, boil eggs, and steam mini chocolate cakes. It’s undoubtedly the most iconic college gift I ever received. —Jen Osaki, creative video producer
If you have a baking enthusiast headed to college for the first time, make sure they have the proper tools to mete out all of their ingredients, like good measuring cups or even a kitchen scale for real precision. Don’t let them end up like I did, excited to make some chocolate chip cookies only to realize that the only thing in my dorm with any precise measuring capability was…a shot glass. The cookies were a hit, but scooping flour one and half ounces at a time is not something I would recommend. —Ryan Harrington, research director
Health and Wellness
College diets aren’t always, shall we say, well-rounded. Tuck these good-tasting gummy vitamins into the next gift box you send to your teenaged loved one. They just might fill in any deficiencies brought on by a mostly pizza-and-Diet-Coke routine. —M.H.
On more than a few occasions in college, I’d come to the shameful realization that I hadn’t so much as sipped water in a full day. My skin, my energy levels, and my ability to focus suffered in turn. Include a good water bottle in your next college student care package—it’s an intuitive but remarkably effective way to get your kid to hydrate more. One that’s compact (i.e., able to fit into a backpack) and recognizable among a sea of oft-identical water bottles in a 100-person lecture is key. —Li Goldstein, digital production assistant