Back-to-school season is here, and with it comes the need to stock up on the essential things that high school, college, or post-grads will need for the upcoming year. True, many students will be studying remotely this year as colleges make the difficult decision to close their physical doors in order to avoid spreading COVID-19. But students will still need stuff to make their studies easier and their off-time more fun.
Whether they will be studying on campus or remotely, The Verge staff has created a list of great gift ideas. The list includes things that served staff members well or that they wished they’d had when they were in school. Compiled below is a list of 35 items — ranging from Beth Kobliner’s book Get a Financial Life (around $10) to the Asus Zephyrus G14 ($1,449) — that would be great gifts for anyone who is headed back to school.
Editor’s note: This guide was originally published on May 5th, 2020, as a graduation gift guide.
Kaweco Classic Sport fountain pen
Nothing makes writing feel better than using a fancy pen, and Kaweco's fountain pen is the perfect way to add some old-school charm to your note-taking, lease signing, or doodling without breaking the bank.
Price: ~$17 to $25
Hario V60 Gooseneck kettle
There are many cheaper vessels for hot water, but Hario's V60 Gooseneck kettle heats quickly, and rarely needs to be cleaned. What's best, though, is that it delivers a perfect, measured pour so you don't get carried away with a delicate drink.
Price: ~$46 to $78
Dagne Dover Dakota backpack
If you're going to carry your backpack all day, from home to school (or the library) to dinner and home again, you're going to need something that's well-designed without being ostentatious. The Dagne Dover Dakota neoprene backpack comes in three sizes and a bunch of colors, and it will carry all of your stuff efficiently and safely.
Apple Watch Series 5
If you've got an iPhone, there's basically one smartwatch to get: an Apple Watch. The latest model has an always-on display, works well even when you don't have your iPhone handy, and can track basically all of your fitness activities right from your wrist.
Price: ~$378 to $429
Channellock 13-in-1 ratcheting screwdriver
If you're striking out on your own — whether that's to college or a new apartment — you're going to need some tools to put stuff together. This Channellock screwdriver is the best around, with a wide variety of useful bits that store right in the handle, so you've always got what you need when you need it.
Price: ~$26 to $29
Madewell Medium Transport Tote
This leather tote bag not only offers ample room for all of your everyday stuff, but it's also big enough to carry your laptop while still having room to spare. If things happen to get a bit too cumbersome, you can attach the shoulder strap for additional support or just to free up your hands.
Beats Solo Pro
Beats' popular Solo line of on-ear headphones finally gets upgraded with noise-cancellation tech, along with Apple's own wireless technology (the same as it uses with its AirPods) to make connecting them to your devices a snap.
Price: ~$230 to $299
Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1
The Instant Pot pressure cooker is the Swiss army knife of the kitchen. With it, you can easily make a ton of different meals, or you can just use it to make batches of rice and broth. It's useful, and if you're short on space for appliances, it's well worth picking up.
Price: ~$79 to $100
Apple AirPods Pro
Apple’s AirPods Pro are the company’s first true wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation, which means they can help muffle the world around you while you’re studying. Like the original AirPods, you can talk to Siri by saying “Hey Siri,” and the case charges wirelessly.
Price: ~$230 to $250
Apple MacBook Air
Apple’s refreshed MacBook Air has a reliable keyboard, a Retina display, faster processors, and it's finally back to that sweet-spot $999 price. Verge editor-in-chief Nilay Patel called it the best Mac for most people.
Price: ~$949 to $1,000
Takeya water bottle
No better way to stay hydrated — a thing adults do! — than drinking out of a big, beautiful water bottle. The Takeya stainless steel bottles have nicely designed spouts. But more importantly, they come in a bunch of pleasing colors.
Price: ~$28 to $35
UE Boom 3
Ultimate Ears' Boom speakers are some of the best around. Their bright colors, waterproof exteriors, and waterbottle-sized designs make them the perfect options to use at home, in a dorm, or at a park. The Boom 3 is the most recent model, with the best-sounding, longest-lasting, and most durable design yet.
Price: ~$140 to $150
Beloved by Silicon Valley startups, Allbirds are basically the internet's favorite shoes. But if you can get beyond all of the social media hype, what's left is actually a really comfortable, easy-to-clean pair of shoes that are great for hanging at home or a walk in the park.
Price: ~$95 to $135
Asus Zephyrus G14
The Asus Zephyrus G14 doesn't look like a gaming laptop, but it very much is one. This $1,450 machine has AMD's powerful, new Ryzen 4900HS processor, along with a host of other capable specs, like an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a 120Hz refresh rate display. With its looks, you'll feel like you're a professional — even when you're playing.
Price: ~$1,450 to $1,600
Jawa plush toy
If you're bored of Baby Yoda but still want something huggable and adorable, this talking Jawa plush is just the thing. It stares at you with those big yellow eyes and says cute, unintelligible things while planning to steal your iRobot for parts. What more could you want?
Dell XPS 13
Every year, we say that Dell's XPS 13 gets better and better. This year's no different, but it might be the most definitive version yet. It has a nearly bezel-free 16:10 aspect ratio that's great for getting things done, fairly powerful specs, and an excellent keyboard and trackpad combo.
Google Nest Mini
If you're in the market for a smart speaker, there are a few reasons why you should get the Google Nest Mini: it's affordable, it sounds good, and you can easily mount it to your wall. With it, you can play music, get a heads-up on traffic and weather, and more.
Price: ~$40 to $50
Tissot Everytime Swissmatic watch
Smartwatches may be all the rage, but a good mechanical watch will outlast them all. Tissot's Everytime watches offer a classic design that looks good with nearly everything, while the Swiss-made movement will keep ticking without any batteries, chargers, or even solar panels — just wind it, and you're good to go. It's the kind of watch that lasts a lifetime, instead of just until the next hardware refresh.
Price: ~$375 to $450
The iPad may be a computer — or it may not be. But one thing we know for sure is that it's a relatively low-cost tech product that can do a whole lot. The App Store is full of fun and useful apps, and iPadOS makes the iPad even more capable.
Price: ~$320 to $329
DEKOPRO 100-piece home repair tool set
If you're trying to isolate at home while studying, you're probably not going to want to call repair people unless you absolutely have to. Having a toolset like the DEKOPRO will give you every tool you might need to do any basic repairs, while also being easy to move around and store away until needed.
Apple iPhone 11
Apple’s $699 iPhone 11 has two cameras, including an ultrawide that allows for some fun shots, a terrific battery, the company’s speedy A13 Bionic processor, and it comes in six colors. It should be a great iPhone if you’re in the market for a new one but don’t want to spend $1,000.
Fitbit Charge 4
Keeping track of your health has never been more important, and the latest Fitbit Charge 4 is the best the company offers in one tiny tracker. You can use it to control Spotify songs, make contactless payments, and track your location without ever bringing a phone along.
RavPower wireless charger
Wireless chargers are a super convenient way to charge your phone, and RavPower's are cheap, solidly made, and super fast at charging. They come in both stand and pad versions, perfect for always making sure your gear is ready to go at your desk or nightstand.
Wavelength is a board game that is great with friends, but possibly better with acquaintances. First a player decides how something fits between two diametric ends of a spectrum, say whether buttered toast is mainstream or niche. While the other players try to guess where on that spectrum that player would put it. Leading to thrilling wins when the team guesses close to the right answer, or hilarious uproar when they discover the player marked buttered toast as completely niche.
Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties by Beth Kobliner
Figuring out finances is something that most people will eventually, maybe accidentally, do at some point in their lives. If you're in your 20s or 30s, you should pick up Get a Financial Life, and just get it over with. Thankfully, this book makes the journey a little more fun.
Sony's WF-1000XM3 truly wireless earphones put an emphasis on sound quality. Among the options from Apple, Jabra, and others, these are worth their price if the combo of excellent sound performance and noise cancellation is on your wishlist.
Even the most dedicated student has to take time off sometimes, and the Nintendo Switch is the perfect way to relax. It's a home / handheld console hybrid, so you can play video games on car rides or on a TV at your house. Not to mention it is one of the more popular gaming consoles on the market right now, thanks to its strong library of games. (Is the regular Nintendo Switch sold out? Check out this guide, which we update when we spot new inventory.)
Lodge cast iron dutch oven
If there's a single pot that can transform your kitchen, its Lodge's cast iron combo cooker. It's a little more work to take care of, but the cast iron pot is perfect for making everything from casseroles to stews to homemade sourdough, while the lid actually doubles as its own cast iron pan. It's two great pots for the price of one!
Filson Original Briefcase
Sometimes a classy case will make you feel better about things. If you want to impress someone when you do go out, don't bring your beat-up backpack. Instead, class up your commute with a new briefcase, like this sleek and durable canvas / leather option from Filson, which will look great and keep your important gear safe.
Price: ~$245 to $325
Samsung Galaxy S20
The Galaxy S20 is the smallest and least expensive of Samsung's S20 lineup, but it's also the best option. The star of the show is the 6.2-inch OLED display that refreshes at 120Hz, which provides the smoothest scrolling and touch interactions you can get. On top of that are a cutting edge processor, adept camera system, and 5G connectivity thrown in for good measure. The S20 isn't cheap, but if you're looking for the best the Android world has to offer right now, it's the one to get.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
For years, Amazon's Kindles have ruled the e-reader space. And for nearly as long, the Paperwhite has been the model that nearly everyone should get. With an integrated light, a crisp display, and a virtually endless battery life — and only slightly more expensive than Amazon's entry-level model — it's not just the best e-reader; it's almost better than physical paper.
Aukey USB-C wall charger
If you're carrying around multiple devices that might need charges throughout the day, a wall charger with multiple USB ports can save a lot of space in your bag. This model from Aukey has two USB-C ports that both support USB-PD for fast charging. One can charge at up to 65W when used on its own, or you can get up to 45W per device if you're using both.
Editorial lead: Michael Moore
Art direction: Grayson Blackmon
Photography: Avery White
Photo editing: Michele Doying
Illustration: Alex Castro
Social: Kaitlin Hatton
Copy editing: Kara Verlaney
Cameron Faulkner, Chaim Gartenberg, Natt Garun, Barbara Krasnoff, Taylor Lyles, Kevin Nguyen, Jay Peters, and Jon Porter
Justine Calma, Helen Havlak, Dilpreet Kainth, Brennan King, Andru Marino, Adi Robertson, and Nicole Wetsman