Skip to main content

The Verge’s back-to-school gift guide 2021

Great gifts for high schoolers and the college bound

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Illustration by Grayson Blackmon / The Verge

School is back in session — well, almost. After a turbulent year and a half, many high school and college campuses are looking to return to in-person classes in the fall as vaccination rates continue to climb and the US enters a new phase of the pandemic. Some students will continue to study remotely as a result of the delta variant. Some will opt for a hybrid approach. But all will need supplies to carry out their coursework and make the most of their precious time off.

If you’re not sure about what to get the student in your life, The Verge staff has corralled a list of items that are sure to please high school students, college kids, and post-grads alike. Some, like Logitech’s C920S webcam ($60) and the 2020 MacBook Air ($950), are practical favorites, while others, like Salt Fat Acid Heat ($17), are meant to appease the student in all of us, whether you’re involved in academics or not.

Note: If you’re looking for a wider selection of laptop picks, we also have guides to the best laptops for students and the best Chromebooks.

price range:

YubiKey 5C NFC

If you're going to college, where trying to break into people's accounts is a spectator sport, it's not a bad idea to secure your online stuff as much as possible. Using a 2FA security key can help.
Price: ~$45 to $55

Google Chromecast

It's okay to watch a video on your laptop, but if you're looking for the big-screen experience, you can use a Google Chromecast to send it to a TV. The 1080p streamer also features a robust library of apps and allows for hands-free voice commands via Google Assistant.
Price: ~$30


This is the reusable straw recommended by The Strategist. It's colorful, collapsible, and comes with a carrying case you can attach to your keys so it's never far from reach. Price: ~$12 to $20

Tarot card poster

These matte prints by illustrator Sonia Lazo are beautiful and fun. They're great for decorating a new space, especially if you want to add a personal touch and aren't a huge fan of the mid-15th century artwork that adorns many classic tarot decks.
Price: ~$22

Moxi roller skates

Sure, you could always opt for a Schwinn to get around campus, but nothing is quite as stylish as a pair of roller skates. Moxi's Rainbow Rider skates are comfortable and great for beginners and come adorned with flashy rainbows on both sides.
Price: ~$109

Grubhub gift card

Eating the same set menu day in and day out can grow tiresome. Fortunately, Grubhub makes it easy to skip spaghetti night at the cafeteria and order delivery from one of your favorite restaurants — even if it is the Taco Bell six blocks away.
Price: ~$25 to $100

Bentgo lunchbox

Bentgo's drop-proof food carriers aren't the tin containers we often associate with lunchboxes. They come in a myriad of shapes and sizes, all of which feature rubberized edges, portion compartments, and a leak-proof design built to withstand more than a few dings.
Price: ~$20 to $33

Fujifilm Instax Mini 40

Instant cameras are the most fun. And with the vintage-inspired Fujifilm Instax Mini 40, you can easily capture and print traditional photos and not-so-candid selfies in about 90 seconds. The high-contrast look and Polaroid-like frame just add to the nostalgia.
Price: ~$90

Kikkerland Hammer Multitool

Kikkerland's Multitool is all about convenience, something that's paramount when you have no place to stow a tool chest. If you unscrew the hammer's base, you have a series of screwdrivers, the smallest of which is perfect for fixing eyeglasses.
Price: ~$10 to $31

SodaStream Fizzi

This SodaStream Fizzi doesn't use power — just set it up and enjoy sparkling water at the press of a button. It's also compatible with all SodaStream flavors and carbonation bottles, meaning you can finally kick the Pamplemousse LaCroix once and for all.
Price: ~$70 to $85

Stasher bags

Stasher's airtight silicone bags are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags. They're perfect for packing lunch and come in a variety of sizes and colors, with larger bags providing enough room for everything but the kitchen sink (or at least a steak).
Price: ~$18 to $22

Soundance Laptop Stand

Dorm rooms are... cozy. However, a functional laptop stand like the aptly titled Laptop Stand from Soundance can elevate your machine and carve out some additional room on your desk, giving you plenty of space to stack books, papers, and snacks.
Price: ~$26 to $48

Addalock Portable Door Lock

Dorms don't always have deadbolts, so a portable lock makes it easier to stay safe. Addalock's simple device works without tools and is compatible with most doors that are on a hinge and swing inward.
Price: ~$18

Full Circle dustpan

Full Circle's brush set lets you keep tiny messes at bay on your desk, floor, or anywhere else they might happen. It's pretty basic, though it does come with a bamboo handle that's easier on the eyes than most dustpans.
Price: ~$9 to $18

MacBook Air (2020)

Thanks to Apple's M1 processor, the 2020 MacBook Air is a thing to behold. The 13-inch machine boasts superb performance and battery life, along with an iconic wedge-shaped build and the ability to run iPhone and iPad apps natively. There's a reason it's our No. 1 pick for the best laptop.
Price: ~$950 to $999

Fitbit Charge 4

The Fitbit Charge 4 is Fitbit's most advanced fitness tracker to date. It's outfitted with an onboard GPS, solid sleep tracking, and Spotify support, letting you shuffle between Beyoncé and Billie Eilish without ever pulling out your phone.
Price: ~$129 to $130

Salt Fat Acid Heat

Following a recipe is one thing; learning how to cook is another. Samin Nosrat's excellent Salt Fat Acid Heat teaches the latter, showing you how to use what she considers to be the four basic elements of cooking to create something that's both fun and tasty. Price: ~$17

Sonos Roam

The Sonos Roam is the portable pint-sized smart speaker Sonos fans have been clamoring for since the Sonos Move. It supports Apple's AirPlay 2 and wireless charging as well as hands-free voice commands. It's got a rugged design that's suitable for both weekend camping and afternoons on the quad.
Price: ~$169

Anker Nebula Capsule II

Home theater projectors are great, but they're not the most portable. Thankfully, Anker's Nebula Capsule II is basically an Android TV-equipped tallboy that can dish out a 100-inch 720p image once the sun goes down, making backyard screenings of Ferris Bueller's Day Off a breeze. Price: ~$580 to $595

Horti gift card

Unless you're studying botany, a green thumb isn't a guarantee. Horti's curated monthly subscriptions make learning proper plant care easy, whether you're a fan of hardy succulents, pet-friendly ferns, or exotic Calathea varietals.
Price: ~$25 to $500

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

The latest Dell XPS 13 is an exercise in refinement. The 2020 model remains a standout 2-in-1, with a nearly bezel-less 16:10 display, an elegant design, and integrated graphics that can handle light gaming for those times when you need a break from cramming. Price: ~$1,120

VanMoof S3

Electric bikes aren't necessarily a replacement for a bike — they're a replacement for a car. And if you can splurge, VanMoof's pedal-assisted S3 is a prime vehicle for longer commutes, with near-silent operation and anti-theft protection designed to keep would-be thieves away.
Price: ~$2,298

Sundream throw

A good throw is one of those timeless gifts that's never bad to have around. Sundream's ultra-soft blankets are made of reclaimed fibers derived from post-consumer materials, and they come in a range of vibrant designs that are sure to brighten any room.
Price: ~$34 to $38

Sony WF-1000XM4

When it comes to noise cancellation, Sony's WF-1000XM4 are the true wireless earbuds to beat. They offer outstanding, detailed sound and first-rate battery life that outlasts the competition, rendering them the perfect companion for late nights at the library.
Price: ~$278 to $280


Cards Against Humanity is overrated. Wingspan, however, plays as beautifully as it looks, while offering just the right amount of strategy. If you're looking to move beyond the basics, Elizabeth Hargrave's well-balanced board game is a must, whether you like birds or not.
Price: ~$53 to $60

JanSport Right Pack

Few backpacks are as classic as the JanSport Right Pack, which, unlike its '80s counterpart, now sports a padded laptop sleeve and a side pocket for stowing your favorite beverage on the go.
Price: ~$44 to $105

Apple AirTags

AirTags are very Apple, but that's not a bad thing. The customizable Bluetooth trackers are simple to set up, make use of end-to-end encryption, and rely on Apple's robust network of devices to find your goods. Point being: you'll never lose your keys at soccer practice again.
Price: ~$29

Samsung Galaxy S21

There are better phones in the latest Samsung Galaxy lineup, but none of them beat the S21 when it comes to value. The midrange Android device packs a 6.2-inch OLED display, 5G connectivity, and the same Snapdragon 888 as the Galaxy Ultra, ensuring it will remain plenty fast for the next couple of years.
Price: ~$650 to $800

Bodum Chambord French Press

Frequent trips to Starbucks can get expensive, even if you opt for drip coffee. Luckily, Bodum's refined Chambord French Press is a great way to brew grit-free coffee at home without spending a small fortune on your daily, or hourly, pick-me-up.
Price: ~$37 to $40

Beats Solo Pro

Headphones don't have to be subtle — just look at the Beats Solo Pro. The popular on-ear headphones feature Apple's upgraded noise-cancellation tech and clear sound that further sheds the bass-heavy moniker for which Beats was once known. The lively colors are just a plus.
Price: ~$149 to $195

Field Notes: National Park Series

Field Notes are as basic as it gets, which is precisely the point. The pocket-sized memo pads are a great way to jot down passing thoughts, to-do lists, and other bits of info on the go, saving you from having to fumble for your notes app when time is of the essence.
Price: ~$13 to $15

Logitech C920S webcam

If you want to catch up with your parents or virtually drop in on your Spanish class from afar, a good webcam can make a world of difference. If your laptop's built-in webcam simply isn't cutting it, Logitech's C920S touts 1080p resolution and a physical shutter designed for greater privacy assurance.
Price: ~$60

Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1

The Instant Pot has become ubiquitous in the past few years, namely because it's one of the most versatile kitchen gadgets ever made. The popular slow cooker can handle everything from rice to ribs, while taking up little counter space.
Price: ~$79 to $90

Nintendo Switch Lite

The Nintendo Switch OLED model might be on the way, but the portable-only Switch Lite remains a great way to game between classes for significantly less. The popular handheld can tackle most of the same games, too, and it comes in an array of fun colorways.
Price: ~$199 to $200

Fjallraven Kånken Totepack

Having trouble choosing between a dedicated backpack and a shoulder tote? Fjallraven's convertible Totepack is both, and it features a zippered front pocket, a padded 13-inch sleeve, and a seat pad so you can take a breather regardless of where you are.
Price: ~$95

Apple iPhone 12

Apple's iPhone 12 comes in four variations, but the traditional build remains the best for most people. In addition to a zippy A14 Bionic processor and 5G support, the flagship phone boasts an OLED display and an excellent camera system, ensuring those IG shots shine no matter the setting.
Price: ~$799

Anker PowerPort III Nano charger

Students are rarely sedentary, which is why picking up a fast charger like Anker's PowerPort III Nano is a no-brainer. The miniature USB-C charger is a fraction of the size of Apple's original 20W charger, yet it can charge an iPhone 12 to 50 percent within 25 minutes.
Price: ~$14 to $17

Epic Nalgene OG

Consider the Epic Nalgene OG the next evolution of reusable water bottles. The 32-ounce container is made of BPA-free plastic and contains a recyclable filter, one designed to absorb heavy metals, chemicals, and other contaminants you might encounter here or during your semester abroad.
Price: ~$39

Sonos Symfonisk picture frame speaker

Like other products in the Symfonisk series, Ikea's picture frame speaker sounds like a Sonos speaker should. It produces distinct, robust sound from behind a black or white print that's (slightly) more subtle than your favorite band poster.
Price: ~$199

Logitech MX Anywhere 3

Sometimes a trackpad just won't cut it in the classroom. For those instances, there's the Logitech MX Anywhere 3, a travel-friendly mouse equipped with a comfortable design, a terrific scroll wheel, and a price tag that's easy on your wallet.
Price: ~$69 to $80

Amazon Echo Show 5 (second-gen)

Every kid needs an alarm clock — or in this case, a smart display — to make sure they get to class on time. Amazon's Echo Show 5 is compact enough to serve as a bedside companion, and it features many of the hallmarks that have come to define the Echo Show lineup (sunrise alarms included).
Price: ~$55 to $60

AirPods Pro

At this point, AirPods have nearly become synonymous with true wireless earbuds. The AirPods Pro, the most capable of Apple's in-ears, offer deep integration with iOS, well-balanced sound, and enough noise cancellation to drown out that friend who refuses to put down Fortnite.
Price: ~$190 to $200

Theory11 Voyager Playing Cards

Few gifts are as versatile as a deck of humble playing cards, and Theory11 makes some of the best. Its current lineup is beautifully designed, nicely weighted, and depicts a range of styles — from the Americana-esque artwork of the 1930s to the sci-fi sheen of The Mandalorian.
Price: ~$10 to $13

Hello Fresh gift card

Cooking, though rewarding, can also be time-consuming. To simplify the process, Hello Fresh lets you choose from a rotating selection of quick-hit recipes and ships ingredients directly to your door, taking the guesswork out of dinner.
Price: ~$60 to $130

Acer Chromebook Spin 713

Acer’s Chromebook Spin 713 is a convertible that punches well above its weight. The sturdy aluminum machine features a brilliant 3:2 display and a backlit keyboard as well as ample RAM and an 11th Gen processor designed to withstand as many tabs as you can (realistically) throw at it. Price: ~$700