Imagine someone who has infinite bottles of fresh, clean water. Giving an extra bottle of water to that person would have no meaning or value since the person’s need is already fulfilled. However, the same water bottle would be of great value to a person who is thirsty, but has no water.

As Christmas approaches, we often have a hard time choosing gifts for our friends and families. And, we definitely do not want to gift a water bottle to someone who does not need one. In this article, I propose a Maslow-inspired Hierarchy of Gifts that college students would want based on their specific needs. Of course, the list is not exhaustive and is solely based on my own undergraduate perspectives.

Food, Water & Shelter

  • College students need food. Consider packaging delicious snacks into boxes and making them into Christmas tree shapes. Or, purchase cookie jars and fill them with freshly baked cookies. How about Domino’s Pizza gift cards or Dunkin Donuts gift cards? Food gift cards would be awesome for constantly hungry students.
  • Seriously, college students forget to drink sometimes. For students who exercise, water bottles that can hold phones and student ID cards are especially useful. Or, get water bottles (e.g., Hydrate Sparks) that blink and tell you your hydration level. This one connects to your phone to track your daily intake.
  • Christmas is the magical blanket that warms us from the winter cold. Holiday-themed dorm/ apartment essentials such as Christmas blankets or these futon chairs surely betoken a cozy Christmas.

Safety & Care

  • Stay safe and feel safe. Safety gadgets such as pepper sprays, first-aid kits or all-in-one repair tool kits could be gifts that will come in handy.
  • Winter can leave skin cracked and dry. Perhaps give some gift cards for body and skin care products such as Bath & Body Works.

Love & Cuteness

  • What better way to express your love than sending heartfelt holiday cards and cute gifts?
  • I really like the idea of Bioluminescent Dino Pet. This dinosaur is a living “pet” that glows at night because of dinoflagellates. It is a perfect gift for scientifically-minded students.

Self-esteem & Development

  • Cool ideas for boosting self-esteem are custom-made Lego/ bobble head figures with students’ faces. You can also get a certificate for buying acres of land on the moon. These things would make students feel good about themselves!
  • For students who are into reading, books would be awesome! For students, you can also renew their professional membership subscriptions such as an SPSP student membership.

Self-actualizing Experiences

  • In general, using your money to purchase the gift of an experience is far more rewarding than material things, once all of the above basic needs are met. If you are thinking about giving meaningful and unforgettable gifts for students, consider gifting tickets for painting, theater, or yoga/spa classes. Here are some suggestions: Painting with a Twist, Broadway tickets, Spa & Wellness Gift Cards.

Additional Tips

Penurious graduate and undergraduate students need money for everything. So, if you’re still trying to find the perfect gift for the college students in your life, just give them money. Although money doesn’t grow on trees, you can still fold money into Christmas trees (Learn here on how to fold money into a Christmas tree!). However, I think students themselves would be less likely to spend that money on self-actualizing experiences.

Before you buy gifts, actively remember to use the Theory of Mind as you decide which level the students fall in this Maslow-inspired Hierarchy of Gifts. Otherwise, you might end up giving a bottle of fresh water to someone who is not thirsty!


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