When I went to college—and yes, I can remember that far back, albeit dimly—it was both exciting and terrifying. I was exhilarated: I was going to get to meet new people! I was terrified: I was going to meet new people.
A lot has changed for college students since then, but that particular experience is universal. We always want to meet new people, but it can be scary and awkward. Whether it’s the first day in the dorms, the first day at the sorority, or your first trip or event together, you want something to break the ice, get people laughing, and help people get to know each other.
You know what works for all of that? A Secret Santa gift exchange.
Secret Santa gift exchanges are perfect for college students. They can help you get fun or practical gifts, can be done with a strict budget in mind, and can employ the technology that’s as much a part of students’ lives as breathing. If you’re trying to find ways to help people have fun and start a new tradition, these Secret Santa ideas for college students might be the best education you get!
(Not literally. You should still go to class.)
Why Do a Gift Exchange in College
There are a lot of different kinds of parties in college, to say the least. So, why do a gift exchange? Well, there are several great reasons.
Gift Exchanges Help You Get to Know Each Other
This is probably the primary reason. When you have a gift exchange, you all have to draw someone’s name and go through their gift list. When you’re doing this, you learn what a person wants. You learn what they value, or treasure, or just plain like. You get a sense of who they are.
And if you have any questions, a good Secret Santa generator will let you ask anonymous questions of your giftee. That way, you can get to know the person you drew and what would make them happy.
It’s the same when you get the gift and have to guess who gave it to you. There’s some psychology, some guesswork, and some intuition. It forces you to think about the people around you. It forces you to make eye contact and read expressions. At the very least, you have to remember everyone’s name! At the end, you’ve forged a connection.
Gift Exchanges Get You Cool Things
We’ve heard of college students who do gift exchanges that specifically involve useful gifts for college students. This can include:
- Essentials for dorm life
- Dorm decor
- Items for the bathroom (slippers, towels, etc.)
- Cooking gear (if there is a communal kitchen)
- Gift cards
- School supplies
Of course, you don’t have to do something that is college-related. I’m really a fan of doing themed gift exchanges, revolving around things like:
- Favorite movie
- Favorite music
- Food and beverage
These are really fun because they involve someone’s personality. You really start to understand likes and dislikes. That helps with getting to know your giftee—and is also a great conversation starter!
It Can Be Done Anytime
Don’t think Secret Santa is just for Christmas. Gift exchanges are always welcome, for all sorts of events. They clearly can happen during holidays, but they aren’t exclusive to them. You can exchange gifts at pledge time, at the beginning of the semester, at the start of a season, when a new club forms—for any reason, at any time.
One of our favorite stories is students at Columbia hosting a gift exchange for incoming freshman that explored and celebrated the diversity of cultures being represented by the class. It was an amazing, welcoming way for students to understand each other, recognize each other’s cultures, and find beauty in the diversity and the similarity all incoming freshmen have.
How to Make Your Secret Santa Ideas for College Students Work
Now you know why you should host a gift exchange. Here’s how to make it work for your fellow college students:
- Pick a budget. Most college kids are working part-time, living off loans, or carefully rationing money from parents. They’re on a budget. Money is tight, and if people feel like they can’t afford to play, they won’t. So, establish from the start that you’re going to be doing a reasonable budget, with a cap on gift price. It can be $20. It can be $10. The point isn’t extravagance; the point is experience.
- Use technology. Want to make it easy? Use a Secret Santa generator that allows you to draw names virtually, build your wish list on the platform, and shop for your giftee directly from their list. And make sure there are apps for iPhone and Android that allow people to do everything from their mobile device (including updating their wish list, ideally just by taking a picture!).
- Let people play remotely. If you have the right technology, you don’t even have to all be together. You can draw names virtually, shop and ship right from the platform, and have the exchange online, over Skype or Facetime or anything else. If you and your fellow students are dispersed over school breaks, you can still be together.
And really, isn’t being together the point?
Secret Santa and the Real You
In college, you’re forming fast friendships that burn brightly. There are a few reasons for that. One is that you’re in an intense time. You’re taking tough classes, you’re setting your own schedule, you’re planning for yourself. You study together and party together and laugh and cry and commiserate and dance together.
But the other reason is that you’re actually searching for people… for your people. It’s different than in grade school or high school where you meet people because they live in the same town. In college, you find the people you want to find, because you’re discovering yourself.
So celebrate that! Get to know yourself, and know other people. Secret Santa gift exchanges aren’t intense voyages of self-discovery or anything, but you get to think about yourself. You get to think about other people. And you get to have a lot of fun while doing so.
You might be in college, but we think you ought to keep playing.
If you’re doing a gift exchange at college, you want a Secret Santa generator that makes everything go smoothly. Elfster makes it easy to pair people up, shop for gifts, and start a Wish List. Plus, you can access it all from an iPhone app or Android app.