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Gifts for MBA Students

January 18, 2013

Inspired by this fantastic blog post on gifts for travelers by Runaway Juno, I thought I might chime in with a somewhat belated post on gifts for MBA students – especially for your loved ones with a decidedly global (or as I like to think, ADD-of-location) tilt. The best gifts come from knowing the receiver, but bearing that in mind, below are a few areas to explore.

In creating this list, utility was at the top of my mind. I chose multi-purpose devices, or accessories that amplify the function that a student might get out of their technology, or reduce the number of items one might need to carry around during the day. Weight was important, as graduate students tend to stay at school from 8 am until 7, 8, or 9 or even 11 pm at some points during the semester. Durability was also important… the more harried I get, the more I tend to throw around my belongings (unfortunately for my cat… kidding!).

As such, I recommend any student invest in a good bag and solid technology. These recommendations might not seem global at first, but my school bag will double as a flight carry-on, and my tablet will replace books and notebooks and a laptop. It will also be a great companion on international flights and for consulting work. As technology bounds forward, it’s always a good idea (especially if you’re in a fast-paced program) to have ever-ready access to your email and appointments.


And the list!

Tablet: Schlepping around 5 lb books on Accounting can get very tiring. Plus, it’s hard to fit more than one book, plus handouts, plus notebooks and a laptop in a bag without getting very sore, very quickly. (On the upside, if you’re too busy to work out, it’s great strength training!)

So one fine fall day I decided to “invest” in a tablet. I ended up purchasing the Google Nexus 7, and here’s why:

  • Compatibility: Our school uses Gmail accounts and MBA teams collaborate using Google Drive, so I wanted a device that would sync quickly between my school accounts, Android phone, and laptop.
  • Ease of storage: I bought many of my textbooks on my tablet and ended up doing more of my assigned readings than I did when I was lugging my books around. I was able to download the cases that were required for class discussion every day instead of printing them out, which felt incredibly wasteful. I was able to pull up accompanying news in class, and, voila! My grades went up. However, I think the Nexus 10, with a larger screen, would be an even better buy for students for ease of reading cases and textbooks.
  • Note-taking: I found that I was filling up notebooks faster than I could buy or organize them. Many other students use a stylus with their tablets and have all of their notes on them at all times. They can tag their notes and organize them digitally, so it is easy to find old notes. Apps such as Evernote make note-taking in class much easier.

Edit: My Nexus 7 was really too small to be very functional for cases and virtual textbooks. I wish I had gotten an iPad or a bigger Nexus. I ended up replacing my old laptop (which finally broke) with a Lenovo Yoga – which folds over on itself to act like a tablet. 

Tablet Accessories: 

  • Stylus: A $5- $10 investment makes note-taking that much more portable and sleek. I bought the AmPen Hyrbrid Stylus for myself after reading rave reviews.
  • Tablet Jacket: Since I shove a million things into my bag every morning at the same time as I am grabbing my coffee and printing out assignments, I’m really glad I haven’t busted my tablet yet. A protective cover is generally a good idea for just about any tablet owner, just make sure that the jacket is designed to fit the size of the device.
  • Wireless keyboard: One great accessory that improves the utility of a tablet is a wireless keyboard. In addition to portability at school, many students and young people are now choosing to go without cable. A wireless keyboard helps them hook up a laptop or Android on a stick device to their TV and serves the same function as a remote AND a typewriter. Believe it or not, these devices can stand in for cable TV services and save money in the long run.

I ended up purchasing the Exact Mobile Bluetooth Keyboard, which doubles as a tablet cover AND a keyboard for my tablet. This semester I’ll be using my tablet and leaving my old, tired laptop at home. I’m hoping an investment in accessories will stretch the life of my more expensive electronics.

Edit: The Exact Mobile Bluetooth Keyboard, fitted to a Nexus 7, was really too small to type. Its hard cover did protect my tablet screen. But then, after a few months of use, it stopped turning on.

School Bag: I often walk through the rain to get to class while toting around electronics and papers. For a while, I was also riding a bike to class. And, you know, sometimes it rains. A LOT. My hair gets ruined, but my 40%-of-final-grade papers don’t have to. Enter school bags with waterproofing. Timbuk2 offers a suite of messenger bags, backpacks, and duffel bags that range from water-resistant to waterproof. They also look grown-up enough for graduate students and DC professionals to tote around without fear of looking like too much of a goober.

Edit: My Timbuk2 bag remains AWESOME and has kept my laptop and notebooks water-free. I bought another one for my boyfriend.

Food: When crunch time hits, many graduate students cut home-cooked meals out of their lives early on in the time-saving process. I was shocked to hear how many fellow classmates opined their nutritional sacrifices, or mentioned how happy they were to cook their own meals for the first time in X many months. That being said, students who take the time to pack their own lunch enjoy cheaper, more nutritious fare every day while bonding with other students who cook their own meals and eat in the break room. Based on these observations, see if your loved one has access to:

  • Lunch box: A reliable way to bring food to school and to keep pesky bacteria down at the same time. Amazon has a fairly exhaustive list of lunch bags for almost every taste.
  • Glass food containers: A few years ago, my mother and grandmother banded together to get my Pyrex bakeware and Pyrex glass containers with storage. I treasure these gifts and use them regularly. Without them, I cooked less often and transported my food using old Chinese takeout containers: chock-full of BPA (chemicals) and not very safe for long-term use. Glassware are great gifts that last for years and are available at Amazon, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond.
  • Home grocery delivery: During finals week, nothing is more helpful than home-delivered groceries. I’ve found myself putting off groceries for over a week as I ran from group meetings to classes to my home office. Both Safeway and Giant will deliver groceries to your door–and will be much better-received than pizza!
  • RecipesJamie Oliver’s Fast Meals:  Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef, seems to have taken a special interest in nutrition for Americans and as a result there are books, apps, and daily recipes dedicated to providing harried on-the-go folks with inspiration for 20 or 30-minute meals.

Clothing: You probably should not buy clothes for your loved ones without their say, but you can provide them with gift cards to retailers that specialize in suits. Macy’s carries suits for men and women, my boyfriend looks fantastic in his suit from Men’s Wearhouse, and Banana Republic uses the same fabrics every year — so the separates you buy one year will match the updated separates from THE FUTURE.

Edit: Second-year MBA students live in their suits as they hit the fall recruiting circuit — good suits that fit are a must.

Old School: Graduate school is synonymous with handouts. By the time the professor has handed out a syllabus, printed course slides, and supplemental course content such as news articles and back issues of Harvard Business Review, they’ve run out of room in a binder that was supposed to cover 4 classes and 7 weeks.  Think about:

  • A solid binder WITH POCKETS.
  • A file cabinet to store course materials, old projects and returned papers, paystubs, tax information, and insurance. I have a small one that can double as a nightstand when necessary, and filing away old stuff every term does wonders for my mental health. Mine was free and a hand-me-down, but it resembles something like this rolling file cabinet from Target.
  • Extra file folders for that cabinet.
  • A big bold fat magic marker. Always useful.
  • A monster pack of retractable pencils for finance and accounting problems.
  • A monster pack of erasers for all those mistakes you hopefully won’t (but inevitably will) make on homework, group projects, and exams.

The M-Word: Let’s face it: your grad student is probably spending at least $40,000 a year to attend school. They are not covering even a fraction of their expenses with low-paying assistantships. In disasters, we always say that the best donations are money: they travel fast, travel light, and are always best spent by the beneficiary on what they need most. If you can afford it, money will just about always be well-received by your MBA student. Even $20 will help them cover the week’s groceries, water bill, or night out at the movies.

Stress Relief: You know your loved one better than I do. So you might send them something playful, like a Frisbee, or something sweet, like a box of brownie mix. My mom started mailing me little gifts throughout the semester, like old pages they found in my puppy diary (really!), hand-lettered glow-in-the-dark t-shirts (why not?), and even, once, a half-eaten 6-year-old can of stale Ovaltine (nutritious?). My sister gifted me a Bad Day Box with individually-wrapped surprises I can unwrap whenever I’m in need of a pick-me-up. Showing someone that you love them is probably the single best gift you can give to anyone, ever, period.


Want to chat? Leave a comment below or tweet me at @mattieress.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 8, 2013 11:10 am

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