You’ve searched high and low, sneakily dropped hints and even resorted to asking her friends, but you still haven’t found your girlfriend the perfect birthday gifts for her 21st birthday. If you’re stuck in a cliché rut of roses, chocolates and teddy bears (which are great…once), College Magazine has the solution.
Check out our list of 21 birthday gifts that will make your girlfriend fall in love with you all over again.
Birthday gifts are the ultimate way to show your love.
We make it super easy and fun to find the best birthday gifts to fit your girlfriend’s personality perfectly. We say gifts in the plural because sometimes a combo gift allows you to get creative and show off your thoughtful side while also staying on budget—we know you can’t afford that European wine tour she pins about daily. But if you know she fancies herself a sommelier, combine her love of wine with her obsession with corgis with this drunk corgi t-shirt.
If you’re seriously on a budget you can get a little more crafty. These gifts range from DIY to activity birthday gifts you can experience together. Remember, it’s the thought that counts. Just take that extra time to match the gift to what your girlfriend loves. We know your birthday gift will be her favorite.
21 Birthday Gifts Your Girlfriend Will Love
1. Take Her Out
Make a reservation at a nice restaurant. “I would want to have a special night where we would dress up and go to a fancy dinner,” said University of Maryland sophomore Hannah Borison. Don’t break the bank, but something nicer than your usual Friday night date spot, dress up (khakis and a tie, please) and even splurge for dessert. Make sure there’s a candle in that dessert too. Simply find a secret moment to let the waiter know it’s her birthday.
Pro tip: Groupon has awesome deals for discounted meals and fancy-schmancy places. Use it wisely.
Your girlfriend will love spending time with you and you’ll get a delicious meal out of it. Win-win. If you want to bring a physical gift with you to the dinner, you can never go wrong with dorm decor.
Or get your girlfriend a cute t-shirt for her birthday.
2. Go to a Concert
“Experiences mean so much more to me than getting something like a necklace or makeup,” said University of Florida student Melissa Ubieta. If her favorite band is coming to town, snag a pair of tickets.
She’ll love that you knew her well enough to get the tickets. “Getting concert tickets or something like that would be awesome, it’s something to do not just something to have,” said American University sophomore Samantha Smith. Even (or maybe especially) if it’s Ed Sheeran, sing along.
You know the one she looks longingly at every time you’re shopping, but will never buy? Pull the trigger. It shows you pay attention. Plus, I guarantee she’ll look super hot in it.
And if you’re not sure what “that dress” is for her, take her to the mall and find out. “It would be cool if he took me out to go shopping instead of buying [me] an outfit he liked because chances are his taste is bad,” said Montgomery College sophomore Abbie Wikner.
Pick the cutest pictures of you together, print them at CVS and pop them in a frame. If you’re feeling really crafty, make a collage on Snapfish or flashback to first grade and break out the scissors and glue stick. It’ll make a great dorm decoration and all her roommates will be jealous of her amazing boyfriend. Add love notes in your gift to make sure she knows why each moment is special to you.
“I’d really want [to receive] hand written notes with sentimental pictures,” said Purdue University junior Holly Maize.
5. Find an Old Book
If your girlfriend is an avid reader, check out some used bookstores and find a really old edition of her favorite book (bonus points for scribbles in the margins). Write a sweet note on the title page and watch her melt. She’ll love you x20 if you get her the limited edition of her favorite classic novel.
Then go the extra mile by getting her a super soft blanket to wrap around her while she reads. This birthday gift is perfect for your girlfriend or even a cuddle buddy.
Don’t just hand her the deck, doofus.”Honestly knowing that he really put his heart into creating the gift would do it for me,” said Elizabethtown College sophomore Bridget McKelvie. On each card, write something that you love about her. It’s simple, sweet and creative. If you’re struggling to think of 52 things (shame on you), use Jenga pieces instead.
It’s the gift that never stops giving. Get a mason jar or another cute container and fill it with papers scribbled with different dates, enough for one a week for a year. They can range from things like a picnic in a local park to a romantic dinner. “I would like something that was thoughtful, like a trip for the two of us,” said University of Texas at Austin junior Madelyn Guerra. Each week, randomly pick one out of the jar. Keep your fingers crossed that she doesn’t pick the couples spin class the first week.
She’s excited because she can finally (legally) drink. If there’s a dive bar that everyone at your school goes to, make sure you’re there at midnight to buy her a drink; no one should pay for drinks on their birthday. Bar crawl and go to a few different places that night to sample the “local fare.” Want to bring in your own stuff? Try this bag!
I’m not talking about reviving your middle school rap career. I’m talking about a playlist of her favorite songs that remind you of her or that you think she’ll love. Burn it onto a disc (if she’s got a device to play said disc). Even throw it on a cassette-shaped flash drive! If not, share it with her on Spotify. It’ll become her most-listened-to playlist instantly.
“I love handmade gifts that show off other people’s talents. it lets me get to know them and to hold a piece of them through their craft,” said University of Phoenix senior Maggie Mor.
A girl’s most important accessory is her phone. Buy a plain colored case and cover it with stickers or doodle on it with Sharpies. She’ll think of you every time she uses her phone, with is basically always.
“You know what’s always fun? Being cooked for. I like food, but any scrub can take me to a restaurant,” said Penn State senior Emmaline Theobald.
Invite her over to your place after you’ve cleaned up, of course, for a night of dinner and Netflix. Find a recipe online (Pinterest, dude) and hit the kitchen. Even if you’re not a chef, she’ll love that you tried. And if things go horribly wrong, order some take-out. It’ll be a hilarious story you’ll remember for years. And a funny apron will be the cherry on top.
12. Pretend You’re Artists for the Day
Paint nights are the new black, so find a place near you, fill a cooler with wine and unleash your inner Picasso. You’ll have tons of fun and you might walk away with something that’s sort of display-worthy. “[My boyfriend] painted me a picture of a sunset because he knows I really like art and he put a lot of detail and work in to it,” said Bellarmine University senior Brittany Gilbert. How romantic.
“I love it when a guy gets me something I’d mentioned in a past conversation—it shows he pays attention!” said University of California, Los Angeles senior Alejandra Cervantes. Whether it’s a new bookshelf for her apartment, a new lens for her camera or a set of pots and pans for her kitchen, figure out something that she needs but won’t justify spending the money on. Yes, it’s practical, but not boring. It’s thoughtful.
14. Surprise Her
If you’re in a long distance relationship (go you!), book a ticket. Make sure you clear it with her parents or friends before you show up at her doorstep, but she’ll love getting to see you for her big day, especially if she thought she wouldn’t.
Long distance or not—a trip together will make her birthday special. “I would want a plane ticket to a surprise place. Maybe he would tell me we’re planning a weekend trip to Disney, but then he’d pick me up with my bags packed and surprise me with a plane ticket to California. Lodging would be booked, but we could figure everything else out,” said University of Florida junior Candice Luc.
15. Do Chores
George Washington University junior Alissar Abbouchi said she wanted something practical. So offer up your services for the day. Whether she needs help organizing her closet (every girl does), cleaning the bathroom or finally assembling the entertainment center she and her roommates bought at Ikea, do whatever she needs you to do. Here’s the key: Do it without complaining.
16. Throw Her a Party
Get her roommates’ help with this one. Plan a surprise party with all of her friends and favorite drinks. Take her out to the movies while the roomies set up and when you get back, bask in the glow of her shocked and appreciative face. Plus, it’ll get you in good with her friends, which is what the Spice Girls taught us.
17. Amp Up Her Fitness Game
If your girlfriend is an exercise junkie, fuel her progress. Whether she’s a runner, a yogi or something more off-beat and hip, she’s guaranteed to need new equipment. Get her something to track her runs, like a FitBit, or renew her yoga membership.
Whether she’s a baseball fanatic or a football super fan, get tickets to a game for your local team and buy her a beer. What’s more adult than beer and sports?
Pair those tickets with some team gear to make sure she gets the perfect Insta pic at the game.
She loves being outdoors, but you’d rather stay inside. She’s a foodie, but you’re cool with burgers and fries. Whatever it is, step outside of your comfort zone. She’ll loving sharing a new experience with you and it’s kind of cute to watch you squirm. “A spa day would be nice. Some quality time to spend together,” said Mercyhurst University senior Gianna Gallese.
Complete with a tasting at the end, of course. Since your girlfriend can finally participate in such adult ventures, she’ll love it. You’ll feel super classy sipping on wine or trying freshly brewed beer, and you might even find a new favorite drink.
“I would love to go on a wine tour. A day trip for sure around town,” said Mercyhurst University senior Alyssa Archer.
And this decanter will pair nicely with any bottle of wine you might buy.
21. When All Else Fails: Jewelry
“Some of gifts I would like are a nice Tiffany necklace, a Michael Kors watch and new wedges,” said UF junior Mercedes Leguizamón.
It’s cliché because it works, right? Stay away from rings (unless you’re planning on getting down on one knee), but bracelets, earrings and necklaces are all fair game. Think about what she’ll actually wear. It doesn’t have to be covered in diamonds for it to be perfect.
“I’m a huge fan of jewelry. Anything that I can wear that makes me think of him is always nice,” said Panola College sophomore Julie Hernandez.
Check out 10 more gifts for your girlfriend!
22. A Nice Bath
“[I would love] bath bombs, candles, anything lavender related, tea, essential oils and anything bath related.” – Dominique Dwyer, Cascadia College, Sophomore
“I love traditional gifts like flowers and chocolate. Sometimes the simpler the better as long as the gift is meaningful.” – Elysse Dallas, University of Florida, Junior
Flowers make great gifts for girlfriends at any age.
“It’s like a box of chocolates but it’s a box of succulents. I’d want that instead of roses.” – Summer Cantello, Penn State, Senior
Pair a seriously soft blanket and some popcorn for the ultimate movie night. “A chill dinner and a really good movie, either at a movie theater or at his house so we can just hang out,” said Luther College sophomore Claire Little.
Drinking around the world in Epcot is the ultimate 21st birthday Disney trip. Treat your girl to a day in Disney and the perfect boozy tank to get her pumped. “Doing something together is always a nice gift. Like going to a theme park or having a well planned out date,” said UF junior Megan Hazlett.
“Food. Surprise me with food,” Spellman College sophomore Aliecia Bouligny said.
Plus, with these minimalist storage containers, she can channel her inner TikToker.
“I like doing things more than getting things so maybe tickets to a Broadway show or hotel reservations in a random place we could drive to spontaneously. Maybe even like a plane ticket somewhere,” Wake Forest University senior Elizabeth Wallace said.
Plus, you can test her Broadway knowledge with this cute game.
“Candles smell amazing and set the mood.They can represent the burning love you share,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison Catherine Zastrow. And on her 21st, you know she wants a candle that smells like Prosecco.
Who doesn’t love wine on their birthday? With these glasses, she’ll be swishing her wine like a true connoisseur.
Balling on a budget this year? Check out these 10 more affordable gifts your girlfriend will absolutely love.
Let your girlfriend be the center of attention and don’t let anyone steal her spotlight tonight. The night better start with you giving her a sash and tiara labeled “21,” so everyone you see at the club knows NOT to mess with her today. Your girlfriend will always remember the celebration of her 21st birthday in college and what you did to make it special for her. If each person you run into that night (including the bouncer and the bartender) doesn’t wish her a “happy birthday,” she will be upset and you will be the one to blame. Let her have her moment today.
Attention Daddy Gang—how do you celebrate turning 21 without taking shots? Every female BarStool fan would kill to party the way that Alex and Sophia do. Grab your shot glass and mix together vodka, lemon juice and sugar to create a Lemon Drop—she’ll start her new year feeling both sweet and sour.
Or, you could “prescribe” a shot.
33. Cocktail Shaker
Now that it’s legal for your girlfriend to get into a bar, teach her how to become a bartender. Save some money on buying her expensive drinks at the club by making them with her at home. “I think I would get my friend a cocktail shaker because then they can learn to make us all mixed drinks!” Angelea Ruiz said, a junior at SUNY Fredonia. What better way to get your girlfriend’s friends to like you than by hand making them some fruity beverages?
34. Birthstone Ring
For some unknown reason, girls take an immense amount of pride in their birth month. Get a ring for her to show off the stone representing her birthday. This gift is unique and special to her and her magical day. Just make sure she knows the ring just means “happy birthday,” not an engagement—unless you want it to be.
35. Zodiac Necklace
Once again, girls value their actual birth date. When dating a Leo, they will love you forever if you get them a necklace with their sign on it. Let your Leo be the center of attention 365 days of the year by showing the world when she was born. Amazon sells this necklace for each of the 12 signs.
36. Adidas Sneakers
With the new year approaching, many girls decide to purchase a gym membership for their New Years Resolution. While that might be a good gift, you don’t want to be the one to give it to her–she’ll think you’re calling her fat. However, do a nice gesture by giving her an accessory to compliment her new fitness plan.
If your girlfriend loves showing off her Greek letters, team up with her little to give her the most important gift on her sign night. After all, you know her best. “I think the gift I’m most excited about is my 21st paddle from my little. I started looking at designs so long ago because I wanted it to be super cute and personal!” Haley Schmich said, a junior at Adelphi University. A paddle directly reflects this girl’s personality, so keep a list in your brain of the colors and designs she likes leading up to her big 21st. Your girlfriend will love that you pitched some ideas and that you spoke to her little—after all, she’s part of the family.
Tired of ordering greasy McDonald’s for breakfast the morning after going out? Your girlfriend ruins her own birthday celebration by waking up with a headache and a stomach ache from drinking more than she should have. Put your cooking skills to the test and try a recipe from the Hungover Cookbook. In this book, the author breaks down hangovers into six types based on what you drank and how much. Use that as your starting point to figure out which recipe will get rid of your hangover fast so you can spend your Sunday afternoon studying instead of stu-DYING.
39. Dark Lipstick
Trade in those underage light pinks and reds she used to paint her lips with and give your girlfriend some darker shades to make her look more mature. A dark purple lipstick screams “I’m an adult now and you should take me seriously.” Perfect for the winter season, the darker shades make her lips look a little less blue when the temperature drops below 20.
This gift may be a little pricier than the rest, but the experience is worth it. Make her birthday extra special and give yourself a gift, too. For spring break this year, take your girlfriend on a romantic trip to the Bahamas for just the two of you to relax. “If he had the money I would love him to get me a trip to a Carribean island where we can drink for my 21st and have mojitos on the beach. #goals,” Ariana Rios said, a sophomore at the University of Florida. If a vacation isn’t in the budget at the moment right now, start saving and make this trip a birthday/graduation gift.
College Magazine does not promote underage drinking. Please drink responsibly.
*Updated November 27, 2016 with even more birthday gift ideas and links to get them.
*Updated November 17, 2017 by Celina Pelaez to include student quotes and more gift ideas and the latest trends.
*Updated Decemeber 24, 2019 by Kimberly Hurd with more gift ideas catered to broke college students.
*Updated December 1, 2021 by Jillian Delaney with more gift ideas.