For a college student? Its Gotta have Sex Appeal!
...And i hate to say it, most male students will try at some point to load WoW or some other game on their computer... so consider the video card choice appropriately.
While a solid state drive is a nice thought too, kids these days back up their work to USB flash drives anyhoo, so save your cash. instead, invest that extra cash into a laser printer or something.
You can get a refurbished macbook 2.4ghz aluminum /w 9400m, 2gRAM, and illuminated keyboard for $999 at the apple store. Really, all the kid needs it for writing up lab reports, so this should be overkill, but it might be useful for getting some booty. art major girls dig macs. $1000 is still a lot tho; is it worth getting laid or two months rent?
On the PC side of things, I'm a fan of both Dell notebooks and Lenovo Thinkpads. I'd take them over a macbook myself- mainly due to the price, but also because of their customizability. A $400 laptop/desktop should be more than enough for most college student; an $800 laptop is great tho. More than that is just spoiling them.
Tablets are neat, but i never took notes anyways. easier just to photocopy someone elses. A Kindle with textbooks, manuals and lectures loaded on them might be usable though; photocopying and textbooks are expensive!
since most of the college students I know have a very tight budget, I usually overlook appearance, and focus just on getting a laptop that has a medium sized screen, dvd-r, decent enough battery life and possibly a dedicated graphics card if the person is a gamer. kids aren't picky; a system just needs to work.
I might not consider a desktop solution much anymore, but just a few years ago desktops were the only affordable way to go--- but they still do get the job done just fine. Maybe a lightweight laptop and a heavy duty desktop is a good choice for some students still- having a big screen, a tv tuner, and a nice sound setup are great benefits of a desktop tho.
just my thoughtless rambles,