Graduation gifts can be easy to choose: Tuck some money in a Hallmark card and you’re done. But what if you want to give a different kind of grad gift—something a bit more personal, creative, or meaningful? Here are some tips for selecting memorable gifts your favorite high school or college grads will appreciate.
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Knowing their plans—even loosely—can help narrow your search for the perfect grad gift.
From school to school
Is the graduate going from high school to college, or undergrad to grad school? Consider a graduation gift to make the transition from home to dorm or apartment a little easier. Give a gift that helps them:
- Get organized: Monogrammed laundry bag, closet or desk organizers, under-bed bins, bathroom caddy or tote.
- Keep memories: Journal, photo frame, scrapbook, shadowbox, pin board.
- Entertain themselves: Portable speakers, headphones or ear buds, game or music gift cards, streaming service subscription, digital assistant, portable charger.
- Make midnight snacks: Mini-fridge, toaster oven, microwave, mini-blender, tableware set (plate, bowl, mug, glass, silverware), food storage set.
- Decorate a room: Bed or bath linens, throw pillows or blankets, reading lamp, area rug.
From student to student of life
Taking a “gap year” before starting at a university is more and more common—and not all college grads rush right into the workforce. Give a graduation gift to let them:
- Travel the world (or the city): Monogrammed tote or backpack or carry-on bag, luggage organizers, passport holder, travel wallet, collapsible water bottle.
- Tell their stories: Journals and pen, sketchbook and art supplies, instant camera, action camera, photo printer, postcard stamps and pen.
- Experience something new: Gift cards for transportation or restaurants, event tickets (theater, music, sports, etc.), subscription to audio books or online media.
From studying to adulting
And, of course, some leave the classroom setting for their first real job. They’ll appreciate presents that give them a jumpstart on their new lives. Give graduation gifts that help them:
- Make a great first impression: Leather portfolio or tablet cover, fancy pen, paper planner.
- Enjoy their time off: Gift cards for movies or nights out, subscription for streaming service, gift certificate for their favorite outdoor activities (mini golf, disc golf, golf golf, pickle ball), good books, supplies for a favorite hobby.
- Start a new home: Since people are waiting longer to get married, consider the kinds of things you’d find on a wedding registry, like kitchenware and home goods.
- Fix and hang things: Set them up with a starter tool box and some supplies: nails and screws, picture hangers, and spackle. Or equip them for emergencies with a plunger, bucket, shop towels, and some duct tape.
If you’re close to the student, giving a graduation gift they’ll have for a long time can remind them you’ve always got their back. A few ideas:
- An engraved watch or pocket watch
- An engraved pen
- An engraved piece of jewelry: earrings, cufflinks, necklace, bracelet, keychain
- A “line a day” journal, with space to write a single memory, thought, or idea each day for multiple years
- A leather bag or briefcase
- A wood, leather, metal, or glass box, bowl, or tray for their dresser or nightstand
- A leather-bound Bible
- Vintage or leather-bound edition of a favorite or inspiring book
- A leather tool belt or quality tool box
To make it even more special, pass along a family heirloom (be sure to tell its story).
Whether they realize it yet or not, graduates can benefit from your life experience, knowledge, and expertise. For a one-of-kind graduation gift, give them your time.
Dinner and stories
Take the graduate out for a nice dinner—whether that means white tablecloths and fancy plates or the best fried chicken in town. You can:
- Listen to their dreams. Ask questions. Be curious about their experiences. Find out what they’ve learned and are excited about.
- Share what you know. If they’re going into a field or trade you’re familiar with, find out what they want to know. Offer your wisdom, share connections, and recommend resources.
- Help them network. Set up time with someone you know who can help them get where they’re going.
Help and support
Find out something they need that you can do. Maybe it’s:
- Moving in or out. If your super-power is packing, give them a hand filling up boxes and loading the back of their car. If you have a truck and a free afternoon, spend it getting the graduate where they’re going. Spring for pizza and beer or lemonade.
- Grown-up stuff. Be a sounding board or mentor for adult living. Walk them through the basics of finding a place to live, setting up utilities, paying bills, budgeting, meal-planning, cooking, cleaning…the things we take for granted but learned at some point (maybe the hard way).
- Checking in. Graduating from high school or college is a big leap—and sometimes, graduates just need someone to listen and bounce ideas around. Set up a monthly coffee or cocktail and be their mentor, soft shoulder, or smart friend.
- Setting up a new place. Grab your power tools and help them hang shelves. Or offer your skill at painting and creating a gallery wall to help them make their first apartment feel like home.
- Putting themselves out there. Spend an afternoon helping a recent grad finesse (and proofread!) their resume or LinkedIn profile. Do some role-playing to prepare them for job interviews.
- Dressing for success. If you’ve got an amazing sense of style, share it. Offer hair and makeup tips and wardrobe advice. Help them organize their closet, put together work-appropriate outfits, and figure out what pieces they need.
Recent graduates can almost always use a financial boost, whether it’s for completely practical reasons or a much-deserved post-school splurge. A few suggestions for giving:
- Include it in a card with a wish. We’ve got some ideas for messages.
- Give money in an unexpected way. Cash doesn’t have to be cold or hard. Try these creative ideas. Or check out Hallmark’s College Survival Guide with tips and pockets to hold money, gift cards, and stamps.
- Find the perfect gift card. A graduation gift card can be really helpful (home stores, college book stores, etc.), super-indulgent (spas, entertainment, restaurants), or wide open (pre-paid credit cards).
- Make it long-term. Open a savings account, buy stocks, or send savings bonds.
It sure is nice getting lots of thoughtful, generous gifts for graduation. You might even feel a little surprised ...