The Great Graduation Gift List

It is graduation time in my house, times two. And, Mary Dell’s family is rejoicing in a commencement as well. While we have been here before with our older kids we were stumped for ideas of graduation gifts and reached out to our band of experienced moms for some wonderful suggestions to create this graduation gift guide.

Great graduation gifts for your high school or college grad.

We have included gifts for both high school and college, for both young women and men. We have covered a broad array of price points and tried to include both the practical and the frivolous. Have a friend with a grad this year? Please share this post with them.  And, if you have more great ideas to add to our list, we would love to see your suggestions.  Email us at

The number one gift for graduates is money. It is what they ask for most often and what is proffered. As a nation we will give about $5 billion in graduation gifts and 58% of this will be in cash. But if money is not on your list, or you are looking for a more creative way to offer it, here are 39 suggestions from our friends and family.

1. Tuck a Check Inside Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening by Becky Blades, and you’ll be giving your grad what she wants but doesn’t know she needs: her mother’s loving counsel. The beautifully illustrated book covers topics from laundry to forgiveness to creative living. Directed predominantly at young women, my college boys laughed out loud and read it cover to cover. The best part: pages to personalize.

Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone, available here at Amazon.

Do Your Laundry, Becky Blades

2. Monogrammed Towels or Towel Wraps. Now that they are setting their own laundry schedule, kids can never have too many towels. Monogrammed towels will not get nabbed in the dorm laundry or city laundromat.

3. $50 in Quarters. Think of it as a semester’s worth of laundry without wandering the dorm every week or two looking to see who can change a couple of dollars. But we did hear something about a quarter drinking game….

4. Who Are We Kidding? Tuition, room and board, spending money for four years…that was the gift.

5. Dorm Essentials. At some point every high school grad seems to find themselves in the college section of  The Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond, or Target searching out XL sheets and an array of storage items. Gift certificates from these national retailers will get them on their way. Items can be ordered at your local store to be picked up later in the store closest to your child’s college campus.

6. Wheels. College grads moving to cities with limited public transportation will rejoice over any help with car insurance, payments, or money towards a car lease. For some, those days of walking are over.

7. Two Wheels. College kids on bicycles is an idyllic image, but not if your kid’s bicycle was the small one they got for the holidays in sixth grade. If they are going to attend a university that is suited to a bike, and most are, this may be the single most useful gift you can give.

8. The Her Campus Guide to College Life: How to Manage Relationships, Stay Safe and Healthy, Handle Stress, and Have the Best Years of Your Life by the editors and writers of the super popular HerCampus website, is as valuable a reference manual for this generation of college women as the dictionary was for their mothers. Never preachy, it reads like advice from an older sister who really knows the inside scoop about college and is delighted to share with brand new freshmen. 

9. It’s Always Coffee Time. College kids pushing though late night studying or graduates who are now waking early will appreciate their own single serving coffee maker. Keurig makes all different size machines for any dorm room or apartment and a favorite of ours is the Keurig K60/K65 Special Edition Single Serve Coffee Maker. They even make them with college logos. This is a gift that saves time and money. If your graduate is a tea drinker a small electric kettle, link the Bodum 11451-01US 17-Ounce Electric Water Kettle, Black may be the perfect gift. It comes in three colors and costs less than $45.

10. Money Disguised. If handing over a fist full of dollars is not what you had in mind, turn that cash into silver coins or a mint set from the year your graduate was born. The coins are commemorative, can be saved and cherished, or turned right back into needed cash.

11. Overnight bag. It might be time to stop using grocery bags as luggage. A small canvas duffel or tote, like this one, Filson Men’s Medium Duffel Bag, Navy, One Size will come in handy on visits home, away for weekends or traveling to, hopefully, job interviews.

Great graduation gifts for your high school or college grad.

12. Help with Student Loans. A full 70% of college students graduate with debt and the average loan burden approaches $30,000. Any and all help with those payments is truly a graduation gift.

13. The Party. Graduations are a time for families to gather and celebrate. They are milestones of great meaning and joy, but that doesn’t mean the festivities are free. As parents, the graduation party can be a gift to our kids they will never forget.

14. A Journal. A beautiful blank book, given in advance of a graduation party, can be passed among the guests. The real gifts are the thoughts and bits of advice that family and friends can record, making this a gift both deeply personal and meaningful.

15. A Beautiful Piece of Jewelry. Graduations are one of life’s big milestones and, as such, perhaps a moment for a first piece of real jewelry. A set of pearl earrings or subtle gold necklace can be worn on special occasions or taken out for job interviews.

16. Let the Tailgating Begin. A small portable grill, like this one Weber 10020 Smokey Joe Silver Charcoal Grill, Black works either outside the stadium or on an apartment rooftop. Grill tools need to be part of this package.

17. Unbreakable Cups. Tervis makes 329 unbreakable mugs, with school logos, like this one
Thermoserv University of Texas 24-Ounce Rings Tumbler from a favorite school of ours! College kids are not the most careful with their possessions, so heavy emphasis on the unbreakable.

18. Gift Cards for Local Eateries. For many kids graduation means a new city, either for college or a job. Gift cards from local restaurants will be a great treat in the new neighborhood.

19. Personalized Belts. Smathers & Branson, a luxury retailer of needlepoint goods, will make a personalized belt with meaning for your grad. They also sell wallets, key fobs, hats, flasks and coasters all embroidered with Collegiate or Greek Logos.

Great graduation gifts for your high school or college grad.

20. Get Rid of the Backpack. For kids facing their first real job, a brief case, good handbag or okay, an upmarket backpack, might be the thing to send them on their way. Quality leather goods do not come cheap, but the last for years to come.

21. Fleece blankets, with Monograms or Photos. One of my friends gave fleece throws in college colors with their embroidered monograms to our kids and all their friends. With drafty dorm rooms or extra friends spending the night, this is a gift that will get used. Shutterfly will put your photos on a machine-washable blanket for $56.

22. Gym Membership. For those leaving the college campus, the days of free exercise facilities might be over. Give the gift of health and fitness, or at least a place to de-stress after a long day at the office.

23. Wallet or Business Card Case. Something everyone needs and it can be upped with a gift card inside.

24. Campus Gifts.  For high school or college grads, sweatshirts or other item from their to-be alma mater or for high school grads, a gift certificate to the college bookstore are classics.

25. Manners Never go out of Style. Personalized stationery may not make them jump for joy but they will never again have the excuse, “I had nothing to write a thank you note on, so I sent an email (or worse, a text!)” A box of these note cards from Crane, Crane & Co. Navy Hand Engraved Thank You Cards (CT3116) are an elegant way to express gratitude…for any of us!

Great graduation gifts for your high school or college grad.

26. J. Crew. We are pretty sure that it is not possible to have too many J. Crew gift cards. College grads need clothes for the world of work and high school grads may need warm weather gear now that they will be doing much more walking.

27. Experiences, Not Things. Tickets to concerts or shows, or if your budget stretches to accommodate it, spring for a trip. Many parents mentioned the lasting joy of a post-graduation trip if it fits into the family finances.

28. Money Lei. Feeling crafty? Take those dollar bills and make a traditional lei. One part origami, one part Hawaiian necklace. a quick search on Pinterest will show you a 100 different styles with instructions.

29. Tools of the Trade. Unassembled furniture? A hinge that is coming loose? A small but well equipped tool box like this one,  Black & Decker 51-904 38-Piece Home Project Kit might just be what your grad needs. 

30. The Classics. You can never go wrong with these tried and trues. Watches and pearls might go to the office the first week of the new job, or be tucked away for the first special occasion, but this is the gift that lasts a lifetime.

31. Family Photos. They may have snapshots of the family in their phones, but that is not the same as a beautiful professional photo for their wall or desk. Consider a family photo shoot, complete with family dog, before the kids leave home.

32.  The Girl’s Guide: Getting the hang of your whole complicated, unpredictable, impossibly amazing life by Melissa Kirsch. As the title suggests, Kirsch covers every aspect of a young woman’s life with insight and humor. If I were sending a daughter out into the world, I would make sure she was tightly gripping a copy of this wonderful book.

33. A Picture is Worth….iPhoto, Shutterfly and WeMontage all offer parents an easy way to create a book of memories. Our computers are jam-packed with photos waiting to be liberated. We can pull them off our kids’ Facebook pages and upload them into a perfect keepsake.

34. Time to Make a Home. Think about vouchers from  The Container Store, Ikea, West Elm, Crate and Barrel, Design WIthin Reach or Sleepy’s. Credit at any of these stores, or many others, will be appreciated by anyone with an empty new apartment.

35. And for the Walls.  For the college graduate who wants to take a little bit of the magic with her, a print of her alma mater might be just the thing to help make her first apartment seem like hers. University Icons has an online gallery of more than 500 colleges and universities and ships them framed or unframed. You can also order a computer cover and note cards with an image of the place she just left behind.

36. Their Life on the Page. What are you going to do with all those old report cards and iffy school photos? Here is a chance to put their lives on paper and make a scrapbook with mementos you have saved for years. This is not a last-minute job, but more like a suggestion for parents of juniors.

37. Cookies. Who wouldn’t love a voucher from mom for baked goods that will be sent the following year?

Great graduation gifts for your high school or college grad.

38. Family Memento. Grandparents looking for gifts might consider some of the family mementos or jewelry that their grandchildren can treasure forever. Passing on family heirlooms (and we use this term broadly) is a moment with meaning for both generations.

39. Steal a Little Time. Finally, one of our wonderful readers suggested something that tugged at my heart. For kids graduating college with jobs, the days and weeks after graduation will be one of the last extended periods of time they will have. A one-on-one parent and child trip, even just an overnight, is an opportunity that will not soon arise again. There really is nothing like the gift of memories.

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  1. says

    I love this! We’re not quite at graduation yet but it feels imminent, and I have friends who are moving through this bright gateway. Fabulous ideas! xox

  2. says

    With three graduates in our family this year (Middle School, High School and College), this post will be well used! Thank you – this is one of the best lists I’ve ever seen!

    • says

      Wow – Kate – three graduates this year. Congratulations to each of your family members, such fun celebrations ahead.

  3. Happyoutlook says

    I’m definitely going to save this list to refer to again and again!

  4. says

    What a great, great, list. I have two daughters graduating, yes two! This list will really be helpful. Thanks so much for your post!

  5. Regina says

    This is a wonderful list and I thank you. Jack will be in grad school in London and will need a bike—so will need cash to purchase the bike in London! Easy one.

  6. Mindy Mitchell says

    What wonderfully unique (and quite a few practical, as well) ideas! Sharing this with all of my parent/grandparent friends!

  7. says

    What an inspiring and thoughtful list! Hats off to a stellar curation of quality tips with beautiful graphics and an even more beautiful message.

    I would also suggest the locking dorm chest from Vaultz Products to protect your son or daughter’s jewelry, laptop, iPhone, irreplaceable valuables, or even just diaries from curious roommates and passers-by. The VZ00323 fits under low profile dorm beds or tethers to dorm bed frames.

    • says


      Excellent suggestion. I did not even know they existed, it sounds like a great idea.

      Many thanks!


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