A high school graduate opening a present from her grandmother.

Graduation Gift Guidelines: Tips and Ideas

The month of May is the season of both endings and new beginnings, so if you have a friend or loved one who is graduating, it’s time to celebrate the accomplishment! Since both high school and college graduates are entering into new, unfamiliar stages of life, a thoughtful graduation gift to help them through this transition will be incredibly useful and much appreciated. The appropriate type of gift obviously depends on the graduate’s personality, but if he doesn’t know what he wants or needs and you don’t know either, here are some gift-giving guidelines you can follow to ensure the present will be loved.

High School

Most of these 18-year-olds are stepping out of the nest for the first time, and taking care of their own needs can be somewhat overwhelming at first. Though they would love if you bought them a new video game or a movie theater gift card, it may be a good idea to consider something a little more “need” based rather than “want” based. Even if they have a scholarship, there are still probably areas of their lives that they’ll need to fund themselves. A great gift idea is either a gas card or a grocery store gift card. That way, even if they have no extra money, they can still afford to eat and drive to class.

If you want to purchase a physical gift, consider your graduate individually. Does she have a car? If not (and even if she does), giving a bicycle provides her with a fun form of transportation that also supplies adequate exercise to fend off the freshman fifteen. Does your grad have a computer of some sort? A laptop is probably going to be the most useful item you can possibly give since he’ll need it to do his homework (and watch endless amounts of YouTube).

You should still give your graduate some “fun” gifts he or she will be excited about and will give some comfort when homesickness strikes. If you are buying a gift for a girl, she would probably be pretty excited if you purchased a year subscription to Glamour or Vogue, so she can keep up with current fashion trends and her favorite celebrities. For a boy, go on and buy that new video game if his other essentials are already covered, or even tickets to his favorite sporting event.


Graduating from college is even scarier than graduating from high school because now your favorite grad is about to either enter a very time-consuming graduate program or the real world/the job market. Since he or she will probably need a wardrobe that’s a step up from the college-appropriate hoodies and jeans, a great idea is to take your grad on a professional attire shopping spree! Whether he’ll be doing interviews or working in an office, he can always use a high-quality suit and a sturdy pair of dress shoes.

Since most of the grad’s college dining experience probably consisted of cafeteria food and fourthmeal at Taco Bell, learning how to feed herself healthy foods is a must. If your grad is a seasoned cooking veteran, you can buy a specialty cookbook from one of her favorite chefs, such as The Pioneer Woman. If your grad can barely make cereal, he’ll thank you down the road if you pay for one or more cooking classes so he can learn the basics. If you don’t want to spend the money on a class and are a skilled chef yourself, give a “voucher” for a free day of cooking lessons from yourself and an all-expense-paid trip to the grocery store.

There is definitely still room to give your graduate some gifts he or she will really enjoy. If your girl is about to move into a new apartment from a dorm room, she’ll probably need a few things to personalize her new home. Go shopping together, or if you know her well enough, find a couple of cute furniture and home decor pieces, such as paintings, lamps, or end tables. A guy graduating from college probably needs some of these things too, but if he’s not too enthusiastic about receiving furniture, how about a new outdoor grill, or small fridge if he is in the dorm.

Last Updated: May 14, 2015