Useful Gifts for College-Bound Graduates

This year, millions of students across the country will finish their high school careers, and countless family members and friends will attend graduation ceremonies to watch the senior class receive their diplomas. Giving cards and/or gifts to new grads isn't mandatory, though the act of gift-giving is a traditional way of congratulating graduates. For some, a simple card will suffice, but others may want to give the graduate something useful for college. (See also: 5 Ways to Give Cash as a Gift)

Gift Cards

Unless the parents are paying for every college-related expense, most graduates would agree that gift cards or cash are the best gifts. The "broke college student" stereotype definitely exists, and living on ramen diets is not unheard of for students who don't want to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay for college. Restaurant and grocery store gift cards will help ward off the dreaded "freshman 15," Amazon or bookstore gift cards can help them save money on textbooks and school supplies, and gas cards will lower the cost of transportation if they plan on bringing their cars to college.

Cold, Hard Cash

Gift cards are great for some grads, but others would prefer to receive cash.

High school graduate Gavin Rose, who is headed to Occidental College this fall, sums it up: "Grads will always appreciate money. College is an extremely expensive endeavor, and so cash will always be valuable. Gift cards are OK, but money is often preferred because it can be spent anywhere."

Food and Drink

If gift cards and cash are too generic, then consider gifting the new grad a basket chock full of their favorite goodies. This is especially useful if the graduate is going away for college and wants to bring a little piece of home with them. Candy bars, chips, and energy drinks may not be the healthiest gifts, but a little junk food now and then (particularly during stressful midterms and finals weeks) is a part of college life.

Dorm Essentials

College students need more than food and books to survive, of course. If they're going away for college, they'll likely need some dorm room essentials. From electronics (headphones, digital clocks, iPods, etc.) to laundry items to bed decor, college students who plan on living in a dorm would appreciate anything that helps them reduce their dorm expenses.

Spirit Wear

If the graduate is gung-ho about their school and/or mascot, then spirit wear items could also be considered useful gifts. Sweatshirts are comfy for cold winter months and T-shirts are great for warmer weather. Because college students are on tight budgets, nice clothes are hard to come by. And spirit wear is a great way to not only to congratulate them on their graduation from high school, but also celebrate their acceptance to a university.


Now, this may seem on par with gifting someone socks for Christmas, but in reality, toiletries are absolutely essential to any college student. Toothpaste and shaving cream don't last forever, cologne/perfume are out of range for the typical student's budget, a good pair of shower shoes prevents those skin infection nightmares associated with dorm showers, and quality shampoo and conditioner will keep their hair clean and shiny (up until they tear it out during finals week). A toiletry set may not be as cool as a new laptop, but in terms of usefulness, these items are at the top of college students' shopping lists.

If you feel obligated to give something a little more exciting than soap, then perhaps include a little cash or a gift card to the new graduate's favorite store.

Do you have a useful gift idea for new graduates? Or should we skip gift-giving altogether? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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Guest's picture

I think it's great to give a "gift basket" to grads with some dorm essentials. If you want to check out some ideas and save a little money, you can look at the Dorm section on Studentrate. It's pretty cool for both students and parents to save on dorm shopping

Guest's picture

When I graduated from college, I mostly received cash. I was elated. The only problem was, however, that I received the cash in June and didn't leave for college until August so I was tempted all summer to spend it considering it was my last summer in Pittsburgh before I moved away.

Meg Favreau's picture

When I graduated from high school, my aunt got me a good set of luggage. At the time I thought it was the most boring gift, but that luggage has gotten me through dozens of trips through the years -- and it's still in great condition.

Guest's picture

My favorite gifts were cash! :) They went to books and the like.