gifts they might actually want

The Best College Graduation Gifts for Her, According to College Graduates

Photo: Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett

The first few months after graduating from college is a time when you need a lot of stuff — business casual clothing to wear to your first full-time job, furniture to outfit your first real apartment, and glasses and plates to replace the ones you stole from the dining hall and used in your dorm room — but don’t have the money to buy it. That’s why, if you’re looking for graduation gift ideas for her, it’s nice to give something practical. But useful doesn’t have to mean ugly or unsentimental. If anything, the most thoughtful graduation presents find a balance between style and utility.

To help you ace this final assignment, and find the best college graduation gifts for her, I spoke with several recent female college graduates about the things they actually want as they enter into the “real world.”

Jewelry and Bags

Modern Muse Hoop Earrings - Gold

“I’d say business professional clothes or a quality piece of furniture, stuff that I can use when moving to a new home and entering the workforce,” says Hanna G., who graduated from Vassar College this May, adding, “The more indulgent response would be a nice pair of earrings, because those can be used at work too right?” She likes this now-sold-out pair of sculptural dangling gold earrings from & Other Stories. “I actually just bought them recently and then lost the left one at graduation, talk about irony.” These gold earrings from Sataya Jewelry have a similar delicate-yet-structural feel.

L. Erickson Skinny Mini Hoop Earrings

This work-appropriate set of earrings in trendy tortoiseshell was found by by Strategist associate editor and noted tortoiseshell enthusiast Katy Schneider.

Jennifer Fisher Small Huggie Gold-Plated Hoop Earrings

Our colleague at the Cut Lindsay Peoples-Wagner prefers these smaller, gold-plated hoop earrings “for a more corporate office.”

Gorjana Taner Bar Mini Stud Earrings
Photo: 17-12-28 Accessories AM1 B3 dylanremis W
Gorjana Taner Bar Mini Stud Earrings

These simple stud earrings, which come in either gold or silver, are a nice understated option, too.

Coordinates Ring

Tess R., a recent graduate of SUNY Geneseo, “would ideally like a car or a piece of sentimental jewelry. My friend got a ring with the coordinates of school on it, which I really like.” These rings come in gold, silver, or copper and can be customized with the coordinates of your choosing, making it a little less obvious of an homage to their school than a signet ring.

Kate Spade New York Bright Ideas Stud Earrings

You could also give jewelry that subtly nods at the now-alumna’s school colors. Kate Spade makes simple-yet-chic colored stud earrings in a rainbow of colors, and these berry studs would be sweet to give to a graduate of Amherst, Williams, NYU, Northwestern, or any other college with purple as a school color.

Kate Spade New York Rise & Shine Small Stud Earrings

If the school’s colors include navy, these studs will do.

Michele Watches Deco 18 Diamond, Mother-Of-Pearl & Stainless Steel Chronograph Bracelet Watch

“For graduation gifts, I always like to think expensive, because we’re getting into the ‘real world,’” Daniela H., who just graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey, explains, and though she had a Mansur Gavriel bucket bag on her wishlist, she got a watch instead. “It was unexpected, but I’m so glad I got it, I wear it everyday.”

Movado Bold Stainless Steel Bangle Bracelet Watch/25MM

Daniela also mentioned Movado as a nice watch brand. This particular model is delicate enough to look like a bracelet, perfect for people who are new to wearing watches — and it’s under $500.

Madewell Transport Tote

In this same vein, a brand-new work bag would probably also be appreciated by a recent graduate. The Madewell transport tote is a perennial Strategist favorite — and for good reason. According to Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, who’s on her second or third version of this bag, it can be shoved “over my shoulder while wearing a puffy jacket that holds a laptop, water bottle, and all the toys my kids swear they want to play with that I get stuck carrying home.” However, it still looks stylish and can even be monogrammed if you want that personalized touch.

Madewell Transport Tote

It’s also available in pale petal pink, if that’s more of your graduate’s vibe, or she’s going to work in a more creative office.

Away Bigger Carry-On

Several of the college graduates I spoke with would love a plane ticket as a graduation gift, but short of that, “A suitcase or travel bag, those are nice gifts,” says Cassidy O., who graduated from Tufts in May. “I actually just got a nice suitcase, and that’s been really helpful.” Away’s Bigger Carry-On is another perennial Strategist favorite. As editor Jason Chen notes, “Other frequent travelers tend to agree that Away is one of the best bets these days.” And even if you think the external USB ports are gimmicky, as he did, you’ll change your mind after using it: “When passengers at the airport circled outlets like buzzards, I comfortably snacked on Cibo Express almonds. At our shared eight-person house in Palm Springs, I never once had to borrow or break out a charger.”

The Twill Weekender

If they’d prefer a weekender bag to a rolling carry-on, Everlane’s bag is becoming a new classic, made of cotton twill with leather straps.

Home and Kitchen

Bormioli Rocco Sorgente 14.25 Double Old Fashioned Glass, Set of 6

“Wedding registry–type things make sense, because a lot of us are moving into places for the first time permanently,” says Cassidy. “I know nothing about glassware, but in general, a semi-affordable set that’s a combo of drinking glasses and wineglasses would be good.” That’s where these Bormioli tumblers come in. They’re well-balanced and could be used for wine, water, or any other liquid you might want to imbibe.

Le Creuset 12 oz. French Press in Marine

Julia L., a graduate of Kenyon College, jokes, “a nice French press or Chemex, because nothing says adulthood like leaving mold in one of those for weeks on end and opting for Starbucks instead.” But, in all seriousness, she is one of a couple college graduates who requested coffee-making gear. A French press is straightforward to use; all the graduate needs is coffee grounds and a kettle to make it work. And if you buy one in stoneware, like this handsome Le Creuset single-serving French press, it’ll be hard to break.

Chemex 6-Cup Pour Over Coffee Maker

But for the graduate who’s willing to get a little bit fussy or has limited counter space for a drip coffee maker, a Chemex is a great option.

Chemex Natural Paper Filters

Just remember to buy them extra paper filters, too.

The Casper Mattress, Queen

If you’re feeling splurge-y, Julia also wants a nice mattress for graduation, another gift that was mentioned in passing by a couple other recent grads. “It’s high-budget, I know, but I’ve had to sleep on college-provided mattresses for four years and have recently discovered the major difference a good mattress can do for your sleep.” Bonus points if you ship the mattress to the graduate’s new address. Says Julia, “It’s also the thing the most of my friends have had to skimp on or take from childhood rooms or realize upon moving in they don’t have.” She specifically mentioned wanting a Casper mattress…

$945 at Casper
with code: NYMAG50
Allswell Luxe Classic, Firmer

… but we here at the Strategist also like Allswell. As senior writer Lauren Levy explains, it’s the only bed-in-a-box mattress that uses coils, and it comes with a “built-in plush topper, a luxurious add-on that you won’t find on any other mattress that comes delivered to your door in a box, but is often on department-store mattresses.”

$727 at Allswell
with code: NYMAG15
Down Alternative Fiber Bed

However, a couple of grads I spoke with were hesitant about getting a whole mattress as a graduation gift, especially if their plans were to move back home or they still weren’t totally sure where they were going to end up. In that case, a plush mattress topper could also be a nice compromise, giving them the benefit of upgrading their sleep situation without getting a whole new mattress. Besides, after working hard for four years and making it through graduation, they’re definitely due for a nap.

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The 20 Best College Graduation Gifts for Her