Finding the right graduation gift is always a challenge. Some of the more traditional go-to graduation gifts for him — like ties, watches, or productivity books — can come across as stuffy and boring. And though trendier graduation gift ideas, like turntables or wall art, are fun, they’re also rather impractical. That’s why the best gifts for college grads are small and portable, but still add utility to a young man’s day-to-day routine. If you’re still looking for the right graduation gift for a boyfriend, son, brother, cousin, or any other college-educated gentleman in your life, here are 23 college graduate–approved graduation gift ideas for him.
“I think it’d be nice to have something practical for the home, sort of like a wedding-registry deal,” says Samuel G., who graduated from Oberlin College this year. Some items he’d like include “maybe a nice set of sharp kitchen knives and a cutting board.” We went deep on chef’s knives recently and crowned the Global G-2 eight-inch chef’s knife the absolute best. It’s durable, lightweight, and holds an edge for a long time.
If you’re looking for a knife set, I’d recommend this four-piece set that includes the G-2 along with a very useful paring knife and a serrated bread knife.
For a cutting board, consider giving a butcher block like this one from Boos. It’ll protect the blades of knives from getting too dull too quick (along with their kitchen counters), and with proper care, it’ll last for years.
A cast-iron skillet is another great all-purpose piece of kitchen gear for a recent grad that they can take from apartment to apartment in perpetuity. This one from Le Creuset is a classic (and is featured on plenty of wedding registries, too).
If you’re looking for something a little less expensive but still totally useful, the Lodge cast-iron skillet will do just as well as the Le Creuset in terms of function, though without the colorful enamel.
Tufts University graduate Evan S. agrees on kitchen gear as a great graduation gift. “I’ve been asking around, trying to source some household supplies that I could move into my new apartment. Not furniture necessarily because that would be hard to move with, but kitchen supplies like a coffee maker.” He specifically name-dropped Chemex as a brand he’d like. “It looks elegant, and it makes really good coffee.”
And if making pour-over coffee is still too onerous of a morning task for a caffeine-deprived recent grad, a Nespresso will do the trick. This one is one of the smallest machines available from Nespresso, so it’s good for those with limited counter space.
Proper glassware could also make a nice gift since, Evan admits, “in my house, it’s a mixture of pint glasses that I bought myself and plastic cups that we’ve stolen from the dining hall, and I definitely prefer drinking out of the glass.” These Bormioli tumblers are a perennial favorite at the Strategist, most recently appearing in our guide to nonobvious wedding gifts.
If they’ve stolen plastic cups from the dining hall, they’ve probably copped some dining-hall silverware, too. That’s why stylish flatware could be another good gift for a recent grad. This silverware from Hay has a minimalist look, but as senior writer Lauren Levy notes, they “also have their own distinct shape, feel, and style.”
“I think I’d like to have a collection of starter recipe books to get started adulting. That sounds nice,” Evan continues. “A book of what to do with the stuff in your pantry that’s kind of left over” would be especially nice, and Julia Turshen’s Small Victories pretty much fits that bill. It’s got over 400 recipes, with a focus on techniques and recipes that’ll use up every last scrap of food that might be hanging around in the fridge.
If your grad tends to order a lot of takeout, but wants to make more food at home, he might also enjoy this cookbook from L.A.’s Night + Market. It’s been cited as one of the best cookbooks to give as a gift, according to cookbook authors, with recipes for coconut curries, drunken noodles, and more. But it’s still easy to follow. In fact, chef Sheldon Simeon of Hawaii’s Tin Roof Maui uses this cookbook with his kids. “They’ve managed to strip down traditional recipes to coax maximum boss levels of flavor with minimal hassle and fussiness.”
Another potentially useful gift for a tech-obsessed graduate who’s not exactly skilled at domestic tasks could be a smart speaker, like the Amazon Echo. It can help with finding recipes and set hands-free timers while they’re cooking, but it’s also an easy way to play music or to order toilet paper when in dire need.
Though if the graduate is a little wary about the “smart” component of those speakers, but still wants something to blast music in his new apartment, this Bluetooth speaker from Ultimate Ears has over 2,600 positive Amazon reviews. It’s also portable, making it a great companion for any weekend trips he might have planned.
“I’m in the market for a good set of sheets,” adds Evan. Linen sheets are nice because they’re supposed to look slightly rumpled, and as senior writer Levy explains, “[u]nlike cotton or sateen, linen isn’t cool to the touch; rather, it’s airy and porous. It won’t feel chilled when you slip into bed, but, instead of waking up in a pool of sweat from heat-locking fabrics, you’ll stay fully temperature-controlled throughout the night. It just allows the body to breathe.”
Justin L., a recent graduate from Brown University, took a trip with his friends to Thailand immediately after graduation and could’ve used some better travel gear. “It would’ve been nice to have one of those large camper bags to be able to fit all of my clothes,” he says. “Right now, I’m using a suitcase that has backpack straps, but it’s not nearly as movable.” I spoke with frequent travelers to find the best travel backpacks, and this Osprey was recommended by a couple that spends a lot of time backpacking around Europe. “It has some of the best and most comfortable shoulder straps and harness we’ve used. It’s lightweight, it has a detachable day pack, it looks nice, it is pretty affordable, and we like Osprey’s lifetime warranty.”
If you’re looking for a travel bag–slash–backpack that’s a little more versatile, this Patagonia duffel is a solid choice. It’s waterproof, lightweight, and has both backpack-type straps and an over-the-shoulder strap.
You could also upgrade their rolling luggage. The Bigger Carry-on from Away is a favorite among frequent travelers, including Kelly Farber, founder of KF Literary Scouting, and Clémence Polès, founder of the style recommendations site Passerbuys. The brand is trendy, sure, but it’s also a well-made bag with a built-in USB charger that’s surprisingly handy.
If they’ve already got a go-to suitcase or travel backpack, packing cubes could be a nice travel accessory. “All of a sudden, everything has its place, before you’ve even packed it,” explains writer Foster Kramer. “This seems like a mundane revelation, until you see someone else’s luggage and realize that the difference between your packing job and theirs is the difference between blank sheets and graphing paper.” Perfect for recent grads trying to get their life together, one trip at a time.
Another often-underrated travel accessory is a pair of headphones, and if they’ve been carrying around the same beat-up pair for the last four years, your college grad is almost definitely due for an upgrade. These over-the-ear headphones from Danish brand B&O Play are writer Steven John’s go-to Bluetooth headphones to give as gifts because they look nice but still “bring you heckin’-good sound quality. The bass is rich, but not overbearing, thanks to excellent equalization.”
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