gifts they might actually want

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

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

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As students prepare to take center stage at graduation (their diplomas finally in hand!), the last leg of this major milestone is officially here. And as new degree-holders gear up for their next chapter — whether that includes backyard grad parties, long-anticipated backpacking trips, job interviews, or maybe even more college — there’s no better time to celebrate the graduate in your life. With that in mind, we asked a handful of recent graduates about the things they actually want as they enter into the “real world.” Like the boys we spoke to, girls would also like cash to save up for an apartment or a vacation with their best friends. But if you would prefer to give something a tad more tangible, below we have 29 of the best gift ideas, according to recent college graduates.

Tech gifts

If your grad is particularly active, Alana Dressely, a senior student athlete at the University of Minnesota, says an Apple Watch — which is our best-rated fitness tracker — would be an ideal gift because it provides the wearer with insightful metrics all day long, whether they’re working out or sleeping. Dressely says it will also keep your grad connected to their phone’s alerts, such as incoming calls and texts, even when they don’t want to be whipping out their device.

No recent grad would turn down a new laptop — they have to keep their résumé up to date somehow, after all — but the MacBook Air is the most coveted of gadgets. “For many students like myself, the last laptop they got was before college, maybe even toward the start of high school,” says Emma Havighorst, Fordham University Gabelli School of Business ’20. Emery Bergmann, a senior at Cornell University, informs us that “the average lifetime for a laptop is around three years,” so “chances are, if your student got a new laptop at the beginning of college, it might be time for a new computer.” Havighorst believes that when “entering the workforce, having top-tier technology is super-helpful.” She likes the Air because it’s “light and easy to transport to cafés, libraries, or just to your bed.” As for which color to choose, Havighorst says, “Personally, I’d die for the rose gold.”

Bella Cimarusti, American University ‘20, spent college listening to her favorite music with headphones or from her laptop, in lieu of a real home audio setup. But “a family friend recently played one of my favorite records of the past year, FKA twig’s Magdalene, with a proper sound system,” and it changed everything for her. Cimarusti says she realized that intricately produced albums such as Magdalene can’t fully be appreciated with mere earbuds. “With a Bluetooth record player I’ll be able to stare at my ceiling and listen to twigs’s beautifully devastating track ‘fallen alien,’ the way it was meant to be heard — and start a record collection,” she says.

Miroir M190 Mini Pro Projector
$140
$140

When we spoke to college students about the gifts they’d like to receive, several told us they either own a projector, know friends with a projector, or wish they had one. This is a newer version of the model recommended by Meg Schwieterman, University of South Carolina ’22, who has a simple set of instructions for using it: “Tack a sheet up on the wall, make a batch of microwave popcorn, and pick a movie!” It’s also very lightweight, has a built-in tilt to 90 degrees, and is battery powered, so they won’t need to worry about finding an outlet during a screening.

Home gifts

Transitioning to life after university can be difficult for some, and Havighorst says that is especially so “for graduates who may be leaving their college experiences and entering into a really uncertain job market.” She believes a weighted blanket would be a perfect gift because it can “help people sleep better, calm anxiety, and all-around make you feel hugged.”

Any graduates moving out as soon as they get their first job will need a little help filling their apartment. “Starting from scratch when your sheets are still sized twin XL can be difficult!” says Bergmann. She suggests “really practical gifts” like “bedding, a coffee-maker, a knife block, pots, pans, a vacuum, and silverware.” This is one of our expert-recommended vacuums because of its versatility and efficiency. Your graduate likely won’t have a lot of room in her new apartment, so a stick vacuum will be compact enough to keep in what little closet space she has without being a nuisance.

“I would be very grateful for help on appliances, like an air fryer,” says Arianna Allen, University of Florida ’23. “Especially when you’re starting out in your first job, buying one is a little tight on the budget.” As our best-overall air fryer, this Instant Vortex comes highly touted by experts such as Jenny Tschiesche, who wrote an air-frying cookbook and says it has lasted longer than all the others she has tried. She and her family use it daily to roast vegetables, reheat buns, and cook chicken nuggets, salmon, sweet-potato fries, flapjacks, and more. (I also plan to gift this model to my sister, Delaney Goertzen, who graduates this May.)

Bergmann says furniture is also a good idea. If your graduate plans to work from home, they will likely need a proper office setup. As seen in our list of the best small (yet stylish) desks, this wall-mounted one comes recommended by Laura Fenton, author of The Little Book of Living Small, who says she used it as part of a storage system beneath a loft bed in her first apartment. It’s ideal for those short on square footage because it features shelving for photos of friends and family or any books, making it a twofer gift that a grad will greatly appreciate.

“The work doesn’t end after college, and neither does drinking coffee,” says Megan Edgemond, University of South Carolina ’20, which is why she’s requesting an espresso machine for graduation. Madison Zoey Vettorino, Marist College ’20, agrees: “I routinely empty my wallet in the name of coffee.” She says an espresso machine isn’t something she’d splurge for herself, but “would be an excellent addition to a new apartment, especially on mornings when I have to wake up early and commute to work.”

Multiple Breville models can be found on our list of the best espresso machines, but the brand’s Nespresso Essenza Mini Espresso Machine, which comes with 16 complimentary capsules, is a well-reviewed starter machine (and a wallet-friendly option).

For grads who are more partial to cold brew than fancy lattes, Cimarusti said the Asobu Cold Brew Maker is at the top of her wish list. While living at home, she found her parents’ cold brew–maker to be a nice morning ritual each day. Once Cimarusti moves out, she says she’ll “definitely be needing one of my own to save money and sustain my normal levels of caffeine needed to function.”

Alison Walls, Drake University ’22, says adjusting to adult life can lead to some stress-related acne. To avoid looming breakouts, she suggests upgrading your graduate’s skin-care routine with this high-frequency device, designed to increase blood flow by oxygenating the skin. With six interchangeable wands, which can treat the forehead and jawline and more, this has become her go-to for minimizing the severity and appearance of blemishes. “I like the reduction in skin pigmentation I’ve seen,” Walls says, adding that her aesthetician recommended it.

Clothing and accessories gifts

A status tote bag is fine for lugging textbooks, but when it comes to job interviews, grads want something a little more professional. For Cimarusti only the Telfar Shopping Bag — also known as the Bushwick Birkin — will do. She calls the Telfar shopping bag an ideal “mix of casual and professional,” adding that “when I am employed and have this bag under my arm, I’ll feel a little less immature than when I would bring my college backpack or Harry Styles tote to work.” Getting your hands on a Telfar bag isn’t terribly easy, so if your grad is set on having one, we suggest checking resale sites. You may have to splurge for the markup price, but if you have the budget, your grad will surely appreciate it.

More accessible than the Telfar (but just as useful) is Madewell’s best-selling Transport tote. When looking for a good work bag for a recent graduate, Bergmann suggests finding one that’s made from “some good-quality leather with a few interior pockets (so it can stay at least a little organized).” We like the medium-size tote because it zips across the top so she can keep everything safe and secure inside, and it comes with a cross-body strap for more comfort when it gets heavy. You can even add her monogram for an extra-personal gift. (If you’re not sold on this one, check out our roundup of work bags for women for more inspiration.)

From $150

Graduation brings lots of new beginnings, and as Walls puts it, “I think a lot of people start over with their fitness journey.” If buying them a gym membership is a bit out of budget, Dressely recommends going with a good pair of sneakers to promote everyday movement. Strategist writer Tembe Denton-Hurst likes these New Balance 990s — which also happen to be our top-rated walking shoes — for their “incredible support” at the gym. “I wear a gray pair, which goes nicely with everything and transitions easily from the treadmill to the squat rack. I like that it comes in a bunch of different widths (from X-Narrow to XX-Wide). I have a wide foot, and the wide width fits me like a glove,” she says.

When a new grad gets her first proper paycheck, she’ll need a proper wallet to put her well-earned spending money in. “I’ve been using the back of my phone as a wallet, but I’m looking to start using a real wallet post-graduation,” says Autumn Greco, Stanford University ’20. She suggests picking one that’s “bright, so it won’t get lost in the depths of a work tote, and neatly organized,” like this Kate Spade one.

Keepsake gifts

To remind herself of memorable places on campus, Lizzy, a senior at Syracuse University, is asking for this embroidered school-spirit pillow to keep in her first apartment after graduation. Pillows for dozens of other schools are available too, so you’re likely to find the school your graduate went to.

For an equally sentimental but slightly more sophisticated school-spirit piece, Sofia Perez, a recent graduate of Barnard University, received this necklace as a gift and loved it. “I wear it every day,” she says. More than 80 college crests and Greek letters for those involved in a sorority are available in silver, gold, and rose gold.

Kaila Medina, AMDA College of the Performing Arts ’22, is also a fan of personalized jewelry for commemorating her undergraduate years. She still wears her high-school class ring from Jostens — which features her name and class year plus two acronyms to represent the clubs she participated in — and says it’s an everyday reminder of those formative years. She would be happy to receive another class ring to represent her time at college.

To toast to their hard-earned achievements now and beyond, Walls recommends a custom bottle of wine for grads of age, which she says is a “really sweet way to capture a forever memory.” Deep-etched, hand-painted bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon and sparkling white wine from Mano’s Wine are available in 60 college crests, or you can engrave their name to one featuring their graduation year.

Books and notebook gifts

Untamed by Glennon Doyle
$14
$14

Several soon-to-be-grads we spoke to mentioned that they’re turning to powerful memoirs and motivational books for inspiration. “I already bought Untamed for myself and read it over spring break, but every woman needs to read it. And highlight it. And dog-ear it,” says Kamrin Baker, University of Nebraska-Omaha ’20, of Glennon Doyle’s best-selling memoir. “This book rocked my world, turned my insides out, and allowed me to truly reflect on myself and my society. It was perfect for this uncertain, transitioning time of my life, and I have spent many a night watercoloring, daydreaming, and meditating beside it.”

Greco also listed the widely lauded Educated by Tara Westover and Becoming by Michelle Obama as books she’d love to get for graduation.

From $60

A handful of grads mentioned they’d like a monthly subscription, which really is the gift that keeps on giving. Greco said she’d like a news subscription, since losing one’s school-issued email address often means losing access to free or discounted publications, while Vettorino says she’d be happy to receive any sort of box-of-the-month club. “It’s a unique gift, and you can really personalize it,” she says, noting that she’d especially like a Book of the Month subscription. “It’s also really exciting to have something to look forward to in the mail every month. If I got this as a gift, I would think of the person who gifted it to me every time it arrived.”

If you’re looking for a book-adjacent idea, this embosser is a favorite of Walls, who received it as a birthday present but says it would make a delightful gift for graduates with an already-novel-covered nightstand. It’s easy (and fun) to use, as it leaves a clear inkless mark on old and new books in her collection, Walls says.

Now that the hours of studying are behind them, recent grads will find themselves with a little extra time to figure out what they’d like to do next. A goal-oriented journal is a good place to start, Havighorst says, and she calls this one the “perfect planner for a new graduate.” She likes that it “has a focus on helping the user break down long term and short-term goals, build their passions into daily life, and of course, be productive.”

From $16

If you don’t know the graduate you’re shopping for super well — or need to add a little extra something to round out the present — Vettorino describes the Moleskine journal as a “stocking stuffer” of graduation gifts. “It’s sleek, mature, and usable, making it a great present for writers and non-writers alike,” says Vettorino, who studied journalism. “Grads can use it on the first day of their new job to jot down notes, or journal about all those graduation-related feels — and trust me, there are a lot of them!” (For more well-reviewed stationery, we rounded up the planners, agendas, and notebooks our editors swear by.)

Charitable gifts and gift cards

“During this very fraught year, I’m sure many graduating students are taking time to reflect and be grateful. Donating to a charity of the student’s choice is a great gift for a student who wants to give back,” says Bergmann. Heart of Dinner helps fight food insecurity for Asian American seniors in New York City. But there are lots more organizations to donate to — we have full roundups for Black and brown communities and Asian communities, if you need some help choosing.

From $5

And as we mentioned, when all else fails, consider cash, which a lot of students said they would really like. “I’m in the market to buy and restore a 1989 Ford Bronco, and for graduation, I’d just like cash that I can spend guilt-free on this car,” says Justina Sharp, Cal State Fullerton ’20. She also wouldn’t turn down Target gift cards, she says.

Nikki Collins, University of California, Berkeley ’22, took some time after finishing college to travel around Europe and says the best gift is one that helps a recent grad accomplish a big, or small, adventure abroad. Collins suggests helping to cover airfare expenses, which can be in the form of a gift card from an airline like Delta. This allows the recipient to use it toward a flight to the destination of their choice. “I truly learned so much about who I am and what I want to do with my life,” Collins says of her postcollege trip.

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The 29 Best College Graduation Gifts for Her