gifts they might actually want

The Best College Graduation Gifts for Her, According to 2020 Graduates

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With the coronavirus pandemic forcing millions of students to move back home before the end of the school year, and virtual graduation ceremonies replacing real-life ones, the last year of college has been anything but normal for the class of 2020. Though backyard grad parties, long-anticipated backpacking trips, and job interviews may be put on pause, you can — and should — still celebrate the graduate in your life. With that in mind, we asked a handful of students who are graduating this year about the things they actually want as they enter into the “real world” (or our current version of the real world, anyway).

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“If COVID-19 has taught me anything,” says Zoe Minton, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) ‘20, “it’s that technology is what keeps us connected and we need it now more than ever.” That’s why an Apple watch would be an ideal grad gift, she says, adding, “I’m always losing my phone anyway.”

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’s Gabelli School of Business ‘20. She 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, given the quarantining.” As for which color to choose, Havighorst says, “Personally, I’d die for the rose gold, but you know your graduate better than anyone else in terms of color preference.”

Havighorst says “the world is really scary right now, especially for college graduates who may be leaving their college experiences and entering into a really uncertain job market,” and believes a weighted blanket would be “the perfect gift for a graduate in quarantine.” She likes that they “help people sleep better, calm anxiety, and all-around make you feel hugged.”

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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, my world, and my society. It was perfect for this uncertain, transitioning time of my life, and I have spent many a quarantine night watercoloring, daydreaming, and meditating beside it.” Autumn Greco, Stanford University ‘20, listed the widely lauded Educated by Tara Westover and Becoming by Michelle Obama as books she’d love to get for graduation.

Several 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 Madison Zoey Vettorino, Marist College ‘20, said 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.”

With stay-at-home orders still in place for much of the country, recent grads are finding themselves with a little extra time to figure out what they’d like to do next, now that college is behind them. 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.”

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 notebooks, we rounded up our 100 favorites.)

A status tote bag is fine for lugging textbooks, but when it comes to job interviews, grads want something a little more professional. For Bella Cimarusti, American University ‘20, only the Telfar Shopping Bag — also known as the Bushwick Birken — will do. “I’ve always used the excuse of being a college student to carry around backpacks and totes into professional spaces where I’ve interned,” she says. “I want to feel a little more like an adult when I enter back into a workplace post-quarantine, starting with a nice bag.” 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.”

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 Greco. She likes this Rebecca Minkoff wallet, because it’s “bright, so it won’t get lost in the depths of a work tote, and neatly organized.”  

“The work doesn’t end after college and neither does drinking coffee,” said Megan Edgemond, University of South Carolina ‘20, which is why she’s requesting an espresso machine for graduation. Vettorino 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” when things return to normal. For now, she adds, “We’re all pretty bored in quarantine, so there’s some time to brush on those barista skills.”

Although Breville’s Barista Express Espresso Machine topped our best-of list (one fan said it “makes one’s life complete”), the brand’s Nespresso Essenza Mini Espresso Machine, which comes with complimentary capsules, is a well-reviewed starter machine (and is a fraction of the price).

For grads who are more partial to cold brew than fancy lattes, Cimarusti said the Asobu Cold Brew Maker is on the top of her wish list. Now that she’s forgoing her daily pre-quarantine coffee run, she’s found her parents’ cold brew maker to be “a nice replacement ritual to prepare it everyday.” When she’s finally able to move 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.”

Cimarusti 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.

You can’t give the experience of live music right now, but you can add to her ever-expanding T-shirt collection. “Because no one can go to shows during this time, I feel like the best way to support my favorite artists is to buy their merch online,” says Cimarusti, who had plans to see Rina Sawayama in concert this summer. “Buying a tee from my favorite artist is a fun memento for me to demonstrate the importance of their work in my life, hence the multiple Rico Nasty, One Direction, and Omar Apollo shirts I already own.”

When all else fails, consider cash. “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 gift cards to Target, she says.

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The 14 Best College Graduation Gifts for Her