gifts they might actually want

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

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

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Finding the right graduation gift is always a challenge. Many of the more traditional presents for him — like ties or diploma frames — can come across as stuffy and boring, and they don’t exactly feel relevant when his first job requires logging on from a home office. Other popular gift ideas, like turntables or wall art, are fun but can be impractical (especially if he’s planning a trip abroad for the next few months). The main point, then, is that the graduate in your life deserves a gift they can appreciate as they navigate their transition into the adult world. Many of the guys we spoke to said they really just want cash, because then they can start a savings account for a future apartment or plan for a nice vacation with their friends. But if you’d prefer to give something tangible, below we have 24 graduate-approved gifts, according to a handful of recent graduates.

Tech gifts

If they already have a pair of Airpods, consider a different sort of headphone for a grad who’s also a gamer. “Whether you are a PC gamer or a console gamer, the HyperX Cloud Stingers are a cheap wireless headphone with amazing sound quality that will change the way you listen to games,” says Jay Silver, Marist College ’20. “The perfect headset for those late-night Victory Royales or Pentakills with friends — you won’t regret buying these headphones.”

Nintendo Switch
$295
$295

“This portable console brings a new level of game night both in the apartment and on the road,” Silver says of his Nintendo Switch. Strategist tech writer Jordan McMahon is also a fan and says the lightweight device reignited his love for on-the-go gaming, especially on long rides on the subway. “It’s the best — and only — option if you’re looking to play the latest Legend of Zelda or Mario game or Splatoon or Animal Crossing, which aren’t available on other platforms,” he says. (If your graduate already has one, we suggest getting them a highly rated game instead or one of the other alternatives we’ve found.)

$249

For the enthusiastic gamer who hasn’t taken the plunge into VR quite yet, Meta’s Quest 2 — a favorite of celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and Michael Bublé as well as teenage boys and gaming experts — is the perfect entry point. Susanna Pollack, the president of Games for Change, told us, “It offers a premium consumer experience in virtual reality with stunning visuals and controls that let you interact naturally.” But the best part is your recipient doesn’t need a computer to get started, as the Quest 2 is a completely stand-alone VR headset that gives you access to VR Chat, movies, and the entire Quest content library, which includes games such as Jurassic World Aftermath, Warhammer 40,000, and The Walking Dead.

When it comes to video job interviews — a current reality for many — grads noted the importance of good lighting. “The ring light is also great for business Zoom meetings,” says Blum. “Or trying to make new TikToks!”

With the pandemic, “anything that makes WFH better” would be an appreciated gift according to Joseph Turtel, University of Southern California ’20. “A monitor with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard would be great. Throw in a nice under-the-desk foot massager if you’re really going for it,” he says.

$279

No longer confined to shared dorm rooms, he’ll finally be able to crank up the volume and listen to his favorite music as loud as he wants. “I love how stylish and utilitarian the Marshall speaker is,” Blum says, adding that it has great sound. And because it’s also Alexa-enabled, users can easily switch a lamp on or off and set the brew schedule for their morning coffee.

Home gifts

You could give the gift of art — or you could give a TV that doubles as artwork. “I’ll be moving out soon and looking for a new TV,” says Blum. “For a slightly higher price, I can get a TV that serves as an art piece.”

Omega NC900HDC Juicer Extractor
$250
$250

Now that he’s on his own, he’s going to have to figure out how to feed himself. “I’ve been really into juicing lately,” says Schauberger, who wouldn’t mind being gifted with a sleek-looking juicer. “It’s super-durable, uses a cold-press method that preserves the most nutrients, and has the most efficient juice-to-vegetable/fruit ratio.”

Help your grad start saving money on his daily drip coffees by gifting him a coffeemaker that won’t be an eyesore on the kitchen counter. “I’ve never really needed to make coffee at home,” says Blum, who got into making coffee himself during the pandemic years of his college experience. Something more “functional and stylish” like this Chemex one — which happens to be our best pour-over single-serve coffeemaker — would be helpful for any grad. This model also comes recommended by Oset Babür-Winter, digital drinks editor of Food & Wine, who says she likes that you can make as much or as little coffee as you want and that the pour-over itself is aesthetically pleasing. While it will require filters, your recipient can purchase a (wallet-friendly) reusable one rather than the paper variety.

In a previous version of this story, a recent graduate mentioned that most starter apartments are short on square footage, so gifting an item that maximizes their new space is often greatly appreciated. We know these shelves don’t make the most exciting gift out there, but professional organizers told us they sure would be helpful in a small space that doesn’t have much extra room for a standing bookshelf. And because it’s relatively inexpensive, perhaps you can pair it with cash, since we were told that’s what would really be useful anyway.

A new bike will help your recipient take advantage of the outdoors — or help them explore the new city they’ve relocated to — as another recent grad told us in a previous version of this story. This one from Giant’s Escape line is our top-rated commuter bike, and because it’s a hybrid, your grad can ride it to work (if he’s going into the office) and on trails during the weekend. Plus NYC Velo bike-shop founder Andrew Crooks says it’s a “really good value” choice.

Richard Reisinger, University of Florida ’22, who is now attending law school, received a personalized Scales of Justice whiskey decanter as one of his grad gifts. While he admits to being a newer whiskey enthusiast, Reisinger says he appreciates the sentiment of the present and that it can be displayed on a kitchen counter for all to see. (For more delightful accessories, we suggest consulting our list of home-bar essentials.)

And to go with those fancy cocktails, York suggests a bar cart. “If you’re moving into a place with a roommate or even moving solo but like to have guests over, I think a bar cart is a perfect option,” York says. “You can pair it with some nice bottle of liquor, glasses, or cocktail-making tools.” Umbra’s Bellwood model is a good-looking and affordable option with design features like rubber-lined wheels for easier rolling and two removable trays for faster cleaning that make it our best overall pick. And as a bonus, York says a bar cart “will help decorate the new place.”

In preparation for their first desk job, a notebook will motivate your graduate to stay organized and give them a place to reflect as they make big life changes, says Joe Coit, Drake University ’23. While a larger Moleskine is included in our roundup of the 100 best notebooks you can buy online, this version is more packable thanks to its petite size and hardcover, Coit says.

Just as the girls we spoke to wanted motivational memoirs for graduation, the guys mentioned they’d also appreciate inspiring books. “One of the books that helped me get through college was by former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg,” says Silver. Shortest Way Home “talks about how his experiences in many fields, especially coming out of college, prepared him to transform a small town into a thriving city.”

Clothing and accessories gifts

From $399

“A stylish watch can serve as a sort of symbol of adulthood and is always a nice reminder of graduation when a person wears it,” says CJ York, Duke University ’20. “An engraving with the date of graduation is always a nice personal touch as well,” he adds. York likes Swatches, but notes that, for fitness enthusiasts, an Apple Watch — which is our best-rated fitness tracker, according to experts — is a great idea. It’s packed with apps that track a range of workouts while providing fitness metrics like heart-rate and blood-pressure monitoring. It also keeps the wearer connected to their phone’s notifications like texts and incoming calls.

Your grad will need a sleek way to carry their everyday necessities to the office, and Brian Kim, Wesleyan University ’22, says he uses this briefcase-style bag more than his favorite backpack, calling them “more useful and ergonomic.” Kim says he uses this one to carry documents, his laptop, a charger, and more. The pebbled exterior won’t scuff as easily as a smooth leather finish, plus it comes with a detachable strap for shoulder or crossbody wear.

If a messenger bag isn’t quite his style, a sturdy backpack is still an excellent alternative — and it will finally replace the dingy one your grad was toting around campus. Dil Thiagarajan, University of Washington ’22, prefers the brand Cotopaxi and recommends this one, which he uses for a range of activities like weekend trips or to carry his gear to pick-up soccer games. With an internal sleeve divider, padded mesh shoulder straps, and mesh side pockets sized for water bottles, “it’s light, durable, and fits everything that I would need for a small adventure,” Thiagarajan says.

For graduates who are off to explore the world, Coit says a passport holder is a must-have travel essential. This Zoopen one, found in our guide to the best gifts for frequent travelers, is recommended by travel agent Jane Freund because it can hold multiple tickets, credit cards, and cash, plus it “keeps it all in one place so you don’t have to shuffle through your bag at the airport.

Kim says he has attended many formal events since graduating from university — like business dinners, alumni gatherings, and even some weddings — all of which required him to upgrade his attire from a simple dress shirt. “Cuff links are a great way to accessorize and gain a bit more confidence while also loosening up if formalwear burdens you,” he says. Kim recommends these more affordable Ted Baker ones as a good starter pair because they’re appropriate for a variety of occasions without being too serious.

Charitable gifts, gift cards, and subscriptions

A monthly Sill Plants for Beginners subscription will add something fresh to any space and ease a new grad into plant parenthood. “Having extra plants can add a lively energy to an indoor space,” says Blum. “And subscriptions just make it a bit more fun and exciting because you get a new gift every month.”

Another monthly subscription Blum suggests is American Cocktail Club (“I usually rarely drink in my house, but now I have a chance to sharpen my bartending skills”).

Schauberger says airline miles and Airbnb vouchers are gifts he can look forward to using (when he has free time) toward a trip to the destination of his choice. Jacob Rosen, University of Southern California ’20, agrees. “I have grown up traveling, and I feel this would be the best present I could receive,” he says.

From $50

Help support emergency food-relief efforts anywhere in the U.S. by making a donation in your grad’s name. “Frontline Foods Donation is a great charity that takes donations and supports local restaurants by ordering food, which allows them to hire back staff, then donates that food to frontline workers in our health-care system,” explains Blum, who’s been volunteering with the organization. There are also a bunch more organizations to choose from to support Black and brown communities and Asian communities if this one doesn’t speak to you.

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The Best College Graduation Gifts for Him