ic S/general/checkmark circled Thanks for subscribing! Be on the lookout for our next newsletter.
ic S/general/checkmark circled
Saved to My Favorites. View My Favorites
Articles / Applying to College / Grad Gifts: Good, Bad And Bizarre

Grad Gifts: Good, Bad And Bizarre

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | April 18, 2019
Grad Gifts: Good, Bad And Bizarre

It's that time of year: Graduation! High schoolers and collegians are about to strut their stuff off to college, grad school or the fearsome real world. One great tradition is to celebrate this momentous event by giving a gift to the lucky graduate. But what to give?

One mistake grad gift givers sometimes make is to think of a gift that they (the giver) would like to receive. The rub here is that there is a generational issue. What may appeal to a 40- or 50-something might easily fall flat for an 18-year-old or early 20-something. The thought of a fairly expensive gift going to waste bothers me. That's where research comes in.

I was curious about what's hot, what's not and what's weird in today's grad gift world, so I did my research and found some surprising results. So if you're in the market for a grad gift this spring, be it for Henry High School or Colleen College, perhaps the suggestions below will help to stimulate your thinking. As my title suggests, I'll list some good, bad and bizarre candidates, in that order, and throw in a few comments along the way.

First, the Good (Maybe Even Great)

These ideas come from USA Today. Their 16 suggestions are targeted at college grads, but it's not much of a stretch to see that they could just as easily suit a high school grad. I'll mention four of the 16. You can review the rest.

- A new laptop. After four years of school, a laptop has gone through a lot. With the amount of wear and tear put on a computer during college, it might be time for a new computer when you graduate. Help your grad out with a new laptop. Our laptop editor suggests the Google Pixelbook for recent grads. While Chromebooks are great for college, they are great for life after college too — and the Pixelbook is the best Chromebook we've ever seen.

My wife uses a Chromebook and it works great. It's light, rugged and fast. I use an iPad for portable/mobile computing, although most young folks use their phones for mobile tech. Those little screens on phones can cause a lot of eye strain for extended efforts, though. I can't see writing a term paper on an Android. That's where the larger and more powerful “laptop" comes in. The price is right on these, too, so shop smart.

- The Amazon Echo. Recent [college] grads are likely to become someone else's assistant, so give them the gift of their own (digital) assistant. They can ask Alexa, the voice inside the device, anything from what the weather forecast is to how old Ariana Grande is. Bonus: it plays music when asked. But that's not all the smart device does. Read our list of EVERYTHING that works with Echo and Alexa to see what else it's capable of.

These are technological wonders. While there are some risks involved with their “listening" capabilities, they become a must-have for hands-free work. Young people today are ace multitaskers and it's easy to visualize a hardworking whiz madly typing away on his or her Chromebook while firing a series of questions at their Echo, which, in turn, fires back answers that end up in the document being written by the mad typist. An Echo projects the image of “Everything you ever wanted to know about anything. Just ask!"

- A coffee maker. Coffee is essential to getting through the work day, but it can get pretty expensive going to Starbucks every day (believe me, you don't want to know how much money I've spent at coffee shops in the last month never mind the last seven years since I graduated). If you want to get them more than just a Keurig, give your grad the gift of an espresso machine. With the Nespresso, they can pretend they're still studying abroad while drinking the finest and strongest of coffee. Really, it's that great. It won our Best Overall award when we tested espresso machines this year.

My wife has a Keurig. I don't drink coffee; I'm a chocolate lover who gets his caffeine from that addictive substance. I have a saying: “Never impede the path of a coffee drinker on her way to her Keurig first thing in the morning." I fire up her Keurig early every morning before my wife comes downstairs. Then, when hear her footsteps coming across the hardwood, I get out of the way! The Keurig is king of our castle, not me! This is truly a great gift.

- [Drumroll] Money. What do adults want? Money. When do they want it? Always. Now that your grad is officially in the real world, they're going to want money. If you don't want to give them cash, get them a gift card. Amazon is a safe option because they have everything – including this adorable gift card box shaped as a graduation cap.

Pink Floyd famously sang: “Money, get away/Get a good job with good pay and you're okay/Money, it's a gas/Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash." Dave says: “Money is the greatest grad gift." What could go wrong with money? You'll look generous (or possibly lazy) and will provide a platform for the grad to get whatever s/he wants.

Now the Bad Gifts

I had to laugh at this article's intro:

Truly, it is very easy to give bad gifts. The worst graduation gifts could include almost anything from a cheap Pez dispenser to expired coupons. We aren't going to list off all the things that are bad gifts out there in the world. We know you are better than that! This is a list of gifts you might think could be a great idea to give a new grad but that might not be the best idea after all ...

- Strange Single Purpose Kitchen or Bathroom Gadgets. For the high school graduate, it may be tempting to pick up a dorm room specific gift. This includes things like monogrammed towels, personalized shower flip flops, and single-serve popcorn poppers. These are not the best gifts because either they aren't necessary or they won't get a lot of use. In a dorm room setting, efficiency is key. Do they really need a weird rubber octopus to hold things for them in the shower? No. For the college graduate who might be making multiple moves for their career in the coming years, the less is more rule applies too.

My wife is into single-purpose kitchen gadgets. Her latest is a food processor that she used once. I think it was too much work prepping the fruits and veggies. Thinking about gifting one of these? Forget it. It will become a doorstop. Add to that bad idea a label maker, made famous by the Seinfeld episode that featured a Label Baby Junior.

- Office or Desk Supplies. Does a new college student or recent college grad want a stack of notebooks or fancy stationery? Nope! Trust me. If we are talking office supply basics, everyone can shop for those themselves and get what they actually need. Or their new job will give them what they need. If you were eyeing some fancy paperweight or desk tray, also don't buy. Those are also some of the worst graduation gifts you can give. This includes business card holders. At first, these items may seem useful, but don't be fooled. Either they already have it or they don't need it.

I yield yet again to Seinfeld, when he says: It's an entire industry of bad gifts … any stupid, goofy, brass, wood thing, they put a piece of green felt on the bottom. "It's a golf, desk, tie and stress organiser ..." But to me, nothing compares with the paperweight as a bad gift. There's no better way than a paperweight, to express to someone that, "I refuse to put any thought into this at all." Where are these people working that the papers are just blowing right off of their desks? What, are their desks screwed to the back of a flat-bed truck going down the highway or something? … What do you need a paperweight for?

- An Expensive, Highly Specific Item. Unless you know the new grad very well or they have already asked for exactly what they want, you may want to steer clear of spending a lot of money on a fancy item. This category includes things like wristwatches, nice cameras, wallets, and, yes, even jewelry. While all of these things can be beautiful gifts to receive, a new grad has a lot going on in their life … But, if you just like the idea of a grown-up wristwatch and you don't even know if they will wear one (few people do), you are better off giving something else instead.

The emphasis here, I think, is trying to guess what a grad would like, in order to suit his or her lifestyle. They may look great in that costly leather jacket you've got your eye on, but maybe they really don't like leather, on principle. That's why, if you're set on buying an expensive gift that's highly personal, you had better do some research about your grad. Ask their parents or some of the grad's friends to see what might really click, and then swear them to secrecy.

Now the Bizarre!

Some quick hits:

- Paying back loans and scanning the job market leaves little time to eat for a new graduate. Save them time by giving them this corn dog maker. Not even a trip to the drive thru can beat the convenience of dinner on a stick! ($59.99)

- With just about everything being simpler thanks to computers, graduates are probably not as prepared as they should be dressing for job interviews. With these computer chip cufflinks, they will not only impress with their style, they will surely be inspired by how something so small can do so much! (24.00)

- Luckily for you, vintage is in. That old typewriter you had is now the admiration of every graduate. If you still don't have a fully functioning one for the graduate in your life, this [typewriter keys] belt buckleversion is less functional, but lighter and just as trendy! ($24)

That's enough bizarre stuff. Anyway, try to think before you gift! Whether you're thinking “good" or “bizarre," find something that's useful, not re-giftable. With a little thought, getting a gift for a grad can be a gas.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

More on Applying to College

See all
typing at computer- karolina-grabowska-6958506-resized

Authentic Voice in College Essays

That’s why you want to use your authentic voice when writing any college essay.

So what’s the problem? A student has shared an ess…


College Interview Prep Tips: Brainstorm, Research, Analyze, Generalize

I recently visited Washington University in Saint Louis and was lucky enough to set up an interview. By speaking with peers of mi…

campus gates

Academic Index Scores: Why They Matter and How They're Calculated

Note: Click here for 10 Summer Programs You Can Still Apply For or keep reading to learn more about academic index scores.

8 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process

7 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process

Podcasts can offer a wealth of information to busy students, particularly when it comes to the college admissions process. We…


Avoid College Application Regrets: Tips For Getting It Right the First Time

Decision Day occurs each year on May 1st and is the deadline for students to inform the college of their choice of their intent t…

Get a student loan that goes beyond tuition.

Ascent offers cosigned and non-cosigned student loans with exclusive benefits that set students up for success.

Explore Now!
Find Your Scholarship

Want to find money for school that doesn’t need to be paid back? Access insights and advice on how to search and apply for scholarships!

Search for Scholarship