“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

At a loss as to what to give a high school or college graduate? After speaking with a few people who’ve had to find interesting and practical gifts for friends and loved ones, I gathered a few of their ideas, hints, and tips.


The traditional graduation gift for both high schoolers and college graduates is money. That can be an especially smart gift when you don’t know the graduate well, or if she or he is a friend of a friend or distant relative.

So how much money do you give? For high school graduates, grandparents, aunts and uncles can give between $20 and $50. More distant relatives and family friends can give as little as $15 all the way up to $50.

For college graduates, aunts, uncles, and grandparents often give between $20 and $50. More distant relatives or just friends can give as little as $15 and feel just fine about their gift. For college graduates, close family members commonly give in excess of $100.

Money never disappoints, but if you want to be more creative, there are other options.

Gift Cards

High schoolers headed to college appreciate gift cards such as those from Amazon, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Target. My daughter was extremely thankful when she received these types of gifts after high school, because she spent the summer shopping for dorm room items such as fans, desk lamps, laundry hampers, hangars, wall hangings, and new clothes.

College graduates can use these same gift cards to purchase home furnishings such as kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom items.

For those into music on the go, ITunes cards are popular.

Personalized Gifts

Many graduates appreciate personalized gifts such as engraved jewelry or even jewelry handed down from earlier generations as a reminder of their accomplishments. There are many vendors online who ill engrave everything from jewelry to paper weights to mark the occasion.


For graduates planning to travel, a truly practical gift is that of luggage. That could mean suitcases or durable backpacks. I know my children always need new backpacks for both school and work. And doesn’t every college student need a sturdy backpack?

Another idea for those graduates who plan to travel extensively is an artisanal leather-bound journal so they can track what they do. Apparently this has been popular with millennials. And don’t forget a travel cord roll to keep those phone and computer cables organized while on the go.

Practical versus Symbolic

A good rule of thumb is to go for the practical rather than the symbolic. There are many material things people venturing out into the world will prefer over dust collectors. A college graduate heading into a new job could certainly do with a new interview-worthy outfit.

Other practical ideas include gift cards for dental or eye checkups, especially if they don’t have a job lined up with benefits right away.

Graduates always do well with handy fix-it kits. Some come leather bound and include must-have items such as screwdrivers, flashlight, needle-nose pliers, measuring tape, and hammers.

Picture frames or collages can be both practical and symbolic. This way graduates can have material memories from their high school and college years.

Remember, graduation is not only a milestone for students, but for the family and friends who support them. Check online for inspirational quotes you can write in cards to keep them motivated in the years to come. Your sentiments go a long way.