Shopping for college graduation gifts is no joke. Graduating college is one of the biggest accomplishments in a person’s life (I know for me it was), so you want to get them a gift that reflects the momentous occasion. Needless to say, the pressure is on.
Of course cash is always appreciated, but a milestone as momentous as this deserves a gift even more special than a card with a check. Take it from someone who has a lot of graduation presents to buy this year; graduation gift shopping is not easy. You want to get a gift that’s meaningful but useful at the same time. If the grad you’re shopping for is moving out on their own, a nice apartment gift is always a solid option. Or maybe they’re deciding to backpack Europe right after graduating — that’s where a customized travel journal comes in. No matter the circumstances, here are some of the best college graduation gifts for 2023.
For the traveler
For $300, you can get a checked bag, carry-on luggage, packing cubes and a luggage tag. I’ve spent countless hours researching different luggage options and can guarantee that this is the best deal I’ve seen thus far. Those looking to take off to foreign destinations after graduating will be set with the CalPak starter bundle. Of course, the luggage itself isn’t top of the line and doesn’t include all the bells and whistles more high-end suitcases may offer, but it’s just what a graduating college senior will need for their upcoming trips.
Every frequent flier knows that a good personal item can go a long way. If your grad is getting ready to jet set across the world then having a personal item that can hold more than a laptop is essential. The Monos Metro Backpack has a sleek design and comfortably holds a laptop, books and any extras.
One of the best things a person can own is a journal. Looking back on entries from my travels and younger years is one of my favorite things to do when I’m feeling down. Gift the graduate a customized journal so that they’ll always have a special message to look back on as they document their new adventures.
The Sunseeker Sunglasses from Golf le Fleur, a fashion brand founded by artist Tyler the Creator, will suit every college grad with a bright future and a ticket to a tropical destination. As a not-so-proud owner of dozens of cheap sunglasses, I can say that the Sunseeker Sunglasses truly change the game. The sharp rectangular designs make them a solid choice for all the sun-seeking graduates out there.
For the new apartment dweller
These hand-poured soy wax candles have different scent profiles for each state. Arizona, for instance, smells like desert sand, blue agave and citrus. Kentucky’s got notes of bourbon and praline, while the Colorado candle evokes spruce, sandalwood, amber and cinnamon.
Cold brew is so tempting, especially in the summer months, but new grads often need to cut costs. Help them out with an at-home coffee maker. The Vinci Express Cold Brew whips up cold brew beverages in as little as 5 minutes (traditionally the process takes over 18 hours). Bonus: This model’s compact size is perfect for first apartments.
Influencer Emma Chamberlin’s Chamberlin Coffee brand has been taking the coffee world by storm the past few years. So every caffeine-obsessed grad would likely love Chamberlin Coffee’s Cold Brew Starter Pack. The pack includes a 10-pack of Chamberlin Coffee single-serve portions (you can choose which blend), stainless steel straws and a Chamberlin Coffee mason jar.
In college, the only drinking accessories I had were wine glasses, a corkscrew and one or two shot glasses. Honestly, in college, that’s all you need. However, as you enter the adult world you begin to realize the intricate world of bartending and that maybe a nicely made cocktail is better than straight shots of vodka. For the college grad looking to include a bar cart in their new apartment, the Monday Cocktail Creator Set is a good place to start. The set includes a cocktail shaker, Hawthorne strainer, fine mesh strainer, bar spoon and a pourer.
Gen Z loves houseplants, so a plant is already a good gift idea. But a Money Tree is a slam dunk: It’s said to bring fortune and luck. $38 gets you a small plant, or splurge for the $118 XL size (extra luck?). There’s also an option to add a pot or basket to your gift. Bonus: Money trees are great for beginner plant parents.
For the new business professional
To me, a nice watch is what differentiates an intern from an employee. Adding a watch to your everyday accessories truly signifies the start of adulthood. (Clearly, I’m still new to the whole adulting thing.) Of course buying a college graduate a Rolex might be a bit much, but there are tons of nice watch options out there for under $1,000. I love the sleek designs of MVMT watches, but Fossil also offers nice affordable watches.
If your grad is looking for something a little more high tech, the Apple Watch Series 8 is a great option for smartwatch lovers.
The Work Tote by Beis is the work bag of every young professional’s dreams. The bag includes an interior zippered pocket, laptop pocket and adjustable straps. My favorite aspect of the tote is the design itself. The tote comes in a variety of designs, all of which help the bag easily transition from a work bag to a happy hour tote.
Cuff links are one of those things that a young adult may not buy for themselves, but they’re nice to have on hand. They can be worn for weddings and other formal occasions, and they might even work in the office. This classic sterling pair from J.Crew makes a thoughtful graduation gift.
I ordered the Work From Anywhere Kit on a whim before I began my job and I now swear by it. As remote and hybrid work continues to take over the job market, having a kit on hand that holds charging cables, passwords and other tiny things commonly forgotten at home is more than beneficial. The case includes a two-in-one charging cable, phone stand, sticky notes and so much more.
For the grad going on to grad school
The iPad Mini 6th generation is Apple’s newest mini iPad and can act as a notebook, sketchbook and TV screen. Although the iPad mini may not be compatible with certain keypads, the iPad Mini can connect with all Apple pencils. The best part is that the Mini doesn’t take up much space, allowing it to fit easily in most bags.
While a backpack may not be at the top of someone’s wish list, as someone whose whole entire work life relies on carrying around a 16-inch MacBook, I can attest that a good backpack is essential. Grad school means more books and tech than undergrad, and having a nice backpack that allows you to comfortably carry around everything you need without breaking your back can be very valuable. Although they are a bit pricey, Troubadour backpacks sit at the top of my best backpack list. The design is professional and it feels light on your back, even when it’s full to the brim.
Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go has solidified its place on every graduation gift best list. Whether your loved one is graduating elementary school or college, the book applies to every stage of life. For my college graduation, my best friend gave me a copy of this classic with all my friends and professors’ signatures in it, accompanied by their top recommendations of places for me to go after graduation.
For the college grad looking for some life advice on everything from love to career to familial struggles, Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things covers it all. The book is a compilation of Strayed’s advice column, which she writes under the pseudonym “Sugar.” Featuring dozens of Strayed’s columns, the book will help guide anyone through confusing situations in their life.
For when you can’t be there in person
Fresh Sends sends adorable bouquets straight to the graduate’s doorstep. I used Fresh Sends recently to send flowers to my friends graduating down in Nashville and they loved it. The bouquets range in size and design, and you can attach a card and personal video to them!