Last year when our oldest graduated (you can see his celebration, strange as it was during the pandemic, here) we got a crash course in graduation and preparing for college so today I thought I would share what graduation gifts he really appreciated receiving and what was especially useful. Christy has also done a similar post with her experience here. We both have sons who have gone through this experience, though she’ll have to circle back later once her daughter graduates so we can share gifts for both girls and boys as my ideas are admittedly more male- oriented and geared toward high school graduates, though many are appropriate for college graduation too.
That being said, I tried to pick ideas that worked for both girls and boys and of course, money is always welcome and appreciated as a gift. Those kids who aren’t college bound are often also making major life changes and they all appreciate anything that helps them get a start in their new lives. However, in the case where you prefer not to give cash, here are some of the most useful items that would make great gifts especially for college-bound kids.
This is always the top of every graduate’s wish list, for good reason. Having a small fridge in their room to keep drinks, leftovers and other essentials is key to surviving in a dorm. A small microwave is also a nice thing to have.
This was one I wouldn’t have thought of but I read about this as a must-have for college life in the large parents’ group from my son’s university. Many dorm rooms are older and have dust and sometimes even mold. It goes without saying that this year more than ever we wanted to minimize any exposure to germs so we purchased a medical grade air purifier for our son and his roommate. While it didn’t keep my son from eventually contracting Covid at college (thankfully his case was very mild), he didn’t come down with any other illnesses last year even being in a suite of eight boys. I like to think this helped! I am not sure it is a super exciting gift, but I thought it was definitely something worth sharing as a worthwhile item.
Again, this was one I wouldn’t have thought of but it was highly recommended. Dorm mattresses are thin and uncomfortable, so a foam mattress topper is something nice to have. These come in all quality levels and thicknesses, I’d recommend staying somewhere in the middle since everything that goes to the dorm has to come back home eventually so we didn’t want one that would take up too much space.
Large Tumbler Cup
Christy gifted my son a large Corkcicle Tumbler Cup and he used it non stop this last year. He liked that he could bring a cold drink back from the dining hall for the evening.
OK so my son would absolutely roll his eyes at this, especially as a gift but a bathrobe it is an essential, especially if they have to live with shared hall bathrooms! Of course this is a great gift for a girl too, this one below is fabulous.
Uber Gift Cards
An Uber Gift Card was one of my son’s very favorite and most appreciated gifts. They often need to use Uber to leave campus be it for a haircut, to travel home or pick up essentials. Uber is also a popular way to have food brought in late night, which every college student appreciates.
Amazon Gift Cards
I mean, what can’t you buy from Amazon these days? Outside of the obvious (everything!) many college textbooks are sold via Amazon now (or rented through them) so giving an Amazon gift card is a really nice way to help offset a major college expense.
Keurig Coffee Maker
For all the caffeine addicts out there, a coffee maker is a great essential to bring with them to a dorm or a first apartment. It would be a cute gift especially packaged with coffee or a mug.
Large Travel Bag
One gift we gave our son was a large duffel bag for traveling back and forth from school to home. We invested in this bag for him, and he says it is a great size for coming back for breaks or visiting friends at other schools. Luggage used to be the traditional graduation gift (that’s what I remember getting!) and it still is an essential to this day. Here is another option, this would be good for someone who will be flying back and forth.
Obviously this is a gift idea more for a girl, but with the traveling college requires these Le Pliage Tote bags are very popular. They make great carry on bags for traveling and can hold quite a bit. They come in a variety of colors too.
This of course depends on where the graduate is headed, but this was another essential recommended in our parents’ group. My son goes to college in the mountains with changeable and often cold weather so we gave him a Nordstrom gift card when he graduated so he could pick out a very warm winter coat. He told us later how many times last winter he was glad he had it, especially since they walk pretty much everywhere! (Tip: give the gift card but then order the coat during the Nordstrom Anniversary sale in July when the top brands are on sale!) Another appreciated item would be an LL Bean gift card as their classic duck boots also are great in bad weather. A gift card to the online retailer Back Country would also be a good option, that way they can select from bags, coats, boots or a backpack (another college must have).
AirPods are always a popular teen gift, but are especially important if they will be living in a shared space. This last year was extra challenging as the kids often had to be online in different classes in the same small dorm room. Headphones made that possible!
Finally–this is not a gift idea but more of a recommendation–parents of college-bound kids, grab these IKEA bags NOW. They will sell out as college gets closer, and this big bags make hauling all the things (pillows, towels, coats) in and out of the dorm so much easier. They can be easily stowed away until it is time to pack up again at the end of the year, but for just a few $ these are SO helpful for moving in and out.
A final note now that the first year is over here. For a boy I don’t recommend is giving anything like sheets, towels, comforters etc.. Some of the best advice we received was to buy cheap sheets and towels from Target (these are great) and then they can toss them at the end of the year (unless they are better at laundry then my son was!). My son was happy to bring less stuff home and since they had to eat most of their meals in their dorm rooms so there were spills etc to contend with too since they constantly lounge on their beds. Obviously the converse is true for girls who might be more likely to appreciate nicer towels or bedding so I am sorry for the stereotypes 😉, but that is just my experience as a boy mom!
There are other dorm essentials we can share again as the fall semester gets closer if this is helpful but these were the gift ideas that were most useful for my son. He just arrived home (he surprised me for Mother’s Day) for the summer so he has his first year under his belt, and we are absolutely thrilled to have him home!