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14 College Graduation Gift Ideas

Great Ideas for Any Budget

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Hispanic mother hugging college graduate daughter
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Graduating from college is often one of the most important milestones in someone's life. Finding the perfect college graduation gift to match such a momentous occasion, however, can be a bit tricky. These 14 graduation gift ideas are classic, affordable, and practically guaranteed to work for any situation.

Classic College Graduate Gifts

1. Diploma frame from the graduate's school. Whether your graduate is going to run her own company or have a small office in a mega-company somewhere, they'll most likely want to display their diploma proudly for all to see -- and for years to come. Many campus bookstores offer diploma frames with college or university logos that will add that extra "pop" to your graduate's official degree.

2. Shadow box. Many craft and frame stores offer "shadow boxes": a box that has one side made of glass (made to look like a frame) that you can hang on a wall. Create a special one tailored just for your graduate -- with mementos, college insignia, and even sports paraphernalia, if appropriate. As an added bonus, shadow boxes work well in an office or in your graduate's new apartment.

3. Digital frame. Your graduate undoubtedly has quite a few digital photos from their time in college; a digital frame can quickly turn into a great photo album of sorts that documents their time in school. Don't forget to add a few photos beforehand to get things started!

4. College memorabilia. This can include anything that best fits your graduate's personality and interests: a sweatshirt, a workout outfit, a duffel/travel bag, an alumni bumper sticker, a portfolio, or even a clock. Many campus bookstores stock up on these kinds of items around graduation day, so there should be plenty to choose from.

5. Gift for a new apartment. Is your new graduate moving out from the residence halls and into a new place? Consider getting something that will work in a new apartment, like a portable tool kit, a gift certificate to a store like IKEA or Home Depot, or even a traditional item like bread and salt (or other culturally appropriate gifts).

6. A classic book. Your graduate spent the last several years reading hundreds of things to earn their degree, but books that help reinforce the basics are always a smart gift idea. Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein are timeless graduation presents.

7. Your favorite cookbook. Your graduate may have eaten on-campus food, fast food, and overall-just-not-so-great food over the past several years. Why not buy a new copy of your favorite cookbook to help get them started as they learn to cook for themselves? Or, better yet, pass along your own cookbook, complete with notes you write in, for an even more personal touch.

8. A recipe box or binder full of family recipes. This may take some time to put together, but it's definitely worth the extra effort. Put together a recipe box or binder full of your favorite recipes, your family recipes, or even recipes from friends. This personalized collection can help your graduate learn how to cook meals that are familiar and delicious.

9. Things to use in their new city or at graduate school. Is your graduate moving to Boston? Consider buying them subway tokens or even a monthly pass. Are they headed to Washington, D.C. or New York City? Consider giving them a map of the city and the subway system. Other locale-specific gifts, like a Zagat book or Thomas Guide, can be incredibly helpful -- and appreciated! -- as your graduate starts their new life in a new city.

10. Business card holder. Your graduate might be working for a non-profit or for corporate America. Either way, they'll probably have business cards they'll want to hand out at conferences, meetings, and other business events. Consider buying a small, nice, classic business card holder -- some can even be personalized -- as an inexpensive but highly useful graduation present.

11. Briefcase or nice bag. While a briefcase is the traditional gift for a law school graduate, it can also be a great gift for any college graduate. Don't worry about needing to buy the nicest, brand-name, all-leather bag you can find, either; messenger bags and other options might work, too, depending on your graduate's career field and geographic location.

12. Engraved pen. This is one gift that never goes out of fashion. Many companies offer very nice, classic-looking pens that can also be engraved. (Some college bookstores, too, offer similar pens with tiny college logos somewhere on them.) These pens work well for business interviews -- and, of course, your graduate's first day of work.

13. Classic piece of jewelry. A pearl necklace, diamond earrings or bracelet, or even a ring with gemstones that match your graduate's school colors are practically guaranteed to be a hit. Your graduate will have something to remember their special day with -- and a piece of new jewelry to boot!

14. A family memento or heirloom. College graduation day is a big day for both your graduate and their family. Consider gifting something that has been passed along in the family -- a piece of jewelry, an old book or diary, a photo album, or a piece of military memorabilia, for example -- to mark your graduate's transition from dependent student to independent, college-educated adult.

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