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25 Great College Graduation Gift Ideas

Looking for some great college graduation gift ideas? If only you could buy the kid a job! The next best thing is a useful gift that will truly help them in their job search.
25 Great College Graduation Gift Ideas

If you have a recent or soon-to-be college grad on your gift list this year, Elizabeth Megill has rounded up our favorite college graduation gift ideas that are perfect for helping them dive right into the job application and interview process. These ideas also work pretty well for job seekers of all ages and for any occasion.

College Graduation Gift Ideas for $50 or Less

These nifty gifts come with budget-friendly price tags, but still pack a powerful punch when it comes to usefulness and practicality for your favorite graduates.

1) Free But Priceless Gifts

The most useful gift for a new grad or any job seeker? A job lead or a useful contact. Offer to refer your favorite job hunter to relevant people in your network (forward the job seeker’s resume and a glowing recommendation or otherwise make a personal connection).

You can also make a big impact by writing a positive recommendation on LinkedIn or simply sitting down to offer your advice and ideas.

These “free” gifts can naturally be given at any time of the year and are always appreciated. In fact, many young job seekers are hesitant to ask for help or just don’t know how to do it.

2) Coffee Shop Gift Cards

Money is often tight for graduates. Make it easier for your favorite grad to treat herself to a venti indulgence and a little office space (she might enjoy a change of scene and the free Wi-Fi makes it easy to check emails and take care of other job search tasks while sipping coffee).

These gift cards can also buy lunch or some quality beans for the home coffee maker.

3) Gas Gift Cards

At today’s high gas prices, these gifts are like gold for new graduates who may have to drive all over town, if not take lengthy road trips, for job interviews.

4) An Inspirational Book

Inspirational books make great gifts for graduates because they have the ability to inspire them even when they feel overwhelmed with their job search. You can buy a book with solid life and career advice — or something to distract them from the grind of the job hunting life. There are many great books to consider including:

When Reality Hits: What Employers Want Recent College Graduates to Know by Nancy Barry

Why Didn’t They Teach Me This in School?: 99 Personal Money Management Principles to Live By by Cary Siegel

Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to Be a Grown-Up by Grace Helbig

5) Salon, Tooth Whitening, and/or Massage Gifts

It’s important to put your best face forward when interviewing for a new job right out of college. Unfortunately, improving one’s appearance can also be cost-prohibitive for new graduates operating on tight budgets.

Beautifying gift certificates help relieve stress, provide some much-needed pampering, and boost confidence. This gift idea also offers flexibility — you can give $25-$50 and buy a manicure or foot massage (job hunting takes a toll on those feet — especially if you have to wear heels) or you can be extra generous (read on for more generous gift ideas) and buy a more expensive service or a whole makeover.

Services like Groupon, Lifebooker and Amazon Local often feature salon and massage services for up to half off the regular price if you need a little help staying within a certain budget.

6) USB Drives

A USB drive is a gift that can help your grad keep reports, presentations, samples, resumes, and more in one convenient location for access anywhere the job search takes him or her. They come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and colors. While it may be tempting to go for a more flashy USB drive (pun intended), you’ll also find plenty of serious options.

7) Thank You Cards

It may take several rounds of interviews before a new grad finds the right job match for them. This means a lot of Thank You notes (not to mention for the stunning array of graduate gifts they’ll likely receive). A nice set of Thank You cards complete with postage stamps that never expire (forever stamps) is a great way to provide a thoughtful and practical gift. You may also include a nice business pen with the set as an extra special touch.

8) A Night Out

Don’t underestimate the need to take a break from the job hunt and have a little fun. Whether it is dinner and a movie, tickets to a play, or even a concert, sometimes a night on the town is the perfect gift for your tired job seeker. It’s a great way to spend time together and the average college grad might need a night out if they’ve been watching their spending during the transition to gainful employment. Obviously, this gift could range from a simple meal out to a fabulous evening of entertainment, all depending on how much you want to splurge on your grad.

9) Professional Photography Session for a Headshot

LinkedIn and other profiles work best when you post a professional headshot to go along with your profile. Some job applications will even ask for a professional headshot&nbsp, and it doesn’t hurt to have one on any professional websites or blogs that graduates create in order to attract interest on the Internet. You can find this service at a range of price points.

10) Business Card Gift Certificates and Personalized Carrying Case

This is a gift that looks to the future, but offers practicality with a sensible and personal touch. Vista Print and Moo are great places to go for top quality, yet affordable, business cards online and Things Remembered offers a wide selection of personal business card cases and desktop holders.

Now, if you’re interested in being even more generous, there are other gifts that any college graduate would be thrilled to receive.

Super Generous College Graduation Gifts Ideas

These gifts aren’t quite as easy on your budget, but many of them are things college grads really need, but can’t afford to buy for themselves (or just don’t know that they need in some cases!). Buying these gifts makes you a real hero to recent grads, no cape necessary.

11) Sharp Briefcase or Professional Laptop Bag

Now is the time to leave backpacks and book bags behind in favor of more professional business bags. Unfortunately, the price for these bags can be steep for the recent graduate. It’s a generous gift that promises long-term use and benefits to the receiver. If you’re unsure about the style or design, consider offering a gift card to retailers like Mobile Edge that specializes in eco-friendly briefcases or to a store with a wide variety of options like Amazon or Macy’s.

12) Webcam for Video Interviews

Skype and other video conferencing platforms are quickly becoming popular interview tools for businesses interested in casting a wider net for candidates. Preliminary interviews can be conducted quickly and easily via Skype, but only if the candidate in question has a webcam. You can find cheap webcams, but go for a little higher quality to ensure a polished first impression. You can give a nice webcam and the link to the Big Interview guide to acing video interviews.

13) Session with An Interview or Career Coach

Interview coaching is a priceless gift for anyone to receive at the start of a career. It can literally change the course of a recent grad’s life by helping your grad to project the image that resonates with hiring managers during the interview and beyond. It’s a generous gift that promises long-term use and benefits to the receiver.

If your grad is still trying to figure out his career path, a career coach can help him explore his options and put together a plan. A good career coach can also help with the practical stuff (resumes, interviews, etc.) once the path is defined.

14) Professional Resume Writing Services

This service, at the beginning of a career, is one of the most priceless gifts you can give a college grad. College grads often feel challenged with crafting a resume when it comes to including experience, education, skills, and such because they don’t yet have practical experience in the field in which they wish to work, many times.

Professional resume services help fill in the gaps with practical, relevant experience and know how to present this information in the best possible light to get the right kind of attention from potential employers.

There are many gifted resume writers out there — some specializing in specific industries and situations. LinkedIn is a good place to look. To choose the right person, check their work (resume) samples and client testimonials. Accreditation by the Professional Association of Resume Writers means that the writer has had training and passed evaluation by a third party.

15) Premium LinkedIn Membership for Networking

Networking is a huge part of the job search process today. While the standard version of LinkedIn can be quite helpful, the premium membership offers connection opportunities that simply aren’t available to those without the upgrade.

This makes it a great gift to give anyone, in the job market – especially new grads.

The LinkedIn Job Seeker Plus account is $59.99 per month ($47.99 per month if paid annually) and comes with a few nifty features: the ability to rise to the top of recruiter lists as a featured applicant, insights into how you stack up against other candidates, 10 InMail messages per month, and more.

16) Interview Wardrobe Upgrade

The average graduate will want to have a classic, impeccable interview suit along with a few additional staples to swap out for different interview looks (especially handy when you’ll be interviewing multiple times with the same people). You can offer your new grad a gift certificate for a retailer that sells a variety of work wardrobe items. They can use your gift card  toward a new suit and/or for shirts and accessories to complete the look.

If you’d rather give something more personal, consider a classic tie for a guy or a simple elegant necklace for a woman. A good Brooks Brothers button-up is also a nice gift for any job seeker. If you’re in a cold climate, a professional outer layer will be essential and the typical new grad may still be rocking their campus parka.

In addition, consider a gift card for a local dry cleaners to help with the cost of maintaining that snappy interview wardrobe.

17) Big Interview

Naturally, we are a little bit biased, but we believe that Big Interview is the perfect gift for anybody looking for a job — and especially for new college grads who don’t have a lot of experience interviewing. With our specially priced 3 and 6-Month Access Passes, you can send them to boot camp for job interview skills (video lessons, practice drills, answer builders, and more). Reach out to [email protected] for more information on how to purchase.

18) Monthly Gift Box

Birchbox is a company that offers monthly gift boxes of surprise beauty and grooming luxury items for women and men. These are simple gifts that offer a little touch of luxury and personal pampering, as well as grooming items, fragrance, etc. that recent grads may otherwise be unable to purchase for themselves.

These little luxuries cost $60 for a six month subscription and $120 for a full year. In addition to the personal and grooming items, getting that little box in the mail each month is a nice pick-me-up no matter how the job search is going.

If personal care items aren’t appealing to you, there are other gift box memberships available for a wide variety of items at different price points. NatureBox will send monthly healthy snacks to fuel the job search and Glassful will send great wines to help with relaxing and decompressing after a tough day.

19) Professional Association Memberships

Every profession has one or more associations for networking and professional development. Membership in a professional association is a great way to meet people in your field, get industry-specific training, and uncover hidden job leads. Often, membership costs can be a bit high for someone just starting out, so it’s a particularly appreciated gift idea.

To give this gift, you’ll need to have some knowledge of your grad’s career goals and the most influential professional organizations in the industry. If you’re not sure, you can ask the graduate which membership best suits his or her interests, career goals, and education. He or she may want to do a little research — a simple Google search (industry keywords and “professional association” or similar can do the trick or check out the Encyclopedia of Associations at your local library.

Here are just a couple of prominent professional associations in various fields:

20) Subscription to Industry Trade Publications or Magazines

Understanding the language of the industry is important during the interview process. Reading all you can about what’s going on in a specific field, understanding global issues that affect the industry, and learning about the challenges the industry faces now and ten years from now will give graduates a distinct advantage over other candidates who lack these resources.

You can’t go wrong with The Wall Street Journal for someone in business or finance. A new interior design grad might be thrilled with a subscription to The World of Interiors, while a nutritionist or chiropractor might benefit from a subscription to Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.

21) Professional Watch

Not only does a nice watch help the graduate make it to interviews on time, but it also makes a nice impression on those conducting the interview.

A watch is a very personal gift, so you’ll want to have a sense of your grad’s style preferences.

Keep some professional job consideration in mind too, such as the fact that nurses need watches with second hands in for their line of work. Many teachers and other professionals do as well.

22) Tablet

There are all kinds of tablets on the market today, ranging in prices from surprisingly affordable to somewhat prohibitive. The portability and functionality these devices offer, though, is a priceless gift for any graduate who is preparing to enter the workforce for the first time. These are some of the big names in tablets to consider

  • Apple’s iPad
  • Kindle’s Fire
  • Barnes and Noble’s Nook
  • Microsoft’s Surface
  • Samsung’s Galaxy Tab Active (which has the claim to fame of being ruggedized and waterproof).

23) Prepaid Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is like the gift of sweet nectar to college grads, many who are making hard choices about what is optional and what is necessary. Wi-Fi can be a professional necessity to a new grad as most job search efforts today are conducted largely online. This Internet access is a lifeline to the world of work for recent college grads.

24) New Shoes

First impressions matter at interviews. Something as simple as wearing the wrong shoes can hurt someone’s opportunity to get the job. Gift certificates are available for a wide range of retailers including Shoes.com and Zappos, where graduates should have no trouble finding the right shoes for their interview needs – and then to wear to their new jobs, of course.

25) Gym Membership

Sometimes, what grads need more than anything else is a place to go and work out the stress of the interview rollercoaster. A gym membership provides the perfect opportunity to work it out while also promoting good health and fitness. This is a very generous gift idea indeed, but one that is guaranteed to please and have an ongoing positive effect on your grad’s physical and mental well-being.

If the price of a full gym membership is a little steep, you could buy a package of yoga or fitness classes or a few lessons in a sport or activity that you think your grad would enjoy (martial arts, tennis, boxing).

These gifts may not guarantee the grad in your life the job of his or her dreams in an instant. However, they all have the potential to make you look like a hero by offering real help in the hunt and/or luxuries and rewards to keep spirits up and the eye on the prize. 

Main Photo Credit: JDHancock

Pamela Skillings
Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.

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