High School Graduation Gift Ideas for College-Bound Students

Every spring and summer, high school seniors (or their parents) throw graduation parties where friends and family mark the achievement with gifts, usually sums of cash. In fact, the generosity demonstrated at high school graduation is on par with that of a wedding, birth, or bar mitzvah. For the more academically inclined high school seniors attending college in the fall, cash gifts are incredibly useful, but they don’t always have the same permanence or meaning once the students are away at school. Money is a practical idea, but it’s not very creative. Your cash gets lumped with everyone else’s to buy any number of things, and the sentiment may get lost after the receipt is tossed. If you want to bestow a stand-out high school graduation gift that a college-bound student will remember, consider the following ideas.

1. New York Times subscription. Regardless of a college student’s major, this world-class newspaper makes an intellectually-minded gift. In fact, some first-year classes (often political science, sociology, and English courses) even require students to read this newspaper! Regardless, the very process of reading such sharp writing tends to rub off on the student’s own writing and vocabulary. And perhaps most important, a major daily newspaper keeps the student abreast of current events while inside the college “bubble.” Even if the student only has time to read it once or twice a week, the Times makes a sensible high school graduation gift. [Practical note: For students living in a college residence hall, most housing offices provide a mailing address to the student during the summer. Also, be sure not to start the subscription until the student moves in.]

2. T-shirts, sweatshirts, and other paraphernalia from the student’s college. No matter what school the student is attending, college gear makes a spirit-oriented graduation gift. If you don’t live near the Big State U or Alma Mater College, chances are that you can still order something online. Most colleges and universities have decent bookstore websites, and some general athletic sites also sell apparel and spirit items for schools with recognizable sports teams. Ideas for college-bound students include: sweatshirts, t-shirts, fleeces, hats, backpacks, pennants, banners, mugs, rugs, and even collapsing chairs.

4. Classic College DVDs. Just about all traditional college students spend time watching movies with friends. While the student may already own some of his of her favourite movies, why not present some classic college-themed DVDs as a package gift (along with a DVD player if they don’t have one to take to their residence hall). Examples of appropriate movies include: With Honors, Animal House, Old School, Threesome, Higher Learning, Revenge of the Nerds, Back to School, Dead Man on Campus, Road Trip, PCU, Good Will Hunting, etc. If possible, try to mix fun flicks with serious stories.

4. Books about preparing for college. There are tons of college guides aimed at helping students select the right institution, but once they’ve settled on their choice, there are also plenty of “survival guides” that may be appropriate for college-bound students. Examples include:
Confessions of a College Freshman (ISBN: 1589196600)
– Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: College (ISBN: 0811842304)
– 101 Things A College Girl Should Know (ISBN: 0836210905)
A simple search on Amazon or a visit to your local bookstore will yield plenty of choices. Some guides are general, and others are specialized for women, Jewish students, science majors, future teachers, GLBT students, etc.

5. Urban Guide. For students attending a school in a larger metropolitan area, a city guide listing restaurants, tourist attractions, and other local information may be a useful graduation gift. If your college-bound high school graduate is moving away to attend college in, say, New York City, Chicago, or Boston, navigating the new city can be daunting on top of adjusting to college. Give the kid a leg up on their new environment.

6. Coupon for Emergency Cash. College students are notorious for mis-managing money (or at least having to survive on very little of it). Rather than giving the student money when everyone else does, consider a sort of post-dated gift – like a financial “get out of jail free card” that the student can use once they’ve blown through their regular resources. If you’re a loving sibling, cousin, or family friend – someone who the student might not normally turn to for financial assistance – you can create a “coupon” that the student can redeem sometime during the first semester when he/she really needs money. If you’re wondering what to present at a party, you can use Microsoft Publisher or another easy graphic program to create a document that looks like a gift certificate. It may seem like a dull gift at first, but the student will appreciate it in October or November, when an unexpected expense or frivolous purchase comes knocking.

7. Itty Bitty Book Light. For any college-bound student who will be sharing a room (in other words, most traditional freshmen), there’s always the issue: what do you do when your roomie is already asleep and you need to study? There are plenty of small lamps available, but the Itty Bitty Book Light is so portable, lightweight, and darn cute that it just outshines the competition. Many bookstores and online retailers sell this spiffy, time-tested product, perfect for college-bound high school grads.

8. Tech Gifts. With computers, software, iPods, audio accessories, palm pilots, fancy calculators, and all kinds of IT-related gifts out there, you can probably find something that fits your budget. Also, be sure to check with the student’s parents (and the school) to see if the college provides any technology automatically. Some schools are making headlines these days for giving all new freshmen an iPod, and others have been presenting notebook computers to every entering class for years. As long as you don’t duplicate a tech gift, it’s a practical idea for high school seniors at graduation.

9. Pizza Gift Certificates. It is well-established in popular culture that college students love pizza and order it frequently. Find out what pizzerias are popular (chain or otherwise) near the student’s campus and order a bunch of gift certificates. Not only will you be feeding a hungry mouth at many a midnight, but you may also make the student the hero among his or her hallmates!

10. Hometown Photo Album or Scrapbook. It’s normal for college students who are leaving town to become homesick, especially during the first few weeks of the semester. If you’re the arts-n-crafty type, consider creating a scrapbook that has pictures of friends and family, inspirational quotes, letters of support, and other keepsake items. Depending on how sentimental your college-bound student is, you can create something that will remind them warmly of home without embarrassing them too much! This is also an inexpensive idea. If you can’t afford an expensive gift, hit ’em with a heartfelt one at graduation.

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