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Gift shopping for a grad? Here's what they actually want

Whether you need the perfect gift for a high school, college, or grad school graduate, here's what they actually want... and what they'll actually use.
Written by Christina Darby, Associate Editor and  Allison Murray, Staff Writer
Reviewed by Min Shin
Apple Watch Series 8 (41 or 45mm) | Best graduation gift overall
Apple Watch Series 8 (41 or 45mm)
Best graduation gift overall
View now View at Amazon
Apple AirPods Pro 2 | The best graduation gift for a productive work day or workout
AirPods Pro 2 in hand
Apple AirPods Pro 2
The best graduation gift for a productive work day or workout
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JBL Flip 5 | The best graduation gift for music lovers
Hand holding JBL Flip 5 Portable Bluetooth Speaker against the backdrop of a brick building.
JBL Flip 5
The best graduation gift for music lovers
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Online subscription to a major news site | Best graduation gift to stay in the know
News outlet subscription
Online subscription to a major news site
Best graduation gift to stay in the know
View now View at NYTimes
Elgato Facecam | Best graduation gift for virtual meetings
Elgato Facecam
Best graduation gift for virtual meetings
View now View at Amazon
Qiaya Light Ring | Best budget-friendly graduation gift
Qiaya Light Ring
Qiaya Light Ring
Best budget-friendly graduation gift
View now View at Amazon
LG 27-inch Monitor | Best graduation gift for hybrid workers
LG 27-inch Monitor
LG 27-inch Monitor
Best graduation gift for hybrid workers
View now View at Amazon
Marge Plus band for Apple Watch | Best stylish graduation gift
Marge Plus band for Apple Watch
Marge Plus band for Apple Watch
Best stylish graduation gift
View now View at Amazon
Tenmos Wireless Bluetooth Mouse | The best graduation gift for computer navigation ease
Tenmos Wireless Bluetooth Mouse
Tenmos Wireless Bluetooth Mouse
The best graduation gift for computer navigation ease
View now View at Amazon
Amazon Prime Student Membership | Best multi-use graduation gift option
Prime Student
Amazon Prime Student Membership
Best multi-use graduation gift option
View now View at Amazon
iPad Mini 6th Gen | The best graduation gift for digital note taking
iPad Mini (6th Gen)
iPad Mini 6th Gen
The best graduation gift for digital note taking
View now View at Apple
Rocketbook Fusion Smart Reusable Notebook | Best graduation gift for digital note-takers on a budget
Blue rocketbook smart notebook with a pen and a cloth on top of it
Rocketbook Fusion Smart Reusable Notebook
Best graduation gift for digital note-takers on a budget
View now View at Amazon
MunchPak | Best subscription graduation gift
Best subscription graduation gift
View now View at MunchPak
Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini | Best smart home graduation gift
Google Nest Mini and Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini
Best smart home graduation gift
View now View at Amazon
Nixplay Touch 10 Smart Frame | Best sentimental graduation gift
A digital photo frame with a vacation photo on its screen next to a salt lamp on a living room side table
Nixplay Touch 10 Smart Frame
Best sentimental graduation gift
View now View at Amazon
Nespresso Essenza Mini Espresso Machine by Breville | Best graduation gift for coffee lovers
Nespresso Essenza Mini Espresso Machine by Breville
Nespresso Essenza Mini Espresso Machine by Breville
Best graduation gift for coffee lovers
View now View at Amazon
Show more (11 items)

Though graduation is a big milestone, the practicalities and anxieties of starting a big girl job, moving to a new city, and "adulting" almost overshadowed my excitement of having just graduated college last May. That said, graduation gifts from my family and friends of all kinds were appreciated, but looking back, there are items I wish I knew to ask for that would've helped me in the "real world." 

With this outlook in mind, I also talked to 2023 grads to see what items they want and will actually use. If you want to invest in an item that may make it easier for your graduate to invest in their health, career, or study habits, here's a list of gadgets that say "congrats" and "you're welcome" to all kinds of grads. 

Best gifts for graduates overall

Whether your graduate is entering the professional world or higher education, or adding another degree to their roster, these are gifts they're bound to love and use. 

  • Price: $330
  • Apple Watch Series 8 features: Always-On Retina LPTO OLED display | Apple S8 Chip | GPS and Blood Oxygen sensor | IP6X water and dust-resistant 

An Apple Watch might be a splurge gift, but it's a great all-in-one tool to keep any grad on time for meetings and classes, track their workout and sleep metrics, and even set a routine bedtime schedule. Since receiving the Apple Watch Series 8 in September, it's been the perfect movement motivator and accountability tool for my post-grad ventures in the office and beyond. 

The newest Apple Watch model, the Series 8 features premium WatchOS 9 features like upgraded Always-On display, which coupled with the upgrades battery life is even more useful, enhanced women's health features, and new fitness integrations

Review: Apple Watch 8: A sleeper hit, even if it doesn't match Samsung's sensors

  • Price: $235
  • Features: In-ear fit | Up to 6 hours of listening | Wireless charging | Apple H2 chip | Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) | Touch controls on stems 

My AirPods Pro 2 are my constant pocket, desk, and work-tote companion. Especially living in New York City, they're an essential for my productivity, entertainment, and hands-free calls. While any grad would love a pair of wireless headphones for a study, gym, or deep work session, I keep coming back to my AirPods Pro 2 due to their pocket-ability, easy integration with my Apple ecosystem, generous battery life, and lightweight form factor. 

Review: AirPods Pro 2 offer two big upgrades but connectivity chaos hasn't been tamed

While the Bose QuietComfort II earbuds have them beat on ANC and intuitive touch controls, AirPods Pro 2 have a transparency mode that balances booming bass and clear volume with awareness of my surroundings. Of course, there are other wireless earbuds and headphones worth considering outside the Apple ecosystem. 

  • Price: $90
  • JBL Flip 5 features: 12-hour battery life | Universal compatibility | 65Hz-20kHz frequency response 

Every graduate likes music, right? And whether they're moving into a dorm, apartment, or house, the JBL Flip 5 is a great hosting tool, connecting via Bluetooth to anyone's smartphone to blast the right vibes. Durable for even pool parties or beach days, the speaker has an IPX7 resistance rating. Plus, it lasts for up to 12 hours on a single charge and is the perfect portable size while still delivering booming, clear sound. I'd like to thank whoever gifted this to my roommate upon graduating, given her speaker might very well be our apartment's most used appliance. 

News outlet subscription
The New York Times/The Washington Post/The Wall Street Journal/ZDNET
  • Price: From $1 a week to $40 a year
  • Features: Unlimited access to articles, web, and games 

A news outlet subscription is a great way for any grad to stay informed on the latest events, learn new words and facts through engaging games (who doesn't love Wordle), and expand their knowledge on in-depth subjects such as the stock market. Plus, most news outlets, like the New York Times, for example, have a special student rate. 

The best gifts for graduates entering the professional world

The professional world can seem intimidating, but these tools can help grads feel more confident, productive, and efficient. 

  • Price: $150 
  • Features: Flexible tilt mechanism | Includes Sony's Starvis CMOS sensor | Comes with a detachable privacy cover 

Webcams have become hot property as so many of us are now working from home. While some laptops and PCs have webcams that are 'good enough,' a decent, external camera can make all the difference. This year, graduates may appreciate an update to their existing setup -- especially for virtual Zoom meetings to impress their new coworkers and boss. 

Packing in a 1080p webcam that supports 60fps, and a fixed focused f2.4 aperture sensor, the Elgato Facecam is a great video-conference camera that delivers clear video quality. In fact, it's traditionally a "content creator" streaming camera. While there aren't any ring lights built into the camera, the Sony Starvis CMOS sensor delivers great video output regardless of lighting conditions. 

  • Price: $13
  • Features: Three-level lighting | USB connection | Clips onto gadgets

A budget-friendly gift for graduates to improve their remote video sessions and interviews is the Qiaya light ring, a $12.99 bolt-on for laptops or mobile phones that can give lighting a boost. 

The gadget can certainly be used to perfect a selfie, but outside of Instagram posts, the light ring offers four lighting settings that can be also used to improve how you look in video conferences, networking sessions, or those important job interviews. Qiaya's light is rechargeable via USB.  

  • Price: $150
  • Features: 27-inch screen | 1920 x 1080 resolution | 75Hz refresh rate | Borderless design | 1ms motion blur reduction 

Nothing helps productivity at home like a monitor. This 27-inch model from LG has an easy plug and play setup, is color calibrated, and has 1ms motion blur reduction for easy work or gaming viewing. The display is also bright and provides clear graphics, which is perfect for anything from building a spreadsheet to editing in Photoshop. It also comes with a 75Hz refresh rate, which makes for a relatively lag-free operation. 

If your grad likes to travel while working, you may also want to consider gifting them a portable monitor, as well. 

  • Price: $11
  • Features: Magnet clasp (no notches) | Sweat-proof | 1.44 ounces | Mesh metal material 

While a smartwatch is undoubtedly a useful tool, they're often not the most aesthetically pleasing option -- especially if your grad is entering a corporate environment. So that their smartwatch doesn't clash with their office-chic wardrobe, an elevated option might be the best way to give them the best of both worlds by upgrading their look so they can upgrade their life via all the benefits of an Apple Watch. 

The Marge Plus for Apple Watch Bands is suitable for large and smaller wrists alike thanks to its magnetic clasp -- that's right, no distinguished notches that always seem to make the fit too loose or just a little tight. The metal mesh design is not only minimal and classic, but also sweat-proof, breathable, and still lightweight. 

If you like the look but aren't an Apple Watch user, there are also similar options for the Fitbit Luxe and Android Watches

  • Price: $16
  • Features: Dual Bluetooth mode | Silent clicking | Seven different changing, LED lights | Rechargeable 

A Bluetooth mouse is a great productivity and navigation hack for remote, hybrid, and fully in-person workers alike -- especially if your laptop has a tricky trackpad. This mouse from Temos is equipped with dual-mode connection, making it seamless to switch between two different devices ( a laptop or desktop) by just the simple press of a button. 

Also: The best ergonomic mice you can buy

Universally compatible with Apple, Microsoft, or Android systems, it's easy to pair or even plug and play if needed via USB-C port. Additionally, the mouse has a silent click so your workflow won't be disrupted, it's rechargeable so no extra battery is needed, and there are seven different colorful light options to make your work environment just a little more fun. 

The best gifts for graduates continuing school

Whether they are going to college for the first time, or are looking to add another degree to their portfolio, students will need certain things to keep their study grind -- and perhaps their sanity -- during school. 

  • Price: 3-month free trial, then $8.99 per year 
  • Features: Access to exclusive Amazon deals | One-day and same-day shipping | Amazon Prime Video | Free Grubhub food delivery | Up to 10% off flights and hotels 

Amazon Prime Student is Amazon's best-kept secret and perhaps the most multi-useful service. A discount service that gives higher education (college and graduate school level) students access to the same benefits as regular Prime but for half the costs. 

Additionally, the membership grants students unlimited photo storage, savings on rental textbooks, ad-free music, LinkedIn Premium, and the same Prime member deals and shipping services. It even includes access to two months free of Kindle Unlimited for reading over a million titles on any device. 

You can gift someone an Amazon Prime subscription for three months free and then $8.99 per year. It's also easy for students to convert an existing Prime account into a Prime membership

  • Price: Starting at $499 
  • Features: 8.3-inch screen and Liquid Retina display | USB-C charging port | Compatible with 2nd-generation Apple Pencil | 10-hour battery life 

Digital note-taking on an iPad is a game-changer for graduate students, saving paper, time, and misplaced pens and pencils. Note-taking apps make it easy to organize, store, share, and customize notes. Plus, the Apple Pencil Gen 2 feels more like a real writing tool in your hand and satisfyingly glides on the screen with ease. 

The 6th-generation iPad Mini has an 8.3-inch display, which is on the smaller side, but still allows for effective note-taking and workflow. And weighing only 0.65 pounds, it's one less item in your backpack or tote (or on your syllabus) to weigh you down. With an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display and 2266 X 1488 resolution, ZDNET's Jason Cipriani assures in his review that the "colors are vibrant and the text looks crisp." 

Review: Apple iPad Mini (6th Gen.): Unmatched portability and power

Equipped with Apple's A15 Bionic chip, the 6th-gen iPad Mini supports 10 hours of battery life, a USB-C connector for charging accessories, and the powerful iPadO15

Along with an iPad, your grad may also appreciate some iPad accessories to further optimize their digital workflow. 

  • Price: $31
  • Features: Nine color options | 42 pages | Seven different page styles

For the graduate that is always making handwritten lists and carries a notebook with them everywhere, but doesn't want an iPad's full feature suite, the Rocketbook Fusion Smart Notebook is the perfect gift as they continue their education. The notebook's synthetic paper allows you to write the included Pilot FriXion pen, then wipe the page clean with a damp cloth to reuse it again and again. You can save your pages to the Rocketbook app's cloud to make them easy to find later. 

  • Price: $16.95 per month 
  • Features: Full-size snacks | 3 different box options | Included travel guide 

Students and graduates alike might like a monthly subscription box of goodies -- especially if they are adventurous in what they are willing to try. MunchPak sends subscribers a selection of snacks, candy, and drinks from different countries so that their apartment/dorm is always stocked. A travel guide is also included with each delivery.

There are three sizes of boxes to choose from: MunchPak Mini, MunchPak (standard), and FamilyPak, depending on whether you want 5+, 10+, or 20+ snacks. Prices begin at $16.95 per delivery for a five-snack option. 

The best gifts for graduates moving into an apartment or dorm

It could be your graduate is living on their own for the first time or is moving into their first apartment -- either way, they will need some essentials to make their home life easier. 

  • Price: $50
  • Features: Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant | Different color options | Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections

Another gift option for students and graduates is a smart home device, such as the Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini. These devices are relatively budget-friendly tech gifts, at $60 and $50 respectively, and offer a range of services and support for streaming services. 

The Amazon Echo Dot is a smart speaker with the Alexa voice assistant built-in and available in a variety of colors. Users can access the news, traffic reports, control IoT devices, ask general queries as well as connect to streaming services including Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify. 

Also: Amazon now has over 100 million Matter-enabled Echo devices

Alternatively, the Google Nest Mini, complete with the Google voice assistant, has similar IoT control and query functions and can also stream from sources including YouTube Music and Netflix. 

  • Price: $47
  • Features: 10.1-inch touch screen | 1280 x 800 resolution | Wi-Fi connectivity | Supports JPEG, PNG, and TIFF image formats 

A digital photo frame is a convenient, storage-conscious, sentimental gift to get your grad. According to ZDNET's review, the Nixplay frame is easy to set up, has an accompanying app that gives you unlimited photo storage, and the ability to upload pictures straight from your smartphone. 

There's even an "invite feature" in which you can collaborate with family and friends to add photos or make a playlist for family and friends to contribute to. With a high-resolution screen (1280 x 800) sure to display all my mom's favorite memories, it's a sentimental, practical, and collaborative gift. 

Also: This digital photo frame is actually pretty sweet (and not just for boomers) 

The frame comes in black, classic matte, and wood, giving it a traditional outer display. The inside is a touchscreen in which you can control brightness, the auto-shutoff timer, and even an activity time sensor that automatically shuts off after little to no activity detection. And according to Allison Murray, a Nixplay Touch 10 owner herself, the frame is easy to set up, seamlessly connecting to Wi-Fi straight out of the box. While this frame is ZDNET's choice for the best digital frame, be sure to check out our full list for some other options

  • Price: $173
  • Features: 4.3 x 8 x 12.8 inches | 0.6 liters capacity | Removable tank | Programmable | Milk frother | Starter set of Nespresso capsules

The Nespresso Essenza Mini Espresso was the best gift I received upon graduating high school and moving into a college dorm room. Only weighing five pounds-- including the attachable water tank -- its compact size fits nicely at the edge of my dorm-integrated desk and still served strong espresso. The machine even comes with a complementary starter set of Nespresso capsules, so users can test which ones are their favorite before ordering more on Amazon or via Nespresso's website. 

What is the best graduation gift overall?

Since it's a great all-in-one device to keep all types of grad connected with others, their bodies, and a busy schedule, we recommend the Apple Watch Series 8 as the ultimate grad gift. All that to say there are other graduation gifts specifically tailored to young professionals, grads continuing their education, and those moving into their own space. Also, keep in mind that a simple gift card can go a long way. 

How did we choose these graduation gifts?

Recently a graduate myself, I reflected on gifts I appreciated -- or would have appreciated -- after earning my diploma. I also talked to high school, college, and law school graduates from the class of 2023 to get their unique perspectives on which gifts would not only be appreciated, but also could aid in a post-grad transition. 

What is the best gift for college graduates?

Aside from the options on our list, here are some gifts different college gads, in particular, will love.

  • For the college grad on the go: The Away Carry-On is great for travel. 
  • For the college grad who needs to keep track: A pack of AirTags is always a good, versatile tracking tool. 
  • For the college grad always staring at a screen: A pair of blue light glasses can save eyes some strain. 

What is the best graduation gift for a friend?

If your friend is the one graduating, you probably have tons of photos with memories of your times together. Make sure they print these photos to keep forever, rather than them just living on your friend's phone, with the HP Sprocket Photo Printer

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