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College Graduation Gifts

Great gifts to go with that new college diploma

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Between the dorm gear and iTunes gift cards, high school graduation gifts are relatively easy. But what do you get a new, 21st century, college grad? The suggestions of yore seem more than a little outdated - fountain pens, cufflinks and, oh my, an engraved desk nameplate? Seriously? Here are some ideas that are much likelier to result in happy smiles.

1. First Apartment Gifts

Courtesy Matt Palmer, Stock.Xchng Photos
A grad's first non-college apartment is an exciting thing - and a fun-to-equip thing too. But so many college grads end up moving back home - where that set of Calphalon pans will make, well, Mom happy anyway - you may want to give gifts that can be used in both the first solo pad and back home: cooking lessons, accessories, or an Ikea gift certificate. But if junior has an apartment of his or her own, here are a few more ideas:
  • A set of basic spices, olive oil and a good balsamic vinegar presented in a colander or salad bowl.
  • A DIY cookbook of family favorites and professional recipes from Tastebook.
  • A gift certificate to a rental art gallery, so the new grad can rent an original watercolor or oil painting.

2. Travel Accessories

Jane Cleary, Stock.Xchng Photos

Many new grads do the backpacking/hostel thing across Asia or visit friends they met during study abroad in Europe. If your grad has travel plans, try one of these ideas:

  • A gift certificate to a travel accessories or backpacking store can be put toward luggage or a backpack for travel, or a briefcase for work.
  • Guidebooks to the countries he plans to visit - or an iPad or Kindle, which can carry those guidebooks as well novels and other reading material - make an exciting, thoughtful gift.
  • A check to cover the passport fee, plus a whimsical DIY luggage tag that turns his college's iconic sights into a tiny collage to attach to his suitcase.
  • A terrific, easy to tote suitcase/backpack, like the hip but incredibly sturdy bags made by Timbuk2 (Compare prices).
  • Or make your own experiential gift certificate - a card that suggests the enclosed cash be spent on a fabulous Parisian dinner, purchases at a Moroccan bazaar or another splurge that fits the new grad's itinerary.

3. Pearls & Ties

By Kym McLeod, Stock.Xchng Photos
In an ideal world, every college grad heads off into intriguing, challenging careers involving lofty wardrobes and leather briefcases. But your new graduate lives in the real world, where a beautiful silk tie or pearl earrings may be a perfect gift ... or a reminder of dashed dreams ... or a reminder that you wanted him to be a business exec instead of the paint-splotched artist he is. So choose your gift with love and respect, and enclose a gift receipt.

4. 'CliffsNotes Graduation Debt'

Courtesy of Wiley
OK, this is not the most exciting graduation gift, but it will be the most practical. The same people who gave us the quick-and-dirty versions of "Taming of the Shrew," "Scarlet Letter" and hundreds of other sure-to-be-on-the-exam literary tomes, have created a CliffsNotes takes on graduation debt. It includes down-to-earth, accessible tips on figuring out first of all, what you owe and to whom (a list that can include eight or more lenders), then how to pay it all off while still budgeting for life, love and the future. It's a terrific book, especially when you give it with a bookmark of crisp, green bills.

5. Off to Grad School Gifts

Courtesy Broadway Books

So your favorite 20-something is heading off to grad school? Here's a grad student gift guide with possibilities in every price range, from quirky books to bigger ticket items, plus presents specifically for med students, future lawyers and prospective MBAs.

6. Gifts for New Med Students

Stethoscope
iStock

Got a new med student? A nursing student or someone heading into pharm school? Here's a list of 12 great gift ideas, everything from stethoscopes to arty posters and a medical version of Magic: The Gathering.

7. Clever Ways to Give Cash & Gift Cards

Photo by Jackie Burrell

Cash and gift cards are great gifts for any graduating senior or new apartment dweller. They're practical, welcome - and one size fits all. The only problem is, giving someone a wad of tens is a tad tacky -- and even gift cards can be kind of ho-hum to open. So here are four clever ways to present money.

8. The Last Lecture

Photo by Jackie Burrell
A generation ago, we gave graduates books about Jonathan Livingston Seagull or the wisdom of Kahlil Gibran. But when Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Randy Pausch gave his "Last Lecture," its heartfelt wisdom transcended any seagull fads. This was the real deal, life lessons delivered by a professor who discovered he was dying of pancreatic cancer, leaving behind a beloved wife, three young children and legions of adoring students. Millions of people downloaded the lecture on YouTube. Now it's an inspirational, beautiful book about childhood dreams and the importance of enabling the dreams of others.
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9. Words to Live By: A Journal

Courtesy Kate Marshall
When Emily Marshall was getting ready to leave for college a few years ago, her mother, author Kate Marshall, asked friends and family to write down their best advice. “Life lessons don’t necessarily come up naturally,” says Kate. “No one ever asks, ‘Would you like some pie...and the secret to a happy marriage?’” So Kate put out the call. Some relatives jotted notes in Emily's journal when they came to visit, others sent handwritten notes to be pasted in later. The result was such a treasure, Kate and Emily assembled this blank volume, a "Words to Live By" template filled with prompts so every family can pass along its collected wisdom on topics such as marriage, careers, parenting and life.
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10. A Graduation Video

Photo courtesy of Pam Roth, Stock.Xchng
Graduation is a major life passage, and few things evoke that sense of time passing better than a video slide show of childhood memories, from babyhood to the present. A graduation video not only makes a perfect gift for new grad, it's also wonderful, nostalgic entertainment for graduation party guests. Here's how to use your Apple laptop and family photo albums to make a childhood memories DVD.

11. Gifts for New Law Students

Courtesy P&R Games
Got a new law student? Or one headed for the bar? Here's a list of 10 great gift ideas, everything from gavels to pearls, pens and a legal eagle board game.
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