Best high school graduation gifts: Send your favorite grad off with something cooler than cash
The best high school graduation gifts are more personal than a check and almost as useful as a diploma.
The best high school graduation gifts are memorable, fun, and useful. While anyone can send a card stuffed with cash, finding the perfect grad gift will delight even the moodiest of teens. But what do the youngins want most? How do you think of graduation gift ideas that are interesting and unique? And how do you avoid looking like the out-of-touch weirdo who thinks teenagers still use mouse pads? We think the perfect high school graduation presents are useful and unique—and come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. Whether shopping for a high school graduation gift for him, a graduation gift for her, or a graduation gift for yourself (you deserve it), discover all the best options and get inspired here.
- Best high school graduation gift, overall: Google Pixelbook Go
- Most unique graduation gifts: Amazon Firestick
- Most unique graduation gifts, runner up: CraveBox Care Package
- Best grad gifts for audiophiles: Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BTBK Bluetooth Wireless
- Best grad gifts for audiophiles, runner up: OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker
- Best high school graduation gifts for her: YnM Weighted Blanket
- Best high school graduation gifts for him: LEATHERMAN, Skeletool Lightweight Multitool
- Best high school graduation gift under $30: Sweetbriar Classic Messenger Bag
The best graduation gift of all is a new laptop—if you can afford one
A computer is always a welcome graduation gift. Portability and battery life are important for kids heading off to college, but if the screen and keyboard are too thin, there’s a higher risk of damage. If you’re gifting a laptop, look for something rugged, or at least more substantial than ultrathin models.
A Chromebook will provide great battery life and are among the most user-friendly laptops on the market. These machines are built for using the internet, the primary function of any college computer. They are also designed specifically to work with Google’s web-based applications such as Google Drive, giving college-bound students quick, easy access to some of the best spreadsheet, word processing and presentation tools available.
While not a robust gaming rig, the Chromebook is perhaps the greatest and only school supply a freshman college student needs. If you’re stuck on what’s best for their purposes, give the grad a gift card and let them pick out what they need.
Best laptop for grads: Google Pixelbook Go
The best Chromebook for anyone heading to college is the Pixelbook Go. The long battery life sets it apart from other Chromebooks with 12 hours of runtime on a full charge. And after just 20 minutes of charging, students can squeeze out a solid 2 hours of computer use before it needs to be plugged in again. The Chrombook feels good in your hands and won’t easily slip so carrying it to class or to the coffee shop is easy. 8MG of RAM and 64GB of storage are typical for Chromebooks, which rely heavily on cloud storage. The 1920 x 1080 resolution looks great and the touchscreen is responsive. It’s a simple, elegant laptop. Every high school grad would be thrilled to get a Pixelbook Go as a graduation gift.
Unique graduation gifts that don’t need wrapping paper
High school grads are often on the move—off to college, into their first crappy shared apartment with friends, heading across the country to make it in Hollywood. So consider whether or not you want to burden your graduate with extra stuff. Knick-knacks, framed photos, and “hilarious” mugs may seem like great graduation gift ideas, but the young adult is about to enter the most mobile point of their lives. That’s why consumables and subscriptions make some of the best high school graduation gifts.
Consumables are more than a fruit basket (although what 18-year-old doesn’t love snacks (see our snack box pick, below). Any graduation present that can be “used up” is a consumable gift, that includes concert tickets, airfare, and UberEats gift cards. And subscriptions can be anything from Amazon Prime to daily digital newspapers to a monthly Adobe Photoshop membership—or a niche streaming service (such as Shudder, for horror fans or CuriosityStream for documentary lovers) where your grad can unwind with their favorite content.
Most unique high school graduation gifts: Amazon Firestick
The Amazon Firestick is one of the best, low-cost, graduation gift ideas. It’s tiny and can be easily carried wherever the grad travels over the next few years. The Firestick plugs into any modern TV and opens up a world of streaming possibilities. High school grads will know the basics: Netflix, Disney+, HBOmax, Amazon Prime. But there are hundreds of boutique streaming services that can be accessed via the Firestick, from documentary channels to specific sports networks. It all fits in something smaller than a smartphone. Users will need subscriptions to use some of the channels, but that’s what parents are for, right?
And if they want some snacks to munch on (and share) while watching, they can get their pick in the CraveBox Care Package.
Find a high school graduation gift that sounds good
High-quality audio is a staple of every young adult’s life, and the best high school graduation gift makes everything sound great. You can get lost in options: Earbuds, headphones, party speakers… the list goes on. But because you may not know if the graduate has an over-the-ear/in-the-ear preference, avoid invasive options that stick deep into the ear canal. Go with something larger in size. Headphones with ear cups are a safer graduation present and look more impressive on the gift table.
For audio quality, you want a warm sound that leans just a little bit into the bass tones. The graduate probably isn’t an audiophile—yet—so they won’t mind a deeper bass output. Most mid-priced over the ear headphones will be appreciated. And don’t worry about what the teen currently uses. Even if they have a pair of good headphones, a second pair is always welcome.
Go wireless. Noise-canceling is a must for teens heading off to rowdy dorm rooms. And look for a style that says, “Don’t bother me” instead of brightly colored “Look at me!” headphones.
Best headphones for high school graduates: Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BTBK Bluetooth Wireless
For an all-around great pair of wireless headphones, the Audio-Technica provides good sound quality for music, gaming, or streaming. While they stretch slightly beyond the $100 price-point, the headphones are well-made and have a sophisticated feel that will impress high school graduates—and last them longer than a semester. It’s more than a step up from typical $50 headphones. Volume controls on the earcup are intuitive, and listeners get 38 hours of music on a single charge. They are lightweight, comfortable, and, most importantly, sound great.
Best Bluetooth speaker for high school grads: OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker
The OontZ Angle 3 is an inexpensive speaker that provides high-quality sound for parties or soft background noise for studying. It’s too easy to overspend on Bluetooth speakers, and taking a pricey speaker into a damage-prone dorm room is a bad idea. Save money with a speaker under $50 that still offers up fantastic, loud sound. The 10 Watt OontZ pours out a rich bass sound that doesn’t sound like ducks arguing. The Bluetooth signal reaches 100 feet and the battery lasts 14 hours. You can sync up two speakers for stereo sound, and at $25 a pop, spreading out the music isn’t a wallet-breaker.
Girls graduating high school will appreciate the gift of comfort
The best high school graduation gift for her is something soft, not shiny. Jewelry is a typical go-to gift for high school women, but tastes change so quickly. It’s impossible to keep up with what pendant is in and what bracelet is out. Besides, unless it’s a graduation gift for your daughter, jewelry can add a weird, formal vibe to the relationship. Instead of sparkles, look for something soft.
The next few years of a high school grad’s life will be a rollercoaster of emotions and homesickness. Anything that can provide a bit of warmth and relaxation during this time will be greatly treasured.
Avoid anything that could be considered cute. That means no horses, no cartoon bears, and absolutely no hearts. Walk away from the hearts. Hearts are for surgery and Valentine’s Day. In fact, move out of the juniors section of the department store altogether. The recipient is more adult than little miss, so treat her with dignity and give her something comforting yet sophisticated. Robes, towels, and blankets can be great high school graduation gifts. And you won’t need to worry about clothing sizes and potential returns.
Best high school graduation gift for her: YnM Weighted Blanket
A weighted blanket is more than a gimmick. It’s the best high school graduation gift to keep one calm and rested. The weight provides a unique sense of peace during stressful times, like move-in week and finals month. These hefty blankets became popular a few years ago after word-of-mouth reviews spread that a little added weight leads to a more restful night of sleep. The YnM weighted blanket is well-made yet affordable. (Some weighted blankets can venture into the luxury price range.) All standard sizes are available and weights vary between 5 pounds and 30 pounds. If you don’t know what weight to get, buy the 15-pound blanket. It’s heavy enough to feel the effects yet not suffocating.
Boys graduating high school will appreciate something that does it all
The best graduation gift for him should be useful. Very useful. Pen sets, no matter how elegant, will never be greeted with a genuine and hearty, “Thanks!” And high school grads are a little too young for fancy shaving kits. What every post-high school boy needs is a precision multi-tool.
Phone apps and Reddit forums can’t solve all the problems in the world. Sometimes one needs to use a genuine hand tool for simple repairs and DIY projects. But you don’t want to burden a college-bound guy with a big toolbox. Instead, find one handheld tool that accomplishes a lot.
Some multi-tools will be overcrowded with useless appendages. Others will be so cheaply made that a man in need would be better off with a butter knife. If you aim for the $60-$100 price range, you can find a quality instrument capable of real work.
The tools guys will need most are: Pliers/wire cutters, knives, and screwdrivers. With those, they can pretty much build a house or dismantle even the most solid dorm furniture. Don’t get too specific with specialized tools for fishing or biking. Keep it basic and it will be loved, cherished, and, best of all, used. Young people don’t yet know how often they’ll need a handy screwdriver or pair of pliers, so this is a gift they won’t buy for themselves.
Best high school graduation gift for him: LEATHERMAN, Skeletool Lightweight Multitool
The best graduation gift for him is the only tool he’ll need for the next few years. The Skeletool combines the essentials: Knife, pliers, bottle opener, and screwdriver. Each tool is easy to operate and comfortable to handle. A tool used by construction workers and tech support engineers, this is not a trophy or a keepsake—it’s a bonafide resource. Made of high-quality material, you can trust a Leatherman multi-tool to last. The only downside is that multi-tools tend to get stolen or lost, so instill a sense of responsibility when the grad opens the gift. Treat this like a pocket-sized Excalibur, and the teen will cherish it lovingly.
Buying a graduation gift on a budget: what you get for less than $30
If you’re on a tight budget or if the grad gift is for someone you don’t know well, an inexpensive gift will look better than money in an envelope. Below the $30 mark, you’ll find a lot of ugly water bottles and inspirational notebooks. And any electronic equipment less than $30 won’t last long, if it works at all.
But one thing all people need is a good, cheap messenger bag, and the unisex designs are great grad gifts for any high school grad. They can be used for carrying a laptop to class or bringing a change of clothes for a weekend road trip.
Leather messenger bags will be out of your price range, so don’t worry about getting anything luxurious and elegant. You want a workhorse, not a show pony. Give the grad a bag that can withstand the elements and is meant to be used and abused.
This won’t be a piece of luggage to be passed down from generation to generation. In fact, if it lasts past two college semesters, consider it a good deal. But it can still be a useful and cool accessory for anyone bravely marching into the real world.
Best high school graduation gift under $30: Sweetbriar Classic Messenger Bag
When shopping for a high school graduation gift, don’t overlook this inexpensive messenger bag. Made of 100% canvas, it’s simple but sturdy. The bag measures 17.5” by 12” by 5”. That might not be large enough for a big laptop, but smaller laptops and tablets are easy to transport in the main compartment. The front flap is closed firm with Velcro, so spillage is minimal if it’s dropped or thrown. Increase the glory of the gift by filling it with assorted snacks and candy, and you’ve got an all-star graduation present for family, friends, and friends of friends.
Unlock the mystery and find the best high school graduation gift.
Don’t get scared. Don’t let your eyes glaze over while scrolling through the millions of gift options. When choosing the best high school graduation gift, look for something useful or fun instead of boring trinkets. Venture outside the greeting card store and shop for unique presents that don’t have the year plastered all over the surface. Headphones, comfortable blankets, the best backpacks for college, and cool tools will be appreciated more than a “Hang in there” poster.
PopSci wants to help you find the most useful and expert shopping recommendations for the best gift ideas. Searching for more unique gifts? Check out more gift guides here: Educational Gifts, Gifts for Travelers, College Graduation Gifts.