If there is a college graduate in your life, he or she will likely receive a number of gifts. The first gift will be the realization that it can be difficult to find a job in this economy right now — if the goal is to get a job in the same field of study as the degree. Without a job, our graduate might have little choice but to move back in with mom and/or dad and weather through the remainder of the employment recession with curfews as if still in high school.
The next gift will be the shock of the real world in the form of a job. Suddenly the graduate will have to report to work, perhaps at 8:00 in the morning! It might have been easy to blow off early morning classes, and consequences for oversleeping in college were limited to grades. Consequences for tardiness in the real world can be severe. There is the threat of being fired in the first month on the job.
Soon after that, perhaps six months after graduation or after starting the new job, the first student loan payment will be due, shackling the graduate into earning enough money to pay off college debt in ten or more years. Forget the flexibility of taking time to find one’s self once financial responsibilities become a reality.
If there is a college graduate in your life this year, consider these graduation gift suggestions. They might not be fun, but they could go a long way to helping ensure the transition to the real world, full of responsibilities, doesn’t drive the graduate insane.
1. Free room and board. There is a time and place for the “sink or swim” mentality, which comes from the idea that throwing a baby into a pool will force it to instantly learn to swim in order to survive. I’ve never known anyone to take this literal approach, but in the current state of the economy you could do your graduate a favor by allowing her to start her career without having to worry about the first several rent checks.
Rent-free living should not last forever.
2. Clothing. Every job has expected attire, even if the environment is very casual. Professionals need professional clothing, whether for interviews or in the office. The graduate is going to need to project an image in the workplace, and clothing is important to making that happen. A gift certificate would work well for clothing, allowing the graduate to choose her attire, but some guidance may be necessary because not every graduate has experience in dressing appropriately for professional situations.
3. A computer. Powerful and reliable notebook computers are relatively inexpensive now. Remember to pre-load important software for someone who will be starting their first post-college job: financial management software. I use Quicken 2012, and I still prefer the robustness and flexibility of desktop software like Quicken over web-based financial management like Mint.
4. A gas gift card or monthly commuter pass. Transportation is one of the many expenses new workers have to pay up front before receiving their first pay check. If your graduate has a job lined up and a place to live, she should have determined her transportation needs.
5. A car. If you have the means, a used car would make a good gift for the graduate as well. It doesn’t have to be the latest model, but employers expect employees to have reliable transportation; a clunker that breaks down once a week and causes the new employee to be late arriving to the office will not make a good impression and will not do any favors for career advancement.
6. Cash. Money is helpful when wielded for the forces of good. If you trust the graduate to use the money responsibly, to pay down debt for example, cash can be a good way to go. But don’t give cash if you will be offended if the recipient chooses to use the money for vacation or entertainment. If you cannot give cash with no strings attached, don’t give cash — try a gift card.
7. The gift of mistakes. The last thing a graduate wants is to be told what choices to make. Some guidance is helpful, particularly in choosing the first job out of college, as many graduates do not know the effect this choice can have on earning potential for the rest of the graduate’s life. But let them make mistakes, and when they do, help them interpret them as learning opportunities.
If you are a parent of a graduate this year, what gifts, if any, will you be bestowing upon your graduates?
Students and former students, what gifts have you received or would you have liked to receive?
Published or updated June 14, 2012.