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The 31 Best High School Graduation Gifts

By Dorie Chevlen
Updated May 11, 2022
The 31 Best High School Graduation Gifts
Photo: Michael Hession

The transition from high school to whatever pseudo-adult period that follows—college, trade school, a gap year, or working—is a time for celebration. But it’s also a time for preparation. Many items can make that next stage of life easier to navigate (or, at least, easier to navigate with more whimsy). Below, we’ve assembled the very best from our product research and firsthand testing to get your high school grad through their next adventure and for years beyond.

An artificial green leaf plant in a white pot.
Photo: Target

Threshold Artificial Fiddle Leaf Plant ($15 at the time of publication)

A houseplant instantly cheers up whatever space it’s placed in, but a
busy grad may find it challenging to provide the water, sunlight, and pruning a real plant requires. (Or they may do all these tasks and still find that their plant dies for no reason!) Spare them the pain with this faux fiddle leaf plant from Target, a smaller version of one of our sturdy yet chic picks from our guide to fake plants. It won’t take up too much real estate in a studio apartment or dorm room, and the classic ceramic pot it “grows” in will blend with any decor.

A white Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow on a bed.
Photo: Sarah Kobos

Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow ($55 at the time of publication)

If the grad in your life isn’t allowed to steal their parents’ bed gear, they likely need a pillow of their own. The Xtreme Comforts Shredded Memory Foam Pillow is one of our favorites (out of the 120 we tested). And we’ve recommended it since 2016, thanks to support that never feels stiff and breathable fabric that doesn’t overheat. Its medium loft and shredded foam filling (which is adjustable and moldable) make it comfortable for a variety of body types and sleep positions. The company offers a 30-day no-questions-asked return policy should your grad experience any issues.

A Himalayan salt lamp emits an orange glow.
Photo: Himalayan Glow Store

Himalayan Glow Salt Lamp ($20 at the time of publication)

To make a cozy corner in their dorm for studying or a pretty spot for drinking tea at their first apartment, this Himalayan salt lamp is the perfect accessory for a recent high school grad. Adjustable for brightness, the lamp emits a gorgeous pink glow. And though we can’t endorse the alleged health benefits of Himalayan salt, we think the lamp’s inviting appearance is enough of a reason to give it to your grad.

A laptop case with black and white grid pattern by Society6.
Photo: Society6

Society6 Grid Pattern Laptop Sleeve ($40 at the time of publication)
Society6 70s Plate Laptop Sleeve ($40 at the time of publication)
Society6 Art Deco Arch Pattern VIII Laptop Sleeve ($40 at the time of publication)

When your grad is lugging a laptop from friends’ dorms to classes to the library, they would be wise to protect it. We tested dozens of laptop sleeves, and your best option for a tough case that won’t match anyone else’s on campus is one from Society6. Sized to fit either 13-inch or 15-inch laptops, Society6’s sleeves come in thousands of prints designed by independent artists. The choices can take time to scroll through, but you can narrow the field by filtering your search for different categories like photography, nature, or vintage. These cases don’t just look cool: Their canvas-style polyester material also does a great job of protecting against scratches and dust. And the zipper avoids getting stuck—important when your grad is running late for a lecture.

A gift box of Curio Spice Company's eight essential spices.
Photo: Curio Spice Company

Curio Spice Company Culinary Essentials (about $30 at the time of publication)

Whether they’re cooking on their own for the first time or they just need something to elevate a dining-hall meal, the Curio Spice Company Culinary Essentials set will give your budding cook the right stuff. This set, which is one of our favorite gift boxes, contains eight upgraded spice staples, including an Indonesian cinnamon and a Greek oregano. In addition to featuring ingredients that are sustainably farmed around the world, Curio prepares and sources many of its spices near its headquarters in Massachusetts.

Anker Soundcore Life Q20 Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Photo: Rozette Rago

Anker Soundcore Life Q20 (about $60 at the time of publication)
Jabra Elite 45h ($100 at the time of publication)

When trying to get work done, new college students can find it hard to focus with all the noise in dorm rooms or even libraries. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones can be the difference between having a calm work session or seething with rage over that one guy who inevitably shows up in the library with a 10-decibel bag of chips. Our budget pick, the Anker Soundcore Life Q20, offers surprisingly decent sound, comfort, and noise-cancelling ability at a low price.

So your graduate can listen to music without driving their roommate nuts, get them a nice Bluetooth set. The Jabra Elite 45h headphones are our favorite budget option from testing—they offer great sound quality, a comfortable fit, and long battery life.

A bright pink Zojirushi travel mug on a wooden table with someone's keys, phone, and jacket next to it.
Photo: Michael Hession

Zojirushi SM-SD60BC Stainless Steel Mug ($30 at the time of publication)

Cheaper than a daily Starbucks run and better for the environment, a Zojirushi travel mug allows your graduate to take their coffee on the go. Not only does it keep beverages hot all day, but the leakproof lid prevents liquid from spilling onto their notes or laptop. The Zojirushi has long been Wirecutter’s favorite travel mug thanks to its well-designed exterior, easy-to-clean nonstick Teflon interior, and a foolproof locking lid that you can operate with one hand. Plus, this mug comes in several cute colors.

A Philips Wake-up light is shown providing warm lighting and the time
Photo: Sarah Kobos

hOmeLabs Sunrise Alarm Clock ($30 at the time of publication)

Waking up is already hard, but it gets even harder when compounded by late nights at the library and later nights out with friends. Help your graduate with their mornings by giving a sunrise alarm clock. People are biologically wired to wake up as the sun rises, and these clocks simulate that effect, starting with a dim light that builds to the brilliance of a bright spring day over the course of about 30 minutes. This clock wasn’t our absolute favorite from testing, but for a decent price it offers the same functions as much more expensive models—your grad won’t feel as bad if their roommate runs off with it.

An Instant Pot Duo 6-Quart in a kitchen next to jarred dry beans
Photo: Michael Hession

Instant Pot Duo 6-Quart (about $100 at the time of publication)

It’s probably not allowed in most dorms, but the Instant Pot Duo 6-Quart makes a great gift if your high school grad will be living in an apartment. Our favorite from testing, this do-it-all electric pressure cooker can be used to make everything from rice to stew to yogurt, without a lot of prep work. And all of it will be much better than anything McDonald’s or a dining hall could offer.

The Presto PopLite popcorn maker, shown popping popcorn into a full bowl.
Photo: Amazon

Presto PopLite Popcorn Popper (about $35 at the time of publication)

Some of my fondest college memories involve friends crowding the floor of my dorm room to indulge in a big bowl of popcorn after a long night at the library (or often, a bar). Making it from scratch is tastier than any prefab microwavable option, and of all the methods we’ve tested, the Presto PopLite Popcorn Popper is best for a young crowd. Unlike stovetop methods (which require constant shaking or stirring of kernels) or microwaving (which can result in burnt kernels if you let it go even a few seconds too long), this air popper blows the kernels out after they pop. And it makes an entire batch perfectly in under two minutes. The Presto PopLite also creates an opportunity for culinary experimentation: Butter and salt are classic pairings, but I suggest paprika, olive oil, and pepper for the gourmet grad.

The MoMA Design Store kit cat clock.
Photo: MoMA

Kit-Cat Clock ($60 at the time of publication)

Not every high school graduate is going to find the Kit-Cat Clock charming (and in fact, when I showed it to a few Wirecutter staffers, the feedback I received was, “This is tacky.”) That may be true, but for the right graduate in your life—the one with a good sense of humor, a love of cats, or just a general insouciance—it’s the perfect gift. The clock was designed by an Oregonian during the Great Depression, and it surged in popularity in the 1950s, coming to exemplify the period. It may look like just a plastic clock in the shape of a cat, but it’s also a piece of history—which your grad can now own.

A dog with black fur lays on a couch while a person draped in a gray knit blanket sits on the other end of the couch petting the dog.
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Boll & Branch Cable Knit Throw (about $140 at the time of publication)

A warm, cozy blanket is one of those gifts that may seem simple, but this throw from Boll & Branch can transform everything from movie night to nap time into hygge heaven. And it’s one of our favorite throw blankets, thanks to its soft cotton and beautiful cable-knit design. This throw feels just like a beloved sweater, and in the event that your grad spills something on it (which they will), it’s machine-washable.

The Rains Mini backpack, shown in black.
Photo: Michael Murtaugh

Rains Backpack Mini ($95 at the time of publication)

The Rains Backpack Mini is the backpack I wish I’d had in college—and that I am thrilled to have now, in my late 20s. The sleek lines and minimalist hardware give the bag a look that transitions easily from university library to office job, and its flat-to-the-body shape is great for those who have to commute. Best of all, the bag is waterproof. So even if your graduate is the type to leave the house without an umbrella and then miss their bus, their laptop and books will remain safe and dry.

The Matt & Nat tote bag shown in pale green.
Photo: Matt & Nat

Matt & Nat Abbi Tote Bag ($150 at the time of publication)

For the graduate who prefers a slightly more professional look while they lug around a laptop, a tote bag is a step up from a backpack. One of our favorites is this vegan leather option by Matt & Nat. It rests comfortably under the arm, and its construction is thick enough that the contents don’t poke through. This tote comes in a bevy of cute colors to suit whatever graduate you’re shopping for.

A person's hands shown wearing the Moshi Digits Touchscreen Gloves.
Photo: Michael Murtaugh

Moshi Digits Touchscreen Gloves ($30 at the time of publication)

Teenagers love to text (and that love doesn’t appear to fade as the years go by, it turns out). By giving your grad the toasty Moshi Digits Touchscreen Gloves, you can help keep their fingers warm while they do so—especially if they are heading to a colder climate after graduating. Of the 80-plus pairs we’ve tried, these are among the very best for precise screen-swiping.

The Onsen Bath Towel folded and sitting on a bathroom shelf next to a wicker basket.
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

The Onsen Bath Towel ($100 for two at the time of publication)
Frontgate Resort Cotton Bath Towel (starting at about $25 at the time of publication)

Whether they’re moving into a dorm or their first apartment, your loved one is going to need proper towels. From our extensive research and testing, we feel confident recommending the affordable Frontgate Resort Cotton Bath Towel and the quick-drying Onsen Bath Towel. Go with the Frontgate if you want an affordable, plush terry. And opt for the Onsen if your grad would prefer something that dries super fast (especially useful if they do a sport that requires showering more than once a day). Both towels hold up well after multiple washes, absorb water quickly, and still manage to feel soft to the touch.

Rumpl Down Puffy Throw
Photo: Rozette Rago

Rumpl Down Puffy Blanket ($210 at the time of publication)

For hanging out with friends on the quad, especially when it starts to get cold out, your graduate’s best bet will be a puffy blanket. Waterproof, durable, and warm, puffy blankets are relatively new additions to the outdoor scene, but they are primed to secure a permanent spot. Our favorite is the Rumpl Down, which combines durability and softness better than any other we tested.

The Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 shown in rose gold.
Photo: Rozette Rago

Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6 ($190 at the time of publication)

Your graduate can already take great-quality photos on their smartphone, but an instant camera still holds an unbeatable allure. There’s something romantic about having to wait for a tangible image to emerge—it just feels more special than hastily uploading an image for the entirety of Instagram. Our favorite instant camera is the Fujifilm Instax Square SQ6, which is easy to use and creates better-quality photos than other cameras we tried. It also comes with advanced features like macro, landscape, and double-exposure modes, elevating it from other old-school instant cameras.

A brown blue and red Topo Designs Dopp Kit sitting on a bathroom counter.
Photo: Sarah Kobos

Topo Designs Dopp Kit (starting at about $35 at the time of publication)

For exciting travels abroad or simply travels across the hall to the communal bathroom, a good toiletry bag can make all the difference. One of our favorites is the water-resistant Topo Designs Dopp Kit. Like our other toiletry kit recommendations, this one has space to hold all of your grad’s essentials—in an unusual triangular prism shape and color-blocked design that will stand out from the crowd.

The Anvil Homeowner's Tool Set toolkit, our basic toolkit recommendation, in its case.
Photo: Doug Mahoney

Anvil Homeowner’s Tool Set ($45 at the time of publication)

You are not really a grown-up until you have the tools (and bare-minimum skills) to put together your own furniture and hang your own art. Buy your grad a tool kit and save them the stress: The basic Anvil Homeowner’s Tool Set has all the essentials in a small package at a great price, which is why it’s been our favorite for years.

A pair of Sabah slide shoes, shown in leather.
Photo: Sabah

Sabah Shoes ($195 at the time of publication)

Your new grad is likely going to spend a lot of time on their feet, either darting around a campus or running around a new job. But if they’re anything like me, they’d probably rather suffer the worst blisters and aches than to ever look frumpy. A pair of Sabah shoes is the perfect solution: The soft, supple leather molds to the foot as comfortably as a slipper, and the rubber soles are durable and grippy. But Sabahs still look stylish and cool, and they come in a huge assortment of colors (it’s easiest to navigate them by shoe size so you know which color is available—this varies).

An overhead shot of a person slicing radicchio on a wood Proteak cutting board.
Photo: Michael Hession

Teakhaus by Proteak Edge Grain Rectangle Carving Board (about $95 at the time of publication)

At first, a cutting board seems like a gift appropriate only for the apartment-bound graduate, since there’s probably not a lot of vegetable cutting going on in a dorm room. But even though this eco-conscious teak board feels great under a knife, it also looks great under a stack of cheese and fruit. So if your grad is more the type to have their friends over for charcuterie than to painstakingly prepare mirepoix, this will still be a perfect gift.

Photo: Michael Hession

Wüsthof Classic Ikon 7-Piece Walnut Block Knife Set ($450 at the time of publication)
Victorinox 4-Piece Knife Set with Fibrox Handles (about $145 at the time of publication)

Unlike a cutting board, a knife set is probably useful only for the graduate who’s moving into an apartment. And even then, they can probably get by with just a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated bread knife. But if you want to set your grad up with all the knives they could need in one go (along with a handy block to store them), a knife set makes a wonderful gift. Our absolute favorite is the durable Wüsthof Classic Ikon 7-Piece Walnut Block Knife Set, which includes the most useful knives for home-kitchen use, plus pull-apart kitchen shears, a honing steel, and a storage block. For something less pricey, the Victorinox 4-Piece Knife Set would also make an excellent, useful gift. Its knives have stainless steel blades that remained sharper and held their edge better than those in any other set we tested under $200.

Bed Bath & Beyond Heartland HomeGrown 400-Thread-Count Sheets shown in grey.
Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Target Threshold 400 Thread Count Performance Sheet Set (starting at $35 at the time of publication)

If your graduate will be moving into a dorm, they’ll likely be sleeping on a twin XL bed, and the best sheet set for the job is Target’s Threshold 400 Thread Count Performance Set. In testing, we found the Threshold sheets to be as soft as sets we’ve tried that cost three times the price. And because they’re 100% cotton, they breathe better than the cotton-polyester sheets commonly found in college linen packages.

Hamilton Beach 40880 Stainless Steel 1.7 Liter Electric Kettle
Photo: Michael Hession

An electric kettle is the best gadget for the high school grad who will be making instant coffee, oatmeal, and ramen noodles in a dorm room. The Hamilton Beach 40880 Stainless Steel 1.7 Liter Electric Kettle impressed us with its consistent performance and easy-to-use interface, and we especially loved its “keep warm” function, which holds water at the set temperature for 30 minutes. Plus, its three-year warranty is far more generous than coverage for similarly priced electric kettles we looked at.

A person sitting in an airport chair with our pick for best carry-on luggage in front of them.
Photo: Caleigh Waldman

Travelpro Platinum Elite 21″ Expandable Spinner ($330 at the time of publication)

Leaving home for the first time, many high school grads won’t have a suitcase, or at least not a good one. For all their future travels, the Travelpro Platinum Elite 21″ Expandable Spinner makes a great choice. It features smooth-rolling wheels that you can replace as needed, a solid and comfortable telescoping handle, and a hard-wearing nylon exterior propped up by a solid internal chassis, all backed by a lifetime warranty that covers airline damage and shipping to the repair facility.

Nidra Deep Rest Eye Mask
Photo: Michael Hession

Nidra Deep Rest Eye Mask ($18 at the time of publication)

Sharing a room (maybe for the first time), your grad is going to discover the hard way that people operate on very different sleep schedules. Whether they’re paired with a night owl or a morning lark, a comfortable, light-blocking eye mask will keep them snoozing through whatever is going on. Our favorite is the lightweight Nidra Deep Rest Eye Mask, which fits comfortably and blocks light well for a wide variety of face shapes. And this eye mask has deep eyecups that allow eyes to flutter during sleep.

The Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker shown disassembled.
Photo: Michael Hession

AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker ($40 at the time of publication)

As a college student, I would drink just about whatever coffee I could find: the burnt stuff from the dining-hall carafes, powdered Nescafé, a friend’s half-sipped Starbucks, days-old coffee from my own drip maker. The graduate in your life deserves better: The AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker is the best coffee-making option. It’s fast like a Nespresso machine and as easy to use as a French press, and it makes coffee that tastes almost as great as a lovingly prepared pour-over. (If your grad won’t have access to a microwave to heat water, an electric kettle is a great gift accompaniment.) Also, the AeroPress comes in a durable, portable package that your student can take to class or work.

purple flip flops
Photo: Havaianas

Havaianas Top Flip Flops (starting at $12 at the time of publication)

Whether your graduate will be sharing a gross dorm bathroom in a hallway or just a regular bathroom with gross roommates (and I’ve done both), they’ll want to wear a pair of flip-flops so they don’t catch anything on their feet. Our favorite for the task is the Havaianas Top Flip Flops, which don’t get squeaky when wet (like other pairs do) and are grippier on wet surfaces, too.

A sideview of two hands using the keyboard of a laptop, perched on the LapGear Designer Lap Desk.
Photo: Sarah Kobos

LapGear Designer Lap Desk ($35 at the time of publication)

Whether your graduate is starting college or a new job, they’ll likely be doing most of their work on a laptop. Unbind them from their dorm room or home office by giving them a lap desk: They’ll be able to comfortably work from under a tree in the quad or from the floor of a new friend’s apartment. Our favorite lap desk is the LapGear Designer, which comes in several colors and patterns and feels comfortable resting on your thighs. It also has a slot to perch your phone, a handle to carry it around or hang it up, and an elastic strap for storing index cards or a pen.

A photo of a blue GCI Outdoor Everywhere Chair, sitting in front of a tent with a red cooler next to it.
Photo: Caleigh Waldman

GCI Outdoor Everywhere Chair ($50 at the time of publication)

For outdoor concerts and impromptu hangouts, a portable outdoor chair will keep your graduate seated more comfortably than roughing it on the damp grass. And a low-to-the-ground chair will ensure they don’t block people’s view or awkwardly loom over their friends. We love the GCI Outdoor Everywhere Chair, which is comfortable, has great back support, folds up easily to store and carry, and is adjustable for sitting on uneven ground.

This article was edited by Catherine Kast and Jennifer Hunter.

About your guide

Dorie Chevlen

Dorie Chevlen

Dorie Chevlen is a staff writer from Youngstown, Ohio, now living in Los Angeles. She has worked as a copy editor, fact checker, and sandwich maker, but this is probably her favorite gig. Her writing has also been published in Science, Slate, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. She has been called—both flatteringly and not—“a lot.”

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