May and June are the months of college, high school, nursing, trade school and university commencements. A time filled with exams, finals, papers and bells ringing freedom. Graduation parties and open houses are common as students celebrate meeting their goals, after years of hard work, and begin preparations for the next phase in the journey. Let us help answer your puzzling ponderings about how to be gracious during graduation gift giving season.
Attending the Graduation Ceremony
Friends and family may attend the ceremony if they receive an invitation. Many times graduates receive a very limited number of admission tickets for the ceremony due to size of the graduation class, facility limitations and other factors. In other circumstances, graduates may invite many guests. Always RSVP within 24 hours.
Sending Graduation Invitations
Depending on the graduate, some families mail printed invitations only to very close family members due to limited seating. Historically, the invitation is issued by the college, university, trade school or graduating class. Each graduate orders social cards with their names printed on them and includes one in each invitation so guests know who has invited them. A graduation party invitation is mailed separately.
Graduation Announcement or Invitation
Due to graduation ceremony seating limitations, some families send announcement cards informing friends and relatives of the new graduate’s accomplishment. Announcements may be ordered through the school, or creatively printed with a local stationer. These cards mailed on the day of the commencement announce the graduation, however, an invitation to attend the ceremony is not included. There is no obligation to send a gift, although some recipients may, depending on their relationship to the graduate.
Gift Giving Reflects Relationship Significance
It is important to weigh your relationship with the graduate, their parents and family, your budget, resources and time to determine your gift giving. National Retail Federation (NRF) conducted a 2016 survey stating that the average person plans to spend $106.45 on a graduation gifts. So, if you have genuinely connected with the graduate, express your genuine pride. If you’re not sure, send a thoughtful card.
Fellow Student Gifts
As a fellow student who may or may not be graduating, handcrafted gifts serve as a wonderful capstone to your friends. A small card, a homemade video filled with your college adventures, or framed photos of college memories are special gifts.
Gift ideas for Graduates
Coming up with the perfect gift for a new graduate can be a challenge, even when you have known them for years. Is your grad finishing a PhD, nursing degree, trade school certification, or obtaining their B.S. or M.B.A? Gifts that may assist them as they take their next steps include:
- Universal chargers for graduates on the go
- Picture frames, mugs, travel totes
- Fine pen & pencil sets
- Monogrammed luggage
- Investor’s Business Daily on-line subscription
- Briefcase / leather portfolio with school logo
- Hallmark recommended books: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving After Graduation and Seize Your Dreams: Inspirations to Follow Your Heart Now Is the Time
- Waterford desktop clock
- Mont Blanc business card organizer
- Electronic tablets and laptops such as the LG Gram 13 Touchscreen
- Crane monogrammed stationery / initial note card
Gifting cash or a gift card
Yes, both are appropriate and it is important to stay comfortably within your budget. A Hallmark study highlighted appropriate giving amounts:
- 95% believe money is an appropriate graduation gift for high school or college.
- Many would not give a gift for a not-so-close friend, but might give a card.
Monetary gifts can be paired with, or substituted by, a good book fitting for the grad. For example, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Guide, may be the choice for an aspiring international business or MBA grad. The Defining Decade is an excellent choice for an undecided undergraduate.
Cash Gift Guidelines
The sum given depends on the amount you are comfortable giving, and your connection with the recipient. Hallmark study found the average monetary gift amounts:
- $25 is average for a close friend (or child of a close friend).
- 67% believe that $50 or more is appropriate for a close relative.
- $20 is the average for a not so close friend.
- NRF states 32% of consumers buy a gift for at least one graduate, so manage your resources accordingly
Remember the graduate will be pleased to receive your card, stay comfortably within your budget, and you can pair funds with a thoughtful card containing your sage advice.
My granddaughter is graduating college in December and plans to walk at the graduation in May. When do I give her a gift?
Dear Ms. Smith,
Congratulations to you and your family on your Granddaughters success. It’s no small feat for children to achieve an education these days, especially during a challenging and unpredictable pandemic.
Depending on the family dynamics, you may have several opportunities to present her with a graduation gift. You may wish to decide what feels most comfortable to you and your “family culture.” If there will be a family gathering and gifts are presented during the celebration, then this is one option. However, if you prefer a quiet lunch or some one-on-one time together, this might be another choice.
The time to give her the gift depends on your relationship with your Granddaughter and how you wish for it to evolve. Make it a joyful and memorable event!
My daughter has been friends with twins since kindergarten, she has celebrated birthdays with them and we have always purchased separate gifts for each of them, where they always give a combined gift to my daughter. The last couple years my daughter has had a strained relationship with them but despite that we are still included in each other’s graduation celebrations. My question is, is it acceptable to take the equivalent of the monetary gift they gave to my daughter and split an equal amount to gift each of them?
First of all, congratulations on the graduation of your daughter and her friends. As a parent it is rewarding to watch our children accomplish these milestones. Having said that, keep in mind that gift giving is based on the relationship that you and your daughter have with the twins, and the lifestyles of these two recipients. The best gift is one that is personalized whether for a runner, swimmer, book reader, or fitness buff. Since gift giving is a personal decision, the gift amount is discretionary. However, I encourage you to weigh the adult knowledge that relationships have ups and downs and consider whether there will be another gift giving opportunity between now and (any potential) college graduation.
My brother and sister-in-law are hosting a high school graduation party with 2 other families for 3 graduates. I only know my nephew. Do I need to bring gifts for all 3 graduates?
Hello Amy, Congratulations to all three graduates. You are not obligated to bring gifts for all three graduates; however it would be gracious to bring a graduation gift for your nephew and congratulations cards for the other two graduates. I hope you enjoy the graduation party with your nephew, family, and friends.
I have 2 nieces in other state graduating. How much to send to both of them?
I gifted 100$ to a 2019 college grad (friend’s daughter) and 50$ to two 2020 high school grads (distant relatives). Not a word of thanks from any of them. I’m trying not to be old, but seriously? Does anyone have insight into this rude behavior and does it bother others? Or should I just stop walking a mile to school in the snow?
Martha, I share your pain. Thank you notes have become a rare breed in many social circles. It’s no fun walking a mile to school in the snow. Very few parents these days require their children to sit down and handwrite a note on thank you note cards. Much less personalized stationery. There are two approaches to this conundrum; say nothing and always wonder if the money arrived, or your other option is to call text, or write the recipient and inquire as to whether they received your card and the enclosed gift. This will send a subtle message and hopefully prompt them to write a note but I wouldn’t count on it, in other words, I wouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch.
I think it’s rude. We have to blame the parents. When my twins graduated 2003, I wouldn’t allow them to spend any cash until the thank you cards were written out.
It’s hard to say, we never get a thank you or any acknowledgement from my husband’s niece for gifts, however my friends daughter will send a thank you text for gifts. She even sent a pic, with another thank you, of her with a drink from Starbucks because we had given her a gift card to go there. They are the same age. I guess people are just brought up differently.
Hi Kelly, I have 2 nieces, too. (Both are now grown & have families.) Depending on what you can afford, you might consider sending each of them $50 to $100. If you can only afford less than that, say $20+ each, then that’s OK, too.
To me, it depends on the closeness of your relationship with them, and also the particular traditions or “personality” of your familiesfamilies. If someone can only afford to send a card, that’s OK, too. Hope this helps. 🙂
Sending graduation cards and funds is dependent upon your relationship with the graduate and your budget considerations. Calculate what is comfortable for you financially; possibly within the $20-$100 each range. The graduate will be delighted to receive your card and any funds that will assist with their further education, skill-building, or future career. You’re to be commended for your thoughtfulness toward your nieces.
It’s good to know that $50 or more is a good gift for a close relative. My younger brother is graduating from college and my mom reminded me to give him a gift for it. I’ll be sure to send him around $50 for when the time comes on Venmo.
Dear Taylor Hansen,
Congratulations to your younger brother on his college graduation! You are a thoughtful family member; gift giving is a personal decision so use your discretion.
As the mother of twins that graduated this year, I do not feel giving twins a different amount is appropriate at all. The assumption that the valedictorian worked harder is just that an assumption. Give them the same amount, or value of a gift. Thus avoiding questions, as indicated in the previous answer given. Also why would you give a gift for getting a scholarship? That in it’s self is a reward, that should be celebrated yes, but not with a gift.
Dear Mom of Twin Grads,
Congratulations to your twin graduates! Thank you for your feedback and comments.
I have twin niece and nephew graduating from high school. My niece is valedictorian. My family can’t agree on whether she deserves a higher amount cash gift because she worked harder. Should we give her a higher amount and less to the nephew or keep the amounts the same?
Dear Ms. Bradish,
Congratulations to your niece, nephew, and your entire family on these graduations! The amount and size of a graduation gift is a personal choice based on your relationship with the graduates – your niece and nephew.
However, that being said, in our U.S. culture there are other factors that are taken into account. For example, if it is in the budget, college graduates usually receive a larger monetary gift than high school graduates. So the nature of the occasion comes into play – other examples include Nursing School, Police Academy, Boot Camp, Masters or Ph.D.
Special accomplishments such as Valedictorian or receiving a Scholarship also warrant giving more if the gifter can afford to do so. Your niece, the Valedictorian has made an extraordinary effort, so if you wish to reward that accomplishment it is appropriate. If questions arise (we hope they don’t- you can explain the reasons.)
Please let me know if this answers your question or I can explain further. Thank you for writing to us on our website.
Sharon Schweitzer JD
Cross-Cultural Business Consultant, Author
Austin, TX USA