Spring is in the air and May has arrived! For graduates this means a major life transition as they take their next steps. Whether receiving their high school diploma, undergraduate, or masters – graduates have achieved a major accomplishment. Loved ones may celebrate with dinners, parties, and yes, gifts.

Graduation gift etiquette raises many questions about who, what, when, and how much. The answers depend on your relationship with the grad and your budget. A 2017 survey by the National Retail Federation reveals graduation gift spending has risen in the following categories: cash, gift cards, and apparel.

For those wishing to offer a meaningful memento, enjoy these 5 tips for the perfect gift:

  1. Who receives? If you receive an invitation, attend the ceremony and/or any celebrations commemorating the graduation. Bring a gift and a congratulatory card. If you received an invitation from a friend or family member but can’t attend due to logistical or budgetary constraints, it’s best to still send a card and a small gift or a gift card to save on shipping. If you receive an announcement, no gift is necessary.  For those working in education or frequently mentoring young adults, you may receive invitations to more ceremonies than you can possibly attend. Avoid feeling pressured to give more than you can afford. Instead of purchasing individual gifts for each graduate, write down your best advice and send a personalized graduation card with your heartfelt wisdom. Modest gift ideas include: initial bookmark, elegant stationery, quality agenda, small photo frame with picture of you and the graduate.
  2. Gift Cards, Checks, and Cash: For many graduates, their college degree signifies financial autonomy – and the beginning of student loan payments. For this reason, monetary gifts are appropriate and appreciated, especially graduated starting their first job or post graduate work. The sum depends on budget, comfort level, and recipient connection. A recent Hallmark study found:
    • 67% believe that $50 or more is appropriate for a close relative.
    • $25 is average for a close friend (or close friend’s child).
    • $20 is average for a not-so-close friend.
  3. Fellow Grad 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, favorite baked goodies, a homemade video filled with college adventures, or framed photos of college memories are special gifts to remember friendship.
  4. When Do I Gift? Avoid the risk of gift breakage or loss in the stadium hustle and bustle. Instead, send the gift to the graduate’s home within a week of the ceremony, or bring it to the celebration. If you choose to mail your card or gift, hand address the envelope in blue or black ink and use proper postage. If you offer the gift in person, give your warmest congratulations!
  5. Present Selection: While the gift itself will depend on the graduate’s lifestyle, and your relationship with them, consider what’s most useful to them as they move forward. Some helpful ideas include:
    • Universal chargers for graduates on the go
    • Picture frames, mugs, travel totes
    • Fine pen & pencil sets
    • Monogrammed luggage
    • Local business publication online subscription
    • Briefcase or leather portfolio with school logo
    • Books related to their interests
    • Waterford desktop clock
    • Montblanc pen or business card organizer
    • Electronic tablets and laptops
    • Crane monogrammed stationery / initial note cards

At the end of the day, the graduate will greatly appreciate the time and energy you spent selecting their gift. Remember to stay within your budget, give thoughtful gifts, and enjoy the graduation season!

Sharon Schweitzer and Amanda Alden co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.

Amanda Alden is an intercultural research assistant with Access to Culture. She graduated with honors from St. Edward’s University with a major in Global Studies and a minor in French, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Intercultural Mediations at l’Université de Lille III. Feel free to connect with Amanda at on LinkedIn.

Photo: @toddwaller via Twenty20