The best high school graduation gifts in 2023
Here are some practical gift ideas for grads heading to college or entering the workforce.
Graduating high school is a huge milestone, but the transition to young adulthood that comes just after can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. If you know a recent graduate, a good gift to celebrate the occasion could also make their next chapter more manageable. We’ve compiled a list of gadgets, gear and services that might help, whether the grad in your life is heading to college or entering the workforce.
Anker Soundcore Life Q30
OluKai Kipuka Hulu Slippers
LapGear Designer Lap Desk
Google Chromecast with Google TV (4K)
Anker 733 Power Bank
Timbuk2 Lane Commuter Laptop Backpack
Tomtoc Defender-A13 Laptop Sleeve
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
Instant Pot Vortex Mini Air Fryer (4-in-1, 2-quart)
GrubHub Gift Card
Anker Soundcore Life Q30
A good set of noise-canceling headphones can help your grad get in the zone while studying, quiet the bustle of a new commute or just keep them relaxed on a flight back home. Anker’s Soundcore Life Q30 are some of the few worthwhile noise-cancelers available for less than $100. Their cushy design is comfy to wear for hours at a time, and their 40+-hour battery life is excellent. While their active noise cancellation isn’t as robust as a higher-end pair like the Sony WH-1000XM5, it’s effective enough to be useful. The sound here is very bass-heavy out of the box, but it’s possible to customize that to something more measured through Anker’s mobile app. If your grad would prefer a set of wireless earbuds, Anker’s Soundcore Space A40 are a similarly impressive value.
OluKai Kipuka Hulu/Ku’una slippers
For keeping warm during the cold winter months or simply not walking around the dorm barefoot, a set of OluKai slippers should make your grad’s day-to-day more comfortable. The Kipuka Hulu (for men) and Ku’una (for women) both slip over the whole foot easily and have delightfully soft interiors (the latter has a bit more fuzz around the heel). Both have simple yet attractive leather exteriors, plus sturdy rubber outsoles that will allow your grad to make quick jaunts to the bodega or around campus with minimal discomfort.
LapGear Designer lap desk
When your grad doesn’t feel like sitting at their actual desk, a lap desk can make working from the couch more comfortable. If nothing else, it’s a more organized solution than having them prop their laptop up on a throw pillow. If you think the graduate in your life could use one of these, the LapGear Designer is a fine choice. Its underside is soft yet stable, while its smooth top surface is easy to clean and large enough to fit a 17-inch laptop. There’s a stop at the bottom that helps keep their stuff from sliding off when the desk is slanted at an angle, as well as an elastic band for holding pens and notepads and a storage slot for phones. The accessory only weighs about two pounds on its own, while a built-in handle makes it easier to carry around.
Google Chromecast with Google TV
Cable TV isn’t known for being reasonably priced, but with a media streamer like Google’s Chromecast, your grad can cut the cord without missing what’s on. Though it launched back in 2020, the Chromecast still runs fast enough, supports all the major apps and can stream video in 4K and HDR (including Dolby Vision). Its Google TV interface does well to personalize its home screen and suggest new content based on your viewing habits, and its search results are generally sensible. You can also search by voice through its remote. Naturally, the UI integrates well with Google services like YouTube and Nest cameras.
Roku’s Streaming Stick 4K is another commendable option in the same $50 range. It has a simpler interface built around a basic grid of apps, and it also supports Apple’s AirPlay protocol, so your grad can beam content right from their iPhone. It’s just not as adept at searching for or proactively suggesting content as Google’s streamer.
Anker 733 Power Bank
A portable power bank will keep your grad’s devices alive while they’re out of the house (and save you a little stress in the process). Anker’s 733 Power Bank is a particularly versatile take on the concept, as it can plug into an outlet and double as a wall charger. It has two USB-C ports and a USB-A port, so your grad can top up multiple devices at once. In wall-charger mode, it can deliver up to 65W of power, which is enough to charge some smaller laptops. As a portable battery, this drops to 30W, but that’s still enough to charge any iPhone at full speed. The 733 itself is fairly compact given its functionality, but if you think your grad would prefer something more pocketable, the Anker 511 Power Bank is a much smaller 2-in-1 option that we recommend in our guide to the best power banks.
Timbuk2 Lane Commuter Backpack
There are any number of backpacks that could work for a graduate in need of a bag refresh, but Timbuk2’s Lane Commuter Backpack is one we’ve recommended before. This 18-liter bag isn’t the largest pack, but it’s light, comfy and sturdily constructed, with a pair of bottle holders, a compartment for a 15-inch laptop and enough pockets for carrying the essentials to work or class. It has reflective panels on the front and shoulder straps to keep itself visible at night, and while it’s water-resistant on its own, it comes with a removable sleeve for full protection from heavy downpours.
If your grad needs more space for stuffing lots of tech, Timbuk2’s Authority Laptop Backpack Deluxe (28L) might be a better buy. SwissGear’s 1908 ScanSmart is another hefty option (32L) that has served yours truly well for years and costs less than $100, though it doesn’t look as nice and is more likely to show more signs of wear over time. You can read our roundup of our favorite backpacks for other suggestions, too.
Tomtoc Defender A-13 laptop case
Having a dedicated sleeve for their laptop can give your grad an extra bit of protection for one of the most important (and expensive) gadgets they have to carry around every day. There are a ton of suitable options here, but we’ve found Tomtoc’s Defender A-13 series to offer a tight yet secure fit, enough protection to fend off scuffs and scratches and enough water resistance to withstand spilled drinks. Plus, it has a pouch for holding accessories. Several colors and sizes are available, and at $30, it’s relatively affordable.
The Hulken bag is a big rolling tote that your grad can use to more comfortably wheel around groceries, laundry or any other large hauls. It’s available in three sizes, and while it’s not exactly cheap, it feels comfortably durable. (Anecdotally, mine has shown little sign of wear after about a year of weekly use.) The bag folds up for tidier storage, and there are a few built-in handles that make it easier to lift up stairs or carry around campus. All told, Hulken says the bag can carry up to 66 pounds. Something like this might be most useful for city dwellers, but if your grad hasn’t done their own laundry and grocery shopping much before, it should take some weight off their shoulders, literally and figuratively.
Away Carry-On suitcase
The popular Away Carry-On is a stylish and sturdy hard-sided suitcase your grad should appreciate when it’s time to come back home. Its polycarbonate shell is tough but not overly stiff, and it’s available in several bold colors. Its zippers, adjustable handle and fully rotatable wheels all feel substantial. As a 40-liter suitcase, it can fit enough items to last a week or so on the road, plus it comes with a breakaway bag for dirty laundry. Away sells larger models as well, and it backs all of them with lifetime limited warranty.
The Carry-On has been my personal suitcase for several years now, and while it has caught some scuffs over time (like most polycarbonate cases), it hasn’t shown any major signs of degradation after several international trips. You can get luggage with more compartments if efficiency is your main concern, and it’s hard to call this a strong value, but as a gift, the Carry-On should delight any grad who’d like a fashionable and lightweight suitcase.
Xbox Game Pass subscription
Xbox Game Pass remains a great value for any grad who owns an Xbox or gaming PC. The subscription’s library includes big-name series like Halo and Minecraft alongside more experimental gems like Hi-Fi Rush and Pentiment, and it still gets you access to first-party Xbox games on day one. Everything is available to download on-demand. The Ultimate tier includes perks like cloud gaming and online play, but there are cheaper options for just Xbox consoles or PCs as well.
If your graduate plays more on PlayStation or the Nintendo Switch, there are similar services you can gift: PlayStation Plus for the former, Switch Online for the latter. These will almost certainly be appreciated if you’re buying for someone who games frequently, though they’re not quite as strong a value as Game Pass in terms of cost or included games.
Moshi Digits touchscreen gloves
Your grad probably won’t need them for a few more months, but the Moshi Digits are the rare winter gloves that are both warm and not impossible to use with a smartphone. Their knitted exterior and microfleece lining are sufficiently protective from the cold, while a set of rubber strips make it easier to keep hold of a phone. Typing with the Digits on isn’t as fast as using your bare hands, but it’s responsive enough to pull off brief texts and searches without constant typos. The gloves aren’t perfect: They’ll run tight for those with large hands, and they can be susceptible to loose threads. But if your grad is heading somewhere cold and needs to text on the go, they should help.
Instant Pot Vortex Mini Air Fryer
An air fryer is a no-go in many college dorms, but for grads moving into a new apartment, it’s a fast and accessible tool for cooking many smaller meals. Among these, the Instant Pot Vortex Mini is a good option for cramped living spaces that we recommend in our guide to the best air fryers. It’s a two-quart model that takes up very little countertop space, and while it can’t cook a ton of food at once, it can still prepare things like wings, tofu and roasted veggies with minimal fuss. Its controls and pre-programmed settings are all dead simple to operate, and like most air fryers, it’s not a pain to clean. For grads who could use something beyond a microwave, it should make meal time easier. If you’d rather buy something bigger, consider the top pick in our guide, the Instant Vortex Plus.
GrubHub gift card
Here’s a simple one: Regardless of their current culinary skills, your grad is probably going to use a food delivery service like GrubHub sooner rather than later. We’ve yet to find a young adult who will say no to free food, so gifting them a couple of meals is an immediate and practical way to make their early days of independence more manageable.