Great grad gift ideas… Tis the season

I always believed that Hallmark was responsible for creating June’s catchy marketing moniker “Dads and Grads.” Just as Father’s Day gifts have thankfully moved beyond standard-issue ties, so too, can graduates expect something more creative than a Cross Pen or an over-sized dictionary.

Grad gift choices often come down to the basic question of “needs vs. wants.” Should you be practical and purchase a personalized laundry bag or get them noise-cancelling headphones?

If you’re feeling the urge to splurge, you can celebrate your grad with pomp and fanfare  Here are a few suggestions for less traditional graduation gifts:

  1. Air mattress. “Have air mattress will travel/have air mattress will be a fabulous host!” Sleeping bags are so yesterday, and it’s uncomfortable sleeping on the floor. Students are used to cushy beds, and pop-up air mattresses are a great dorm room addition. The upscale ones have USB ports to charge electronics and even let you choose your desired comfort level; “plus, medium or firm. Prices range from $50 to $250, and they are available at multiple retailers.
  2. Personalized bobbleheads in graduation attire. This is probably my favorite gift idea for the right person. These customized bobblehead dolls are a great desk or car decoration. $119.00 at
  3. Indie movie of the month. Make their dorm room the go-to movie theatre. You can purchase a package where they will get sent a new film each month via DVD or streaming. can choose from a wide range of independent and foreign films. $100 to $175 at
  4. Personalized LP record. Made from a recycled – or as the website describes, an “upcycled”–  vinyl record, this is a truly personalized gift. You get to choose one of two retro stylings and the name of the LP, along with up to five songs that are meaningful to the graduate. The LP is suspended between two pieces of glass in a floating frame. $150 and up at
  5. Gift cards, pre-paid credit cards and digital subscriptions. Let’s be honest, this is what students really want. As impersonal as a Starbucks gift card is – and it is – you know they’ll enjoy it. The pre-paid credit cards from Visa, Mastercard and American Express are great alternatives to the standard graduation check. You can also make their dorm room “the place to be” with a digital subscription to Netflix, Amazon, HBO Go, Hulu or Pandora.
  6. ZipCar Membership. ZipCars allows students to rent cars for a few hours or a few days. This is an especially great gift since so many colleges don’t allow freshmen to have cars on campus.

Best gift ever: Brenna Martin from Kenly, North Carolina, received the famous Dr. Seuss, “Oh The Places You’ll Go,” as a graduation gift from her parents. But it had a surprise twist. They had purchased the book when she was in kindergarten, and each year they asked her teachers to share their thoughts throughout the book. They were somehow able to keep this a secret for 13 years. Brenna was so touched by her gift that she posted her thoughts online and received more than 25 million views. She and her parents were guests on the Today Show, and now many other parents are following in their footsteps and doing the same.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: