High School Graduation Gift Etiquette

When my little cousin graduated high school, I struggled to find an appropriate gift. These days, high school graduation gift etiquette isn’t clear. If you won’t be seeing them in person, what should you do? And how much should you spend on them? I agonized over the answers, but I didn’t need to. With this guide to high school graduation gift-giving, you can find out what you should give the graduate.


Is a GIft Mandatory?

First, you might be wondering whether or not you even need to give a gift to the high school graduate. There’s no hard and fast rule you can follow to determine whether or not they need a gift. Typically, you need to analyze the situation. 

Before you start, consider whether or not you were invited to the ceremony or party. In this post-pandemic world, some graduation ceremonies are very small. You may not have received an invite to the ceremony, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide a gift. If you received an invitation to a party or get-together after the ceremony, you should still provide a gift.

If you only received a graduation announcement, you’re under no obligation to give a present. According to high school graduation gift etiquette, you should send a hand-written card or call the graduate and offer a congratulations. It’s a common myth that receiving a graduation announcement means you need to send a present.

Consider Your Relationship

When deciding whether or not to give a present, think about your relationship with the graduate. Do you know them well? Even if you only received a graduation announcement, you might want to provide a gift to the graduate if you have a close relationship.

If you know the graduate well and feel close to them, you should send a small token of congratulations. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would you expect a gift from them? As you think about this, remember that the graduate is embarking on a journey to adulthood. They might not have much money and probably don’t have everything they need to go to college or start a new job. 

How Much Should You Spend?

If you decide that a gift is appropriate, you have another difficult decision to make. How much money should you spend on the present? Before you come to a conclusion, think about your own budget. Regardless of your relationship with the graduate, you shouldn’t spend so much money that you can’t afford to pay your bills. 

On the other hand, a $5 gift isn’t always appropriate. If you can afford to spend more and you have a good relationship with the graduate, you should spend more money on them. $50 or even $100 could be more appropriate. Before you decide on an amount, look at your own finances. How much can you afford to spend on the present?

There are no firm rules on spending for graduation presents. What’s appropriate for one person might not be appropriate for another. However, assuming you have an average middle-class income, you can follow these guidelines:

Siblings, Relatives, and Friends

If a sibling, friend, or distant relative graduates from high school, you should plan on spending between $15 and $35 on their gift. You don’t need to get anything too heartfelt because it’s the thought that counts. 

Closer Family and Friends

If you’re particularly close to the graduate, you might consider spending between $35 and $50 on the present. Grandparents, godparents, and mentors usually fall under this category. Because of your close relationship with the grad, you may be able to get a thoughtful and sentimental gift. We like the idea of the Graduation Group Video with special messages from friends and family that can be shared digitally or showcased during a party!

Should You Give Cash or Presents?

When people think about high school graduation gift etiquette, they often wonder whether they should give cash or actual gifts. Once again, there is no cut-and-dry answer. You should make it a point to get the graduate something they will appreciate, and that could be either cash or a physical gift.

After graduating high school, graduates have many financial challenges waiting for them. This is why cash makes such a good gift for graduates. With the money you give them, the graduate can pay for college textbooks, rent, or anything else they need. Depending on their support system, the graduate may need to prepare themselves for cell phone bills or car insurance. Generally, high school grads experience a drastic increase in financial responsibility post-graduation.

The disadvantage of cash is that it’s not very heartfelt. However, you can offset this by placing the cash in a hand-written card or with a well-thought-out note. In addition to giving the graduate something they need, you’re also giving them something memorable.

Gift Cards

If you’re not comfortable with giving cash as a present, you can give a gift card. Gift cards to online marketplaces, grocery stores, and restaurants are all desired by high school graduates. You can choose to be practical and give a gift card for groceries, or be more extravagant and give a gift card for a five-star restaurant. 

As with a cash present, a gift card can seem impersonal. But there are two ways to fix this. First, you could provide a gift card to a place that means something to the graduate. It might be their favorite store or a restaurant they’ve always wanted to try. Put some thought into the gift card and show the person how well you know them.

Secondly, you could include a nice card with the gift card. Write a note that tells the person how proud you are of them or that shows them you care, Take a few minutes to think about what you want to say, and write out a few drafts. When you put time into your writing, it shows.

Other Gifts

Are you opting to give a physical gift? If so, picking the right present can be a little challenging. It’s difficult to know exactly what a high school graduate wants and needs. You can take a practical route and buy a present for their dorm room or new job, or buy something meaningful like a watch or piece of jewelry.

Here are a few other gift ideas for high school grads:

  • Headphones
  • Bluetooth speakers
  • Power banks
  • Laptop case
  • Appliances for a dorm or apartment
  • Travel bag
  • Day planner
  • Photo with frame
  • Personalized key chain
  • Computer
  • Customized jewelry

You don’t need to agonize over what to get the grad. As long as you put thought into the present, they will appreciate it. When all else fails, put yourself in their shoes. What do you wish you had when you graduated high school? What was your favorite gift after your graduation? While the grad might have different tastes than you, thinking back to your own graduation could give you some great ideas for the present.

It’s worth mentioning that flowers are a common graduation present. But you may want to think twice before you give flowers to the grad. Because it’s so common, there’s a good chance the graduate will already be receiving flowers. This gift is also temporary and won’t set the grad up for the future. So, while flowers are nice, you should only give them if you don’t think anyone else will be buying them flowers. Additionally, you should make sure they get the flowers immediately after the ceremony. 

When to Give the Gift

Another part of graduation gift etiquette is giving the gift at the appropriate time. If the grad is having a graduation party and invited you, this is the opportunity to give your present to them. But not all grads have parties. If there is no graduation party, when do you give the present?

There are a few ways to go about this. For one, you can reach out to the grad and let them know that you would like to congratulate them in person. Bring the gift with you and give it to them when you meet. If you live far away from the graduate, you can send them the present through the mail or have a local delivery company give the gift. 

It’s possible to deliver the gift early, but leave a note requesting that the grad opens the gift on the day of graduation. Therefore, they get the anticipation of opening the present and can associate your present with the graduation. 

In this day and age, there are many different ways to give presents. However, you should avoid bringing a present to the actual graduation ceremony. Unless you are very close with the grad, you shouldn’t bombard them right before or after the ceremony. Give them time to take everything in and relish in their achievement. 

Following Through with High School Graduation Gift Etiquette

Now that you know what’s expected of you, it’s time to buy a gift for the successful graduate. If you haven’t already thought back to when you graduated high school, take a walk down memory lane. Do you remember how excited you were to embark on a new chapter in life? Use this opportunity to send the grad off to their future the right way.