The best graduation gifts to buy for 2020

The best graduation gifts to buy for 2020


A thoughtful gift to acknowledge your favorite student’s graduation achievement could go a long way towards lifting their spirits at a time when they’re hunkered down at home without the pomp and circumstance that should have been coming their way through graduation ceremonies and parties.

Though it’s not entirely clear what the next few months will hold, eventually most graduates will find their way back into the time-honored traditions — whether they’re moving into a college dorm room, their first apartment or back in with their parents. Regardless of what the next step entails, or when it comes, this batch of graduation gift ideas, ranging from the unique to the practical to the traditional, is as appropriate for sheltering in place as it is for going out into the world. Whether your recent graduate is a college grad or a high school graduate, you’re sure to find the perfect present for this important milestone among these graduation gifts. Take a look.

Apple

If your high school or college grad needs a new phone, this is the perfect graduation gift: Classic iPhone design crossed with modern Apple brains. Starting at $399, the brand-new iPhone SE delivers killer battery life, a great rear camera and cutting-edge speed — all at an incredibly affordable price (for an Apple phone, at least). That noted, if you’re looking for something even less expensive for graduation — or your grad prefers an Android — check out the Moto G Power, the Google Pixel 3A or another one of CNET’s top grad friendly picks.

Read our Apple iPhone SE (2020) review.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Yes, some restaurants are open for takeout, and others are opening with evolving social distancing guidelines. But home-cooked meals are still the safest bet, and a graduation gift of an Instant Pot can open up all kinds of new possibilities for a new grad. Perfect for any kitchen — or, eventually, dorm room — the Instant Pot does more per square inch than any kitchen gadget on earth. It’s a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker and contraption that can also handle sauteing, steaming, warming — and even air-frying, if you buy the right attachments. And they’re easy to use and clean, fully programmable and dishwasher safe.

Read our Instant Pot Lux 6-in-1 V3 review.

Matt Elliott/CNET

This graduation gift is a complete culinary starter kit for living on your own. Mark Bittman’s foundational text does exactly what it says, providing instructions on how to make everything from hummus to chicken salad to brownies. It’s authoritative, well-written and comprehensive information every kitchen novice needs. It’s the perfect graduation gift for a high school student moving into a dorm or a college kid who’s heading out into the world.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Whether your grad is traveling, working or heading back to school, a high-quality backpack as a graduation present strikes a note that’s optimistic and practical. Peak Design’s tasteful, streamlined bag comes chock-full of removable dividers that let you configure the main compartment however you want. It’s got large zippered panels, tons of storage pockets and a padded laptop compartment. And the whole thing is weather-sealed and water-resistant.

And if you’re looking to really splurge on a great gift, we love the Rhake VX waterproof backpack, which is very expensive but worth every penny. The two-layer weatherproof construction is airtight, the ripstop fabric is lightweight and as tough as nails and the magnetic buckles are a pleasure to open and close.

See the best laptop backpacks.

Stitch Fix

The mall may be closed, but your high school or college graduate will eventually need a wardrobe upgrade. Stitch Fix makes it easy with a monthly delivery of curated clothes, shoes and accessories delivered right to your graduate’s door. Then can try them on, keep what they like and send back the rest in a prepaid USPS envelope. A graduation gift of Stitch Fix gift cards, which can be printed, emailed or snail-mailed, are available in denominations from $20 to $1,000.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The MacBook Air is once again easy to recommend as a great graduation gift for college students and high school grads alike. The brand-new 2020 model starts at $999 — though it’s often on sale for less — and has a contemporary processor, beautiful display and excellent keyboard. One word of advice, though: Spend an extra $100 on upgrading to the Core i5 version.

Read our Apple MacBook Air 2020 review.

Forsake

Every graduate needs a versatile pair of shoes that can straddle the line between work and play. Well, look no further: These are waterproof, stylish and supremely comfortable. A great idea for a grad who will be constantly on the go.

Baloo

A blanket that’s a balm for stress, insomnia and anxiety? Yes, please. Baloo‘s cotton weighted blanket and french linen duvet cover is big enough to cover the top of a queen mattress and comes in two varieties: 15 pounds for $169 and 20 pounds for $189.

See the best weighted blankets of 2020.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If your graduate doesn’t already have these, they probably want them. The ultracompact, lightweight AirPods Pro feature a noise-isolating design that fits most ears securely and delivers top-notch performance for making calls. (If your grad has an Android, check out the Jabra Elite 75t instead.)

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Give your graduate all of the benefits of an e-reader without the distractions of a tablet. For most people, the Paperwhite is hands-down the top Kindle choice. That’s why we awarded it a CNET Editors’ Choice. Just wait until it goes on sale for $100 before you take the plunge.

Read our Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018) review.

Black & Decker

It can take years to acquire all of the tools needed for a household. This 60-piece kit is the perfect gift for this major milestone and will give your graduate a leg up by equipping them with everything they’ll need. You get an 8-volt drill, a hammer, a level, a tape measure and a bunch of wrenches and screwdrivers — all neatly packed into a handy carrying case. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

If a complete tool set is overkill, this combination cordless screwdriver and flashlight covers the basics. It has an adjustable pistol grip and includes both standard and Philips head bits. It’s powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and the LED light can be toggled on and off independently, so it’s good as a standalone flashlight, too. All for less than $30.

A decent video-chatting setup

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

For the foreseeable future, nearly all communication will take place online. Whether your grad is chatting with friends or interviewing for a job, upgrading their video-chatting setup will go a long way. Good webcams are in short supply — but anyone in the class of 2020 should know how to use a tripod, a bright light, a good mic and their phone’s HD camera to assemble a setup that’s ready for primetime. (And here’s CNET’s detailed run down of how to put it all together.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

It’s time to beef up your graduate’s home entertainment options. Roku’s excellent video streamers can turn any HDMI-equipped TV into a gateway to online entertainment bliss, featuring Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, HBO Now and literally hundreds of other streaming channels. The $60 Roku Streaming Stick Plus — an Editors’ Choice — delivers 4K and HDR video in a compact package for an affordable price.

Read our Roku Streaming Stick Plus review.

YouTube TV is the premier cable TV replacement with an easy-to-use interface, a generous DVR and a comprehensive channel lineup. At $50 a month, it’s not cheap — but it’s hands-down the best of the lot. Your favorite college or high school grad will thank you for this unique graduation gift.

Read our YouTube TV review.

Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

Now that nearly all of our shopping happens online, Amazon Prime is a must-have, and it’s a thoughtful gift that goes a long way. A membership offers you streaming video and music services, unlimited cloud storage for photos, 5GB of space for documents and videos, free PC games, discounts at Whole Foods and more. Prime membership costs $119 for a year (or $39 for three months) — but even moderate Amazon and Whole Foods shoppers will get multiples of that in value.

Learn more about Amazon Prime.

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