Gifts to Send Graduates on Their Way

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 27, 2007

Graduations are a big deal in my family. Whether it's for high school or college, everybody makes it a point to send along at least a token to acknowledge the recent grad's accomplishment.

Usually it's just money. And of course, nobody ever complains about a fat check tucked inside a nice card. But if you're looking for a practical gift that's tailored to a fledgling professional, here are a few suggestions:

· Book a session with a career counselor. If there's a recent graduate in your life who seems to be unsure of the next steps, perhaps he or she could use a little professional guidance. Career counselors are often well beyond the budgets of the cash-strapped young adults who need them most, but a session or two with one can make a nice gift from a generous uncle. To search for someone certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors, check out the database at Call a few people in your area and find someone who specializes in young adults. It's not cheap -- $100 to $150 a session is typical -- but if it helps get your grad off to a good start, it's worth the money.

· Launch their work wardrobes. A gift certificate to a good store for work clothing is a thoughtful option. One good suit will serve the new grad better than a closet full of cheap ones. But for somebody living on ramen and wondering how to make rent and looming student loan payments, it can just feel weird to drop that kind of cash on clothes. If you have good taste, offer to join your grad for the shopping trip and make it a lunch date. Another option is to set him or her up with an appointment with a personal shopper. Some upscale department stores even offer such services for free. Ask around.

· Hire a résumé writer . This is good for recent grads who know what they want to do, but need to polish their presentation. Expect to spend about $125 for a basic résumé and cover letter for a young worker. You want someone who frequently works with young adults, not executives. Professional résumé writers are often certified by the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches; the association has a searchable database of its members at (That same association also certifies career coaches, which are often a more affordable option to career counselors, who have master's degrees.)

· Pick up a basic personal finance guide. College grads come out of school with mountains of credit card debt, on top of student loan balances averaging $19,237, according to the 2003-04 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. Because of this, most grads need a guide to managing their money more than they need one on managing their careers. My last semester of college, I was lucky enough to come across a free copy of "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need," by Andrew Tobias. It motivated me to begin saving for retirement early and to aggressively pay down my undergraduate student loans, moves that have paid off tremendously eight years down the road. If I wind up broke in my old age, it sure won't be Tobias's fault. Other good choices for the recent grad are "The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous and Broke," by Suze Orman; "Your Money or Your Life," by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin; and "Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties," by Beth Kobliner. The point is to get your grad thinking about money in a smart way before those paychecks start rolling in (and out); don't beat the grad over the head with the money stuff, though.

And hey, if none of these suggestions appeal to you, you can always offer to make that first student loan payment.

Are you a young worker in your first job who can't decide whether it's time to move on? If so, and you're willing to share your story for this column, e-mail me at Include your full name and daytime phone number. No attachments, please.

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