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Graduation gifts that keep giving after the ceremony

It's graduation time. Let's get one thing straight: Gifts are optional.

So if you receive an announcement from the purported son of your second cousin, twice removed, whom you haven't seen in 20 years, don't feel obligated to shower him with anything other than best wishes.

"A nice, congratulatory card is in order," says Peter Post, author of the etiquette book "Essential Manners for Men." (His great-grandmother Emily Post taught him the rules.)

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But if the announcement is from a favorite member of the class, here are some gifts to celebrate the milestone and help the new graduate once the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" have faded.

Tuition assistance
The College Board reports that the annual tuition and fees in 2003-2004 at private four-year colleges averaged $19,710. Although public college costs a lot less (around $4,694), that's still a big expense. High school grads heading to university certainly will appreciate any help here from friends and family.

But if you're going to do this, give the gift discreetly, advises Jim Miller, dean of admissions at Bowdoin College, a highly competitive (and expensive) private school in Brunswick, Maine. When colleges find out about the financial gifts, either because Grandpa paid the tuition bill directly or deposited the money into junior's account, the schools usually reduce the student's financial aid package commensurately.

"Lucky you, your grandparents gave you $5,000, so we're reducing your scholarship by $5,000," Miller says.

The best way to contribute to schooling costs is for grandparents to hold onto the money until the bill comes due, let junior's parents do the paying and then compensate them. Tax law allows gifts of up to $11,000 per person per year without gift-tax implications for either the giver or recipient. If the grandparents are near the gift-tax limit with the student's parents, Miller suggests that the grad take out a student loan and have the grandparents pay it off before interest accumulates.

Once the grad is settled on campus, he or she will appreciate any of several gifts that will enhance the college experience.

Computer power
A laptop computer is a necessity at many colleges and a nice thing to have at all of them. But don't rush out and buy the one that pleases you. Different colleges have different requirements. A gift certificate that allows the student to pick the one he needs makes the most sense. And, Miller points out, this gift won't affect a student's financial aid package.

Phone home
Buying a phone and paying for an annual calling plan may seem like a luxury, but we're talking about a generation that walks around with cell phones glued to their ears. Some schools even make wired phones in dorm rooms an option because most students prefer cells. Just be sure to choose a plan with free night and weekend minutes, and insist that the deal includes a weekly or monthly call to the giver.

Electronics rule
Your graduate will appreciate a portable DVD player, an MP3 player-recorder or a personal digital assistant. These electronics will help him blend in with the crowd, and a good set of headphones will improve his relationship with his roommate.

Ticket to ride
Being left alone on campus while classmates head home (or elsewhere) during one of college's many breaks is not a college memory anyone wants, particularly during that first year when a student already is facing a lot of adjustments. The gift of a round-trip ticket that your favorite grad can use for a quick trip home or a visit to Grandma's at Thanksgiving can ease homesickness.


-- Posted: May 10, 2004


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