Is It Okay to Give My Professor a Gift?

Professor and student looking at a device together.

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So you think your professor is awesome. Is it ever okay to give him or her a gift?

You certainly don't have to give professors gifts. A gift is never expected and in some cases may be viewed as inappropriate. For example, if you are a poor student, a gift might be perceived as an attempt to win a professor's favor.

A graduating student (or one working closely, thus developing a collegial relationship, with a professor) may wish to show gratitude for years' worth of assistance by giving a gift, but the gift must be small and inexpensive. If you truly appreciate your professor, you may present him or her with a small token gift. So what can you give a professor that's appropriate?

Give a Card

The most important element to gift-giving is the thought behind it. Virtually every professor cherishes and shows off heartfelt cards from valued students. While it may not seem like much, a card expressing sincere gratitude in writing makes most professors feel like their work matters. We all want to make a difference. Your card will tell your professor that he or she has.

Keep It Inexpensive

If you must present your professor with a gift other than a card, then the rule is that it must be inexpensive (five to ten dollars, never more than 20 dollars), and ideally presented at the end of the semester.

Gift Certificate for Coffee

A gift certificate to your professor's favorite coffee shop is always an appreciated token. Remember to keep the amount small.

Store-Bought Edibles

If you'd like to gift a professor with edible treats as a symbol of your gratitude, seek out store-bought, wrapped treats such as specialty chocolates, a tin of assorted teas, or fancy coffees. A small, wrapped gift basket or mug with coffees in it is a hit with many professors.

Fancy Office Supplies

Binder clips, notebooks, sticky note pads, these are the tools of academia. Both useful and thoughtful, presenting professors with fancy decorative versions of these basic tools can help make daily tasks a little more fun.

Avoid Homemade Baked Goods

While homemade cookies or cakes may seem like a great way to personally express your gratitude, such items are generally not a good idea.

From nuts to gluten to lactose, allergies are a common issue often far too difficult to track these days. More to the point, most professors make it a habit not to eat homemade edibles from students for safety reasons.