5 Creative Graduation Gifts

graduation gifts

Congratulations to Marissa and her boyfriend Nick for their graduation from The University of Tampa!

Graduations – for both high schoolers and college students – are significant life events. These moments often bring students to a crossroads. Will a high schooler move on to college right away? What major? For a college graduate—is a job available and will it require a relocation?

Money is universally a “good” gift idea. Gift cards are also great for students leaving academia. But don’t you want to give something special to someone special for such a special rite of passage? My sister Marissa just graduated college in Florida. This is a time to show how proud I am of her success. I want to get creative with graduation gifts!

Time to start cooking!

Time to start cooking!

  1. Cooking classes. Students are notoriously strapped for time and money. Macaroni and cheese and ramen are typical dorm room staples. Learning how to cook from a professional chef is knowledge that your loved one can use for the rest of their lives. Maybe they will cook you a meal in thanks!
  2. Subscription gifts. What is your graduating friend or family member interested in? Forget magazines or book-of-the-month clubs—there are more creative subscription gifts available today than ever before. Gift a monthly or weekly meal. Craft Coffee offers a monthly java surprise. For sweet-toothed graduates: Mouth offers chocolates-of-the-month.
  3. Gym membership. With a new routine and stresses to get used to—you want your graduate to be healthy, right? Give a one-year gym membership and/or one-on-one personal training sessions. Maybe even the new fitness trend of rowing classes. This way they can grow into a healthy lifestyle as they navigate post-academia life.
    decoration gifts

    Offer to buy furniture or decorate the graduate’s new apartment.

  4. New apartment furnishings. If the graduate will be moving—whether a short distance or a long one—offer to pay for moving expenses, a couch, a new bed, or a dinette set. The expenses of furnishing an apartment for the first time can easily exceed a few thousand dollars. Help curb the costs and outfit your graduate’s new home.
  5. Trip. Whether you want to join the graduate or give them the gift of traveling solo to a dream destination—surprising them with a trip after years of study and dedicated concentration is a great way to celebrate their accomplishment. Plus, you can customize a trip specifically for them. Maybe cooking classes in Paris or a guided hike in Nepal?

Spring Break Destinations

Maybe your spring break vacation was already scheduled before your last spring break ended—or maybe you procrastinate and have not picked a destination yet. Either way, we break down a few travel options for you. If you have a vacation booked already you might find something here to explore on your travels there. If you are trying to decide on a last-minute spring break plan, get ready for some inspiration:

europe spring break travel

Spring Break in Europe

  1. Europe. What type of European vacation do you dream of? Rent a car and spend your time visiting chateaus in the French countryside. The small villages in France offer artisanal cheeses and baguettes, and vintages crafted through generations of winemaking expertise. If you want the metropolitan experience, maybe Milan, Italy is more your style. Milan is the fashion capital of the world. (If you enjoyed our New York Fashion Week re-cap, then Milan will knock your trendy polka-dotted socks off.) Milan’s 2014 Spring Fashion Week ends on February 23rd. According to Time Out, “fashions jump from catwalk to clothes rail in weeks.” Just in time for spring break shopping!

    spring break beaches

    Beach time for Rachel

  2. Caribbean. The Caribbean offers hot sun and sandy beaches at a time when most Americans are battling snow and ice storms. All-inclusive resorts can cater to your needs. Look for hopping nightlife, a family-friendly resort, or a couples retreat. Find last-minute spring break deals to Jamaica, Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and the Virgin Islands.

    rave parties

    Looking for a rave and active nightlife?

  3. Mexico. The typical spring break destination for college students is Cancun. Although Cancun is associated with partying students, the city has a completely different side for adventure-seekers. Tours of the jungle, swimming with dolphins, zip lining, swimming in caves—all this is possible just a short distance from where DJs are spinning music poolside!

    Northern California

    Maybe a quiet wine country vacation?

  4. Domestic: Northern California or Florida. If you are not planning to leave the country for spring break, but still want to get away, think about wine country in Northern California. Over 450 vineyards grow in the soil of Napa Valley, and many offer on-site accommodations. Don’t want to vacation without that tropical feel? Explore Key West, Florida. You will still get the great weather, sandy beaches, and palm trees the Caribbean offers without having to leave the country. Rent a sailboat or take a catamaran tour to explore more beaches.
  5. Staycation. If your travel budget is not as much as you hoped for spring break, try a staycation instead. Create your own “Taste of Europe” and dine at a classy French restaurant and take French lessons. This is wallet-friendly and you will have more skills for your next trip to France. Enjoy snorkeling, but miss out on scuba diving when you travel because you’re not certified? Contact your local dive shop and take SCUBA lessons. Once you’re certified you can plan your next trip around an underwater adventure.


Today is a special day for Her Heel Flops!  One of the sister’s celebrates a birthday…Marissa is 22 today and about to take the world by storm!  As you saw in our recent College article, Marissa is just months away from graduating from The University of Tampa (with honors) and embarking on her own journey in this big beautiful world.

Marissa Study Abroad London

Marissa Study Abroad London

As the eldest sister, I couldn’t be more proud of her accomplishments.  It still feels like yesterday, we were awaiting her arrival at the hospital.  As a mother to my own son now, I can relate to the overwhelming joy my mother must have had on February 12, 1992!  An intelligent, graceful, witty and completely beautiful person inside and out.  I am blessed to be able to call Marissa my sister and more importantly, my friend.

Kaylee & Marissa 1995

Kaylee & Marissa 1995

Sisters Naples 2009

Sisters Naples 2009

Marissa & Kaylee Costa Rica

Marissa & Kaylee Costa Rica

Costa Rica 2010

Costa Rica 2010

Always An Animal Lover

Always An Animal Lover

Even At Two!

Even At Two Years Old!

So here’s to you Marissa, on your birthday.  Cheers, with a big, bold, fat glass of Cabernet (or perhaps an Imperial while reminiscing about our Costa Rica days).  I love you more than you will ever know!  (FYI: I can’t help but replay Taylor Swift’s “22” song in my head over and over again and think of you!) xoxoxo

Private or Public: The Struggle of Many ‘Soon To Be’ College Students

by: Marissa – edits: Kaylee

Being an almost college graduate (and I say that with much excitement and anticipation), I find myself reflecting on my college experience.

The ups and downs of the post high school days. The stresses that come along with college: paying for it, making new friends, juggling work and school, enduring a long term relationship, finding my passion (and defining it), and gearing up for my future career. 

As an upper classman about to embark on my own journey in this big bold world, I am grateful, now more than ever, that I chose my school…

University of Tampa

University of Tampa

College is one of the most critically defining moments of our lives, followed perhaps by your career and then for some, marriage (all of which offer significant commitment).  So when I was looking at universities to attend my junior and senior years in high school, it was important for me to stay focused. I had to define my priorities and make note of what I wanted from my school.  It is so easy to get caught up in family recommendations and to be swayed by a best friend’s selection, but to get the most out of your experience and not regret your decision, you must trust your own research and clearly define your goals.  Here are some of the things I considered:

I wanted a university with small classroom sizes

I wanted to experience living in a city (aka cultural experiences, social opportunities and a party scene)

I wanted a school that was known for having strong community relationships and success placing students in internships

I wanted to attend a university with the a respected College or School of Business

Tampa, Florida

Tampa, Florida

University of Tampa

University of Tampa

The University of Tampa:

After countless college tours, researching online, some sleepless nights and applying to schools, I finally found my home at The University of Tampa, a private school on Florida’s Gulf Coast.  For me, it offered the perfect location. In a city, near the beach (bonus), close enough to home but not close enough for a surprise visit from the parents- yikes!
And so my college journey began…

Private vs. Public:

Now some of you may be wondering what is the difference between a private and public university? And though, I may not be an expert on the specifics, I do know a few distinguishable characteristics.

1. Public universities are funded by the government and tend to be less expensive in many states (we’re talking tuition is sometimes half).

2. Public universities are a lot larger than private universities (I’m talking 40,000+ vs. 7,000).  So if you’re not into big “city” type crowds, on campus busing and traveling 30 minutes between classes, maybe you should consider a private school.

3. Private schools tend to have more plush residential halls than public universities.  Again, it all comes down to funding and student/family expectation.

4. Some private universities offer more ‘student work’ and financial aid opportunities for their students (but, of course they cost more so this could be a wash).

5. (In my Opinion) Students receive more specialized attention at private universities due the small classroom sizes. If you went to a big university (you know what I’m talking about), your intro Biology class could be 300+, while at a private university you’re looking at 60 maximum.

6. Students have a greater opportunity (simple supply vs. demand) to land a leadership position on campus with significantly less competition.

7. Students develop more of a sense of community.  You tend to recognize faces and names around campus and the level of social accountability is probably higher.

Fabulous Friends

Fabulous Friends

UT Party - Spartans!

UT Party – Spartans!

Weekend Farmer's Market - Love!

Weekend Farmer’s Market – Love!

Money doesn’t grow on trees:

Such a cliché, but so true.  As we all know, college is not cheap!  It’s no secret, some parents are now concerned about sending their children to college before they’ve even birthed them.  And it’s a shame, that so many people are unable to attend college for financial reasons.  So what can you do to pay for college without creating a mound of debt and preserving your financial integrity post school?  Here are some few helpful tips.  Many I have used to help pay for my education.

Scholarships, scholarships, scholarships! I can’t say it enough. There are so many scholarship opportunities that students lack to take advantage. For example, if you are attending a private school in the state of Florida, there is a grant called FRAG, Florida Resident Access Grant, which gives students a grant for just being a Florida resident! I know pretty awesome right?! Another opportunity for  sunshine state residents: Florida Bright Futures – eligible for both private and public universities in the state of Florida.  Check your state for like kind offerings.  It is also really important for all students (in all states) to apply for FAFSA every year, to see if you are qualified for federal government assistance.

Grants!  You wouldn’t believe what they offer grants for.  It may be the subject you’re studying, your major, the sport your play, your hobby, your online or social media contacts or professional organization affiliation.  There are also grants based upon various social classes, race, ethnicity, country of origin, etc.  This is a great place to start for students who think they’ve exhausted all resources.  Consider this FREE Money and much of it is untapped or under tapped! Check out Peterson’s to search grants.

Loans… Now, I know that word makes us all flinch. But loans in the short term can be very helpful, especially if you are really short on finical stick. The most important thing to remember about loans is to apply for the ones with the best terms post school and lowest interest rates.  Check with a financial advisor for a professional opinion.

Take a leadership position on campus. This is the one area that many people overlook. There are so many leadership roles on your school’s campus, and many of them come with additional grant offerings. For example, I was a Resident Assistant and am now a Head Resident at one of the residential halls at my school. This position paid for my room and board, and provided awesome resume building experience.  Other opportunities consist of having an executive board position on student organizations (some include: student government, student productions, student judicial board).

It's Your Life

It’s Your Life

Clearly, I chose a private university where I was able to thrive with smaller classroom environments, a more intimate community, exciting internship opportunities, great people and an overall, awesome city!  When you choose your college make sure you consider all opportunities and set your priorities. College offers many of the defining moments in our lives and is overall an amazing experience.  Whether you choose private or public, make sure it’s the right one for YOU.  After all, it’s your life!

Stay Beautiful ~ Marissa

FSU Win Wakes Me Up!

While so while many of you may awaken to an alarm sporadically beeping, a child (or three) jumping on your bed or a dog barking, my morning began more abruptly with the sound of college kids screaming and rave music blaring…at 3AM!!! I guess we haven’t had a chance to meet the third sister (as of the time of this posting), so please let me fill you in. Rachel is the middle of our five siblings, the youngest sister of our blog trio and a very Active college student at Florida State University! She is beautiful, quite intelligent and extremely kind. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of her peers viewed her as a threat in some way, but she’s so grounded and fun to be around, she’s hard not to like! More measurably now than ever, at this critical time in her life, she is an extremely hard worker. But, she is very much from the school of thought, work hard, play harder! So when I received this photo of her preparing to go out last night, I shouldn’t have been a surprised by the texts and voice mails that followed!


After all, she is attending, FSU, self proclaimed party school of the south and the Seminoles were at the Rose Bowel and walked away as BCS Champions in a heart stopping game!!! Here is a link to the details, if you’re into the play-by-plays:

ESPN’s take

Then while enjoying my flax seed oatmeal with my toddler, ABC’s Good Morning America shared in the excitement too. There was no chance in escaping the FSU enthusiasm today!

I guess it’s all to be expected. After all, not everyone can boast about that college highlight at a dinner party when in your thirties! I guess the decade between Rachel and I is clearly marked by many things, however, I must say, the way “kids” party these days and the money that goes into the promotion is beyond anything I was privy to in the 2000 era! Here are some of the highlights of her night:
10,000+ FSU students and their tag along, “I promise to do….just about anything to get in” friends party until 3AM.

Not a bad view of the field either, projection screens filled the room.

So here’s to you kids waking up with hangovers and the wiser (perhaps future CPA’s) who aren’t, congrats FSU!  After all, it was a damn good game (and season) to celebrate!

From the mouth of Jameis Winston, “…we’re bringing that swag back.”  I must agree, yes you are!  Enjoy it!