This post is all about graduation party checklist and planning.
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You did it! As a soon-to-be college or high school graduate, there’s no doubt that you deserve to be celebrated. After years of midnight study sessions, nail-biting exams, and endless homework, a proper graduation party is in order. And if your next adventure is college, grad school, or a new career, a graduation party is the best way to have one last hurrah with your friends and family - and we've got you covered with our free graduation party checklist.
So, when it comes to graduation party planning, where do you even begin? Party planning requires lots of organization, but it can be a blast when you have all the tools you need. In this post, I’m here to break it down for you step-by-step, from timelines to theme ideas to food recommendations and more. Don’t worry, you don’t have to memorize everything right now–you can download my free printable graduation party checklist and planning guide to have every detail right at your fingertips.
Here is your ultimate guide to graduation party planning, equipped with a graduation party checklist, ideas, and much more.
How do you organize a graduation party? | What to Plan First
Let’s start with the basics!
The first detail you need to consider when planning your graduation party is a date and time. During the busy graduation season, it might be tricky to coordinate around the other graduation parties of your classmates. Check with your friends and peers first to make sure you’re not overlapping days and times.
I recommend going for an “open house” style party that suggests a broad range of time for guests to float in and out. This provides a more flexible structure so everyone is able to fit your party into their schedule. Saturday is also the best day to host.
Next up, determine your budget. Your financial budget is the backbone to your graduation party. Here are a few costs to consider:
Choice of venue
Amount/type of food
Decorations (homemade vs. store-bought)
Invitations (physical vs. digital)
Finally, it’s time to build your guest list. Do you want to invite your whole graduating class? Do you want a more intimate party with only close friends and family? Or maybe something right in between?
This part should be totally personal to you. You should only invite people you feel comfortable around and want to celebrate your accomplishments with. Once you’ve decided who you want to invite, it’s super helpful to write everybody’s name, address, and contact information on a document to reference and check off as you send invitations.
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Find a Location
Now that you’ve covered the basics, it’s time to pick a venue. The location of your graduation party will influence your theme, decor, and food options. Graduation parties are commonly hosted in the graduate’s home, but you can also opt for third party venues or outdoor locations.
Being graduation party experts, we have tons of content to help you with location planning. Backyard graduation parties are an insanely cute and popular option. You can throw a party in your own backyard, or find a spot in a local park, pavilion, or sports field. The outdoor graduation party themes and ideas are endless–picnics, barbecues, s’mores stations, games, and more. Outdoor parties have such a relaxed and airy vibe.
If the outdoor weather doesn’t agree with you, there are so many inside venues to consider as well. Here are a few ideas to think about:
Your house/a friend’s house
Country club or neighborhood clubhouse space
My most popular posts on graduation party locations:
Choose A Graduation Party Theme
Okay, here’s the fun part…time to choose a theme! Theming not only makes your party way more interesting, but it makes the planning process easier. Once you have one theme to work around, it takes less time and energy to decide on decorations, food options, and color schemes. Everything else just falls into place.
If you need some inspiration, a luau-themed graduation party is bound to be a crowd-pleaser. Who doesn’t love tropical drinks, grass skirts, and pineapple garland? This is such a colorful and playful way to celebrate your hard work.
Or, if you’re going for a more rustic look, you can plan a vintage graduation party theme. This creative theme looks like a Pinterest board that’s come to life and will definitely stand out from other graduation parties.
You can curate this theme with wooden sign displays, burlap, globes, book centerpieces, mason jars, and other unique vintage pieces. You can even hunt for decor at thrift shops, which makes the process way more exciting.
Another go-to idea is a taco-themed graduation party. I don’t know anyone who can turn down a build-your-own taco bar. The food will be delicious and the matching decor will be so vibrant and lively.
There are tons of graduation party theme ideas to choose from. Here’s some more inspo:
- Roaring 20’s
- College sports team
- “Smart Cookie” cookie exchange
- Hollywood movie premiere
- Outdoor picnic/bonfire
Here are my top posts on graduation party themes:
Pick a Color Scheme
You can also pick a color scheme as a theme in itself, or in addition to a theme. Sticking with one color palette makes your party feel more cohesive and put-together. You’ll also have an easier time coordinating your decor elements, like silverware, cups, plates, tablecloths, confetti, and streamers.
In the spirit of graduating, you can decorate with the colors of the college you’re graduating from or heading off to in the fall. Some other super trendy color combinations include black and gold, rose gold, and all pink.
Here are our most popular articles on different graduation party color schemes:
Graduation Party Decor
Decor is essential for building your party theme and generating a festive vibe. Even if you are on a budget, just the smallest touch of decor will go a long way and bring your graduation party to life. If you’re unsure where to start with your graduation party decor, start with a table centerpiece. This decorative element will act as an anchor to the rest of your decor pieces and will literally be the center of attention!
There are endless ideas for table centerpieces. Try using mason jars, repurposed champagne bottles, candles, or graduation caps. You can fill your jars and bottles with florals or glitter sticks. Add a personal touch with a photo of the graduate or graduation year tags. There are tons of graduation party centerpieces to find online, like Amazon or Etsy, or you could hunt for individual pieces at thrift stores and create your own.
If your graduation party has a rustic theme, you’ll have a blast with your decor. Rustic party decor is so fun to curate, and mixing and matching pieces will elevate the theme even more. You definitely want to include lots of wood accents, like a repurposed wood pallet or wooden coasters. You can also throw in paper lanterns, tons of greenery and florals, burlap napkins, and glass drink dispensers. Without a doubt, you’ll have the cutest and most creative graduation party with these rustic party decor ideas.
No matter what your graduation party theme is, you need florals. There are so many ways to incorporate flowers into your graduation party, from floral letters to centerpieces to garland. Make sure you pick flowers that stick to your color palette. If you’re planning a party for a college or high school graduate, you can also sneak in their favorite flower to make it more personal and celebratory to them.
If you have a table or several tables at your party, take advantage of the surface area! Tables are so easy to dress up with decor and can add another layer of color and texture to your party. Table decorations are also so affordable and versatile. Here are a few ideas:
Graduation cap confetti
These decor options add a visual pop and touch of elegance for your guests to enjoy while they sit around the table.
Here are our most popular articles about graduation decor:
What is the best food to serve at a graduation party?
Your graduation party menu is a crucial step, but it can also be the most difficult. How do you make sure you don’t run out of food? What food and drink options should you serve so there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy?
Here’s the rule of thumb: provide one pound of food per adult, and half a pound of food per child. It may seem like a lot, but your guests are going to arrive hungry. Your menu should also stick to your theme, but have some extra options on the side just in case. For example, plain foods for picky eaters and kids, or diet-friendly options such as vegan and gluten-free dishes.
I highly recommend going for a build-your-own bar or buffet so your guests can customize their own plates to how they’d like them. This style also allows guests to pop in and out and munch at their own leisure. A go-to idea is a build-your-own taco bar, where you can set out taco shells, ground beef, and toppings ready to be assembled. Or try a fruit station, chips and dips, candy bar, or personal charcuterie cups.
Don’t forget the drinks! Drinks are pretty easy because you can put out a few coolers full of beverages or create a drink station with glass dispensers. But if you want to go the extra mile, you can also make some super cute cocktails or mocktails that fit in with your theme. Go for a classic piña colada for a luau-themed graduation party, or break out some margaritas to pair with your taco bar.
Next up, desserts. The appetizers and entrees are definitely important for a graduation party, but everyone has a sweet tooth! Dessert stations are a crowd-pleaser, but they can also double for decor. For example, design a cupcake display with your college colors or elevate your backyard party setting with a cozy s’mores bar. If you need some more inspiration, I have tons of DIY dessert ideas here.
Our most popular posts on graduation party food and drinks:
What activities do you do at a graduation party?
You definitely don’t want your guests to be bored at your graduation party, so the next step in your planning process is choosing activities and entertainment. Most of these graduation party games and entertainment ideas are DIY and only require a few affordable pieces, but they’ll guarantee that your family and friends have a good time.
If you have an outdoor space at your graduation party, you have to try active games like bean bag tag or giant pong. You can also create yard Twister by spray painting dots on your outdoor lawn, do a ring toss, or get a giant Jenga or Connect 4 board. You can even host a quick scrimmage sports game, which is perfect at a graduation party for guys. There are so many ways to get creative with the outdoors.
You also have to include a photo booth of some sort at your graduation party. Your graduation, whether it be high school or college, is only going to happen once. You’ll want to have tons of photos of your loved ones celebrating you to cherish forever. Plus, it’s a super cute and interactive way for your guests to pass time. Don’t worry, you don’t have to go out and buy a whole photo booth (unless you want to!). I have tons of DIY ideas for Instagram-worthy photo stations at your graduation party.
The last detail to think about is music, which is super easy. If you don’t have a way to project your playlist, you can quickly grab a portable speaker from Amazon to liven up your party atmosphere.You can also build your playlist around your theme or stick with a classic graduation song playlist to fit the mood.
Our most popular posts on graduation party games and activities:
Send Graduation Party Invitations
The last major item on your planning checklist is graduation party invitations. You can invite your guests with a physical invitation in the mail, or send a digital invite. This choice totally depends on your budget and what you think will be the most convenient method for both you and your party guests.
If you decide to mail physical invitations, you can find a third party company to design and print them for you, or have them printed yourself. Printing them yourself at a local printing shop or with your at-home printer is much more affordable, but it all depends on your personal budget.
I love physical invitations because you’ll have a keepsake to hold on to after the fact.
Electronic invites are just as effective and will save you tons of money and paper. You can design them yourself on Canva or have a digital artist design them for you on Etsy. If you need some inspo, I have tons of cute ideas for graduation party invitations.
Your Graduation Planning Checklist
Whew, that’s the gist of it! Now that you know how to get started, you can use my graduation planning printable to keep track of all the details. Party planning can be pretty overwhelming, but this printable is a lifesaver for staying organized and having everything in one place. Download our graduation party planning printable here.
Graduation Party Planning Q&A
How long should a graduation party be?
I recommend having a graduation party last 3-5 hours, with an open invitation so people can arrive or leave at whatever time works for them. That gives you enough time for guests to be flexible, without having the graduation party be so long that people get bored or tired.
What is the best time for a graduation party?
The best time to throw a graduation party is in June or July, after the actual graduation, but before August comes around and many people get busy with vacations and back to school or work obligations. Saturday is the most popular day to throw a graduation party.
How do you plan a graduation party checklist?
A graduation party checklist is essential to staying organized! We have you covered with our comprehensive checklist, which you can download below.
What is a reasonable budget for a graduation party?
There is no right or wrong answer here, I’ve had so much fun at parties on limited budgets, while other more extravagant parties have actually been boring. If you are looking for ideas for planning a graduation party on a budget, check out our post on cheap graduation party ideas.
What should you not do at a graduation party?
Who wants to focus on what not to do? Of course, there is general etiquette like making sure your guests have enough food, but beyond that the most important thing is NOT to stress! You are going to be surrounded by friends and family who want to celebrate, enjoy every moment!
You deserve to actually enjoy your college or high school graduation party. This ultimate graduation party planning checklist will totally eliminate all your stress (which we all know you’ve had enough of for the past four years!) It’s time to let loose and celebrate all your accomplishments with your friends and family. Congrats, you did it!