How to Plan a Graduation Party Step by Step

cupcakes on a plate
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Is someone in your life about to graduate from school? It's a significant milestone no matter what the age of the grad. If you're hosting a party for someone, be sure to ask the guest-of-honor how they envision their party. The answer may surprise you. Your graduate may have original ideas for making it a most memorable party. In case you're wondering, it's perfectly fine etiquette to throw yourself a high school or college graduation party to celebrate your achievements. Get started by studying this party planning list and you'll throw an A-plus event.

Determine Your Budget

Figure out a rough estimate of how many people you'd like to invite. Determine how much you'd like to spend on food and drinks per person, plus the cost of the decorations, entertainment, and location rental. You can use an online party budget calculator to help you easily estimate your costs.

If possible, co-host a party and share expenses with two or three families, all of whom have a graduate from a similar school or situation. Perhaps other families will have overlapping guest lists from the same school where it makes sense to blend parties. Though it's a handful to coordinate, the result could be well worth the effort to have a grander party.

Build the Guest List

Now that you have your rough budget and how many people you can invite, start building your guest list. Determine if you or the guest-of-honor want to invite the entire graduating class to attend, a large bash of your closest friends and family, or whether it will be a more intimate family party. It's perfectly acceptable to invite a few special guests to a graduation party, such as beloved teachers, coaches, or other faculty members. It's also up to the host whether or not children of guests can attend.

Choose a Location

Does your grad want a casual backyard party at your home or festivities at a formal restaurant or another venue? There are pros and cons to each type of location. Throwing a party at home may save you money, it's easy to personalize, and it can be a welcoming, comforting place for others to gather. On the flip side, having a party at home is the labor and time that goes into cleaning your house before and after the party.

The advantage of having a party at a restaurant or other venue is the ease of relying on an on-site caterer or planner to handle the details, including the clean-up, which lets you have plenty of time to socialize. The largest drawback is the potentially high cost. Also, you may not have much flexibility on dates for the party since venues are already pre-booked long in advance for the May and June wedding season. Consider booking your party later in the summer when more venues are available. That way you can throw a combination graduation and going-away party before your graduate goes off to college or moves away after college later in the summer.

Pick a Party Time

Timing can be tricky when it comes to graduation parties. May and June are often the busiest months for most families of graduates. Consider throwing a party later in the season to avoid conflicts with other graduation parties. One solution can be to combine a summer holiday with a graduation party when your family might be traveling to get together, such as on Memorial Day weekend, Father's Day, or July 4th. If you must choose a day and time for your party during the busy time right around graduation, expect quick visits from your guests. Consider making it easier on guests in May and June by making your event an open house so invitees can dip in and out.

Choose a Theme and Decorations

A graduation party theme adds a fun touch to your event, as well as help guide your decorating (and menu) planning. Kitschy luaus and simple summer barbecues are popular graduation party themes with food that all ages enjoy. But there are plenty of creative themes for graduation parties, too.

If your graduate is one smart cookie, let it be known with a cookie bar. Or deck out the party in your graduate's school colors for a simple, but striking theme. Add an inspirational touch by framing quotes and advice on achieving success and displaying them on tables and serving areas. Top off the party with graduation-themed decorations such as graduation cap centerpieces and cupcake picks to soda and water bottle tops in the shape of graduation caps.

Plan Your Menu

Your theme and time of day the party takes place will guide the menu. If you're having families with small children, you'll also need food for tots' tastes. Barbecue or picnic foods are perfect for afternoon outdoor soirees. Snacks or desserts (think cupcakes topped with edible graduation candy caps and fruit rolls formed into diplomas tied with strings of licorice) will be ideal for a graduation party at night or an open house party. Create a buffet of food or snack bars, drink bars, and any other type of bar that will give your guests a choice of food and drinks.

Let the Pros Handle the Menu

Even if the party is in your backyard instead of a restaurant, have the best of both worlds by hiring a chef, a local food truck, or caterer. You'll enjoy the festivities without having to worry about the food.

Plan the Entertainment

Entertainment for a house party can include hiring a disc jockey or renting a karaoke machine so everyone has a turn to sing. One essential idea to include for a graduation party in a home or at a restaurant: a photo booth decked out with graduation attire, appropriate signs, and props, plus the graduation year as part of the backdrop.

Send Your Invitations

Depending on the style of your party, the invitations will run from the formal engraved variety to the free digital versions. There's no standard rule on designs for graduation party invites. However, there are a few other rules about graduation invitations to remember: Send graduation announcements and graduation party invitations separately. Enclose directions to the event. And add a "regrets only" RSVP option to streamline the process.