75 Homecoming Planning Tips and Ideas
Donning your school’s colors for a weekend of college pride is a yearly tradition at Homecoming. Try these tips for current students and alumni alike to plan for a fun fall gathering that also has the potential to give back to your school — and make some new connections along the way.
All Float On
- Pick a Theme – Unify your parade with a yearly theme that relates to Homecoming. For instance, you could ask participants to draw inspiration from a year in the past — such as when a certain class graduated 50 years ago.
- Award Prizes – If you’re an event organizer, drum up hype for parade participation by awarding prizes in categories such as “best theme” or “most creative costumes.” See if the alumni association or a local business will sponsor gift cards or make a donation to a charitable cause for the winners.
- Hit the Net - Social media sites are a treasure trove of ideas for parade float themes. Search hashtags with your team's mascot (try #gotigers or something similar) to see what other schools have done.
- Brainstorm – If you’re creating a float, decide what direction you want to go. Will you include a larger-than-life version of your mascot? How about pop culture-inspired, like a "KISS the Eagles goodbye" slogan featuring a Papier-mâché Gene Simmons? Consider a variety of ideas and think about their visual potential.
- Step Away from the Pomping - Colorful paper and chicken wire might be the backbones of float making, but feel free to incorporate other materials. For example, use chain-link fencing to create a "pound" full of stuffed animal versions of your rival bulldogs. However, if you're entering your float in a school-wide contest, make sure you know what materials are allowed.
- Commit to the Theme - Once you've picked a theme, go all in — including costumes, flags or whatever else you need for people to walk alongside your float. Creating a Wizard of Oz float? Dress your walkers up as flying monkeys. Using that pound idea from above? Get your float builder a dogcatcher costume.
- Don't Neglect Pulling Power - Remember you'll need a vehicle that can haul a trailer that's heavy with all the trappings of your float — and a responsible driver to get it to the parade starting line on time.
- Don't Burn Out - It may sound obvious, but keep open flames (including cigarettes) far, far from the float. Anything with that much paper on it is a tinderbox waiting to ignite.
- Plan for Clean Up – Parades can be a great way to encourage school spirit, but they can also be messy. Organize volunteers to pick up trash and debris afterward.
Organize a Homecoming committee with an online sign up. SAMPLE.
Show Some Spirit
- Check the Schedule - Many schools host a "spirit week" leading up to Homecoming, and it can include costumes, pep rallies and philanthropy events designed to get you hyped up about your school. Look online to find out what your university does, and make plans to participate in as many as you can.
- Plan a Service Event – All of those extra bodies on campus make it an ideal time for community service-oriented groups to plan a volunteering event. Whether it’s packing meals for local students or a charitable 5K run, use the long weekend for some good works.
- Publicize – People won’t just naturally gravitate toward your event with so many options out there. Create social media posts, send out formal invitations and keep reminding current students and alumni about the festivities in your email newsletter to improve turnout.
- Book a Concert - Many schools put on Homecoming concerts that feature everyone from local startup groups to national acts. Student organizations may also bring in singers and bands on Homecoming weekend. Find out what group spearheads this effort if you want to lend a hand. It can also be great experience planning an event to prepare for post-grad life.
- Create the Music - If you're an aspiring musician, Homecoming can be a great chance to bring your music to a wider fan base. Check with talent managers at local bars or social coordinators for Greek organizations to find out who's looking to book an act.
- Cast Your Vote - If your school elects a Homecoming king and queen, be sure to research ahead of time to see who's running, how and when to vote. Candidates will often have social media pages featuring platforms, talents and other information that will help you decide whom to support.
- Get Royal - Think you have what it takes to be Homecoming king or queen? It might not be the popularity contest you remember from high school — in college it's often based more on meaningful platforms and ideas to improve your school. Find out ahead of time how to run, and rally your friends for support.
- Create a Thoughtful Platform – Decide you have what it takes to be king of queen? Choose a cause that truly matters to you and relates to your life experiences or career aspirations. Then make sure you can really deliver on any promises you plan to make in your platform.
- Get Traditional - Homecoming is a great time to educate yourself about your school's traditions. Talk to alumni or professors who have been around for a while to find out how students at your school celebrated Homecoming in the past and which traditions have stood the test of time.
- Learn the Chants - If your college has a fight song, take the time to learn the words so you can scream it in the stadium alongside thousands of your closest friends. Ditto for chants and the alma mater song.
- Paint Up - Up the ante or a traditional team T-shirt by painting your face (or your whole body) in your team's colors.
- Do it Carefully - For body painting, you'll want to avoid acrylic paints in favor of something water- or alcohol-based that's safe for skin. You'll also want to test the paint on a small patch of skin to make sure you aren't allergic first.
- Pick the Menu - You'll want foods that are easy-to-eat and that will hold up outdoors for a long period of time. That means skip the spaghetti in favor of pigs-in-a-blanket or classic staples like hamburgers and hot dogs. Don't forget the condiments!
- Get Creative for Dietary Restrictions - Just because someone in your group needs to avoid gluten, meat or something else, doesn't mean you can't have great traditional tailgate food. Search online for inspiration such as grilled sweet potato fingers or vegan chili.
- Spot the Perfect Spot - Check your school's rules to see how far in advance you can reserve your tailgate spot. And be prepared to get there early. At some schools, the tailgate lots start filling as early as five days before the big game.
- Get it Made in the Shade - A tailgate tent can be a worthwhile investment if you're in a hot and sunny climate (or if it's likely to rain). Go in with several close friends to purchase one or see if you can rent or borrow.
- Warm Up - For those who live in colder climates, Homecoming could fall on a weekend when the temps are dropping. Consider bringing items to warm everyone up, like portable space heaters and hot cocoa. If your school's tailgating rules allow it, you could even bring a fire pit (just make sure it's fully put out before you leave for the game).
- Have a Seat (or Several) - Be sure to bring tailgate chairs to avoid spending the entire day fighting for a spot on the literal tailgate of someone's truck. Large coolers also provide a great spot to sit (if you're prepared to stand up occasionally when someone needs to grab a drink), but make sure to have a plan for where you're going to put everything when the game starts —particularly if you have to walk a long way from your tailgate spot.
- Plan Activities - If you're planning to tailgate for several hours before kickoff, you'll want to organize some fun activities to keep your fellow tailgaters occupied. Think cornhole (beanbag toss), horseshoes or even card games.
- Bring the Indoors Out - If you're good with technology (and not afraid to haul some electronics), you could even set up a television to watch other games from around the country.
- Reach out to Alumni - You're likely to meet a few at nearby tailgates, and that casual conversation could turn into a real networking leg-up after graduation day. If the conversation turns toward future plans, don't be afraid to ask for a business card to stay in touch.
- Clean up as You Go - You don't want to leave your area — and as a result, your campus — looking junky. Be sure to bring enough trash bags to clean up after the tailgate is done.
Coordinate Homecoming volunteers with an online sign up. SAMPLE.
Get In The Game
- Brush up on Your Team's Record - Whether your school's undefeated at this point in the season or you're hoping this will be the first game in the next winning streak, the Homecoming game is still important to your school's record. If you're not the sports trivia type, talk to a football-minded friend about what the game could mean for the rest of the season.
- Check the Weather - Mother Nature can wreck your game day if you aren't prepared. Check the hour-by-hour forecast to make sure you're ready. Is it going to start raining at halftime? Better bring a poncho. Temperatures above 90 degrees? You'll want to hydrate and pack some sunblock.
- Be Prepared - Don't wait until you get to the stadium gates to check for your essentials like student ID, tickets and cash. Make sure you have all your stuff before you leave the tailgate spot, and keep it somewhere safe and contained like a wallet or a purse — not a loose, open pocket.
- Bring Spirit Gear - Some schools provide shakers and noisemakers, but you might want to bring your own just to make sure you've got one.
- Know the Rules for What You Can Carry in - Many schools have beefed up security measures and have strict requirements about what you can and can't bring inside the gates — right down to what size of purse women can tote in. Check your school's website before you get to the gate to avoid any unwelcome surprises.
- Snag a Seat - Depending on your school's record and enthusiasm for the game, the stadium might be filled to the brim half an hour before the game. Find out when the gates open and consider getting to the stadium early to make sure you'll get a seat in a prime location.
- Be Courteous - Clever signs and banners are fun, and they might even get you on TV (hi mom!). But don't hold them up during big plays or other times the people behind you might need to keep their eyes on the field.
- Watch the Halftime Show – Homecoming halftimes are often extra special — whether it’s honoring revered alumni, a pumped-up performance by the marching band or the Homecoming court presentation.
- Stay Until the Clock Runs Down - Homecoming games are often against puff opponents, but even if your team's winning by 30 points at halftime, resist the urge to pack it in. It looks bad for the home team if the stands are empty during the third and fourth quarter, plus you never know how the game's tide could change.
Before You Arrive
- Offer Discounts – If your Homecoming isn’t usually a sellout, offer incentives for tickets or other event packages for those who commit to coming early.
- Departmentalize - Find out if your degree's department is hosting a tailgate or reunion for Homecoming weekend, and if so, make plans to attend.
- Organize - If your department isn't hosting a tailgate or similar event, take the initiative to organize one. It'll be a great chance to connect with other alumni. Make sure to send out invitations at least several months in advance.
- Pick and Stick to a Theme - If you're the one organizing a department event, pick a fun and easy theme everyone can participate in to make it a hit. You can keep it simple like "everyone wear orange" or go elaborate by handing out tiger ears and tails to each person who comes into the tailgate tent.
- Embrace Signage - Be sure to hang a banner or use some other marker so other former students from your department will know which tailgate area is yours.
- Give Back – Invite current students from the department or your group to share their stories with alumni. It’s a great time of year to get people thinking about giving back to the university — either through time/advice or a monetary donation.
- Organize a Meal – Tailgates are fun, but they aren’t necessarily the best outlet to reconnect with serious conversation. Organize a breakfast or dinner the day before or after the game either on campus or at a favorite off campus haunt.
- Jog Your Memory - If you're not that far removed from your co-ed days, you can scour social media and even old email accounts to remember what you were doing (academically and socially) back in college. Then you'll be prepared with anecdotes for the weekend.
- Join Your City's Alumni Chapter - Ideally you will have done this months before the game because alumni associations can offer great perks to their members and may even host road trips to the games.
- Strategize - How do you want to buy game tickets? Directly through the school? A third-party website? Scalpers the day of? If you don’t get back often, think about splurging for the good seats.
Kick it Old School
- Bring Throwback Photos - There's no better time to break out old yearbooks, photo albums and other mementos of the good times you had in college.
- Squeeze into Your Old Duds - Still have T-shirts and sweatshirts from your college days? If they still fit, rock them at the tailgate and the game. If they don't…
- Let Your Kids Wear Your Old, Too-small College Gear - Throwback fashion is all the rage these days, so you may even get cool points with the kiddos.
- Bring the Kids and Grandkids along - From the tailgate to the game, they'll be excited to experience the campus their family once called home. And your college friends will be excited to meet your offspring.
- Rally the Troops - Use social media, email or good old-fashioned invitations to get your crew back to campus for the big game. You'll have more fun if you're with your old pals. Genius Tip: Send invitations to alumni friends and collect RSVPs using SignUpGenius.
- Head to the Old House - Make plans to visit your old homestead — whether it was a sorority house, a dorm or off-campus housing — and see whether the years have been good to it. You might even get invited to party with current students.
- Recreate Old Photos – Recreate the images that have become iconic in your family or friend group. Of course, now you'll likely take them with your phone (and the quality will be better — although they may feature less hair and more wrinkles).
Plan a Homecoming gathering for your department with an online sign up. SAMPLE.
Network Like a Pro
- Honor an Alum – You can improve the draw of your event by recruiting someone notable in the field to give a brief talk or presentation. People will be happy to get a chance to learn something while they catch up.
- Be a Card Shark - Make sure to bring your business card to the tailgate and any other alumni events you attend on Homecoming weekend. You never know when you'll meet a potential business associate.
- Research Ahead of Time - Scour your school's alumni magazine and social media to find out what people have been up to since college.
- Bring Props - If you're in a creative industry, you can bring photos of your designs or clips from magazines to show others what you've been up to. No matter what field you're in, you can take a moment to reflect on big projects and other achievements from your career so you'll be ready to tell everyone what you've been doing.
- Reach Across Generations - Even if the other alumni at your department's Homecoming event are significantly older (or younger), don't be afraid to strike up a conversation. You never know what someone might be able to offer.
- Keep Records – If you’re in charge of a department or campus group, ask people to sign in for your event and provide current contact information so they can stay in the know throughout the year.
Make Your Way Around Campus
- See What's Changed - Campus has likely changed since you were in school. Be sure to check out the new residence halls, student life centers, etc., and resist the urge to tell current students how much better they had it than when you were there.
- Hit the Old Watering Hole - If your college haunts are still standing, go have a drink for old times' sake. If not, check out the new restaurants and bars that have taken their place (and be prepared to grouse about how they're nowhere near as cool as the places you remember).
- Do Something New - Did you spend four years at school without ever playing the local golf course? Touring the local museum? Homecoming weekend is a great time to see parts of your beloved college town with new eyes.
- Hit up Your Favorite Eateries - Order your favorite meal from back in the day to see if it still tastes exactly the same. And no calorie-counting allowed.
- Look up Old Professors - Take the time before you get to campus to reach out to professors who had an impact on your college experience and ultimately your career. They'll likely be excited to meet up with you when you're in the neighborhood.
- Get Comfy - In the old days, you may have stood for all four quarters, but your knees and back may not be bleacher-friendly at this stage of your life. There's no shame in purchasing a comfy stadium seat or bringing in a cushion to make sure you won't be too stiff to keep the celebration going the next day.
- Sit in the Student Section - If you want to feel nostalgic, take a spin by the section with current students, but be ready for a rowdier atmosphere.
- Make New Friends - The people in the seats around you could be fellow alumni and potential future colleagues — don't be afraid to strike up a conversation.
- Show Some Spirit - You're never too old to wear face tattoos, wacky wigs or other crazy spirit gear. Show these young bucks what a tried and true fan looks like.
- Help the Kids Understand the Game - If you brought your kids or grandkids, be sure to help them understand what's going on in the game. This will help keep them from getting bored, and may kick off a lifetime of sports fan-dom.
- Get on the Field - Many schools offer opportunities for alumni to tour the stadium and get on the field before or after the game. Talk to your alumni association to find out if that's an option for you.
- Sit Back and Relax - Enjoy the game like you were 21 again! After all, you won’t have a chance to celebrate like this again — until next year.
Whether you’re creating new traditions or reliving ones from college days past, plan ahead for a Homecoming weekend you’ll never forget.
Sarah Pryor is a journalist, wife, mom and Auburn football fan living in Charlotte, N.C.