How to plan an A+ graduation party in 9 easy steps

Graduation caps are tossed into a blue sky.
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Years of studying, homework, and maybe a few late-night cram sessions have led to this moment—and now it’s time to celebrate! Whether your grad is finishing a postgraduate degree or moving up from preschool to kindergarten, take a moment to honor all that hard work with a party that shows how proud you are of them.

Before you decide if you’re planning a graduation party at home or renting a larger venue, read through this graduation party planning list to ensure your event will go off without a hitch. We’ve also got graduation party invitations, Party Shop décor, and a party-planning timeline that’ll make your event one people won’t want to miss.

How to plan an unforgettable graduation party

Planning a graduation party is a lot like planning any other party. You need a date, a budget, a guest list, a venue, and a cake—don’t forget the cake. However, other graduates are also celebrating their accomplishments at the exact same time, so how do you plan a party that sets your grad apart?

It’s all about the details. Your venue choice, menu selections, and party theme can make your party the can’t-miss event of the season. It may seem like a lot to remember, which is why we’ve narrowed it down to 9 steps that can help you get it all done.

Grad party invitations

Customize our graduation party templates with photos, a school logo, and more

1. Set a date

Graduation parties happen on or close to the graduation date. Guests can even come right from the ceremony to the party venue.

No matter if your grad’s class is small or large, there are bound to be some other graduation parties happening right after the event, as well. Consider scheduling your grad party on a different date from the actual event to ensure more people can come. Once you select the new date, put it on the calendar ASAP.

Tip: Once your guest list is together, send save the dates. May, June, and July are popular times for primary and secondary school graduation events as well as vacations and Father’s Day celebrations, so a save the date will put your event on everyone’s calendar with plenty of time to spare. Graduations during other seasons can also conflict with special occasions, like winter holidays or spring break, so sending save the dates during any season tends to be a good idea.

2. Create a budget

Now that the date is squared away, it’s time to start the second-most important part of your planning: the budget. Decide how much you can spend on the graduation party, and then allocate funds to each item you’ll need.

Factor in:

  • Food
  • Drinks
  • Cake
  • Venue fee, if applicable
  • Décor
  • Gifts for the graduate
  • Tips for servers or vendors

3. Make the guest list

Your event budget dictates your guest list—namely, how long it is. Once you’ve added relatives and close friends, examine your budget to decide how many more guests—like neighbors, extended family, and coworkers—you can afford. Remember that food factors into the cost of the headcount.

Tip: Grads are feeling all the feels—excitement, pride, nervousness, and maybe a little bittersweet sting that a big part of their life is ending, while a new one is just beginning. Consider hosting a joint graduation party with some of their friends, so they can celebrate with their BFFs—and you can split the cost.

4. Pick a party theme and activities

Before you choose your venue, decide on the type of graduation party you’re going to throw. Much of this decision depends on the stage of life your graduate is leaving—and entering.

Possible theme ideas include:

  • Your graduate’s favorite things: movie, TV show, book, sport, character
  • A “look to the future” party themed around the graduate’s college of choice
  • An outdoor party with field-day activities for an 8th grade grad
  • An island party to celebrate graduation and summer
  • A “burn the homework” bonfire on the beach
  • A cap decorating graduation party for high school seniors or college grads (this one should happen before the actual graduation)
  • A “decorate the dorm” party where guests bring college-related gifts for your high school grad

5. Find a venue

There’s a significant cost difference between throwing a small graduation party at home versus renting out a larger venue. Depending on your event budget and your party theme, choose a venue that accommodates your guest list and makes your party feel special.

Popular graduation party venues may include:

  • A home or backyard
  • A local restaurant
  • A dining hall
  • A nearby park
  • An arcade or activity-based venue (for younger graduates)

Tip: Consider unconventional venues as a way to set your graduation party apart. All those restaurants get booked up fast, but fewer people will be bowling, ax-throwing, or renting out a movie theater for their graduation party.

6. Send invitations

If you’ve already sent out save the dates, send graduation party invitations to the people on your guest list 4 weeks before the event is happening.

Tip: Check out our guide on graduation party invitation ideas to set the right tone for your event. With Paperless Post, you can send invitations your way using text, email, or a link on social media or your app of choice. Don’t forget to upload your graduate’s school logo to your invitation for a personalized and professional touch.

7. Select décor and food

Will your graduation party feature a sit-down meal or an appetizer buffet? Plan your menu—and the party décor surrounding it—as the day gets closer. And don’t forget the cap-and-gown-themed graduation cake!

Consider serving:

  • Pizza and soda (for younger graduates)
  • Plated dinners
  • BBQ at a backyard party
  • Tacos from a taco bar or truck
  • Passed appetizers and drinks (for older graduates)

Tip: Gather dietary information on your Paperless Post invitation with Guest Questions and Surveys. If you’re hosting a potluck graduation, ask guests to post on your Comment Wall the dishes they’d like to bring to the party.

8. Choose a gift

While a graduation party can be a heartfelt gift for a student, it’s a nice gesture to give them something else to show how proud you are of them. Pick out an appropriate present for their next phase of life, such as a new suitcase or bedding for their college dorm, or hand them an always-appreciated cash gift for future expenses.

Tip: Pool resources with other family members or guests to give the grad a larger gift. Consider gift certificates to restaurants near their new college or home, or offer your time to help them move into their new place.

9. Enjoy the big day

After you’ve teared up at the ceremony and hugged your graduate in their cap and gown, it’s time to party! Thanks to your planning, all the details are set and ready to roll so you can sit back and enjoy this important milestone.

Tip: If you’re having the party directly after the graduation ceremony, have someone else there to coordinate the party in case you can’t get there right away. This can be a party guest, a loved one, or a spouse who runs things until you and the graduate can make an appearance.

The ultimate graduation party planning checklist

A checklist explains the steps of preparing for a graduation party, as outlined in this article.


Typically, you’ll know the graduation date at the beginning of the school year. Use that date to help you organize your graduation party planning list and timeline. From six months before graduation to the hours before your party, we’ve organized the major steps for planning a graduation party in one easy checklist.

3 months before the graduation party

Graduation’s getting closer! For summer grads, February or March is a good time to make a few party-planning moves. If the graduation is happening during another time of the year, use this part of the checklist three months before the big day.

  • Choose the date: Will you host it on the same day as the graduation, or will it take place on another day?
  • Set a budget:  This shouldn’t break the bank—go for something that feels comfortable and celebratory.
  • Make a guest list: Consider out-of-town guests and whether they’ll need to make travel and hotel arrangements.
  • Select your venue: Get your party venue booked before the other graduating families make their reservations.
  • Design your invitation and add a custom URL: Now is a good time to choose and customize your invitation template.
  • Schedule a photo shoot: Book a graduation photo session for images that you can use in your graduation party photo invitations (and hang on your wall, too).

6 weeks before the graduation party

Your graduate has probably already applied for graduation and is waiting for their cap and gown to arrive. When it comes to their graduation party, two months before the big day is a good time to:

  • Send your graduation party invitations: Invitations should go out 4-6 weeks before the graduation party. Request that guests RSVP 1–2 weeks before the party to give you ample planning time.
  • Finalize the guest list: Who’s on the must-see, must-attend final guest list for your party?
  • Book a caterer: If you’re not making your own party food, find a caterer or additional vendors now.
  • Order your graduation cake: Graduation cake decorations are not required (but highly recommended).

1 month before the graduation party

The last few weeks before graduation are a flurry of activity and plans. Stick with your graduation party planning checklist to make sure your event is on track. When your graduation party is a month away, it’s time to:

  • Check on your budget: Make sure you haven’t gone over your spending limit and that any unexpected costs will be covered.
  • Start planning your graduation gift: Before the end of the school year, take a moment to research a gift your graduate will really enjoy.
  • Order a graduation lei or bouquet: A local florist can fill this order right before you need it on graduation day, but they’ll appreciate knowing how many leis or bouquets they’ll need to supply when the time comes.

1–2 weeks before the graduation party

Your graduation party’s just around the corner, but thanks to your earlier preparation, you’ve got this under control. Use these last few weeks to get the final details in place.

  • Check on RSVPs: If guests haven’t responded to your invitation, follow up with them to see if they can make it.
  • Finalize the headcount and menu: Once you know how many people are coming to your party, get that number to your venue or vendors. Let them know whether any guests have dietary concerns or allergies. If you’re cooking the food yourself, create a timeline for food preparation.
  • Shop for decorations: Graduation-themed décor hits the stores in late spring, so take this opportunity to shop for the supplies you need to decorate your party space. Paperless Post Party Shop has timeless décor that’s perfect for any type of graduation party.
  • Shop for supplies: For parties hosted at home, now’s a good time to gather ingredients and other items you need to prepare your party food.
  • Write your graduation toast: It doesn’t have to be overly sentimental, but a few sweet—or funny—words about the graduate can be a special treat. If the guest of honor is more private, write your message in a graduation card.

1 day before graduation

Finalize all your party details the day before so you can enjoy the graduation—and party—itself. Your final checklist should include:

  • Meal preparation: If you’re hosting at home, make as many of your refreshments in advance as possible.
  • Decorating: For parties that immediately follow the graduation ceremony, decorate your party space before the ceremony begins to save yourself time—and stress.
  • Pick up the cake, balloons, leis, and other supplies: Find space in your refrigerator—or at your venue—for your cake so you don’t need to pick it up mid-party. Pick up items you’re bringing to the ceremony—including balloons, leis, or bouquets—in advance, as well.

After the party

You’ve hosted an amazing, emotional, unforgettable graduation party to send your loved one into the next phase of life. But what comes next?

  • Send thank you cards: Have the graduate choose and send graduation thank you cards to party guests and well-wishers who sent gifts or congratulations.
  • Take a break: Whether it’s first grade, junior high, high school, college, grad school, or the real world, the next step is a big one. Enjoy some time with your graduate before they move on.
A black and gold online invite with a photo of a young man in graduation attire with an animated swinging tassel and the words ‘swing by for a party'
Swing By” Flyer by Paperless Post.

Let the party commence with Paperless Post

It may feel like a graduation party is a farewell, but it’s really a welcoming event as graduates start the next part of their lives. Paperless Post has everything you need to plan the big day and stay in touch with graduates long after they toss their caps into the air.

If you’re not hosting a graduation party, peruse our collection of graduation announcements so you can still let loved ones know about your grad’s great achievement. Our guide on graduation announcement wording takes you through the steps and etiquette of sending these cards out, no matter where life takes your grad next.


Hero image via Venor