Wondering how to throw events that college students will actually want to attend? It’s time to shift your perspective. Whether you’re an event planner, a professor or faculty member, or anyone else involved in collegiate affairs, these 14 simple yet effective college event ideas are just what you need to boost attendance and engagement.
Whether it seems like it or not, every college or university has students who are looking for active ways to participate in university life as well as the surrounding community. It can be challenging, however, for businesses, organizations, and even university event planners to come up with creative college event ideas that actually work.
The following college event ideas are designed to appeal to students, help connect them with one another, improve their experience at events, introduce them to local businesses and organizations, and much more.
Discover 14 of our favorite college event ideas
1. Host local tours to familiarize students with their surroundings.
Walking tours, bus tours, and even bike tours are fun opportunities for students — particularly freshmen and other campus newcomers — to make friends and get to know the area around them. Highlight popular attractions, restaurants, recreation areas, and local monuments. Invite parents to join during orientation or visitor weekends and include senior students in the tour staff. This will help current students earn some extra income, and they will be able to share personal anecdotes about the area in addition to credible tips from the eyes of a student.
2. Take students on nature tours.
Students who enjoy the outdoors, botany, or conservation will appreciate horticulture tours that showcase the unique biology of their college town. Tour local gardens, pinpoint hiking opportunities, and point out the local flora and fauna. Connect with the agriculture department to teach tour attendees about endangered species in the area and local environmental conservation organizations they can work with.
3. Host “crawls” and provide students with transportation.
We’ve all heard of bar crawls, right? A group gets on a bus and hops around town visiting local bars and indulging. Well, not all “crawls” have to be alcohol-related!
Partner with local transportation services to host museum event crawls, garden crawls, or market crawls. Students love food, so play with the idea of a taco or burger crawl. Highlight “unique eats” in the neighborhood, helping new students find their favorite restaurants while supporting local businesses as well.
4. Create scavenger hunts that involve the campus and community.
There are so many different ways to engage students through local scavenger hunts. An interactive challenge that gets them moving and holds their attention will help students learn about the history of their campus, the unique architecture in town, local businesses, and uncover interesting facts about the city.
When planning your scavenger hunt, include a task that requires participants to ask five strangers to “name their favorite thing about the school.” Include a “find the hidden talent” challenge that encourages competitors to build bonds with other students by unlocking their unique skills. The opportunities are endless!
5. Connect students to local charities and volunteer opportunities.
Host a community service fair to link students up with local non-profit organizations, activist groups, and charities. Teach students about the importance of public service, civic duty, and empower them to take an active role in their community. Drive fundraising with charity events and encourage students to organize their own campus services.
6. Recruit popular speakers or host TED Talks.
Invite philosophers, activists, lecturers, writers, entrepreneurs, and other exciting speakers to visit campus and share their life advice. Survey students to connect with them and discover what they care about most.
Host TED Talks regularly on campus and encourage audience engagement at events. Promote events on social media. Provide potential attendees with a biography of the speaker, their accomplishments, and the unique perspective they bring to the table.
7. Host recurring events that connect students with alumni.
Regularly invite former students back to meet and speak with current students. Highlight alumni who have excelled in their field of study or made notable contributions in their degree field. Include former students who are using their degrees in unique or interesting ways as well. Invite artists, activists, and entrepreneurs. Help current students see the potential that the future holds while they make networking connections that could be beneficial after graduation.
8. Throw an event to kick off a mentorship program.
For many students, college can be an emotionally challenging time. Many students are away from home for the first time and may need an icebreaker to connect with others. Create a mentorship program that connects students with others who have faced and overcome similar challenges or experiences.
Encourage mentorship connections for new students, students in the LGBTQ+ community, those who struggle with addiction or grieving, and so on. Provide support for students who find themselves outside of their social, political, or economic comfort zones. Promote diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality.
9. Teach life lessons or “adulting” classes.
Unfortunately, many high schools don’t prepare students with valuable life skills like budgeting, cooking, basic home repair, or filing taxes. College students are working to evolve into full-on adults, so host fun classes that will teach them applicable skills. Teach time-management skills, budgeting best practices, and help prepare them for future loan expenses. Mastering skills like basic auto repair or home maintenance will help students become more independent.
Have some fun with class topics. You could even host a “dorm room cooking class” that shows students how to make restaurant-quality meals in their microwaves.
10. Help students relax with free de-stressing activities.
Student life can be incredibly stressful. Balancing classes, homework, papers, exams, and for many, a part-time job, can become a lot to handle. Mental health is a vital part of overall health, so engage students with campus-wide de-stressing events, especially during exam seasons. Exercise can be a great mental health booster also. Partner with local fitness instructors to host yoga, pilates, or other creative outdoor events in the park.
If you want to get more creative, consider hosting a “Campus Scream” right in the middle of final exams when tensions are highest. Invite students to gather at a specific time and place to let out their frustrations together. After a countdown, encourage students to scream as loud as they can and release their stress together.
The fitness instructors who host classes will likely pick up new clients. Local cafés can refuel students and soothe their throats after the scream-a-thon. It’s another great way to connect students with local businesses.
11. Host fun, creative, and unique campus sporting events.
Most campuses have your run-of-the-mill sports teams: basketball, baseball, soccer, football, etc. Not all students are sports fans, but most students are fans of fun and are looking to take in interesting and new experiences.
Mix it up by hosting quidditch matches in the park or advertise a community-wide LARPing (live action role play) competition on campus. Seriously, who doesn’t want to watch a bunch of adults in medieval costumes hitting each other with rubber swords? Local businesses can set up tables and sell themed goods.
12. Promote student health with a Student Farmer’s Market.
A recent study from the American College Health Association found that 95% of college students don’t eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables. Not only that, but dorm food usually consists of ramen, pizza rolls, and pocketed dining hall items, and — let’s be real here — the options at the dining hall probably aren’t very healthy either. Many students struggle with food insecurity and would greatly benefit from access to healthy, affordable ingredients. To help combat all of this, partner with local vendors, artisans, and farmers to set up a Farmer’s Market for students.
Encourage students to shop locally, eat healthy, and give them access to fresh, organic foods. Partner with the agriculture and food science departments to teach students about the work that goes into growing their food, environmental factors to consider, and the importance of farming in our society. If you have room, dedicate a spot on campus to a community garden where students can learn how to grow farm-fresh foods first-hand.
13. Host film festivals and student film competitions.
Connect film, theater, art, design, and other departments by sponsoring a student film competition. Encourage students to meet and create their own teams. Provide a 24-48 hour time limit for those students to write, direct, edit, and produce a short film. Screen the films at a local theater or on campus. Invite area critics and choose a panel of judges to pick the winner.
14. Connect with gamers by hosting a student tournament.
Host tournaments for classic and online gamers. Reserve space in a common area on campus and invite students to gather to compete in video game competitions. Schools without an ample A/V supply can host mini-tournaments in each dorm and ask students to bring their own monitors and game systems. Super Smash Brothers, FIFA, and Call of Duty are fan favorites.
Contact local businesses to sell tasty treats or invite energy drink vendors to get the party started. Promote prizes, online recognition, and some serious bragging rights.
Frequently asked questions about college events
How do you get college students to attend an event?
Appeal to what matters to students when attempting to attract them to events. What kind of event are you throwing? Would it appeal to the typical college-age demographic or is your ideal audience a little more specific? Consider marketing to individual departments, clubs, and organizations related to your event. Target outreach to students who are most likely to be interested in the event’s content to both boost your attendance rate and limit the amount of unwanted event invites students receive.
What attracts millennials to events?
Millennials and members of Gen Z feel strong connections to political awareness, community engagement, environmentalism, social justice, activism, and impactful change. Incorporate meaning and purpose into events to appeal to modern students. Provide students with mobile-friendly content and promote events on social media.
How can colleges improve student engagement?
By challenging students, promoting debate, and provoking conversations, colleges can better connect with their students. Schools should ensure that their digital connectivity is up to par by automating student communication, creating online hubs for assistance, and promoting social media use. Furthermore, students should be clearly and regularly updated on when, where, and how to connect with faculty and support staff.
Put these college event ideas to good use today!
Remember, always encourage businesses, event planners, and students to post about the events on social media. Create groups and promote events on Facebook, create catchy hashtags and fun photo opportunities for students to snap and post online. Run online contests with enticing prices and take advantage of social media engagement — one of the primary communication methods for modern students. When events wrap, follow up with students. Post-event engagement will ensure that you continue to come up with unique, compelling college event ideas.
Up next, check out four tips to help university event planners succeed.