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How to Organize a School Prom or Formal

Prom Ideas

Prom Ideas

Formals – High School Prom

Do you know how to organize a school prom or formal? What about a similar event, like a beauty pageant or homecoming dance? I’ve helped out with all of the above, as a teacher, a club sponsor, a pageant director, and as a member of a service club. All these events are more similar than you might think. The details might be different, but they all require similar event planning, creativity, and work. If you’re organizing a prom for the very first time, you’ll have your work cut out for you. It’s a tough job, but it can be very rewarding. Many students look forward to their prom all year, and it’s worth all your time, work, and worry to help the kids realize their prom dreams. Don’t try to do the job alone – you’ll need help, along with some great prom ideas. Perhaps you can benefit in some small way from my experience. Below, I’m going to give you some guidelines for how to organize a school prom or formal, along with some prom planning tips.

Event Plannning

You’ll need to do your event planning pretty far in advance. Unless you’ve done something of the magnitude of prom planning or organizing other formals, you have no idea what all is involved – and what can go wrong. If you plan far enough in advance, there’ll be a much better chance for your high school prom or formal to go off without any major hitches.

Which students are going to be allowed to attend prom? Most high schools include grades 9-12, so will all the students be invited, or just the juniors and seniors? Once that decision is made, you need to discuss some tentative dates. Most schools create calendars at the beginning of the school year that list the major functions of clubs and organizations, so you’ll need to find a date that doesn’t conflict with other big events.

Most high school proms are held on a Friday or a Saturday night, but which of those is best? Personally, I think Saturday is better. If the prom is on a Friday night, many students will miss school that day in order to get ready. If the event is on a Saturday night, the kids will have all day to get ready. Teachers and other chaperones will be more rested, too.

You might want to start thinking about your prom in terms of seasons. Do you want a fall, winter, or spring formal? Many schools opt for spring formals because it allows more time during the school year for prom planning. Also, at our school, fall is pretty booked up with football, and in the winter, basketball is big. Late spring formals give the seniors sort of a “last fling” before graduation.

Prom Ideas - visit party supply stores

Prom Ideas - visit party supply stores

Prom Ideas

You’re going to have to come up with all sorts of prom ideas! Keep track of them, as you never know when you might have a great thought. Whenever I’ve been involved with event planning, I always kept a small notepad and pen with me at all times. When I had prom ideas, I jotted them down. Later, I’d sift through my notes and toss out the bad ideas and add the good ones to my computer file. Sometimes I’d discuss my impromptu thoughts with other members of my team before deciding to keep them or throw them away.

This brings up another point. You need to be in frequent contact with your prom committee. Get each other’s phone numbers and email addresses. Of course, you’ll need to have regularly scheduled meetings, but you’ll need to be able to get in touch with each other between meetings, too.

Always be open to reasonable suggestions, especially those from students. Good prom ideas might come from anywhere, and a student doesn’t necessarily have to be on the committee to come up with a good idea. Parents, administrators, friends, and family members could easily think of some details that you haven’t considered. Don’t be a prom tyrant!

For your own sake, you need to learn to delegate when you’re organizing a prom. If you’re like me, this might be a problem for you. It’s often hard for me to trust others to get the job done, but sometimes I just have to give in, and you will, too. Form sub-committees of students and let each one be in charge of a specific duty. If at all possible, have an adult head each sub-committee. Ask for help from parents and other staff members.

Prom Themes

Prom Themes

Prom Themes

The first thing you’ll need to do with your event planning for proms and formals is to discuss prom themes. You’ll have scores of prom ideas from which to choose, so you’ll need some help. High school students can be pretty finicky when it comes to prom themes, so I definitely suggest that you get some suggestions from the student body. If your school has a prom committee, that’s a great place to start. If you don’t have a committee, enlist the help of another school organization that’s representative of the student body, like student council, for example. Of course, you’ll want some input from teachers and administrators, too.

You definitely need to make friends with other teachers who have organized proms in the past. They can tell you which prom themes have already been used, and which ones were hits and which were misses. Once your group has narrowed down the choices to three or four high school prom theme ideas, you might want to let the entire student body vote on the choices. Hopefully, you can assign the voting to homeroom teachers. If you don’t have homerooms, ask each teacher to allow voting during a certain period in the school day.

Allowing the student body to choose from the list of high school prom themes serves a couple of functions. For one, it allows the kids to have some “ownership” of their prom. It also generates some excitement among the teens. They’ll be talking about the prom and the prom themes for weeks.

High School Prom Theme Ideas - Under the Sea

High School Prom Theme Ideas - Under the Sea

High School Prom Theme Ideas

How do you come up with high school prom theme ideas? The best way is through brainstorming with a group, especially with students. To get the ball rolling, you might want to flip through some prom decorations catalogs. Of course, the students in your prom planning group might already have some pretty specific prom ideas of their own.

I’ll share with you some of the prom themes we’ve used in the past for formals. They include:

All that Glitters

Garden of Eden

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Bungle in the Jungle

Vegas Nights

Evening in Paris

Midnight in Paris

Under the Sea

Mardi Gras

Masquerade Ball

Cityscapes

Luau

1001 Arabian Nights

Here are some other high school prom theme ideas you might want to toss around with your prom planning committee:

  • African Safari
  • Almost Paradise
  • Aloha
  • Ancient Greece
  • A Night at the Oscars
  • A Night on the Town
  • Atlantic City
  • Atlantis
  • A Walk in the Clouds
  • Bali Hai
  • Beautiful Dreamer
  • Big Band Era
  • Big Easy
  • Black Velvet Nights
  • Blame it on Rio
  • Blue Bayou
  • Blue Moon
  • Bon Voyage
  • Brigadoon
  • Broadway
  • By the Sea
  • Cabaret
  • California Dreaming
  • Camelot
  • Candy Land
  • Caribbean Skies
  • Carnival
  • Casablanca
  • Casino Night
  • Catch a Falling Star
  • Cheek to Cheek
  • Cinderella
  • City of Lights
  • Cruise Ship
  • Dancing in the Dark
  • Diamonds and Pearls
  • Disco Inferno
  • Do You Believe in Magic
  • Dragonheart
  • Dreamscape
  • Egyptian Mystery
  • Enchanted Castle
  • Enchanted Evening
  • Enchanted Forest
  • Enchanted Garden
  • Endless Love
  • English Garden
  • European Tour
  • Fairies
  • Fairytale
  • Fantasy
  • Fantasy Island
  • Fifties
  • Fire and Ice
  • Forever Yours
  • French Quarter
  • Gilded Age
  • Glitz and Glamour
  • Gods and Goddesses
  • Groovin’
  • Hearts and Flowers
  • Heart to Heart
  • Incense and Peppermints
  • In the Heart of the Night
  • In the Pink
  • In the Still of the Night
  • Islands in the Stream
  • Italian Villa
  • Jazz Age
  • Jewel of the Nile
  • Kentucky Derby
  • Key to My Heart
  • King Tut
  • Knights and Ladies
  • Legends
  • Lights, Camera, Action!
  • Lion King
  • London Fog
  • Lost Horizon
  • Love is in the Air
  • Love Potion
  • Magic
  • Magic Carpet Ride
  • Manhattan Skyline
  • Mexican Fiesta
  • Midnight at the Oasis
  • Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • Moonlight and Candles
  • Moonlight and Magnolias
  • Moonlight and Memories
  • Moonlight and Roses
  • Moonlight Feels Right
  • Moonlight Serenade
  • Mountain of Love
  • Mt. Olympus
  • Music of the Night
  • New York City
  • Night Magic
  • Ode to Love
  • Old South
  • Once Upon a Dream
  • Opening Night
  • Opera Night
  • Over the Rainbow
  • Paradise Found
  • Phantom of the Opera
  • Pirates
  • Puttin’ on the Ritz
  • Retro
  • Rhapsody in Blue
  • Riviera
  • River of Dreams
  • Roaring Twenties
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll
  • Rock You Like a Hurricane
  • Roman Holiday
  • Romeo and Juliet
  • Sealed with a Kiss
  • Secret Garden
  • Secret Rendezvous
  • Shanghai Nights
  • Shangri-La
  • Sherwood Forest
  • Singing in the Rain
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Space Odyssey
  • Spanish Courtyard
  • Spring Fever
  • Spring is in the Air
  • Springtime in Paris
  • South Beach Sizzle
  • Southern Nights
  • South Pacific
  • South Seas
  • Stairway to Heaven
  • Starry, Starry Night
  • State Fair
  • Summer Breeze
  • Summer Sunset
  • Sunken Temple
  • Sunrise, Sunset
  • Surf’s Up
  • Swan Lake
  • Sweet Nothings
  • Sweets for the Sweet
  • Swingin’ on a Star
  • Swing Time
  • Taj Mahal
  • Tales of the Vienna Woods
  • The Dark Continent
  • The Great Frozen North
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Moon and Stars
  • This Magic Moment
  • Three Coins in a Fountain
  • Tonight’s the Night
  • Those Summer Nights
  • Tradewinds
  • Tuscan Village
  • Twilight
  • Under the Big Top
  • Under the Boardwalk
  • Unforgettable
  • Vampires
  • Venice
  • Walking on Sunshine
  • When I Fall in Love
  • Whispers in the Dark
  • Wild Hearts
  • Wild West
  • Window of the World
  • Winter Idyll
  • Wizard of Oz
  • Winter Wonderland
  • Wishing on a Star
  • Wonders of the World
  • Xanadu
  • Yacht Club
  • Yellow Brick Road
Prom Tickets

Prom Tickets

Prom Tickets

What type of prom tickets are you going to use, and how much will the students have to pay for tickets? Before making this decision, do a little research. Find out how much prom tickets were in previous years, and go from there. Don’t overprice the tickets. It would be better to have 200 kids at $25 a head than to have 50 kids at $50 a head.

You’ll also need to make a decision about free prom tickets. In other words, are you going to allow students to earn their tickets by working? A lot of high school proms do that. Students will have to log in so many hours in order to earn their prom tickets. This is actually a pretty good idea, as you’ll need lots of help and lots of worker bees.

Party Finger Food Ideas

Party Finger Food Ideas

Finger Foods

Finger Foods

Party Foods

Party Foods

Party Finger Food Ideas

You’ll want to serve some party foods at your prom, but choose carefully. The girls are going to be wearing some expensive prom dresses, and they certainly don’t want to stain them. Avoid any party foods that are “messy.” Instead, come up with some party finger food ideas. Make sure they’re easy to pick up and easy to eat. With most finger foods, you won’t have to worry about forks, knives, and spoons, either.

Many of the students will go out to dinner before prom, so there’s no need to serve a full meal. In fact, you probably don’t even need to serve heavy hors d’oeuvres. Stick to finger foods, instead. Some good party finger food ideas might include cookies, brownies, crackers and cheese spread, fresh fruits, chips and dips, canapés, small tarts, filled phyllo cups, olives and cheese cubes on toothpicks, and small sandwiches. In addition to finger foods, you might want to serve some foods on themed party pics. Again, ask for help from parents. You’ll find some that will be more than happy to help out by baking some cookies or brownies. They’ll probably come up with some of their own party finger food ideas, too. By the way, choose party foods that will keep at room temperature – not ones that have to be kept hot or chilled.

You’ll also need lots of punch. Kids can really work up a thirst dancing. Have more punch than you think you’ll actually need. It’s also a good idea to have several punch bowls, in several different locations. This will avoid long lines and punch bowl traffic. Have plenty of ice available, too.

Prom Music

Prom Music

Prom Music

You’ll need some prom entertainment ideas, of course. Since a prom is a dance, music has to be provided. Let the students choose the type of prom music – within reason. Of course, if you hire a live band, you probably won’t have much of a choice as to individual songs, but you can still choose a band by the type of music they play.

Live bands can be very expensive, depending on how popular they are and how far they have to travel. There might be a good student band that’s willing to play for a small fee, or even for free. Our high school prom has used student bands before, but they didn’t play the entire time. They took turns entertaining the crowd with the DJ.

Many proms use DJs as entertainment, and this might be your best bet. They’re usually a lot cheaper than a live band, and you’ll have a much wider selection of prom music and songs from which to choose. Have the DJ provide a good mix of songs, including all the different genres the students enjoy. Be sure some slow dance songs are played!

Prom Photo Backdrops - keep 'em simple

Prom Photo Backdrops - keep 'em simple

Prom Photographers

Prom Photographers

Prom Photographers

Using the right prom photographers can play an important part in your event planning. This is an important night for the students, and they’ll want to remember it through their prom pictures. Find out what prom photographers have been used in the past at your school, and ask if the students were happy with the results.

Once you decide on a photographer, meet with him or her. You’ll need to discuss your theme and the prom photo backdrops. Some prom photographers might have a collection of prom photo backdrops for you to look at, but others won’t. If your photographer doesn’t have an appropriate backdrop, you’ll need to make your own, or have an artistic student do the job. Make sure the backdrop is fairly simple, as you don’t want it to detract from the prom pictures.