Rewards and incentives can be powerful tools when used with students in the right way.
Recognizing students for their effort and hard work is a great way to retain students in their work study or student leadership positions.
What makes a great reward or incentive?
A little thoughtfulness can go a long way.
Inspired by student affairs professionals who mentor, supervise, and manage amazing students, we brainstormed a few awesome ideas – 100 to be exact.
Below are 100 ways to reward students, which you can easily implement in your department or office. Some are free and some aren’t, but no matter your institution, we’re hopeful that you’ll find ideas that fit your needs.
1. Handwritten note
It’s now considered old school, but snail mail is one of the most effective ways to appreciate another person. It can be a simple card (dollar store, for the win) or a post-it note. Go the extra mile by mailing it to them.
2. Make a donation in their name
Find out their favorite charity and tell them you’ve made a donation in their name via a card or email.
3. Healthy snacks
Please no more pizza.
4. On-campus sporting event tickets
Do the thing, win the points!
5. Meal delivery service
For students who especially love to cook and who have access to a kitchen, Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, or another meal service can be a fun choice! These companies bring fresh ingredients directly to your door. If ordered, make sure students keep a lookout for delivery.
6. Lunch or dinner, on you
Getting students off-campus for a little bit can make a world of difference. Encourage them to experience the local fare.
7. Paper plate awards
The best impromptu award ceremony ever.
Office plaques are a great way for students to leave their legacy and connect with the former student workers or leaders who came before them.
9. Appreciation videos
Videos for students can be both a fun and creative process. Try iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, or this awesome website called Tribute where you don’t need video editing experience to create something meaningful.
10. Custom coffee cup
They can show off their reward first thing in the morning.
11. Gym membership or favorite workout class
12. Movie tickets
Who doesn’t like a good movie? Make sure also treat students to popcorn.
13. Front row parking spot
They’ll have no reason to be late.
14. Host brunch in the office
Foodie = brunchie.
15. Netflix, Hulu, or Spotify subscription
Commercial-free entertainment sounds and looks best when it’s a gifted subscription.
16. Uber or Lyft credit
Students occasionally need rides. Particularly for first-year students who may not have a method of transportation, gifting them ride credits is a great way for them to explore the local community. You could also set up a promo code for students to use over a weekend.
17. Custom cardboard cutout
Help students remember a special moment with a life-size cutout of themselves.
Connect students to mentors who have similar or shared interests on campus.
19. Half-day shadowing
This may not be feasible for every job or responsibility, but allowing a student to shadow select student affairs jobs could be meaningful and fun.
20. Volunteer in the community
Make it a fun once-a-semester outing with a different student selecting the volunteer site each time. Plus, be sure to ask them to recruit a team of peers to join!
21. A journal
22. A leadership book
This is something that students can pass onto their friends or peers, which will help them change their current mindsets or navigate their future careers.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek is a book and TED Talk aimed at inspiring a growth mindset. Additionally, The Niche Movement by Kevin O’Connell helps seniors navigate their transition into post-graduation life.
Many students are passionate about health and wellness, and love moving. You can find small, refurbished Fitbits that aren’t too pricey.
24. “Get out of work free” pass
Let student employees use this pass for a day off, anytime they want, without it subtracting from their allocated number of sick days or mental health days.
25. Pay for their laundry
Set up a time with a local laundry service to pick up your students’ clothes and have them washed, dried, and folded.
26. Reusable water bottles
Staying hydrated is so important for overall health.
27. Student of the month
Create a wall of fame to pique the curiosity of anyone passing by.
28. Have their palms read
This offbeat activity can be surprisingly fun.
29. Custom sticker
Create a custom sticker, label, or magnet with your student’s face, a motivational quote, or an inside joke on it.
30. LinkedIn recommendation
Express appreciation while boosting their career potential.
You can never go wrong with college or university swag. What a way to showcase campus spirit!
32. Local art show
This is perfect for students who appreciate the arts. Museums, exhibits, and historical lectures are great ideas, too.
33. New office equipment
Perhaps your students would appreciate soft pads for wrist support or ergonomic mouses. Ask them what would make them most comfortable. This is a great way to show students (and employees) that you care about their physical health.
34. Tell everyone it’s their birthday
And celebrate like it is.
35. Coloring book
College life can be stressful. Coloring is a fun form of art therapy — yes, even for adults.
36. Pay for their books
Nope, that’s not a typo. Books can be one of the most expensive parts of attending college, especially if the book is the newest edition and they can’t find it anywhere else for an affordable price.
38. Give them a toy ship and write “leader” on the side
39. Write a thank you message in sidewalk chalk
They will feel so welcome at work and around campus!
40. Engrave their name in a brick on campus
It’s a good way to cement a relationship.
41. Bring them to a student affairs conference with you
Sending a student to NASPA S.A.L.T. or getting them involved with the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program are great ways make them feel welcome and find peers who are also interested in student affairs.
42. Cool socks
Get some inspiration from #SAsocks on Twitter.
— Ali Watts (@AliWatts13) December 16, 2016
43. Prize wheel
Spin it to win it.
44. Pay their phone bill
Chances are a good number of students around you are looking down at their phones.
Treat them to downloadable audiobooks for their smartphone, Kindle, or other listening device.
46. Restaurant discounts
See if any local restaurants would be willing to give your students a sweet (or savory) deal.
47. Food named after them
Whip up a baked good or tasty meal, then name the recipe after a student. What student wouldn’t want to have their very own type of cookie, muffin, or curry dish?
48. DIY spa kit
An all-expenses-paid spa visit might be outside of your office’s budget range, but you can package up the best bits of a spa in a to-go bag. Fill it with bath bombs, bubble bath, massage oil, salt scrub, or other relaxing items to make your students feel pampered.
49. Personal growth experience
Ask them to choose an experience, approved by you, that will help them expand their thinking. Let them dictate the student learning outcomes and have them share what they learned with the entire office, peer group, or student organization.
50. Music playlist
Create a playlist in their honor. What songs remind you of them? Who are their favorite artists?
51. Email blast
Make their accomplishments known to everyone, if they like that kind of attention.
52. Custom portfolio
These are great for keeping resumes organized during a job search and for slaying meetings.
53. Connect them with other campus professionals
Sing their praises from the rooftops! (Or email. That works, too.) Let your colleagues across campus know about the awesome work your student is doing, especially if said student would like to gain new skills that your colleague can offer.
54. Portable charger
These are ideal for students who like to travel or go camping, or often find themselves on a spontaneous adventure with a need for power.
55. Dance break
Help your students loosen up their minds and bones with a quick dance break — complete with music, of course — during the work day or a group meeting.
56. Tell them they’re awesome
Sometimes words of appreciation or affirmation are all they’re looking for.
57. Take them miniature golfing
Depends on the office personalities. Taking them out for a little competitive fun can create some great memories.
58. Electronic accessories
Spice up your student’s life by spicing up their cell phone, tablet, or laptop.
59. Fanny pack
Both stylish and handy.
Students don’t really expect trophies for everything they do. But gifting them with a literal trophy can be a fun, quirky way of showing that you think they’ve put in award-worthy work.
Give them the gift of tape that won’t pull the paint off of their home walls. Try poster tape or painter’s tape.
This will go perfectly with that sweet tape you just gave them!
63. Host a tea party
Bring in some croissants and stick your pinkies in the air.
64. Professional headshot photoshoot
Students will love these for their social media accounts, especially LinkedIn. Professional headshots will help them stand out from the crowd and can lead to a conversation about digital identity.
65. Feature them in marketing advertisements
See if your institution’s marketing team is interested in showcasing student leaders who’ve made a huge difference.
66. Make them a Pinterest craft
DIY crafts are never-ending.
67. Post a selfie shout-out with them
Make sure to ask the student if they’re comfortable with you sharing it on social media before you do so.
68. Go on a field trip
Take a quick day or night trip to a bowling alley, laser tag arena, art gallery, or another fun spot of your student’s choice.
69. A self-care package
A weighted blanket, fidgeting toys, tea — the possibilities are endless!
70. A mustache with sunglasses
71. Create a special handshake or high five
That’s what friends (and student affairs advisors) are for.
72. Extreme residence hall room makeover
73. Ask them to run the department or student organization’s social media account
Students have the “in” and can help drive engagement by creating content that resonates with their peers.
74. Friendship bracelet
Remember to give them extra string and instructions so they can make one for a friend.
75. Let them lead a group activity
Empower a student employee to craft a lighthearted team-building exercise.
76. Attach balloons on their residence hall door
Or some decor that’s equally as fun.
77. A care package
Consider calling it a Hugs Not Ughs package. It may give them a boost of happiness!
78. Bring them to a local TEDx Event
Find the next local TEDx event near you here.
79. Flex dollars
If your institution offers a flex dollars program, gift students some bucks and let them decide how to spend it.
80. School supplies
Every little thing adds up.
81. Hand knit them something special
They’d love socks or a sweater not made by the GAP or Old Navy, but by you!
82. Pick them up coffee or tea
Sure, they might have access to hot drinks in the dining hall, but Starbucks or a local cafe’s brew may taste extra special.
83. Chauffeur them to class
Pick them up in a golf cart or campus vehicle from class. This may be a huge time saver for students who endure long treks across campus on a tight schedule.
84. A planner
Help them plan our their passions and goals with the magic of a planner.
85. Share your favorite quotes with them
Perhaps something motivational will inspire them or a TV joke will make them laugh.
86. Brag about them on social media
Give them public kudos by tagging them on Facebook, express your admiration via an Instagram post, or share a sincere video on Twitter.
Roses are red. Violets are blue. A bouquet can say “I appreciate you.”
88. Write them a fun song
And record it live on social media… if you dare.
89. Help them with job or grad school applications
Or refer them to an awesome career counselor in your career services office.
90. Review their resume and cover letter
Connect them with potential employers and community leaders to have them review their resume, too.
91. Bring in homemade food
Food really does bring people together.
92. Make them an acrostic
You may not be familiar with the term, but you’ve surely seen an acrostic poem before. Here’s one I made for my co-worker Lindsay.
Loves to lift weights
Never late, always on time
Determined (to make this poem rhyme)
Sings to herself when she’s in a good mood
Yelps when a bug comes along
93. Send them an awesome GIF
You may have noticed that we love using them at Presence!
94. Feature them on your departmental blog
Ask them to write a reflection on their experience as a student or employ, then share it with the masses.
95. Nominate them for a campus award
All of their efforts are amazing and you truly value their work. Ask your colleagues to get in on the nomination writing.
96. Ask them to join a committee
Student representation for the win!
97. Write them a letter of recommendation
Or let them know you’ll be willing to write one when the time comes.
98. Ask for their honest feedback
Students can provide a lot of insight on our day-to-day workflows.
99. Make office smoothies
Because who doesn’t love a creamy, delicious smoothie? (You can even make them vegan!)
100. Connect them to a community leader or organizer
There’s no better way to help students build relationships in the community and advocate for what they believe in.
Student rewards and incentives are great ways to make them feel remembered, included, and appreciated. Let them know their work, no matter how big or small, contributes to a larger picture.
What ideas have you used to reward students?
Have an amazing idea you don’t see here? Share it with us on Twitter @themoderncampus.