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How to Turn Your Graduation Stress into Graduation Success

Hi there!! For anyone who is new to my blog, let me introduce the whole crew here. I’m Carson Presley, and I write the content behind Girls & Dogs, Oh My. I’m graduating college this May (err--sort-of, just not traditionally because of the Coronavirus).


The luckiest person in the world, I have two adorable Labradoodles! Scout, who is two-years-old, and Ryder, who is just 9-weeks-old. My better half, Spencer, is the most amazing dog mom who helps me keep a handle on our two wild fur babies.


Together, we love traveling. We love packing up our Jeep and exploring new places. We’re also (until recently) first-time dog owners. In other words, we’re young and make a lot of mistakes--which is where the inspiration for this blog came from!


I want to be able to share all of our journeys and dog mom lessons with you all--especially our mistakes--so that you all can have the best possible experiences.


Every Monday I post new content with our latest adventure, traveling advice, dog mom tips and tricks. Sometimes I post more than just Mondays, so make sure to subscribe for updates! You might also get a rockin' discount as well :)



Let's dig a little deeper into my upcoming graduation:


I’m a senior in college studying Criminology, Communication Studies, and Military Science. I’m a first gen, which means I’m the first person in my family to graduate college. While this may not seem relevant—it is.


It means, not only did I have no clue what I’m doing, I also had no one close to me to ask any of my questions!! Eeeek—trying not to panic over here.



Graduation is just over 2 months away and I finally have everything organized and ready to go.


My graduation will be slightly different because I am also commissioning into the U.S. Army that same week and therefore my plans will be slightly different.


Nonetheless, get out pen and paper & please take some notes on this post and save yourself some time, effort, and money!!



My university offers a package through a frequently used company, Herff Jones, where you can order your cap, gown, diploma frame, announcements, and other optional add-ons all in one place. This is super convenient...but you pay for it.


I personally do not recommend this package because it is truly not cost-effective.


I’m going to break it down simply for you all, with estimated prices, options, and what I did:


Cap & Gown: $50-$250

These are mandatory if you plan on walking at graduation (Which I recommend. This is a literal once in a lifetime chance. You should do it.)



You can definitely try to ask around family members, friends, Facebook groups, eBay, etc. to try and find a used cap and gown for less. I unfortunately did not have any luck here but might have if I had started looking sooner.


Diploma Frame: $5-$200+

Why are these so expensive??? I actually did some research on this because I was very curious.


First and foremost, it’s a huge money maker for these companies. They know students will pay a decent amount for a nice, durable, long-lasting frame.


But is it worth it? Or should you opt out for the cheaper, $5-$10 frame from your local department store? In my opinion, no, you shouldn’t.


One company who sells frames explains that their products are expensive because each frame is custom made. They use quality materials that will showcase that sheet of paper that costs $150,000+.


One thing that I would recommend looking for in the frame you purchase is the UV protection. The glass used in the frame should block as much UV light as possible (up to 99%).


UV light causes fading, discoloration, and can change the chemical make-up of your diploma—and none of these effects can be reversed. Having a frame with protective measures will prevent your diploma from fading over time while also eliminating glare and reflection.


What I did: I personally wanted a frame with some sort of image of my university on it. I prefer these because I think they’re beautiful and more personalized.


This is the one I bought and absolutely recommend. I just got it in the mail and it is absolutely beautiful, high quality, and definitely worth the money. When you sign up for their emails, you get 10% off your first order, so I paid around $150 for this frame.


There were 2 frame options in the package through my school: one of them was $150, the other was $175. Neither of them had the photo, they were just the plain frame.

There is nothing wrong with the plain frame, I just wanted something a little more decorative!


You can find more frames on Etsy, Amazon, Wayfair, and various other online retailers.


Announcements & Invitations: $20-200

The major cost difference here is, of course, the amount of how many announcements and invitations you send out, but also where you get them from.


The two most common places for invitations are a package through the university and through an online template.


For example, my university offers a couple packages which include 25 invitations and envelopes. There are other, more expensive, deluxe packages which include more invitations.


A second option is to use an online template, editor, or similar service. Shutterfly, Etsy, Vistaprint, and Canva are all websites where you upload your personal photos and information into a pre-existing template and voila, your invitations are done.


What I did: Canva is the route I went with. I would recommend using Canva because of how easy it is to use and because of the variety of templates they offer!


Because I am inviting people to two ceremonies (my graduation and my commissioning) on two different days, designing an invitation took a little extra thought. I decided on an announcement with 4 sections: 2 for information, 2 for photos.


See below: The template I used, but with example information!


I already knew who would be coming to the party so I only sent invitations to those people. I made a flier with the party details and included it in their announcements.



You might consider adding a map and directions to the venue and including these in the invitation. Then, you just have to pay for postage and get them sent off!


Bonus Tip: If you don’t want to pay for invitations at all, use an online invitation service!


EventBrite and Facebook are both frequently used options. You simply make an event and invite people to it. Pingg is another great option that allows you to create invites, view RSVP information, and remind your guests as the date gets closer.


Graduation Party: literally unlimited

There are a ton of variations that influence the cost of your party, which is why I said unlimited.


You don’t have to have a party, or you can rent out an entire venue for your party.


Obviously, the cheapest option is to not have a party. Or, you can have a small get together with your closest family and all eat a home-cooked meal together. You could also go out to dinner with your family to celebrate!


If you have a house or your parents live close to your university, you could always have the party there. There are party rental services which will deliver a party tent, tables, and chair for various costs.


If you decide that this route is best for you, you will want to start planning and reserving them early.


When it comes to renting out a venue, there are countless options. Let’s break them down.


Beaches and parks are great options.


Pros: beautiful weather, dog-friendly, picnic tables and trash cans will likely already be there, often have gazebos/permanent overhead structures in case of inclement weather, decorating is easier


Cons: your guests (and decorations) will be outside in inclement weather, not ideal for large guest lists


Banquet Halls are also great options


Pros: convenient for larger guest lists (50 or so people), rental fees often include all necessary equipment (tables, chairs, trash cans, etc.—and they’re normally already set up for you ahead of time), freedom to decorate


Cons: convenient for larger guest lists means it would be a little extra for smaller guest lists, generally more expensive


Bars or restaurants

Pros: extremely convenient because there is no need to worry about catering, table and chairs are already set up


Cons: early reservations are a must, if you can't get a private room you will share the restaurant with others


Other notes: if you choose this route, I would suggest looking into private rooms! You can decorate them and it gives your party a little more privacy than having a regular table.


What I did: I love the outdoors and Scout had to be there, of course. I actually rented out an AirBnB. I did this for a couple of reasons.


My apartment is rather small, there is no guest parking (and they absolutely tow vehicles here), and it gave people the option of staying overnight if they needed to because they traveled here or they were drinking, etc.


Decorations: $50-$500

I’m not super creative BUT this is my favorite part of graduation planning! There are countless ideas online so that you don’t have to worry about trying to create your own party from scratch.


Here is a step-by-step of how I went about planning for my decorations:


1. Pick a theme and run with it.


Here is a list of some random, super cute idea and color themes:

-A fiesta: include cacti, tacos, and nachos...maybe even some margaritas for the adults.


-If you’re having an outdoor party at a lake or park, a really cute theme is a luau!


-You can also traditional decorations based off of the year you are graduating or your degree.


-Black and... a color. It can be gold, rose gold, silver, white, blue, etc.


Black always works, especially if your school colors are difficult to match. For example, my school colors are blue and yellow. Those two colors can quickly become overwhelming if they aren’t used properly.


-Pink and glitter is always an option as well!


What I did: I love rose gold. I think it’s simple, beautiful, and not too overpowering.


2. Pick out accents that you love and find how to tie them into your overarching theme.


If you only do one decoration, it should be a photo backdrop.


Everyone will be taking photos at your party and you want them to have a beautiful background for them.


You can also add in the photo props, such as mustaches, glasses, little signs that they can hold up, and other cute things that add some fun!


Another way to spice up your party is at your food bar. The trend is shifting away from regular assortments of finger foods and shifting more towards one food with multiple options for it.


For example, you can do a burrito bar where you have each topping separate in a line. To add to this, you can use a chalk board with lettering or even a photo series for people to see as they load up their plate with goodies.


If you enjoy puns, there are countless—literally endless—food puns that you can use to decorate!


3. Sentimental decorations: this is seen more at weddings, but I love the idea and think it’s great to throw into your graduation party! You can do a “keys to success” board, an advice jar, or Polaroid board.


What I did:

I made a rose gold photo backdrop using this inspiration. As mentioned, I love the sentimental pieces. Since I knew I’d only have around 10-15 people at my party, I thought a picture frame would be awesome.


I put a picture frame with a white matte background for people to sign and write a little snippet of advice or love.


I'm planning for everyone at my party to take a picture together (just using the camera timer). I’ll then print that off and frame it in that frame.


I love this because I’ll be moving every couple years so having something small yet meaningful to look at every day will be awesome.


Thank you’s: $20-$100

The cost of thank you notes is one of the cheapest things you’ll probably put money towards.

There are these adorable ones from Amazon that come in a 48 pack!


You can buy some from Target, Wal-Mart, any variety of Dollar stores. They might also come in a package through your university. Another option is to do them through the online editing service that I previously mentioned.


Thank you’s are important because people are spending their time and energy to come out and support you. They also likely brought you a gift.


You can personalize the thank you with their name, what they gave you, a specific time that you plan to use it, and maybe include how they helped get you through college.


For example, you could thank them for supporting you, visiting you, sending you a care package freshman year, etc.


What I plan on doing: Going to Target and buying a pack of cute thank you cards. I’m going to look for something with rose gold so that it still matches my theme.


Adding up the costs, your graduation can cost anywhere from $145-$1250+. Regardless of your price range, there are countless ways to cut costs and still host your dream graduation party!


There are so so so many things you can do to make your party cute, fun, and personalized. If you’re graduation, congratulations!! Comment below and let me know what was helpful from this article!


xoxo, carson

About Carson Presley

I'm a dog mom of two, adventure seeker, and (soon-to-be) helicopter pilot.

Read More or shoot me an email!

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