100 Ways to Reward Students

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.

Harry Potter catching letters, gif

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.

8. Plaques

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

Jazzercise, anyone?

Kristen Wiig Jazzercise gif

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.

18. Mentoring

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

The Five Minute Journal is a great gift for students to create a regimen and engage in structured reflection. Or you can create your own up-cycled journal for them out of recycled office paper.

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.

23. FitBit

Many students are passionate about health and wellness, and love moving. You can find small, refurbished Fitbits that aren’t too pricey.

steps

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.

31. Swag

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.

Lilo & Stitch birthday gif

 

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

Leader… ship.

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.

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.

45. Audiobooks

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?

music cat

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.

 

60. Trophy

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.

61. Tape

Give them the gift of tape that won’t pull the paint off of their home walls.  Try poster tape or painter’s tape.

62. Poster

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.

camera gif

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

A classic!

71. Create a special handshake or high five

That’s what friends (and student affairs advisors) are for.

 

72. Extreme residence hall room makeover

Shiplap, anyone?

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.

87. Flowers

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

Independent

Never late, always on time

Determined (to make this poem rhyme)

Sings to herself when she’s in a good mood

Always thoughtful

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.

award

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 @HelloPresence.

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Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the former Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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