Homecoming: Nostalgia at Your Alma Mater

Treasured Annual Tradition for Alumni and Students

Young Women Hugging Homecoming Queen
Philip Gould / Getty Images

Homecoming is a time to celebrate the school you’re attending. And after you’ve graduated, it’s a time to go back (or “come home”) to your town and the campus, see old friends, and reminisce about your school days. It dates back to the 19th century, and several universities all claim to have had the first homecoming: Baylor, the University of Illinois, the University of Missouri, and Southwestern University.

Homecoming usually centers on a football game, but schools have been known to have homecoming basketball, soccer, or even hockey games. It’s an annual tradition for most American high schools and most colleges and universities, too.

There are a ton of activities that center around homecoming, and they vary from school to school. The celebrations generally start at the school with current students on Monday and last all the way through the weekend when the alumni show up.

Homecoming Spirit Week

Many schools kick off their homecoming celebrations with Spirit Week. Starting on Monday, each day of the week is themed, and students are encouraged to participate. For example, Monday could be “ crazy hair day," Tuesday could be “rent a senior” day,” Wednesday could be “wear your pajamas to school day.” Some schools have competitions among the classes to see who has the most school spirit.

Homecoming Pep Rally

A pep rally is a time for all the students at the school to gather and cheer on their sports team.

Cheerleaders, the color guard, and marching band generally perform, and of course, the sports team makes an appearance. Everyone cheers and makes as much noise as possible to psych up their team so they’ll crush the competition at the game.

Homecoming Game

The game most often played for homecoming is football, and that is the main homecoming attraction; it's very often preceded by a tailgate.

Both current students and alumni attend. There’s generally a huge crowd and lots of energy and excitement, so the pressure is on for the home team to win. If a school doesn’t have a football team, the game might be basketball, soccer, or hockey. A tailgate often precedes the homecoming game.

Homecoming Court

Some schools hold elections for a homecoming king and queen with an accompanying homecoming court of princes and princesses. Homecoming court elections differ from school to school, but it generally goes down like this: The king and queen are upperclassmen (juniors or seniors), while the court is lowerclassmen. Since homecoming is all about school spirit, the students elected to the court are usually pretty involved in school activities. They are often on sports teams and are cheerleaders. They also could be students who are in lots of clubs or involved in social activities.

Homecoming Parade

Some towns stage a homecoming parade with floats, the school marching band, sports teams, and classic cars. It’s a time for the whole town and even former residents to rally together, socialize, cheer on the football team, and celebrate their town and high school.

Homecoming Dance

A homecoming dance is just for the students of the school, and it usually occurs on the Friday or Saturday night after Spirit Week, depending, of course, on when the big game is.

It’s usually open to every student no matter what grade they’re in. Some schools keep it casual, while others make it a semi-formal affair. There’s always a DJ or a band, but the venue is up to the school; sometimes it’s in a decorated gym or cafeteria, and other times it’s at an outside venue.

Whether or not you go with a date to your homecoming dance is up to you. Every school has its own customs. Some schools use it as a chance to have a special night with your boyfriend, girlfriend, or crush. Others schools reserve prom for the big “date dance” and leave homecoming as the “go with your friends” dance. Either way, a homecoming dance is a time for the entire school to come together and party. Dress is generally less formal than prom, with girls wearing knee-length rather than floor-length dresses and boys wearing suits and ties rather than tuxes.

Groups of friends often go together to the dance, and they commonly go out to dinner beforehand.

Homecoming Banquet

Some schools throw in a homecoming banquet as part of their festivities. It’s an evening where current and former students are recognized for their achievements.