How These Davidson Advisers Turned Their Schools into Hogwarts

“I solemnly swear I will apply to college.”

That was the message three Davidson College advisers — sometimes masquerading as Hogwarts professors or even Harry Potter himself — conveyed to students during their “Fantastic Colleges and Where to Find Them” Harry Potter College Application Week.

Davidson adviser Colin Schreiner dressed up as Harry Potter during his school’s College Application Week. Photo courtesy of Colin Schreiner.

Every year, the College Foundation of North Carolina sponsors a College Application Week, where students get special help (and sometimes even fee waivers) to submit college applications. In order to get their students to take advantage of the opportunity, Davidson advisers Kyle Dembart, Colin Schreiner, and Nathan Higdon turned their schools into the halls of Hogwarts for a week.

These advisers did have funding from a local foundation. But any adviser can take their advice and create their own themed event that students will love.

Here are Kyle, Colin, and Nathan’s best tips for creating a themed event:

Start early.

Planning your event early is “huge,” Kyle said. “It does take a village to make this happen.”

This year, the Davidson advisers started talking about their plans in August, at the beginning of the school year. (North Carolina’s College Application Week occurs in mid-October.) If this is your first time hosting a themed event, they’d suggest starting to plan even farther in advance: “potentially April or May of the previous year,” Kyle said.

“During those months, there tend to be not a ton of things going on as far as day-to-day. You can reach out to your administration or other faculty and see what their feelings are,” he said.

Work with other advisers.

Kyle, Colin, and Nathan worked together to brainstorm posters and decorations they could all include at their individual schools.

“This year, we had a running document of ideas that we came up with — slogans, poster ideas,” Kyle said.

This method helped them come up with their slogan for the week and other crowd-pleasers, including footprints leading to their doors like in the Marauder’s Map.

Davidson adviser Kyle Dembart encouraged even his Muggle students to apply to college. Photo courtesy of Maddie Smith.

Find a theme that appeals to your students.

Past College Application Week themes have included the Hunger Games and the 2016 election. Last year, the theme was “Do It For Your Selfie.” But that didn’t really resonate with students, Kyle said.

“The kids weren’t as energized by it,” he said. “They didn’t ask as many questions.”

But Harry Potter was a hit. Nathan had the movie soundtrack playing during class transfers at his school. He and Colin also showed showed the movies so students could watch them while filling out applications.

“They were really into the atmosphere,” Nathan said. “We were able to make the lighting really cool, with lamps going and electronic candles mimicking the Great Hall.”

Davidson adviser Nathan Higdon turned a classroom into Hogwarts’ Great Hall, with candlelight and tables for each Hogwarts house. Photo courtesy of Maddie Smith.

Try to get buy-in from your school staff.

The advisers say one of the biggest ways they were successful was through help from teachers, media center coordinators, and their administrations.

“Those partnerships were crucial,” Nathan said.

To build this rapport, Kyle suggests asking teachers if it’s OK if students participate during their class time and using the connections you have with other faculty members to ask for help.

Colin works with teachers to designate certain class slots as “appointment” times for all his seniors. They can come in any time during the slot.

“It’s guaranteed that everyone has the opening,” he said. “If they choose not to use it, it’s fine, but the system is already in place to maximize buy-in.”

Davidson adviser Kyle Dembart paid homage to Harry Potter with decorations in his school’s library — including a Flying Ford Anglia in the corner. Photo courtesy of Kyle Dembart.

Prep your students in advance.

Try your best to make sure students know what to bring or have completed when they come to the event. The advisers worked hard at this, holding presentations and workshops about what students would need to do in the days leading up to the event.

But many students still came unprepared, Colin said. Nathan agreed, saying his biggest tip for advisers hosting events would be to make an even more concerted effort to get students prepared before.

Kyle hosted an after-school workshop for students and parents to complete a North Carolina program that determines students’ in-state tuition, and he said that helped his event go more smoothly.

Have fun!

The real reason behind the Harry Potter theme? Kyle, Colin, and Nathan are big fans.

“We wanted to dress up and do something fun,” Colin said.