Incentivizing college students can be an effective way to capture their attention. But can giveaways drive student engagement?
We know college can be a hectic time for students. With the demands of coursework, extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs, it can be challenging for campus administrators to reach students and encourage them to get engaged in events and out-of-classroom programs that go beyond their immediate interests or requirements.
We also know that, in general, college students like to participate in giveaways. Whether it be free food, tickets, or swag, if you offer college students a prize, it’s likely to capture their attention and generate engagement.
So, when our app launched at Penn State, we set out to test the method of using giveaways as a way to increase awareness of the new resource, app usage, and student participation in the plethora of engagement opportunities posted on the app itself.
For the last 6 months, we’ve posted a giveaway on the Penn State Engagement App every weekday. Keep reading for a breakdown of our process and key takeaways.
The Process: Daily Challenges
In collaboration with Penn State, we created an account on the Engagement App called “Daily Challenges.” Every weekday around 9:00 a.m., the account posts a unique challenge for students to complete for a prize. Every Penn State student is eligible to enter.
In the fall semester, we posted 70 total Daily Challenges. Winners came from nine different Penn State campuses and represented every class year.
The challenges ranged in type and scale of participation. Students were prompted to RSVP to campus events, follow specific organizations on the app, or bookmark engagement opportunities like internships or research programs. On some days, students were simply asked to share something specific, such as their favorite class or goal for the semester. Other challenges required a little more effort, like getting a classmate to sign up for the app.
The prizes varied as well. Here’s a list of prizes from the fall semester:
$10-$100 gift cards to Amazon, Target, Chipotle, Starbucks, and Dunkin'
Free tickets to see John Mulaney perform at the on-campus arena
Merchandise from various student organizations and offices
$100 student organization donation for #GivingTuesday
Sponsored Penn State Football ticket
$500 Education Abroad Scholarship
Several university offices and student organizations sponsored Daily Challenges throughout the fall semester. Here's a list of the collaborators:
Penn State Homecoming
Penn State THON
Bryce Jordan Center (the on-campus arena)
Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity
Education Abroad Office
Student Engagement Network
Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center
Penn State Libraries
Push notification highlighting a Daily Challenge on Penn State's Engagement App
Takeaways: Do Giveaways Work?
Our short answer: yes.
By offering students prizes and exclusive experiences on a daily basis, we saw an uptick in app usage and overall student engagement in opportunities that were listed on the app. We also generated valuable student insights by asking questions such as:
What advice would you give someone going into an interview for a job or internship?
How do you exercise creativity in your day to day life as a student?
What out-of-class experience would you recommend to other students who are looking to grow professionally?
What do you wish a mentor told you when you arrived on campus [or started your college journey]?
As suspected, students enjoyed participating in the giveaways. In fact, we’ve received several feedback submissions from students asking for even more giveaways on the app.
Why we believe giveaways work:
They’re fun: College life can be overwhelming. Giveaways, on the other hand, can often create a sense of excitement and anticipation, which can be a welcome distraction from the stress of college life.
- “The Engagement App is fun and I love participating in the giveaways!” -Penn State Student ‘25
They build student appreciation: Whether it's winning a gift card, a concert ticket, or even a free cup of coffee, giveaways offer a chance for students to feel recognized by their university.
- "Thanks to the Engagement App, I was able to win a $500 scholarship to help me study abroad! This app provides so many great resources and opportunities for students!" -Penn State Student ’26
They’re accessible: When using a mobile platform such as Navengage’s app for student engagement, giveaways can provide an opportunity for students to discover new events, programs, and resources that they may not have been aware of otherwise. This is especially helpful for students who attend school virtually.
- “The Engagement App is a great tool to see information for various Penn State events and giveaways.” -Penn State Student, World Campus
They're convenient: Students don’t have a lot of time to spare, so giveaways are a great way to get them engaged with minimal effort required. By keeping the entry process simple and straightforward, giveaways can easily generate excitement and engagement.
- “The Engagement App makes it easy to know all the information for Penn State events. I also love all the giveaways!” -Penn State Student ’26
Tips for Successful Giveaways
Over the course of the last 6 months, we’ve learned a lot about using giveaways as a way to increase student engagement:
Choose the right prize: The prize is one of the most important parts of your giveaway. It needs to be something that will appeal to college students. In our experience, you can’t go wrong with gift cards to popular stores and restaurants like Chipotle, Starbucks, or Amazon. The price can also vary, however it’s best to choose a price that matches the level of effort needed to win.
Make the entry process simple: Keep the entry process simple to encourage more students to participate. Make the instructions clear and ensure that all students are eligible to participate.
Set a deadline: Setting a deadline for your giveaway will create a sense of urgency and encourage students to enter as soon as possible. Make sure that the deadline is clearly articulated and achievable. We’ve found that a short deadline (e.g., 24 hours to enter) works best to maximize excitement and participation.
Collaborate with different offices: Partnering with various campus organizations and offices is a great way to add variety. You can offer sponsored gift baskets, tickets, or exclusive merchandise. Collaborating with campus resource groups helps promote undiscovered or underutilized opportunities.
Connect to campus events: Offer prizes to students who attend a certain number of campus events or participate in a specific activity. You can generate a feeling of community on campus.
Overall, using giveaways to get college students engaged on campus can be an effective marketing strategy. By incorporating daily giveaways into your campus activities — powered by an accessible, mobile tool — you can build a strong and engaged campus community.
Navengage Inc. provides mobile-first student engagement software that helps higher ed institutions keep students enrolled. Based in Philadelphia, PA, Navengage aims to advance student engagement technology so that colleges and universities have data that is comprehensive, accurate, and readily available for decision making. Navengage is committed to helping students succeed outside of the classroom, especially those at risk of dropping out, and envisions a world where every student has the opportunity to safely and successfully pursue their education.
To learn more, visit www.navengage.com, book a 15-minute demo, or email email@example.com