Palo Alto High School's Social Activism Publication
EDITORIAL%3A+Is+prom+FOMO+worth+it%3F

Xiaohan Li

EDITORIAL: Is prom FOMO worth it?

Social pressure to attend prom exacerbated by higher ticket prices

May 24, 2022

Prom. A once (or twice) in a lifetime opportunity to fulfill your glamorous childhood fantasy. The cost? A few hundred dollars to find the perfect outfit, accessories, shoes, another hundred-fifty to buy tickets, and yet another hundred to get professionally done hair and makeup. 

Sure, you could thrift a dress or do your own hair. Or, you could choose to save this large sum of money by simply not going, but is it worth the extreme FOMO you’ll probably feel from scrolling through hundreds of social media posts the day after?

Pricing and Costs

This year, the cost of tickets for prom at Palo Alto High School reached a new high of $155 (without ASB card) and of $139 (with ASB card). 

According to ASB Adviser Steve Gallagher, the increase in the cost can be attributed to the higher cost of services such as catering and security post-COVID as well as inflation. “From what I understand they range from anywhere from $120 to $150,” Gallagher said. “That’s what I’ve been told. I went back into records to look, and they don’t have them in the database that we use.”

Compared to other high schools in the Bay Area, Paly’s ticket costs are among the most expensive, with schools such as Gunn High School setting their non-discounted prices at $120 and Los Altos High School at $90. Gallagher said the much higher price of Paly’s tickets is largely due to the venue: the Exploratorium. 

“Exploratorium is the most expensive venue, and by the time I took over, it was the only venue that we could get for this date May 14th,” Gallagher said.

Compared to other high schools in the Bay Area, Paly’s ticket costs are among the most expensive, with schools such as Gunn High School setting their non-discounted prices at $120 and Los Altos High School at $90.”

Scholarships are available for students but they require students to talk to their guidance counselor before approval. 

“It’s a lot of private information,” Gallagher said. “If you think it applies to you — you’re having some financial difficulty — you see your counselor.” 

In addition to buying tickets, the expensive cost of getting ready for prom can become a significant financial burden for students, especially those who come from low-income families.

Social Pressure 

Not attending prom to save money may be a financially smart decision for students, but the social pressure to attend often makes it an unappealing one. 

With conversations among students both leading up to the night and after being clouded by the topic of prom, what people are wearing, and who’s going with whom, it can be hard to escape the pressure to attend.

Because prom is revered as a rite of passage for high schoolers, many students want to attend. This can create a bandwagon effect, a social phenomenon that explains the feeling of doing something just because others are too.

With most of their peers attending, students who may not want to attend prom can feel an overwhelming sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) if they don’t attend. But this pressure doesn’t come from peers alone. Children grow up surrounded by pop culture and movies portraying prom as a ‘night to remember.’ Many popular movies like Mean Girls, She’s All That, and 10 Things I Hate About You, depict prom as the be-all-end-all event and rite of passage of high school. 

What we see in the media and in the people around us when we are younger has an influence on our decisions years later. In our adolescent years, our brains are still developing. When we are told prom is a night we can’t miss, we can internalize it.

With the image of high schoolers dressed in fancy attire with glamorous hair driving to prom in a sleek limousine or a party bus, students feel the pressure not only to attend prom but also to spend their money on attire, hair, and makeup. Some students buy $60 outfits whereas others drop over $500 for the perfect outfit.

Because prom is revered as a rite of passage for high schoolers, many students want to attend. This can create a bandwagon effect, a social phenomenon that explains the feeling of doing something just because others are too.”

While prom should just be a time to have fun with your friends, it has become an event that draws the line between the “inner circle” of the elite, best dressed, and everyone else. It can leave those who don’t attend prom feeling ostracized.

Fixing the Problem

To help relieve the financial pressure and stress from students, there are practices that can be implemented to reduce the cost of prom. ASB should have booked the venue earlier in the year or in the spring of the prior year to ensure that they aren’t trapped between choosing the most expensive venues when the time comes. 

“[ASB] goes based on a minimum of 700 [students],” Gallagher said.

When having to plan for such a large group of students, the number of potential venues that can hold a group that large are limited, some years as low as six locations.

Moreover, prom shouldn’t be run as a for-profit event. During their planning process, ASB looks at the budget as if only 700 students were to attend. They expect to have a net expense of zero after selling 700 regular-priced tickets. 

However, in past years (prior to COVID-19), they have always surpassed this number by a significant amount. The extra funding from the tickets is partially used to pay for the expenses of the additional students, but it also results in leftover funds — profit. 

Due to changes that can come up after planning, there will most likely be some form of overflow profit. This profit should be put into the following year’s prom budget to help lower the overall price of those tickets for students. 

ASB has a duty to the student body that they serve to organize an event without also trying to earn a profit — it complicates prices and feels like an involuntary donation on the students’ part. However, if they put the profits into the next year’s prom, it will create a cycle and help to lower the overall cost of tickets. 

This can also have the effect of lessening the FOMO. Despite the glorified image of prom that is pushed through social media and pop culture, students should not allow the fear of missing out on one night of socializing to force them into attending prom.

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