Unveiling the Symbolic Significance: What Do Graduation Caps Symbolize?

It’s that time of the year again – when students across the globe throw up their caps in the air as they celebrate their academic accomplishments. But what do graduation caps actually symbolize? These familiar, black caps that are essentially synonymous with graduation ceremonies are actually steeped in history and meaning.

For starters, graduation caps – also known as mortarboards – are designed to be square-shaped, with a tassel dangling on one side. These caps, with their distinctive design, have their roots in the Middle Ages, when they were worn by scholars and academics. The square shape represented the shape of a book, symbolizing the pursuit of knowledge. And the tassel? It’s said to represent the strands of learning, with the color of the tassel traditionally indicating the field of study.

Beyond the aesthetics, there’s also the sense of achievement that graduation caps symbolize. For students, graduation is often a momentous milestone in their lives – one that represents years of hard work, late nights, and countless sacrifices. The graduation cap represents the culmination of this effort, and serves as a tangible reminder of the many challenges and triumphs that led to this moment.

The Origin of Graduation Caps Symbolization

The graduation cap, also known as the mortarboard, has been an integral part of graduation ceremonies since the early 14th century. The cap and gown uniform is considered an academic costume worn by students and faculty during graduation ceremonies.

The origin of the graduation cap symbolization can be traced back to the Middle Ages when universities began to take shape. During that period, academic degrees were awarded mainly in theology, medicine, and law, and students had to undergo a rigorous academic program to earn their degrees.

The formal academic dress was worn by scholars to indicate their level of education and academic achievement, and the cap was an integral part of it. The graduation cap was originally a pileus, a type of head covering worn in ancient Rome to symbolize the freedom of a slave whose shackles had been removed.

Over time, the pileus gradually evolved into the graduation cap that we know today, with its distinctive square shape and tassel. Today, the graduation cap symbolizes academic excellence and the culmination of years of hard work and dedication.

Different Styles of Graduation Caps

Graduation caps are an essential part of any graduation ceremony, where students of higher education institutions celebrate the successful completion of their academic degree programs. The graduation cap, or the mortarboard, is a symbol of achievement that represents the hard work and dedication of the graduate. It is an iconic part of graduation ceremonies, and it comes in a variety of styles.

  • The Classic Graduation Cap – The classic graduation cap is a must for those who want to adhere to the traditional graduation gown and cap style. It is typically square-shaped with a tassel hanging from the center, which graduates may switch from one side to the other to signify their graduation.
  • The Tam – The tam is a popular graduation cap variation that is perfect for those who want to express themselves through their cap. This hat has a more significant tassel and is often made of velvet or other materials that look more luxurious than the traditional model.
  • The Tam with a Bullion Tassel – The tam with a bullion tassel is a variation of the tam that features an intricate tassel made of gold or silver bullion. This type of graduation cap is more exclusive and is usually reserved for those graduating from prestigious universities or programs.

Aside from the different graduation cap styles mentioned above, some institutions design their caps to their needs. Some schools incorporate their symbols, logos, and colors onto their caps to give a unique feel to their graduations, separating them from the standard cap design.

When it comes to deciding which graduation cap is right for you, it is essential to consider what you want to achieve with it. Do you want to stay traditional, or are you inclined to stand out through your cap style? Do some reflecting, factor in your personality and your style when selecting which cap is just right for you on one of the most celebrated milestones in your life.

Graduation Cap StyleDescription
Classic Graduation CapA square-shaped cap with a tassel usually hung from the center.
The TamA graduation cap variation with a larger tassel made of velvet or other luxurious materials.
The Tam with a Bullion TasselA variation of the tam that has a more intricate tassel made of gold or silver bullion.

Graduation caps will not only serve as a finishing touch to your academic attire but represent the years of hard work and dedication you have committed to earning a degree. Pick the style of your graduation cap correctly, and wear it with pride, showing everyone the hard work you put in and the determination that made you successful.

The Significance of the Tassel Color

The tassel on a graduation cap is an important symbol of achievement and accomplishment. Its color holds a special significance and varies according to different factors.

One of the most important factors that determine the tassel color is the academic discipline that the graduate has specialized in. Different academic disciplines have different tassel colors that represent their respective fields. For example, a graduate in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) will have a gold or yellow tassel, while a graduate in Education will have a light blue tassel.

  • The tassel color also signifies the educational level of the graduate. A high school graduate will typically have a tassel with their school colors, while a college graduate will have a tassel with the main color of their institution.
  • Another important factor is the type of degree that has been earned. If the graduate has earned a bachelor’s degree, the tassel will be worn on the right side of the cap and moved to the left side during the graduation ceremony. A master’s degree graduate will start with the tassel on the left and move it to the right. Meanwhile, a doctoral degree graduate will wear a special type of tassel called a ‘doctoral hood,’ which is a different color from the regular tassel.
  • The tassel color also holds significant cultural and spiritual meaning in some communities. For instance, in some cultures, the tassels are thought to symbolize the tentacles of an octopus. Being able to wear it represents the graduate’s capability to conquer and overcome all the hardships and challenges encountered throughout their academic journey.

It is important to note that the tassel colors may vary from one institution to another, and there are some instances where a graduate may be given a choice on which tassel color they would like to wear.

Graduate LevelColor
High SchoolSchool Colors
Associate/Bachelor’s DegreeMain Color of Institution
Master’s DegreeGraduate’s Field of Study
Doctoral DegreeDark Blue Velvet with Gold

In conclusion, the tassel color on a graduation cap has special meaning and signifies different accomplishments and achievements. It is a symbol of the graduate’s hard work, dedication, and academic excellence. Knowing the significance of the tassel color adds to the value of the entire graduation ceremony and enables graduates to feel proud of their journey and accomplishments.

The History of Cap and Gown

The tradition of wearing caps and gowns during graduation ceremonies dates back to medieval times in Europe. Universities were established during the medieval era, and students were required to wear gowns as a sign of membership to the institution. The cap and gown were not only used as a ceremonial garment but also as a warm piece of clothing during the colder months. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the uniform became more standardized across different institutions.

  • In 1895, the Intercollegiate Commission standardized the color of the gowns and hoods for different academic disciplines. This standardized the academic regalia across different universities.
  • The first recorded use of the cap and gown in a graduation ceremony in the United States took place at Harvard University in 1672. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the cap and gown were more widely used in university graduation ceremonies throughout the country.
  • The cap is known as a mortarboard due to its resemblance to a tool used by masons.

Here is a breakdown of the different graduation gown colors and what they represent:

Gown ColorDiscipline
BlackArts, Letters, Humanities
Light BlueEducation
BrownPublic Health, Science
Gold/YellowBusiness, Commerce
Dark BluePhysical Education, Law
OrangeEngineering, Architecture, Math
PurpleLibrarianship, Journalism
WhitePharmacy, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine

Overall, the use of the cap and gown during graduation ceremonies is a tradition that has stood the test of time. It continues to be a symbol of academic achievement and serves as a reminder that graduates are now a part of a larger academic community.

The use of graduation stoles

Aside from the traditional graduation cap or mortarboard, another common accessory worn during graduation ceremonies is the graduation stole. This piece of academic regalia is a long, narrow scarf-like garment worn draped over the shoulders and down the front of the robe. Graduation stoles come in various colors and styles, and students often wear them to represent their academic achievements, affiliations, or cultural backgrounds.

  • Academic honors: Many schools use stoles to designate various academic honors achieved by students during their college career. For example, students with outstanding academic achievements or those who graduated with honors may receive a stole in a distinctive color to signify their academic excellence. This tradition dates back to medieval Europe, where scholars wore gowns and hoods with different colors and designs to indicate their academic standing or field of study.
  • Fraternity or sorority affiliation: Another common use of graduation stoles is to represent a student’s affiliation with a particular fraternity or sorority. Many Greek organizations have their own unique stoles that feature their Greek letters, colors, or symbols. These stoles help to commemorate the bonds formed and the experiences shared during the college years.
  • Cultural or ethnic pride: Some students choose to wear stoles that reflect their cultural or ethnic heritage. These stoles may feature traditional patterns or symbols that represent a particular ethnic or racial group. Wearing such stoles can be a way for students to celebrate their identity and honor their cultural background.

Graduation stoles are not just decorative accessories, but they can also serve as meaningful reminders of the accomplishments, affiliations, and identities of the graduates. For many students, wearing a stole can be a way to stand out and be recognized among their peers, families, and communities.

Below is a table showing some of the common colors used in graduation stoles and their corresponding meanings:

GoldAchievement, excellence, success
BlueTrust, loyalty, wisdom
GreenGrowth, life, balance
RedPassion, determination, courage
WhitePurity, innocence, spirituality
BlackDignity, formality, respect

Whether they are worn for academic honors, organizational pride, or cultural heritage, graduation stoles can add a touch of individuality and significance to the graduation ceremony.

The Role of Graduation Cords

Graduation cords, like graduation caps, have become an essential symbol of academic achievement and graduation celebrations. They are also commonly known as honor cords or graduation stoles, and students who wear them are often admired for their outstanding academic performance or level of involvement in extracurricular activities. In this section, we will take a closer look at the role of graduation cords in academic achievements.

  • Academic Achievement: One of the most common reasons for wearing graduation cords is academic excellence. Different colors may indicate various levels of honors or achievements. For example, gold is often used to represent cumulative GPAs above 3.5, while silver may signify a GPA between 3.0 and 3.4. Other colors may be used to represent specialized academic fields, such as blue for education, green for medicine, or purple for law.
  • Extracurricular Achievements: Graduation cords may also be awarded to students who show remarkable achievement and involvement in extracurricular activities, such as sports, clubs, or community service. These achievements demonstrate that the student has not only excelled academically but has also demonstrated exceptional leadership, teamwork, and determination outside of the classroom.
  • Cultural and Ethnic Representations: Graduation cords may also represent cultural diversity and ethnic heritage. Some institutions use cords of specific colors to symbolize groups, such as white for international students or red, black, and green for African American students, and so on.

Graduation cords, whether awarded for academic excellence, extracurricular achievements, or cultural diversity, have become an integral part of graduation ceremonies and a well-respected symbol of success. They represent the student’s dedication, hard work, and commitment to academic excellence, extracurricular activities, and community involvement.

Below is an example table showing the different colors and their meanings:

GoldCumulative GPA above 3.5
SilverCumulative GPA between 3.0 and 3.4
WhiteInternational students
Red, Black, and GreenAfrican American students

Graduation cords are a symbolic representation of academic and extracurricular achievements. They are a visible reminder that hard work, dedication, and perseverance pay off, and that students who wear them have accomplished remarkable things as part of their academic journey.

The Symbolism of the Bachelor’s Hood

The graduation ceremony is a time-honored tradition that is steeped in symbolism. From the robes to the tassels, every element of the graduation outfit is rich with meaning. One of the key components of the graduation ensemble is the hood, which is worn over the gown. The hood is designed to represent the academic degree that is being conferred upon the graduate, and it is adorned with various color combinations and patterns that signify the field of study. In this article, we will delve into the symbolism of the Bachelor’s hood.

The Number 7

In the context of the Bachelor’s hood, the number 7 represents the seven liberal arts and sciences. These are the foundational subjects that were traditionally taught in European universities, and they include grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. The number 7 is significant because it is considered a lucky number in many cultures, and it also has deep roots in religion and mythology. In the Bible, for example, the number 7 is associated with perfection and completion, as God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. In ancient mythology, the planets were said to be associated with the seven gods of the classical pantheon (Jupiter, Venus, Mars, etc.).

  • The number 7 represents the seven liberal arts and sciences
  • It is considered a lucky number in many cultures
  • It has deep roots in religion and mythology
Field of StudyHood ColorHood Lining Color
MathematicsGolden YellowGolden Yellow

Overall, the number 7 is a powerful symbol that represents knowledge, enlightenment, and perfection. It is fitting, therefore, that it should be associated with the Bachelor’s hood, which signifies the completion of undergraduate studies and the acquisition of knowledge and skills that will serve the graduate throughout their life.

The Meaning Behind the Master’s Hood

Graduation ceremonies are steeped in tradition, and the graduation cap and gown are among the most recognizable symbols of academic achievement. However, the master’s hood is perhaps the most intricate and symbolic accessory worn during graduation. Here we will explore the meaning behind the Master’s hood.

Number 8: Field of Study

Each Master’s hood features a distinct color scheme, indicating the wearer’s field of study. These colors are defined by the Intercollegiate Code, and each field of study is assigned a unique combination of colors. The colors appear on the trim of the hood and are sometimes also incorporated into the tassel. The number eight represents the field of study for Doctor of Juridical Science, which is represented by purple.

Intercollegiate Code Colors for Master’s Hoods

  • Architecture – Blue-Violet
  • Arts, Letters, Humanities – White
  • Business – Drab
  • Communications – Maroon
  • Education – Light Blue
  • Engineering – Orange
  • Music – Pink
  • Public Health – Salmon Pink
  • Science – Golden Yellow
  • Social Work – Citron
  • Theology or Divinity – Scarlet
  • Law – Purple

Significance of the Master’s Hood

The Master’s hood is symbolic of the wearer’s academic achievement and status as a Master’s degree holder. The intricate design of the hood, with its distinctive trim and colors, signifies the wearer’s expertise in their chosen field of study. Additionally, the hood’s length and shape can indicate whether the wearer earned a Master of Arts or Master of Science degree.


The Master’s hood is a significant symbol of the wearer’s academic achievement and professional expertise. The distinct color scheme represents the wearer’s field of study, and the hood’s intricate design indicates their status as a Master’s degree holder. On graduation day, the wearing of the Master’s hood serves as a testament to the wearer’s accomplishment and dedication to their chosen field of study.

MA HoodMS Hood
Short, with a rounded cape and square cornersLong, with a pointed cape and rounded corners

Overall, the Master’s hood is an integral part of academic regalia, embodying the rich history and tradition of higher education.

The Purpose of Academic Regalia

Graduation ceremonies are steeped in traditions, and one of the most recognizable symbols of graduation is the academic regalia worn by graduates and faculty members. These garments are not just ceremonial costumes but have practical and symbolic purposes. Let’s examine the purpose of academic regalia in greater detail:

Number 9: Colors and Representations

The academic regalia features a variety of colors, each with its own representation. These colors are visible in the gown’s velvet trim, tassel, and hood. Below is a table summarizing some of the commonly recognized colors and their meanings:

BlackArts, Letters, and Humanities
Dark BluePhilosophy and Education
BrownArchitecture and Fine Arts
Light BlueMaster of Business Administration
WhiteMedical Science
GreenMedicine, Public Health, and Nursing

It is essential to note that the color’s interpretation can vary depending on the institution, the field of study, or even the country. For example, the color purple may represent theology in some institutions in the United States, while in the United Kingdom, the color purple symbolizes medicine.

The impact of international graduation traditions

Graduation caps are a universal symbol of academic achievement, but their design and meaning can vary greatly depending on cultural and national traditions. Here are some examples of how international graduation traditions have influenced the symbolism of the graduation cap:

  • The United States: The modern graduation cap or “mortarboard” is said to have originated in the 14th century, and its design has remained largely unchanged since then. The flat-topped cap with a tassel hanging from the center has come to symbolize the completion of a degree and the moving of the tassel from one side to the other marks the transition from student to graduate.
  • Sweden: In Sweden, graduates wear white sailor hats with black visors called “studentmössa.” These hats, made of starched cloth, feature a distinctive gold or silver emblem on the front that represents the graduate’s school or major.
  • Australia: In Australia, graduates traditionally wear “hoods” over their gowns to symbolize their academic achievements. These hoods come in different colors and shapes that denote the level of degree achieved.

While some graduation traditions are rooted in centuries-old customs, others are relatively new and reflect changing attitudes towards academia and education. For example, some universities in South Africa have introduced graduation gowns made of African fabrics or patterns to celebrate and promote African culture.

Overall, the symbolism of the graduation cap and accompanying attire can be a deeply personal and meaningful experience for graduates, representing the culmination of years of hard work and dedication to learning.

CountryGraduation Cap DesignSymbols/Meaning
United StatesMortarboard (flat-topped cap with tassel)Completion of a degree; Transition from student to graduate
SwedenSailor hats with black visors (studentmössa)Gold or silver emblem representing school or major
Australia“Hoods” worn over gownsDifferent colors and shapes denote level of degree achieved

As evidenced by these examples, the design and meaning of graduation caps can be deeply influenced by cultural and national traditions.

What Do Graduation Caps Symbolize: FAQs

Q: What is a graduation cap called?

A: A graduation cap is also known as a mortarboard because of its similarity in shape and design to a tool used by masons to hold mortar.

Q: What do the tassel colors on graduation caps mean?

A: Tassel colors on graduation caps have different meanings depending on the school or institution. However, generally, gold or yellow tassels represent academic achievement, while other colors may represent a particular field of study or degree earned.

Q: Why do graduates throw their caps in the air?

A: The tradition of throwing graduation caps in the air dates back to the early 1900s. It symbolizes the end of a significant milestone in the graduate’s life and represents the start of a new chapter, full of possibilities and opportunities.

Q: What material are graduation caps made of?

A: Graduation caps are usually made of polyester or wool blend fabric and are designed to be lightweight for the student to wear comfortably during the graduation ceremony.

Q: Why is the graduation cap square-shaped?

A: The square shape of the graduation cap symbolizes the four parts of the liberal arts curriculum – science, mathematics, humanities, and theology. Initially, the graduation cap featured a tufted center, which later evolved into the flat square design commonly used today.

Q: What is the history behind the graduation cap?

A: The graduation cap was first used in the 15th century in universities in Europe. The tradition spread to the United States in the late 1800s. It initially had no tassel, and the cap’s design varied based on the university.

Q: Why is a graduation ceremony not complete without a graduation cap?

A: A graduation cap is a symbol of academic achievement and the completion of a degree. It represents the countless hours of hard work, dedication, and perseverance that the graduate has invested to reach this stage in their education.

Closing Title: Time to Throw Your Caps in the Air!

Thank you for reading about the symbolism of graduation caps – an essential part of graduation ceremonies across the world. As you get ready to graduate and throw your cap in the air, remember that it signifies the end of one chapter in your life and the start of another full of new opportunities. We hope you found this article informative and enjoyable, and we invite you to visit us again soon. Congratulations, and here’s to the start of a new journey!