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Academic Traditions

Academic Regalia


The academic costumes worn at commencement ceremonies and other college functions, such as presidential inaugurations and convocations, originated in the Middle Ages, when all scholarly institutions were religious or monastic foundations, and the daily attire of the teachers, scholars and students was that of the religious orders. As the universities became more secularized over the centuries, each of the former religious houses or colleges adopted its own version of academic dress. In 1895, a standardized code for academic costume was drawn up and accepted by the vast majority of American colleges and universities. By that code, which was slightly revised in 1932, the academic attire is to display the academic and scholarly attainments of the wearer. 

GOWNS–Undergraduate (bachelor) gowns are black, worn closed and distinguished by long pointed sleeves. Masters wear their black gowns open, with square-cut sleeves open at the wrist and an arc cut out near the hem. The doctoral gown has large, rounded sleeves, velvet panels around the neck and down the front, and three velvet bars on the sleeves. Doctoral gowns are traditionally black, but increasingly American universities have adopted their own color for these gowns. 

HOODS–Their shape and size indicate the level of degree attained, and the colors reflect both the academic field and the institution that granted the degree. The bachelor’s hood has a two-inch velvet border around the edge and collar that identifies the academic field. The master’s hood has a three-inch collar and border in its academic discipline, and the doctoral hood has a five-inch collar and border of velvet. The silk lining or several stripes or chevrons represent the colors of the institution that awarded the degree to the wearer. The fields of study most frequently represented in academic processions are: 

Arts, Letters, Humanities: White
Commerce, Business: Nugget (or Sapphire Blue)
Education: Light Blue
Fine Arts: Brown
Journalism: Crimson
Law: Purple

Medicine: Green
Music: Pink
Nursing: Apricot
Philosophy: Dark Blue
Science: Golden Yellow
Theology: Scarlet

HATS–Among the great variety of European costumes, the Elizabethan soft-cap or tam is often seen. In the United States, the black “mortarboard” cap became popular. Its origin has some connection with the skull caps and birettas worn by monks and priests and may be a variation of the traditional bishop’s mitre. The mortarboard is always black with a tassel. For undergraduates the tassel is worn on the right side of the cap. Upon reception of the bachelor’s degree, it is moved to the left. Masters and doctors wear the tassel on the left, and the doctoral mortarboard features a gold tassel. In recent years, many American universities have adopted the Elizabethan soft-cap with a gold tassel for their doctoral recipients. 

HONOR CORDS–Honors for the Bachelor of Arts–Those B.A. students who have achieved a superior academic record for their four years are recognized at Commencement. To be eligible to graduate with honors, a student must complete a minimum of 128 semester hours, and his/her cumulative G.P.A. must be: 

  • Summa Cum Laude: 3.75 or higher 
  • Magna Cum Laude: 3.50-3.74 
  • Cum Laude: 3.20-3.49 

Students who are graduating with academic honors based on their cumulative GPA will wear an honor cord at Commencement. There are separate cords based on honors status: 

  • Cum Laude: Green cord 
  • Magna Cum Laude: Green and White cord 
  • Summa Cum Laude: Green, White and Black cord 

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