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Graduation Hoods and Robes: What Do the Colors Mean?

Deciphering the colorful symbology

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Graduates taking self-portrait together outdoors
Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

Considering that most graduation robes are black, it's always stunning to see the graduation procession with its splashes of color on hoods and sleeves. Unless you're listening to a really terrific graduation speech, you're probably sitting there taking in the spectacle and wondering what all the colors mean. There's a symbology there, with each color representing a different academic discipline, and some - dark blue, for example - signifying that this person holds a Doctorate of Philosophy, or Ph.D. (Someone with a doctorate that is not a Ph.D wears the color that goes with his specific disipline.)

Universities have their own traditions when it comes to graduation garb - Harvard, for example, puts all its doctoral candidates in crimson gowns and its undergraduates pair crimson hoods with their black gowns - but most follow an inter-collegiate color code set out in 1893 and tweaked over the years to reflect the addition of new majors.

These are the colors that represent the most common majors:

  • Architecture and city planning: violet-blue
  • Business and accounting: a beige color commonly referred to as “drab”
  • Communication and journalism: crimson
  • Criminal justice: midnight blue
  • Dentistry: lilac
  • Dramatic arts and fine arts: brown
  • Economics: copper
  • Education: pale blue
  • English, foreign languages, humanities: white
  • Engineering: orange
  • Environmental studies, forestry: russet
  • Environmental science: golden yellow
  • Government, foreign affairs: peacock blue
  • History: white
  • Law: purple
  • Mathematics: golden yellow
  • Medicine: green
  • Music: pink
  • Nursing: apricot
  • Pharmaceutical sciences: olive green
  • Philosophy: dark blue
  • Physical education, physical therapy: sage green
  • Political science: dark blue
  • Psychology: gold
  • Public health: salmon
  • Public policy: peacock blue
  • Sciences: golden yellow
  • Sociology: white
  • Theology: scarlet

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