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Graduation Hoods and Robes: What Do the Colors Mean?

Deciphering the colorful symbology

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Graduation Photo by Jackie Burrell

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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