Student Advice

What is Graduation?

Ben Maples  · Feb 1st 2022

University graduation is the day that all your hard work pays off and you finally get your hands on the thing you’ve spent years working towards.


Graduation is the highlight of your university experience. The day you bid a fond farewell to late-night revision, all-nighters and crippling exams.

Graduation is the day you step out into the world of work. Armed only with your degree in one hand and a mortarboard cap in the other, the world is now your oyster!

glasgow uni graduation

What is graduation?

Graduation is day you finally receive your university degree. Usually, graduation is commemorated with a ceremony that celebrates your achievements and officially hands you your degree.

Not all universities refer to a graduation ceremony the same way; many will often refer to graduation ceremonies as a “commencement ceremony”, “convocation ceremony”, “invocation ceremony” or sometimes simply as “graduate day”.

Graduation in the UK differs from American graduation ceremonies, as the UK does not hold graduation ceremonies before university-level. Some schools or colleges have been known to break this tradition, but it is very rare, especially when receiving results for GCSEs, A-Levels or for the International Baccalaureate.

What is the difference between a graduand and a graduate?

Essentially, a graduand and a graduate are two sides of the same coin. A graduand is someone who is eligible to graduate but has not yet done so.

When the graduand has received their degree, they then become a graduate. All university graduation ceremonies refer to students who have not yet received their degree as a graduand.

What do UK universities do for graduation day?

Each student graduation is unique to the university hosting it. Not all universities have the same ceremony for their ceremony and will often depend on the tradition that the university has.

For instance, universities like the University of Wales hold their graduations almost entirely in Welsh. Other universities, such as the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge conduct elements of their ceremonies in Latin as a way of paying homage to their long-standing traditions, something the two universities feel has come to define graduation for them over the centuries. Members of the ceremony will speak directly to the candidates in Latin and will often ask the graduate to respond in kind.

You should always wear your mortarboard directly on your head, roughly an inch or so above your eyebrows, whatever feels most comfortable for you.

What to wear for Graduation

All universities will have a dress code for their graduation. All universities will allow students special dress codes if needed.

For instance, if you are required to or wish to wear any religious dress, your university will allow you to do so, as can members of the armed forces, as long as the uniform is appropriate.

What are graduation hats called?

Graduation caps are known by many different names. For the most part, they are referred to as mortarboards, however, they are often colloquially known as “graduate caps”, “square academic caps” or simply as “caps”.

In the UK, the tassel of the mortarboard is only one colour and is shorter than most other countries. In the USA, the tassel represents the colour of the subject you are graduating in, though this does not apply in the UK.

At the University of Oxford, students are required to wear their mortarboard for certain occasions. For instance, students must wear their mortarboard for matriculation events (registration) and for examinations, the University of Durham has also been known to enforce this rule too.

york graduation

How to wear a graduation cap

Wearing a graduation cap is very straightforward. You should always wear your mortarboard directly on your head, roughly an inch or so above your eyebrows, whatever feels most comfortable for you.

Some universities will have a specific side that they want the tassle to lie on. In a graduation ceremony, you are asked to change your tassel to the other side, to signify that you have now graduated from university. This is a process called “flipping the tassel”, although it is not very common in the UK.

Will I have to wear a gown?

University ceremonies will require you to wear a graduation gown. The gown is commonly referred to as academical dress, though it is also occasionally known by it’s American name “academic regalia”. Older universities like the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, the University of Dublin and the University of St. Andrews have their own traditions for gowns.

The way your gown looks is dependent on the Groves classification system. This system dictates the patterns certain gowns will have, with specific gowns differing depending on where in the UK you are studying. The system is used to specify what gown you will wear for your ceremony.

Academical dress is not just limited to universities. Some professional bodies like the Institue of Physics and the Royal Society of Biology are also permitted to wear academic dress for graduation ceremonies.

If you have graduated at an undergraduate level, you may want to look into postgraduate degrees.

When do I graduate?

Graduation dates will be sorted out by your university. Your university will tell you when your graduation is at some point. You will not normally be told the date of the graduation by the end of the summer term.

Your university will let you know the time, date and venue. The ceremony will either be held at the university itself, or you may be asked to attend the ceremony at a nearby venue depending on the university’s arrangements.

Will my graduation have any guest speakers?

This will depend on the university you attend. Not all universities have keynote speakers present at their graduation ceremonies, though they may have previous alumni (former students) in attendance.

If you do not have guest speakers, you may have a speech from someone else. It is very common for the Chancellor and/or the Vice-Chancellor of your university to stand up and make a speech to the graduating students.

Do UK universities have a valedictorian?

No, UK universities do not have a class valedictorian. In the US, a valedictorian is the student that finished top of their class and who is asked to give a closing or farewell speech to their peers.

In the UK, no student gives a speech at graduation. Students only have to collect their degrees and then watch the rest of the ceremony.

university of glasgow graduation

What to do after graduation

What you do next is entirely up to you. Your next steps are in your hands and only you can choose what to do when your university journey is over.

If you have graduated at an undergraduate level, you may want to look into postgraduate degrees. Many students give themselves a short break to celebrate or look to get themselves into the world of work.

Your uni graduation ceremony will likely be a few weeks or so after your final day. This means that you will have plenty of time to plan your next moves.

Graduation is day you finally receive your university degree.

What do I do if my university is doing an online graduation?

Most universities will try not to offer an online graduation if they can avoid it. Universities that offer distance learning courses, such as the Open University will have a very specific process in place for students that are graduating.

If your graduation is held online, your university will give you instructions. Online graduations may still have a dress code for students, but you will be told what to wear in the buildup.

Universities will always have back-up plans in place. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more universities have begun to create contingency plans for graduations that will need to be held online and will ensure that all students can attend at one time.

Graduation is the day you’ve been working towards. Enjoy every second of it and remember to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

undergraduate Uni's

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