The Meaning of a Graduation Tassel Color

Updated November 21, 2016

The colour of the tassel that hangs from the mortarboard graduates wear during commencement ceremonies usually depends on the student's field of study. The colour of the tassel may also be an indication of a particular university's colours.


Although there may be some variations among universities, the colours for tassels and the college that they represent have become pretty much standardised. Purple tassels are worn by law school graduates; fine arts graduates wear brown; medical students wear green tassels; journalists wear crimson; philosophy graduates don dark blue tassels while physical education students wear sage green; theology grads wear scarlet; those graduating from the economics department wear copper; architect grads wear maize coloured tassels and nursing students wear apricot, notes, which has a complete list of which colour tassel is particular to which discipline.


The tassel hangs from the mortarboard, which is sometimes referred to as a trench cap. The tassel is made up of silk threads, which are fastened to the centre of the mortarboard. Sometimes the tassels are braided or plaited and form a cord, with the threads on the end left untied.


The tassel colour sometimes indicates membership in an organisation, such as the National Honor Society. Only one tassel is worn by the graduate.


The gold metallic tassel can only be worn by those who have doctorates. Some individuals who have doctoral degrees opt to wear a six-sided velvet tam with a black tassel rather than the typical mortarboard. The tam distinguishes them from their students.


An undergraduate degree candidate drapes his tassel on the right side, whereas those who are candidates for masters and doctoral degrees drape their tassels on the left side and do not move them during the ceremony. However, at some schools the tassel starts out on the left front side of the mortarboard and is moved to the right side once the student receives his diploma, indicating his transition from undergraduate to graduate.


Other graduation apparel that may indicate various achievements includes hoods that are worn by doctoral degree candidates, cords that dangle around the neck and stoles.

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About the Author

Cindi Pearce is a graduate of Ohio University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. She completed both the undergraduate and graduate courses offered by the Institute of Children’s Literature. Pearce has been writing professionally for over 30 years.