Tassels show their colors

  • Updated: May 18, 2012 - 4:22 PM

Learn more about the color schemes of higher education


  • Graduation ceremonies date to Oxford in 1432, when the gowns often were fur-lined. In the 16th century, different gowns were created for bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees, and the tassel first appeared on skull caps.
  • Harvard used the nation's first cap-and-gown regalia at its 250th anniversary in 1886, but the University of Michigan's class of 1894 was the first to wear such garb at commencement. High schools started using caps and gowns in the early 1900s.
  • In 1959, the American Council on Education appointed a Committee on Academic Costumes and Ceremonies, which made several changes implemented the next year. Among them: moving from all black tassels to different colors for different areas of study.
  • More recently, some colleges and high schools adopted a tradition of shifting the tassel from the right to the left side after receiving a diploma. Those receiving master's degrees start with the tassel on the left and flip it to the right.


The tassel practices at a few local institutes of higher learning:

  • University of St. Thomas; Minnesota State, Mankato and St. Catherine University: The American Council of Education (ACE) colors; see related article.
  • Hamline: Undergrads -- all black except for honors students (gold); ACE colors for master's recipients.
  • St. Olaf: All black except for music majors (pink).
  • University of Minnesota: Mostly based on the ACE code, with maroon and gold replacing apricot for nursing.
  • Macalester: All black, although students in a GLBT group also get rainbow tassels as part of a separate ceremony. Macalester has several "recognition ceremonies" in the week leading into graduation, said Dean of Students Jim Hoppe. Members of an African music ensemble, for example, receive stoles at their ceremony.


Here are the colors the American Council on Education recommends for tassels (plus gown and hood edging) for different academic disciplines:

Apricot: Nursing

Brown: Fine arts, including architecture

Citron: Social work

Copper: Economics

Crimson: Journalism

Dark blue: Philosophy

Drab: Commerce, accountancy, business

Golden yellow: Science

Gray: Veterinary science

Green: Medicine

Lemon: Library science

Light blue: Education

Lilac: Dentistry

Maize: Agriculture

Olive green: Pharmacy

Orange: Engineering

Peacock blue: Public administration, including foreign service

Pink: Music

Purple: Law

Russet: Forestry

Sage green: Physical education

Salmon pink: Public health

Scarlet: Theology

Silver gray: Oratory (Speech)

White: Arts, letters, humanities

  • related content