In this practical guide, we’ve broken down the definition of “graduation” and “commencement”, and outlined how the terms differ in a few essential ways. Often thought to be interchangeable, graduation and commencement actually refer to distinct periods in the academic timeline.
We tend to use the word “graduation” to describe the day when you receive your diploma, but this is a misnomer. Technically, graduation happens when you finally complete your degree requirements. Many schools require students to complete an official graduation application with a minimum number of units, before they can receive their diploma. We recommend submitting this application at the beginning of your last term (or sooner).
As a rule of thumb, if you finish your requirements in the spring semester and submit a graduation application, you can say that you “graduated” in the spring. However, it may take time for the college to evaluate your record and send an official diploma.
Meanwhile, “commencement” is the official term for the graduation ceremony, where students, family, and faculty celebrate their accomplishments. The largest commencement usually takes place at the close of the spring term, but it may happen during other terms as well.
If students are on track to complete their degree requirements, they will receive an invite to the commencement ceremony. Some students may fulfill the requirements early, but they have the option to walk with the spring graduates as well. Commencement is an optional event, but most graduates choose to attend.
To attend commencement, students must purchase their own attire, including a cap and gown (and optional regalia). For convenience, many universities choose to coordinate their clothing orders with an online provider, such as GraduationSource. This makes it easy for students to purchase their attire directly through an ordering portal.