Every Graduation Tassel Rule You Need to Know

Know the rules for graduation tassels so you can show off your success and avoid any awkward moments.

Updated April 10, 2023
Group of graduations wearing tassels on right

It's not a graduation without that cap and tassel, but knowing which side to wear it on is a pretty big deal. The graduation tassel side can symbolize whether you've gotten the degree yet, so it's important to get the rules right.

In most cases, when placing your cap on for graduation, you'll want to start with it on the right and end the ceremony with it on the left. Exactly when you switch it depends on the school, the degree, and the customs in your area, but these are a few tips to keep in mind.

Start Graduation With Tassels on the Right Side (Usually)

Graduation tassels go on the right side of your cap before you graduate - at least most of the time. If you're graduating from high school or getting your undergrad degree in college, it's usually going to mean tassels on the right.

When you move the tassel during the ceremony will depend on your school. In some schools, you move the tassel over to the left after you shake the hand of the person who grants your diploma. In other schools, you will have to wait until the principal or dean announces that your class has officially graduated and asks everyone to move it at one time.

Helpful Hack

If you're having trouble remembering the graduation tassel rules, use this handy little saying: "Start out right."

Exception: Start on the Left if You're a Graduate Student

If you're in grad school and have already completed a bachelor's degree, your tassel will start the ceremony on the left and not move at all. When you receive a master's degree or doctorate, you will place your tassel on the left of your mortarboard cap. You do not flip the tassel to the right; it remains on the left before, during, and after graduating.

This is because typically, candidates who are receiving their terminal degrees (i.e., master's or doctorates) receive a hood that represents their academic discipline. The tassel takes the place of the hooding ceremony at the high school and bachelor's degree levels.

Exception: Be Camera Ready

While tradition dictates that the tassel be worn on the right and moved to the left after you receive your diploma (or at the conclusion of the ceremony), note that sometimes schools will direct you to place the tassel on the left. Generally, this is because they have the photographer set up to take pictures from the right, and they want your face fully visible for some great shots. After all, no one wants a graduation picture featuring their tassel in the middle of their face.

Graduation Tassel Rules and Etiquette Tips

Why do you move the graduation tassel from left to right, anyway? The graduation tassel is a symbol of success. Some believe the reason why you place the tassel on the right is because you have earned the right to graduate. Moving the tassel to the left after graduating is symbolic of crossing over from high school (or college) to another stage in your life. This is a rite of passage, and the literal movement of the tassel acts as a symbol.

Ultimately, the rules for wearing a tassel are just there to avoid any awkwardness - just like any etiquette guidelines. Keeping a few extra tips in mind can help you avoid any difficulties.

Young man taking graduation photo with his parents

Wear Multiple Tassels Together

If you have more than one tassel, which is common if you are graduating with honors or are part of a special group, you should wear both tassels together. When it's time to move the tassel, move both (or all of them if you have more than two).

Check to Make Sure Your Tassel Isn't Tangled

Before you put your tassel on your graduation cap, give it a quick brushing out. If it's tangled, it won't hang right and might end up snagging when you try to switch it.

You Do (Usually) Have to Wear a Tassel

In most cases, you do need to wear a tassel at graduation. If you feel like it doesn't represent you or isn't right in some way, you should discuss this with your school.

Don't Wear the Tassel on the Back of Your Cap

A typical graduation cap has four corners with one pointing forward. The tassel hangs on the left or right of this front point, framing your face. Don't wear it on the back side.

Save Your Tassel as a Sign of Achievement

Once graduation is over, don't just throw your tassel in a box and forget about it. Be proud of your achievement and display it as a reminder of how far you've come. Some people have it put into a frame with a picture from graduation. Others drape it around their rear-view mirror in their car. Wherever you choose to place your tassel, make sure to look at it often, as it will remind you of your success and give you hope for the future.

Every Graduation Tassel Rule You Need to Know