Academic Regalia Colors

The traditional black caps and gowns worn by students and faculty in the academic procession have been the historic regalia of scholars since medieval times. Because many scholars of that period were members of monastic orders, the academic regalia probably represents an adaptation of ecclesiastical dress.

A uniform code for academic regalia was drafted by an intercollegiate commission in 1893 and has since been adopted by the majority of colleges and universities in the United States. Each of the three academic degrees—bachelor’s, master’s and doctor’s—has its own distinctive gown and hood. The gown representing the bachelor’s degree is distinguished by its long pointed sleeve. The master’s gown has a longer, narrow, closed sleeve, extending below the knee. The arm is passed through a slit at the elbow. In contrast, the doctor’s gown is faced with wide velvet bands, which may be black or a color indicating the general field of learning of the wearer—for example, dark blue for philosophy, green for medicine, and purple for law.

The most colorful and distinctive item of the academic regalia is the hood, which passes around the neck and extends down the back. The doctor’s hood is the largest, and the bachelor’s hood is the smallest. Often the use of a bachelor’s hood is omitted. The wearer’s field of learning is indicated by the color of the hood and the tassel. Among the colors of hoods are:

Architecture — Blue Violet
Arts, Letters, Humanities — White
City Planning — Blue-Violet
Commerce, Accountancy, Business — Drab
Education — Light Blue
Engineering — Orange
Fine Arts — Brown
Human Ecology — Purple
Journalism — Crimson
Library Science — Lemon
Medicine — Green
Music — Pink
Nursing — Apricot
Philosophy — Dark Blue
Physical Education — Sage Green
Public Administration — Peacock Blue
Public Health — Salmon Pink
Science — Golden Yellow
Social Science — Citron
Speech (Oratory) — Silver
Theology & Divinity — Scarlet

The colors of the silk lining exposed in the center of the hood are those of the college or university which conferred the degree. The tassel may be either black or the color of the field of learning. The tassel of the doctor’s cap is usually gold.

The Academic Degrees

The first known degree was a doctorate conferred by the University of Bologna in the middle of the 12th century. Originally, the doctor’s and master’s degrees were used interchangeably, each indicating that the holder was qualified to give instruction to students. The bachelor’s or baccalaureate degree indicated only entrance upon a course of study preparatory to the doctorate or mastership. Gradually, however, the bachelor’s degree came to mean successful completion of one level of study preparatory to the higher degrees.

Today, there are more than 1,600 different academic degrees conferred by colleges and universities in the United States. The advanced degrees granted by Morgan State University are the Master of Arts, Master of Arts in Teaching, Master of Science, Master of Business Administration, Master of Architecture, Master of Landscape Architecture, Master of City and Regional Planning, Master of Engineering, Master of Public Health, Master of Social Work, Doctor of Education, Doctor of Engineering, Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Public Health.

The Doctoral Degree

The doctoral degree or doctorate represents the most advanced degree conferred at institutions of higher education in the United States. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a doctor in the academic sense as “one who, in any faculty or branch of learning, has attained to the highest degree conferred by a university.”

There are two major types of doctoral degrees: earned doctorates and honorary doctorates. Earned doctorates are further divided into two distinct types—the research degree and the professional or practitioner degree. The distinguishing feature of the research degree is that it normally requires a lengthy scholarly dissertation which is usually designed to constitute a substantial contribution to the existing body of knowledge in its field. The most important doctorate of the research type at institutions of higher education in the United States is the Doctor of Philosophy. The only other earned doctorate of the research type which has secured wide recognition and use by a large number of leading United States universities is the Doctor of Education.

The Master's Degree

The master’s degree is an academic honor conferred upon students who have successfully completed one or two years’ work beyond the baccalaureate. A thesis and an oral examination are usually required. The word magister connected with a qualifying phrase was used among the Romans as the title of honor, but its present meaning must be traced to the time of the establishment of the oldest universities. Regularly organized faculties were not then known as they now exist in the universities. The whole circle of academic activity was limited to seven liberal arts. Those who received public honors in the completed studies, and who had already received the degree of baccalaureus (bachelor), were called magistri artium (masters of the liberal arts).

The Bachelor's Degree

The bachelor’s degree represents completion of a four-year course of study of collegiate grade and is the oldest academic degree used at institutions of higher learning in the United States. The degree of Bachelor of Arts was the first conferred in the United States in 1642 on nine young men, comprising the first graduating class of Harvard College. Yale conferred its first Bachelor of Arts in 1702; Princeton in 1748; William and Mary in 1753; Pennsylvania in 1757; Columbia in 1758; and Morgan State to George W. F. McMechen in 1895.