What is a Graduation Ceremony in the UK?

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Graduation is the highest point of going to university, where all your hard work pays off and you finally celebrate having achieved your degree. However, graduation ceremonies are often a topic of mystery. This is especially true in the UK, where strange traditions are often associated with specific universities, which may confuse new students. In this article, we will reveal all the important information you need to know about graduation in the UK. We will also give you some helpful tips about how to have a good time on one of the most important days of your academic life so far.

In the UK, a graduation ceremony happens at the end of a student’s time in university, where they receive their degree officially. All students who pass will be invited, and they will shake hands with professors as well as listening to speeches to congratulate them on what they have achieved throughout their time at university.

While this should have given you a short answer to your question, please read on for more details about graduation ceremonies in the UK.

What happens at a university graduation ceremony?

A university graduation ceremony can be split into three distinct sections. Each of these sections will be discussed in more detail below.

Before the ceremony

Your university will send you an email or message with information about the ceremony, such as when it is to be held, and where. Usually, it is held in the university hall or chapel, or sometimes a nearby town hall.

You will need to apply for guest tickets if you want family or friends to attend, but the number will be limited to different numbers depending on your university, so ask them for more details. It is best to do this early to avoid disappointment.

You also need to hire a gown, and your university will usually tell you where to get one that is unique to them and to your course. Most people also hire a cap. You will need to supply measurements of your head and clothing size so they can reserve the correct size for you.

More information on how to hire a graduation gown is detailed here, by Think Student.

During the ceremony

On the day, you will be expected to wear your graduation gown, as well as smart clothing underneath. More information on what to wear can be found in the section below.

After this, you will usually walk to the ceremony location with your peers and guests. You will separate from them on reaching the ceremony, to sit with the other graduates (who are about to receive their degrees).

At the start of the ceremony, there will be a procession of senior academic lecturers and staff onto the stage, as well as a welcoming speech. You will be expected to stand if you are able while they process in. There may also be some speeches and notable mentions at this point.

After this is the most well-known part of the ceremony: going to collect your degree. Each graduate is called up one by one to walk across the stage and shake the hand of the chancellor.

You also receive a piece of paper, often rolled up into a cylinder. Often you do not get your actual certificate until after the ceremony.

Some universities will take a photo of each graduate shaking the chancellor’s hand. After all the awards have been handed out, there may be more speeches and presentations of special academic awards.

You can find out more about what happens at a graduate ceremony if you read this article from the Graduate Coach.

After the ceremony

After the ceremony, the graduates stand for the academic staff to process out, then they also leave. Some people take photos outside the venue with their family and friends and sometimes have photos outside the university.

There may also be a post-ceremony celebration at a location nearby. Sometimes the university will hold a dinner with food and drinks. There may also be a professional photographer here to take photos, although these are often very expensive.

At the end of the celebration, you will need to remove and return your gown to the company if you hired it, as well as collect your actual degree certificate.

How long is a graduation ceremony?

A typical graduation ceremony will last around an hour and a half. However, this does depend on the number of students at your university, as well as how many awards and speeches are to take place.

Another key factor in the graduation ceremony length is how long the academic procession will be, and whether the students are expected to also process in for a long time.

Sometimes there will also be music, sung by a choir, or a religious service combined with the graduation. Both of these can make the graduation ceremony last significantly longer.

An example of a graduation ceremony can be found on YouTube, here. This was live-streamed by St Mary’s University in London in 2022 and shows all of the key steps in a graduation ceremony. Many ceremonies are live-streamed nowadays so that relatives can attend even if they cannot get a ticket.

More information about how long a graduation ceremony is can be found here on an article from Think Student.

When do graduation ceremonies take place in the UK?

Most universities in the UK hold graduations between June and September on the year you graduate from university. However, there are many exceptions to this, and some even hold them up to a year later.

Therefore, it is key to check with your university for specific details on when and where your graduation will take place, and this information can also be found on any tickets you have.

If you are an international student, you may have to apply for a visa in order to attend your graduation if you no longer have leave to remain in the UK. This page from Edinburgh University has more details on visas for students and their families in cases like this.

For more information on how much it can cost to attend graduation, please check out this Think Student article.

What should you wear to your university graduation ceremony?

At your graduation ceremony, you will typically wear formal clothing underneath your graduation gown and sometimes a graduation cap. These can be hired from your university’s preferred shop, and there will often be helpers on the day to make sure you put on your gown correctly and are comfortable. They can also help with any issues, such as if you have ordered the wrong size gown or do not have a cap.

This Think Student article gives more helpful information on what to wear to graduation in the UK, as well as tips for how to stay comfortable no matter the weather. It can be found here.

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