College Graduation: What to Expect


This past week I graduated from Temple Univeristy with my Bachelor of Arts in psychology. Full disclosure: I tired just about everything to get out of attending the graduation ceremony. I felt that graduation was a big waste of time and money and that I didn’t have to walk across the stage to show everyone that I did it. I think I was slightly biased because my high school graduation was a complete train wreck and I hated every minute of it. My grandmother, who I call Mommom, is the one that pushed me and, in the end, forced me to attend graduation. I was raised by my grandmother so it was a special day for both of us. I was the first in my family to attend, let alone graduate from college. It took some time but eventually I gave in and decided that it was more her day than mine. Hearing my name called and then seeing me walk across the stage made her unbelievably proud. It wasn’t until moments before they called my name that I realized, I was glad I had attended the ceremony. Overall, my graduation experience was for Mommom but I am glad that I attended. Here is what you can expect and what you should do in the days leading up to, the day of, and the days following graduation.

The days before graduation

Make sure to be clear about who is invited (and not invited) to the graduation ceremony

This is especially important if you have a limited amount of tickets, a large family, or potentially unwanted guests. In my case, I did not want my father to attend graduation and had to make that perfectly clear on multiple occasions. Long story short, my father and I do not get along and he had no need or right to attend my graduation. For many others the issue is more about limited number of tickets or seats for family and friends. If this is the case, it is important to have all of these details straightened out before the day of graduation or else there will be a lot of stress on you and your family to try to fix a messy situation.

Distribute detailed instructions to guests attending the ceremony

This would include things such as; day, time, and building of ceremony, where to pickup tickets, where to park, etc. This may seem like a given but in cases of univeristy graduations where multiple colleges are graduating at the same time, in similar locations, it can be easy for someone unfamiliar with the campus to get lost. At my graduation a friends’ parents missed him graduating because they were sitting through a different graduation in the building immediately next to ours.

Get your “look” ready

For me this included getting my hair cut and colored a few weeks before, shopping for the perfect dress and shoes and getting my nails done. For guys this could include getting your outfit and shoes or getting a haircut. This also seems like a given but in the weeks and days leading up to graduation there is a lot going on and it is easy to forget to stop and take care of yourself and prep for the big day ahead.

Order your cap and gown

You want to order these as soon as possible, especially if you are decorating your cap. I did decorate my cap so I ordered mine as soon as possible to give myself enough time to do a great job on my cap. (Side note: I ended up gluing a headband to the inside of my cap so I wouldn’t have to pin it the day of and to keep it sitting perfectly on my head all day.) You also want to order as soon as possible so you can hang and steam your gown. Most of the gowns are made in horrible materials so ironing the day of is not always an option. I just kept putting mine in the bathroom when I showered and the steam did a pretty good job alone. Lastly, you will want to figure out the proper way to put your hood on the gown. The instructions seem easy enough… until you are hours away from graduating and you feel like this hood is the final test you must complete to graduate. It is important to just relax and realize that no one knows how to put the hood on right and staff will fix it for you before you walk across the stage anyway.

Day of graduation

It will be difficult to find your friends and family

Once you begin exiting from graduation the entire campus turns into a disaster and a photoshoot, all at the same time. It is extremely easy to get separated from the group. It is important to have a designated spot for everyone to meet so everyone can give congratulatory hugs and get plenty of pictures.

Make a list of the picture you want

Everyone will want pictures with you and they will all have their own ideas about where and how these pictures are taken. It is important to come prepared with a list of locations and people you want pictures with to make sure the pictures you want don’t get pushed aside and forgotten. You should also schedule time with a professional photographer either on your campus or close to where you live to get those Pinterest worthy shots.


You have reached a huge goal in life and deserve to celebrate in whatever way means a lot to you. You could celebrate at a fancy restaurant with family, go to a bar with friends, take a little vacation, or even something as small as hot bubble bath and a great night’s sleep. Everyone celebrates in their own way and what matters is that you enjoy whatever it is you plan on doing after the big ceremony.

Days following graduation

Share all the pictures

There were a lot of pictures taken and most likely they are different among all the phones and cameras. Send out an email or a group chat to get and share all the pictures. This will prevent you from missing out on some of the better shots and helps all your attendees swap photos as well.

Express your gratitude

This could be sending thank you cards to everyone who came to your graduation or people who helped make your day smooth, calling any relatives that sent you cheesy graduation cards or even making a sappy post on Facebook to thank everyone who helped you through your college journey. This may seem silly and a given but I think it is especially important to express your appreciation to everyone who feels invested in your graduation day and overall success.

Print your photos and distribute them

You spent time and money getting good pictures and I’m sure there is a list of family members who want some. Yes, you probably emailed a lot out and posted them on social media but you should treat these like school pictures from high school. Just about every aunt, uncle, grandparent, and distant relative wants a picture so they can show you off and your huge accomplishment.

Get that diploma!

Sadly, you do not get your diploma on the day of graduation. Instead, it comes in the mail days to weeks later. This part is very anti-climatic and quite annoying. Take this time to decide how you will display your diploma, if at all or anything else you would like to display. I personally am getting a large shadow box to display my gown, hood, and decorated cap. Many people frame their diploma, so you can design or order the frame for your diploma.