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What does the red White and yellow cords mean?

What does the red White and yellow cords mean?

The red, white and yellow cords are used in graduation ceremonies to signify different academic achievements. The colors represent the various levels of academic honors that students can earn upon completing their degree programs.

The Meaning of the Red Cord

The red cord is worn by students graduating summa cum laude, which is Latin for “with highest honors.” This distinction is typically awarded to students who have maintained a very high grade point average (GPA) throughout their studies, usually 3.8 or higher on a 4.0 scale. Earning summa cum laude is the highest academic achievement possible at graduation.

Only a small percentage of graduates receive summa cum laude honors. For example, at many universities only the top 5% of the graduating class will qualify for red cords. This makes the red cord very prestigious and immediately identifies a student as being in the top tier of their peers academically.

In addition to recognizing outstanding academic performance, the red cord also represents the immense hard work, discipline, and commitment required to consistently achieve top grades in challenging college-level courses.

The Meaning of the White Cord

The white cord is used to denote students graduating magna cum laude, or “with great honors.” This honor is typically awarded to students who maintained a GPA between 3.6 and 3.79 during their undergraduate studies.

The white cord indicates that a graduate has achieved very high grades throughout their academic career. It signifies distinguished scholarship and academic excellence. While not quite at the level of summa cum laude, magna cum laude still places a student well above average.

At most universities, the next 10-15% of graduates will receive magna cum laude honors. So those wearing white cords were close to being in the top tier of their class academically but just shy of reaching the highest distinction.

The Meaning of the Yellow Cord

The yellow cord represents students graduating cum laude, or “with honors.” This designation goes to graduates who earned a cumulative GPA between 3.5 and 3.59.

The yellow cord signals that a student performed very well academically throughout their undergraduate career. It indicates noteworthy academic achievement that places a graduate above average amongst their peers. While not at the level of magna or summa cum laude, cum laude still places a student within the top 20-30% of their graduating class.

The yellow cord is more attainable for the typical conscientious student who works hard but doesn’t necessarily achieve straight A’s. It’s a nice highlight for one’s academic record.

Summary of Color Meanings

Cord Color Latin Honor Typical GPA Range Approx. % of Graduating Class
Red Summa Cum Laude 3.8 – 4.0 Top 5%
White Magna Cum Laude 3.6 – 3.79 Next 10-15%
Yellow Cum Laude 3.5 – 3.59 Next 20-30%

This table summarizes the typical meaning behind the red, white and yellow graduation cords. The color reflects the level of academic achievement, from highest honors down to noteworthy honors. The GPAs and percentages are just general guidelines that can vary by school.

Other Colors and Their Meanings

In addition to the traditional academic colors, cords in other colors may be worn at graduation for various achievements:

  • Blue – Graduating from a business program or earning a business degree
  • Orange – Engineering program graduate
  • Green – Science degree such as Biology, Chemistry, etc.
  • Pink – Nursing program graduate
  • Purple – Law degree graduate
  • Multicolor – LGBTQ student organization membership
  • Military colors – Completing ROTC or being a military veteran

The colors help denote the specific field or honor society that a student is affiliated with. The regalia allows graduates to display their unique achievements and academic pursuits.

When Are the Cords Worn?

Colored graduation cords are worn over the gown during commencement ceremonies and other graduation events. Students who have earned the honors will put on their regalia when they get dressed in their cap and gown.

The cords are worn in addition to other graduation accessories like honor tassels, buttons, and sashes. They provide a quick visual indicator of particular academic accomplishments.

Some schools will have a cord ceremony shortly before graduation where they present students with the cords they have earned. This gives family and friends the chance to celebrate the honors before commencement.

The cords remain on during the full graduation program, from the processional through the recessional march out of the auditorium. They are a public display of academic achievement that graduates get to wear with pride.

Special Meaning for Students

For many graduates, the red, white, and yellow cords carry deep personal significance. These students have worked tirelessly for years to achieve high academic success in their programs. Earning the cords provides confirmation that their hard work and sacrifices paid off.

The honor cords gain special meaning when students receive them in front of family, friends, partners, and children. It makes the graduates feel like their loved ones are sharing in the academic achievement.

While every graduate feels pride on commencement day, those wearing honor cords experience a extra sense of accomplishment. The cords give tangible evidence of excelling academically above and beyond average performance.


The red, white and yellow graduation cords signify high academic honors earned by exceptional students. The colors differentiate between summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude distinctions. They allow graduating students to publicly display their outstanding academic performance and achievements to peers, family, faculty and the community. The cords symbolize years of hard work, sacrifice, determination and commitment to academic excellence.