Graduation Frequently Asked Questions

How do I obtain my cap and gown for graduation?
Academic regalia is required for both the School of Professional Studies Graduation ceremony and for University Commencement Day.

Regalia may be ordered during the Graduation Fair, which will be held at the Columbia University Morningside Campus Bookstore. If you are not able to attend the Graduation Fair, you may still order regalia at the bookstore, located in Lerner Hall, 2922 Broadway, New York, NY 10027, t: (212) 854-4131, f: (212) 854-8713,

For those not in the NYC area, the bookstore will accept orders by mail or fax and will ship via UPS from April through the beginning of May.

What is the difference between degree conferral and graduation/commencement?
Degree conferral is when a student satisfactorily fulfills the requirements of the School of Professional Studies and the academic program. A conferral marks the completion of an academic program and degrees are mailed to student’s diploma mailing address. The administrative process of degree conferral will indicate your official date of graduation. Conferral date is defined as the date on which your degree is officially awarded.

Graduation & Commencement refer to the ceremonies, officiated by the academic administration, where you share the excitement and importance of your academic accomplishments with peers, family, and friends. It is also a time for the University, president, deans, program directors, faculty, and staff to pay special tribute to you for the outstanding efforts you have shown in earning your degree.

What is the difference between SPS Graduation and Commencement?
Graduation is the term for completing your course of study at the University and fulfilling all the requirements for your degree. Each of Columbia's Schools holds a graduation ceremony (called a Graduation or Class Day) to honor the accomplishments of the graduating class. Students' names are read as they process across the stage. There is only one SPS Graduation ceremony for the year, which is held in May. All graduates from the previous October, and from February and May of the current year, are invited to attend.

Commencement refers to the ceremony celebrating those who are receiving their degrees from all Columbia schools in a given year. At the University Commencement Ceremony, degrees are symbolically conferred on candidates by the President of the University. Attending University Commencement is not required to graduate from the University or to receive your diploma. There is only one University Commencement ceremony for the year, which is held in May. All graduates from the previous October, and from February and May of the current year, are invited to attend.

For more information about graduation please visit the Office of the University Registrar. For more information about the University Commencement or individual school graduation ceremonies, please visit the Commencement website.

I am a Certificate student. Am I eligible to participate in SPS Graduation or CU Commencement?
Unfortunately, graduation related activities are for Master of Science students only.

What happens if it rains during the Graduation Ceremony?
The SPS Graduation and University Commencement Ceremonies are outdoor events which are held rain or shine. SPS Graduation is held under a tent, but please prepare yourself appropriately for the weather conditions. Bring sunscreen and a hat as well as an umbrella or raincoat, should there be inclement weather.

Are the ceremonies telecast?
Webcasts of SPS Graduation and University Commencement are available on the Commencement website for live, online viewing during the events. The webcast of University Commencement will also be available for viewing on demand after the event, on the same website.

What if my family wants to take pictures?
Families and friends are welcome to photograph and videotape the ceremony as long as it does not inconvenience other guests. Guests are not allowed in the graduate or stage sections. There is an official photographer who will take your picture as you cross the stage and receive your diploma. You are not obligated to purchase these photos, but once you see the proofs, you may elect to order copies.

My elderly family member is coming to Graduation, and I worry about them standing in line or waiting too long to be seated. What should I do?
There are designated gates for guests with disabilities or limited mobility, the elderly needing assistance, or those needing sign language interpretation. For SPS Graduation, this gate is the one at 116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. For Commencement, either of the following gates may be used:

  • 116th Street and Amsterdam Avenue

  • 115th Street and Amsterdam Avenue (between Wallach and Hartley Halls)

We strongly recommend that guests with disabilities enter campus through the designated gates identified above. The general admission gates on 114th Street have stairs and are a considerable distance from the designated disability seating areas. The large crowds at Commencement will make movement on campus difficult. Additionally, there is no access across campus on Commencement Day. Movement from Broadway to Amsterdam Avenue may require traveling long distances around the campus perimeter. Therefore, we suggest you consider the location of these gates when planning your arrival to campus.

For further information on Disability Services, please visit Disability Services.

Is there parking available near Columbia during Commencement week?
Parking in Morningside Heights on University Commencement morning is challenging. On-campus parking, which is extremely limited, is not available to the general public during Commencement Week. If you must drive, please allow plenty of time to search for parking and as well as time for walking to campus. There are only a few parking garages near campus; these fill up early during Commencement Week and cannot be counted on for convenient parking.

A shuttle bus is available to take guests with disabilities and their families to designated campus gates near the accessible seating area on University Commencement day. These passengers can be dropped off anywhere around the perimeter of Morningside Campus and will be shuttled to the designated gate. There is no designated parking for guests with disabilities.

Finally, New York City Parking Rules will be in full effect during Commencement Week; please take note of meters and other parking regulations. Also, many of the streets surrounding campus are blocked off very early the morning of the University Commencement. If you park in a location near campus the night before University Commencement, please diligently check for any signage indicating that the street will be closed. Failure to notice these signs may result in your car being towed.

I am finishing my last course during the summer. Am I able to participate in the May ceremony?

Students with an October 2019 conferral date are automatically eligible to participate in the May 2020 ceremonies. On occasion, if space allows, we are able to make an exception for October students to attend the May ceremonies prior to finishing their coursework. Please check the eligibility page found here to learn more about this year’s ceremony.