Do online colleges have graduation ceremonies? Image of woman facing away from camera in grad cap holding flowers.

Do Online Colleges Have Graduation Ceremonies? Your Questions Answered

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Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Alexandra Markin

If you’re a current or prospective online student, at some point you’ve probably wondered “Do online colleges have graduation ceremonies?”

The answer is yes, most colleges allow you to walk at graduation when you’ve completed an online program! Many schools have graduation ceremonies biannually, with online students invited to attend alongside on-campus degree students, or attend virtually by watching the livestream event.

In this Q & A style post, we’ll explore the more glamorous side of online degrees – getting to participating in the pomp and circumstance!

Difference Between Graduation, Commencement and Convocation

Now that you know online colleges do have graduation ceremonies, there are three terms you need to be aware of: graduation, commencement and convocation. They are all used in the context of academic ceremonies, but they refer to different aspects of your educational journey.


Graduation refers to the formal process every student must go through to receive their diploma (also called a parchment). It marks the successful completion of a program of study.

Everyone goes through this same process, both online and on-campus students.

All colleges require you to apply to graduate by following these three steps:

  1. Complete the program’s academic requirements. This includes completing all credits and any additional requirements your program may have, such as obtaining a minimum GPA.
  2. Meet the financial requirements. Any outstanding tuition or fees must be paid in order to graduate.
  3. Pay the graduation fee. After all the tuition you’ve already incurred, you have to pay a separate fee just to graduate! It’s one of the many “hidden” costs of college.

All types of higher education programs must go through the graduation process: certificates, diplomas, degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degrees.

Photo of a framed diploma on a desk.
My framed Management Studies Diploma.

Commencement and Convocation

A commencement, or convocation, is the ceremony that celebrates the achievements of graduating students.

You’ll often see these two terms used interchangeably, and it’s because the use varies by regions. For example, Illinois Central College (USA) uses the term commencement, while Athabasca University (Canada) uses convocation. I’m from Canada, so I use the term convocation.

In-Person Graduation Ceremonies for Online Students

Attending your graduation ceremony as an online student is optional. You’ll still graduate from your program and receive your diploma even if you choose not to participate in convocation.

Be aware that the process of graduation does not automatically register you to attend convocation. You need to register for the graduation ceremony separately to let your school know you’ll be physically attending.

Most schools host two ceremonies each year: winter (around October-December) and summer (around May-June).

Some online colleges have graduation ceremonies in multiple locations. For example, The Open University offers various ceremonies every year throughout the country, offering students the flexibly to celebrate their big day.

Your friends and family can also attend.

When choosing to participate, the cost of attending commencement is your responsibility. If you live out of state and have to travel to attend, you’ll need to cover the cost of flights, hotels and food in addition to the cost of renting your regalia (graduation cap, gown, etc.).

Virtual Graduation Ceremonies for Online Students

If you live too far away from your school’s campus or you just don’t feel like going, online students can elect to attend the graduation ceremony virtually.

In a virtual graduation ceremony, students can watch the livestream of the in-person event from the comfort of their own home. Some colleges even have the option to have your name called if you’re not physically present.

Virtual graduations can last from anywhere from 30 minutes to 4+ hours depending on how many students are in the graduating class and the length and number of speeches.

If you miss it, most convocation livestreams are recorded so you can celebrate on your own schedule!

Below is an example of what you’ll experience during a livestream convocation ceremony.

Thompson Rivers University: Fall 2023 Convocation Ceremony – October 13, 2023

Colleges That Offer In-Person Graduation Ceremonies for Online Students

If having the option to attend an in-person graduation ceremony is really important to you, I highly recommend confirming this when choosing your online degree program.

For quick reference, here are just a small number of colleges around the world that have traditional graduation ceremonies you can attend as an online student graduate:

Online College Graduation Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do Online Students Have a Graduation?

Yes! Most online students who have completed an online program have the option to attend a traditional, in-person graduation ceremony or can watch virtually on their school’s livestream of the event.

How Do Online College Students Graduate?

Online students graduate in the exact same way in-person college students graduate.

First, you need to go through the process of applying to graduate from your program by completing your program’s academic requirements, satisfying the financial requirements and paying the graduation fee.

Then, you’ll need to register for the convocation ceremony if you wish to walk the stage in your regalia!

How Does a Virtual College Graduation Work?

A virtual college gradation is where students who are part of the graduating class can watch the ceremony on their computers through the livestream hosted by their school, rather than attending the event in-person. It’s perfect for students who live far away from where the ceremony takes place, or just wish not to attend.

The livestream is hosted over a communications platform like Zoom or Skype.

Do You Walk at Graduation With an Online Degree?

Yes, most online colleges invite students to walk at graduation with an online degree. You’ll need to fulfill the graduation application process and register for the ceremony, just like traditional students do.

If you live far away from where the ceremony is hosted, you’ll need to cover the cost of flights, hotels and food in addition to your graduation regalia.

Can You Graduate College Without Going to the Ceremony?

Yes. In fact, every student graduates college by way of completing the graduation process, and not by going to the ceremony. The convocation ceremony is only the celebration of your achievement and does not indicate the successful completion of your program.

Do You Get Your Diploma During Commencement?

No, students don’t get their diplomas during the commencement ceremony. Diplomas (also called parchments) are mailed out to graduates after you have satisfied all graduation requirements.

Do You Have a Graduation Ceremony for a Certificate?

Yes, there are graduation ceremonies to celebrate the completion of all types of higher education programs: certificates, diplomas, degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degrees.

Can Online Students Walk at Graduation ASU?

Yes, online students and their guests are invited to walk at graduation at Arizona State University (ASU).

Words of Wisdom for Graduating Online Students

As an online business diploma graduate, I strongly encourage you to participate in your commencement ceremony in-person.

I completed both a certificate and diploma online, but didn’t attend either graduation ceremony because I told myself I would wait until I got my bachelor’s degree and attend then. However, I never completed my bachelor’s degree. As life went on, I found completing the next level of education had no benefit for my personal goals.

Every achievement should be celebrated, no matter how big or small.

I wish I had attended both ceremonies, got to wear a fully decorated graduation cap and had a party with all my family and friends to celebrate.

If you found this post helpful, sign up for my email list below and follow me on Instagram and Pinterest to join our online student community – you don’t have to go through your study journey alone!

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