Applying for Graduation: What, How, Where, and When

Image of a graduation cap on a laptop screen. The laptop is sitting on a desk in front of a woman's hands holding a notebook and pen.
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When I was in my last year of college, I was surprised to learn that graduation is not automatic. Students must apply for graduation so their department can verify their degree completion.

Let’s explore what it means to apply for graduation, when you should apply, how to apply, and what happens after you apply to graduate.

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What is an application for graduation?

An application for graduation is a formal request that a student files with their college to inform their department that they have completed the degree requirements and intend to graduate. Their department then reviews that they have met all the graduation requirements.

Students fill out a form online through their school’s portal or from the registrar’s office, records office, or graduation office. On the form, they list their name, contact information, degree program, and expected graduation date.

Applications for graduation will have a deadline and often require a fee.

In other words, applying to graduate means you are applying to receive your degree.

If they have met the requirements for their degree, they will be approved to graduate and sent their diploma.

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What does it mean to file for graduation?

You may hear that you need to file for graduation.

Applying for graduation and filing for graduation are the same thing. It means for a person to submit a form that states that they have met all the requirements for their degree and requests to receive their degree and diploma.

When do you apply for graduation in college?

The recommended time to apply for graduation varies depending on the college.

It is customary to apply one semester before you intend to graduate (when you register for your final semester), but some schools allow students to apply in the first couple weeks of their final semester. Students must apply before the deadline.

To find the deadline for your college, check their academic calendar, or contact your academic advisor or registrar’s office.

You should talk to your academic advisor about applying for graduation when you register for your final classes. This is often a good time to apply. For example, I applied to graduate in the Summer of 2020 after registering for my Summer classes that Spring.

Note: if you miss the deadline to apply for graduation, you may be able to still apply but pay a late fee.

How do I apply to graduate?

The process to apply for graduation varies depending on your college but is generally fairly simple.

In general, students should:

  1. Check the graduation application deadline
  2. Check that you meet the requirements to graduate
  3. Complete graduation application
  4. Pay graduation fees.

We have discussed finding the graduation application deadline; now let’s look more in-depth at reviewing the degree requirements, filling out your application form, and paying the fees.

Review that you met graduation requirements

Students need to review that they met the graduation requirements for their degree. They can check their DARS report to make sure that it is all green and all requirements are completed, or they can check with their academic advisor.

Learn more about the Requirements for Graduating CollegeOpens in a new tab..

It is important to meet with your academic advisor each semester anyways to make sure you register for the right courses. During this meeting (in-person or over the phone/video chat), they can review things with you and ensure that you have met all the requirements and are ready to apply for graduation.

Once you meet all the requirements, it is time to apply to graduate.

Apply to graduate 

In general, students can find the form to apply for graduation online through the school’s portal. Students may also find their degree application with the Office of the Registrar, the graduation office, or the records office.

For example, I accessed the form through myASUOpens in a new tab..

The form should be fairly self-explanatory, but generally, you will be asked:

  • To verify your name (so they get it right on the diploma)
  • Verify contact information, including your address (so they know where to send your diploma)
  • To select the graduation term
  • Confirm degree program
  • Confirm any minors (they need to check that you met those requirements as well)

Note: If you don’t meet your degree requirements during the term you applied for graduation, you will need to apply again. Some schools may let you simply change the date on your current application or allow you to reapply with no additional fee. Talk to your academic advisor or registrar’s office to see your school’s protocol.

Pay fees

Most applications for graduation require a fee ranging from $29-$100, with $50 being a common fee. You must pay this fee before your degree will be conferred.


You should get a confirmation that you met the graduation requirements and will be getting your degree.

You can check your graduation status on your school’s portal or by talking to your registrar’s office or academic advisor.

Once your degree has been conferred, you will be sent your diploma.


Once you have applied for graduation, you will receive information about the commencement ceremonies. They will send you more information about the commencement ceremony date and requirements.

Submitting your application for graduation is not the same thing as registering for commencement (or submitting your RSVP to attend the commencement ceremony). This is a separate process and requires you to file more information or meet additional requirements. Check with your academic advisor or graduation office.

At some schools, when you apply for graduation, you will be asked if you intend to attend the commencement ceremony so that you do not have to file another form.

If you can’t attend the commencement ceremony, check out my tips to help you accept missing graduationOpens in a new tab..

Order cap and gown

If you intend to attend the commencement ceremony, you must order your cap and gown.

Attend commencement

Attend any rehearsals or other required events if you are attending the commencement ceremony. Then you are ready to participate in the commencement ceremony.

Plan graduation party

Whether you are attending your commencement ceremony or not, graduating from college is a huge accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated!

Plan a graduation party with family and friends to celebrate this milestone.

Take advantage of career services

After you have applied for graduation, take advantage of your college’s career services to get assistance with getting a job.

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