It’s graduation day. A day of exclamation and praise all around. Soon-to-be-graduates fill the area, waving to spotted family members after a couple minutes of searching. The most eye-catching feature? Aside from your brilliant smile, the creativity of the cap on your head draws more marveled stares than your freshmen year. Designing a cute and social-media worthy grad cap isn’t just about showing off your creative skills (or lack thereof), it’s about showing how much it means to you to be graduating at all. Just remember every drop of glue, splash of glitter and sticky chipboard letter show that there exists a story behind every cap. From last-minute ideas to hand-painted designs of quotes, here you’ll find the best guide to show you which graduation cap ideas will make for more than just a polyester keepsake.
The Last-Minute Graduation Cap Ideas
It might be the day before graduation but hey, working on projects last-minute explains how you handled college right? These simple designs take no time at all yet can be very effective in presenting the core of what graduating means to you. Just keep your fabric glue handy and your printer full of ink.
1. Name Something Better
Want a quick, simple idea? Start with identifying your school, graduating year and name. Stop off at your local arts and crafts store and picking up adhesive letters to stick right onto that polyester cap. No matter the time taken to make the cap, adding a personal touch delivers not just your own style but a memorable token of your endurance as an individual. “I did it last minute, which represents how I wrote every single paper throughout my UC Davis career. I had a lot of mixed emotions that day because although it was a happy occasion, I was upset that my dad wasn’t there to share it with me,” said University of California, Davis 2012 grad Pavan Kaur Bains. For her cap design, she included her nickname as well as the beautiful touch of her late father’s initials.
2. Food for Thought
Nothing inspires anyone better than the incentive of a sweet treat. Sticking gummy bears along a page is the only way some people effectively read through a text book. So why not include a sweet motivator on your own graduation cap? “I wanted to keep my cap light and fun, letting my favorite color and initials guide me to this!” said UC Davis 2007 grad Mandeep Mander. Her grad cap not only screams adorable but the sparkles create a personal and delicious look.
3. Gold for the Win
Facing four years of tuition, deadlines and Redbulls for dinner hasn’t earned you the gold medals you deserve but adding them to your cap can be a consolation. Shining stickers and torn gold foil make this cap glimmer blindingly and attracts tons of eyes from the tearful crowd. “During the finals week of my last semester I was in a really bad car accident and was bedridden for four months. I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else that you can get through any obstacle no matter what size. I realized that all that hard work did pay, and once you get a taste of the first graduation, you just want to continue to be the best of the best,” said Butte College 2017 grad Samra Smith.
The Hand-Painted Graduation Cap Ideas
If you have time and yearn for a more elegantly executed display to suit your tastes then roll up your sleeves, grab a brush and purchase some pigment. It’s time to paint. Pro tip: though fabric paint will work best, acrylic will save some change. We may not all be Claude Monet but that doesn’t mean you can’t still try to leave an impression.
4. The Global Takeover
Conquering the world belongs on everyone’s to-do list. The millennial generation has reinvented this phrase to capture a love for exploring the world in a way no generation before got the chance to do. For some students, no family member before them ever got to graduate and this feat can make them proud. “Being a first-generation college student, [graduating] was definitely one of my proudest moments,” said Chico State 2017 grad Claudia Long. As for her cap, she said she prepared to go abroad for the first time that summer and was excited to embark on the next chapter of her life.
5. Thank the Parents
There’s nothing better than dedicating your cap to the people who always nagged—I mean, reminded—you of how significant higher education is. Online shops like Kim’s Custom Caps hand-paint the design you desire and beautifully embrace the message you want to depict. So, on the average day your parents say you’re ungrateful, just show them the cap, give them a hug and call it a day.
The Disney Dreamer Graduation Cap Ideas
From Disney princesses to Pixar films, there will never be a lack of Disney quotes and enlightening ideas. Disney designs surely suggest ease and universal knowledge. Preserving your love for the mouse with the adorable laugh proves as easy as staying young in Neverland.
6. Freedom Granted
A simple Disney-themed wish to make your dream cap come alive? Look no further than a simple print-out of the ‘90s favorite blue genie. The point? To picture yourself as the Genie laboring for years on end until your suffering has earned your freedom. At least until work starts and your debt needs to be paid. For an added effect, stick on some stars to accent his emergence from his lamp.
7. The Young Mermaid with a Dream
If you think about it, Ariel from the Little Mermaid represents a lot of us. There comes a great deal of sacrifice in trying to get what we want most. Whether this be happiness, a new car or a good paying job. “When I told friends and family of mine that I decided to go to DVC, I would get comments like, ‘oh I am so sorry to hear that!’, ‘oh that’s a poor people school…’ or ‘good luck getting out of there in two years…’. DVC guided me in the right direction by helping me find my true calling and I am immensely grateful for all the professors that have taught me valuable lifelong lessons for my future,” said Diablo Valley College 2017 grad Tiffany Cerruti. What do graduating and Ariel growing legs have in common? Well, you both got to what you yearned for with your own two feet.
8. Ring a Belle?
Just like a certain brunette bookworm, you are the beauty in search of knowledge and a greater understanding of the world. School? That’s the beast you once never believed you could love until the day you have to say goodbye. Hand-painted, printed or simply decorated with a quote and falling rose petals; the tale of your graduation cap will surely stand the test of time.
9. Up, Up and Away
Admit it, when school first started you were like the young, eager boy scout ready to do all they could to perfectly deliver his assignments. Three days after starting, you realized your tired eyes, pouting lips and bemused stare make you the spitting image of Carl from Up. Decorate your cap with any sort of medium (paint or print) for the right way to illustrate that there exists more adventure to be had. Hey, in the end, Russell got his badge and you get your degree.
10. Surf’s Up!
One must maintain a lot of patience in waiting for the right wave to come. Might as well use that time to illustrate just how beautiful the journey’s been right? A lot of colors will illuminate your quote but if you’re scared to paint directly on the fabric, don’t worry. Get canvas paper or plain card-stock cut to the shape of your cap and practice until you get the job done. This way, you can use oil-paints (which apply thick and dry textured) or even water-colors until you find which medium looks right.
11. The Possibility of it All
Baymax? Stitch? Or the adorable Pascal? No Disney fanatic can choose just one character out of the tons in creation. Just remember, this is your grad cap and nothing should be impossible. Print and cut every character that you love or that best represents you and Mod Podge them on.
The Floral Jubilee
An arrangement of fabric flowers will create the best (and eternal) depiction of your design. Not to mention, it will look #bomb in any photoshoots. The flower crowns of Coachella? Ugh, so last season. Trade in the crown for a cap and party with a graduation as huge as the summer festival.
12. Big Things Still Ahead…
Find the quote that best represents your graduation and the moments leading up to it. Use that feeling and apply it to your cap. Once completed, purchase some fabric blossoms from your local arts and crafts store. Some superglue and a ton of petals later, you’ll have a cap that looks almost as beautiful as you’ll feel the day you take your steps to achievement. “Walking down that stage, hearing my name and receiving my diploma was one of the best feelings. It made all the long hours studying and midnight coffee runs worth it. Getting to see the smile on my grandparents faces and having them tell me how proud they are truly was an amazing feeling,” said Chico State 2017 grad Muneet Bains.
13. Dreams Made of Real Wishes
Sometimes your design ideas need a pop of color to shed some light on them. A floral border perfectly accents any message within it. What also helps? A symbol of your major (a scale for law, pen and pad for a writer, red cross for health, etc.). There’s no other excitement than the day the symbol you’ve drawn becomes the reality you sought. “The day I walked across the stage to revive my Juris Doctor Diploma was one of the most bittersweet days of my life. I was excited to begin my career as an attorney but also saddened that this chapter of schooling was closing. Nonetheless, I was anxious to finally put my legal skills to valuable use,” said McGeorge School of Law 2017 grad Jasmine Sandhu.
14. Follow the Sun
Van Gogh loved sunflowers and so should we. Sunflowers symbolize so many things: the very star they’re named after and someone who can rise and shine brighter than those around them. With bright and cheery sunflowers adorned upon a grad cap with some additional sparkle, they dazzle and stick out.
The Glitter Bomb Graduation Cap Ideas
The art of glitter should be a major itself. Since shining brilliantly can be applauded outside of academic pursuit, decorating your cap to reveal your glitter-coated heart will serve to make up for the major academia refuses to acknowledge.
15. Still More to Write
Going for adorable and girly? Bling and bows. Some colorful card-stock or construction paper accented with strips of rhinestones and adhesive chipboard letters make a gorgeous cap. Attach a bow at the bottom corner and your look will be flawless.
16. The One from Friends
Cue the guitar and the one fountain on campus for your graduation portraits. Design a Friends cap as brilliant as this one. You’ll definitely find everyone appreciating you for more than just your taste in T.V. Could you be any better at life? “Graduating, even though it was only from Community College, has opened a whole new world of opportunities for me. It led me to apply to a competitive school for Diagnostic Medical Sonography,” said Yuba College 2017 grad Amanda Thomas. Accepted into this highly competitive program, Thomas considers her time in community college as the first successful step in her journey.
17. Harvard Law
Elle Woods from Legally Blonde taught us all a powerful lesson. When you put your mind to the task, nothing—not your race, gender or even your hair color—can stop you from achieving what you want most. So printing a picture of a celeb and your #fav movie quote and gluing it to cardstock shouldn’t be too hard then. Be as ready as Elle was to conquer Harvard and you’ve got yourself prepped, prime and fabulously prepared for any graduation ceremony.
18. The Blingy Doctor
Rhinestones make everyone else’s hearts race…right? If not, then you just need to find the right pattern to place these rhinestones together. For those a little intimidated: some places have pre-designed rhinestone sticker shapes. You could also free-hand it or get a stencil and fill it in. Just make sure to have Mod Podge and a brush available. This will take a bit of time, not because placing rhinestones is taxing but you can get distracted by the dazzling sight if you stare too long.
19. Harry Potter… Because, Well Duh!
Your Hogwarts letter may have gotten lost in the mail but you’re still graduating from somewhere. That’s an incredible feat above all else. What’s more original than applying a quote from Harry Potter to your real-life accomplishments? Uh…nothing. I mean, the world already knows his name, you might as well remind them why.
20. Silhouettes Along the Glitter
A simple but brilliant end-result comes from simply cutting black cardstock into whatever silhouette you desire. Glue these shapes against a glitter scrapbook page and glue that paper down atop your polyester cap. The contrast will add to the simplistic beauty of the whole piece. Want to step it up? Take a picture of the profile view of either yourself or someone you’d want your cap to reflect. Darken the image, print and cut. Apply the silhouette and you have a unique design true to whoever motivates you.
21. Bound to Shine
Glittering letters on cardstock with every corner doused in individually laid rhinestones may seem like a little much. But to me, it was just enough. The cap may take some time but the project can be fun to work on, especially when you’re proud of why you’re decorating it. My sentimental touch? I added the butterflies after the publication of my first poem, which centered on the flight of a yellow butterfly through hardship into light. When I got accepted and became #BerkeleyBound I was thrilled but more than anything, I became proud of everything I accomplished to get to that point. There’s nothing more rewarding than the education I pursued except maybe the cap that reminds me every day of the worth of my journey. Sprinkling glitter can take as little as five minutes. Adding something symbolic can be as little as a sticker. But the story behind what you created? That’s all you.
13 More Grad Caps to Shine on Your Big Day
Written by Faith Gates
22. I’m a Believer
Sonoma State graduate Sierra Smith’s grad cap strikes the perfect balance for someone beautiful and delicate with a strong will. Smith really wanted not only an #aesthetic cap, but also one that meant something to her personally. “I put myself through college all by myself and am really proud of that. I paid for it, worked my ass off, ended my college career with an overall 3.5 GPA, worked to pay for all my expenses and pay my sorority dues. A lot of my friends had caps that said, ‘Thanks mom and dad’ and I just wanted to pick something that represented me thanking myself, basically,” Smith said.
23. The Office inspired
Everyone knows “The Office,” a.k.a. one of the most quotable TV shows ever created. It only makes sense that The Office has given us numerous quotes perfect for grad caps. University of Missouri senior Hannah Hall made this cap to express just that. “Honestly [I did it] just because The Office got me through many nights of stress…and procrastination,” Hall said.
24. This isn’t a graduation cap; this is Patrick
I can already hear this read in that monotone voice, “Four…years…later.” SpongeBob is a classic, a staple in many a college student’s childhood…and adulthood. These caps often incorporate the time jump screen from the show, like the “an eternity later” one, because that’s what college feels like, or the one pictured above, which is more realistic. Also check out the classic SpongeBob screenshot of him with the rainbow, with the words “graduation” above.
25. It’s more than a show; it’s a lifestyle.
To the general public at graduation, this just looks like a glittery, gold cap with an inspirational quote, but true Gilmore Girls fans will recognize this Richard Gilmore quote from Season 6. While Rory’s grandmother freaked out about Rory’s competency at a job, Richard simply said this beautiful line. “I grew up watching the show with my mom. The show kind of centers around Rory’s journey through college. We started my freshman year by doing a road trip to Washington, Connecticut (the inspiration for Stars Hallow). The grad cap is that full circle moment for me and a thank you to my mom,” Emerson College senior Addy Rose said.
26. Rise Up
Hamilton the musical has about a million and one quotes that people can take away, but this one really hits home for University of Toledo graduate Silena Grier, who can’t wait to be free. “Mine was Hamilton inspired because you know ya girl is obsessed,” Grier said. “I felt like it was the perfect symbolism of me being done with school for the rest of forever.”
27. Defying Gravity
Elphaba defines overcoming obstacles. Any college student can easily relate, but New York University senior Emma Gordon feels it on another level. “Wicked is my favorite show and I find Elphaba not only my dream role but an inspiration to the shows and characters I want to see and write. Standing on the precipice, I breathe easier knowing and believing that my future in unlimited; standing on the brink, the world is at my fingertips,” Gordon said.
28. Let’s go! No? Lego!
What’s more fun than a grad cap with more than just looks? John Jay College of Criminal Justice graduate Rodolfo Garay said his cap was a big hit because the Lego men were not glued on and him and his friends were able to play with them during the graduation ceremony. “With Legos it doesn’t matter if you mess up or if it breaks down, you can always rebuild it and make it even bigger than before,” Garay said. He now works at Lego, which makes it even more relevant.
29. Word to the wise
Radford University senior Rachel Wolf wanted her cap to not only sum up the past four years, but also look to the future. “Even though graduation is scary and it’s like a big jump taking a risk and doing something can be rewarding in the long run,” Wolf said.
30. A little bit of everything
Can’t decide what one theme defines you? That’s fine, just put everything you want on there. That’s what Meredith College senior Tishya Robertson did. “I couldn’t decide on one thing to put on my grad cap, so I chose to combine pieces that symbolized my favorite memories from college. I studied abroad in Italy last year, and while I was there I also visited France and Poland, hence the Italian map, pizza, the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arch of Triumph and a pierogi,” Robertson said. “I am also half-Filipino, so I included a jeepney, a primary method of transportation there. Lastly, I put a quote to represent my faith and mouse ears to represent my next adventure, the Disney College Program,” Robertson said.
31. The real MVP
A lot of caps thank their parents for getting them through college. Sometimes they thank their teachers or their friends, but some people are just outright honest, and thank the websites that got them through all of their online classes (Quizlet) and essays (Wikipedia).
32. Memes are life
This cap is still in its inception stage, but Rhode Island College senior Evan Petrarca has no doubt it will be a big hit. He wanted a mix of memes and Star Wars for his cap, and this idea hit him. “I wanted something unique that our generation would understand. I was trying to be funny,” Petrarca said.
33. Do it for the Vine
What’s the only thing funnier than a meme? A Vine. This one really hits the nail on the head summing up college: sleep deprivation and spending lots of time watching Vines and videos online to procrastinate.
34. Praise JESUS
Some people get to wear the shiny stoles with their graduation gowns to represent how well they did in college, and others, well, they’re just glad they made it. It’s a miracle.
**Updated on April 30, 2018 to include list items 22–34 by Faith Gates