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What is an honor cord?

An honor cord is a long cord made up of 3 thinner cords of twisted (intertwined) strands with a tassel on each end. Honor cords can be a solid  single color or a combination of 2 or 3 colors twisted together with the exception of "rainbow" cords which use a specially dyed cording featuring multiple colors. Honor cords are draped around the back of the neck with the tassel ends of the cords hanging down and resting on the front panels of the graduation gown.

What are honor cords used for?

Honor cords are a visual representation that the graduate has attained a specific academic honor such as cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude.  Colleges and universities generally award the graduate with a single gold cord for cum laude, 2 gold cords tied together at the center for magna cum laude, and 3 gold cords tied together at the center for summa cum laude. Colleges and universities can also award honor cords of different colors to represent achieved excellence within a specific academic discipline or to acknowledge the graduate's affiliation or membership with a specific honor or service society such as a service-oriented sorority or fraternity.

Is there a color code for colleges and universities?

Yes, there is.  Although numerous colleges and universities have adopted their own color code for the use of honor cords, universal color guidelines have been established by the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS).  Like the American Council on Education (ACE) which sets guidelines for academic attire including the pattern and colors to be used for the academic hoods, the ACHS maintains an honor cord registry that assigns honor cord colors to established societies. The honor society for Civil Engineering, Chi Epsilon (XE), for example, has been assigned a 2-color cord of purple and white while Alpha Phi Sigma (ΑΦΣ), the honor society for Criminal Justice is registered as a 2-color intertwined cord of royal blue and bright gold. Although it is recommended that colleges and universities adhere to the registry set up by the ACHS, it is not required.

Is there a color code for high schools and academies?

High schools and academies also provide graduates with cords to acknowledge overall academic excellence or to indicate excellence achieved in specific academic disciplines such as mathematics, music, science, social studies or any of the foreign languages. For the most part, high schools provide a bright gold honor cord for overall academic excellence and either follow the color guidelines set by specific scholastic honor societies or, in the case of specific academic disciplines, follow the color code for hood trim set  by the American Council on Education.  For example, the honor cord color for music would be pink. However, most scholastic honor societies now specify colors to be used for honor cords in the membership guidelines. The French National Honor Society member graduate, for example, would be issued and wear a 3-color intertwined cord of red, white and blue while a graduating member of the German National Honor Society's cord would be a 3-color cord of black, gold and red.   At the scholastic level, schools and academies generally have the freedom to assign cord colors to specific academic memberships or levels of achievement to fit within their system while, at the same time, maintaining a structure that prevents duplication of assigned cord colors. Cord colors used by high schools and academies are generally denoted in the graduation ceremony program.