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The Daily Tar Heel

Seniors prepare themselves, and their wallets, for graduation


Treasure Rouse, a graduating senior, stands at the Old Well while holding her graduation cap, gown, stole and receipt on March 30, 2023. The total cost of everything was $112.65.

As the days tick down until UNC commencement on May 14, seniors are making their final preparations for this highly-anticipated day.

But for some graduating seniors, graduation season has not lived up to its expectations. And it can mostly be boiled down to one thing: cost.

Just the core purchases of the cap, the gown, the tassel and the stole total over $100 when ordered through the University commencement website.

Add in the associated costs of senior photographs, diploma frames and celebratory dinners, the total can reach hundreds of dollars.

Graduating journalism and creative writing student Brian Rosenzweig expressed his frustration with graduation costs.

“The number one thing on college students' minds most of the time is money,” he said. “So, it is a little bit tough when you have these expectations of what your senior spring should be — I think especially of what you want grad season to be — and you're bogged down by the financials of what should be a low cost of entry.”

Rosenzweig turned to Facebook Marketplace in search of a way to buy his graduation regalia for a reduced price. He was able to buy a cap and gown roughly in his size for $15.

He pointed out that the University says there are no formal attire requirements for graduation.

On the commencement website, it reads “students are not required to purchase regalia, but it is encouraged as most graduates will be wearing it.”

UNC Media Relations echoed that the cap and gown attire is optional in an email statement.

Rosenzweig said he sees the lack of formal dress code for graduation as the University’s way of avoiding pressure to allocate funds toward the provision of caps and gowns.

“You don't want to be the one person who doesn't show up in the cap and gown,” he said. “By saying that, they absolve themselves of the burden of the individual cost and then are able to place that onto the student, which I think is a little frustrating.”

Several graduating seniors said other universities provide graduation regalia at reduced cost or for free.

Treasure Rouse is a graduating senior studying history and American studies. She pointed out that East Carolina University builds the cost of cap and gown into other student fees.

Additionally, according to UNC-Wilmington's commencement website, graduation regalia is included within tuition and fees.

Graduating philosophy student William Etringer said that when he graduated from a North Carolina community college, all his regalia and graduation photographs were included in his tuition and fees.

But at UNC, he said he has already spent $120 on his cap, gown, stole and tassel.

“For some people, that cost is negligible — right, like $120 is not much at all,” Etringer said. “But for others, it can make a big difference in their ability to pay rent or buy groceries.”

He also equated the cost of his cap, gown, stole and tassel to four tanks of gas that he can no longer buy.

Etringer is a zero Expected Family Contribution student, meaning his cost of attendance is entirely met by scholarship and need-based aid. But he said this aid does not extend to graduation costs.

He said he believes he will spend $500-600 in total on graduation and associated purchases.

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Rouse, who supports herself independently by working as a resident advisor in Craige Residence Hall and as an employee at Chipotle, also estimates her graduation costs will be about $500.

“What is our tuition going towards, if it's not graduation stuff?” she said. “I feel for the most part, all seniors should get their stuff free here because we pay so much. Even if you don't pay and you’re on scholarship, that should be covered because the whole idea for us being here is to graduate.”

Rosenzweig and Rouse both said that UNC could do more to connect seniors with used caps and gowns. They suggested that the University create a rental service like the one for faculty regalia.

Etringer said that until the University does something to minimize graduation costs, they will continue to be an imposition for financially strained graduating seniors.

“It seems like UNC in practice is just having the wealthiest students enjoy their success from their four years,"  he said.  "And economically disadvantaged students have to choose between celebrating their hard work and literally putting food on the table. And that seems to run directly counter to the mission of the public University.”

Editor's Note: Brian Rosenzweig is a former staff member of The Daily Tar Heel.