Grad school dress code – outfit ideas for orientation and more

Knowing exactly what to wear during your grad school interview, Masters, PhD, or professional masters courses can cause some people anxiety. You don’t want to wear something that is inappropriate for your level of education. After all, in undergraduate you can wear whatever you want – and most people do.

The grad school dress code depends on the type of course you are doing. For many masters and PhD’s there is generally no dress code other than something sensible for your research (enclosed shoes etc). A professional masters will require you to dress in business or casual business attire.

Throughout my Masters and PhD in chemistry I only ever wore clothes that were sensible for the research that I was doing. This included enclosed footwear, long pants, and a lab coat. There was no requirement for me to dress up in casual business attire unless I was attending a conference or symposium.

As soon as I graduated from my PhD I started to wear business casual attire so that I was able to professionally represent my position as a research associate, and postdoctoral fellow.

On the other hand, if you are doing a professional masters related to a business profession it is often expected that you will wear attire that is appropriate for the professional environment. This could mean a full suit and collared shirts or blouses. Otherwise, some professional masters only require business casual attire.

The best thing to do is to enquire with the graduate office as to the appropriate attire to wear for your course, alternatively, you can ask someone who is currently in the course for their advice.

What is the dress code for graduate school?

The dress code for graduate school can vary from institution to institution.

Generally speaking, most universities expect their graduate students to adhere to a professional and sensible dress code.

Neatness and respect should be kept in mind when selecting clothing for school activities. No offensive slogans or T-shirts should be worn and all of your clothes should be clean and neat.

Shoes should always be appropriate and comfortable; open-toed shoes may not be allowed in some cases.

Depending on the university’s policies, hats may not be allowed in class or at certain events.

Graduates should also take into account the weather conditions when planning their outfits – it wouldn’t do to wear sandals or shorts if it’s snowing outside!

Overall, the dress code for graduate school is designed to ensure that all students present themselves in a professional manner that reflects positively on the university. We need to step away a little bit from the undergraduate student look.

Here are the typical dress codes I have seen for various degrees.

Masters vs PhD vs Professional Masters – grad school dress code

The grad school dress code heavily depends on the sort of course that you are doing. Some universities set a culture of dressing in more professional and formal attire than others.

Masters students

Master’s students at a university should dress professionally and modestly for all activities associated with the university. For classroom, cafeteria, student centre, and university office activities, neat and modest casual attire is expected at a minimum.

Make sure that you are clean and well-presented no matter what you decide to wear. I got away with jeans and a T-shirt for my master’s because that was the culture of the university.

PhD students

PhD students can wear whatever they want as long as it is respectful to the others in the department. A typical outfit for PhD students during my time in academia was:

  • jeans or chinos
  • shirt or T-shirt
  • clean shoes or trainers

I only ever knew one person who wore a full suit during their PhD. Apparently they had been doing it throughout their undergraduate as well.

For STEM programs, jeans and t-shirts may be permissible depending on the Occupational Health & Safety guidelines.

Graduates may want to dress up slightly more during the first week to see what other people are wearing and gauge whether they are wearing the appropriate thing.

Professional master’s degrees

Lastly, if you’re doing a professional graduate program you may be expected to wear the same attire as the profession in which you are training.

This could be a full suit with tie or less formal business casual attire.

Typically, a professional masters degree will let you know in the prospectus as to what you need to wear. Looking at the photos of students on the university’s website for your course will also tell you the level of formality your dress code should follow.

Let’s take a look at the different stages of grad school and what would be appropriate for each.

What to wear to a grad school interview?

If you have to attend an interview for grad school it is important to dress more formally than if you were going to attend classes or other university activities. Remember that first impressions count so make sure your clothes reflect the seriousness of the situation.

When I was interviewed for my masters position, I wore a very neat outfit consisting of formal pants and a collared shirt with nice shoes. I ensure that everything I wore was neat and professional giving me the best opportunity for decent first impressions.

You want to present yourself in the best possible light and it is important to dress professionally.

For women, A shirt or blouse with a collar and a skirt that falls just above the knee are good choices.

Dress codes may vary depending on the school, but wearing a suit or at least a blazer and trousers is recommended.

If you want to opt for something more casual, choose neutral colors such as dark blue or grey for your attire. You can also replace the blazer with a sweater if it’s cold outside.

Choose shorts that are not too short and flat shoes such as a pair of sandals or loafers.

Jeans are generally not appropriate for a graduate school interview, but if you think they fit the dress code of your grad school then go ahead and wear them.

Make sure that you dress appropriately for walking around the school or college as well. Some interviews also include an orientation for prospective students.

What to wear to graduate school classes?

In your graduate school classes comfort is key. You’ll be set down for many hours and plants that are too tight and uncomfortable will make it much more of a challenge.

When it comes to deciding what to wear to graduate school classes, grad students should strive for a neat yet comfortable look.

A skirt or other tailored bottoms paired with a collared top are great options that look polished and presentable while still being comfy enough for long days of studying.

If the weather permits, go for a dress that is appropriate for the classroom setting.

Make sure whatever you decide on is clean and well-fitted.

For men, slacks or khakis with a collared shirt are ideal attire for graduate school classes.

Comfort and professionalism should be the focus when dressing for class as a grad student; avoid clothing that is too tight in order to maintain an appropriate look and comfort throughout your studies.

What Exactly Is Business Casual for graduate school?

Business Casual is a dress code that falls between casual and formal wear.

It is the type of attire you would wear in the workplace, but it is more relaxed than wearing a suit.

It includes items such as slacks, khakis, blouses, skirts, blazers and even denim.

Business Casual also allows for more relaxed accessories to complete your outfit.

The dress code encourages employees to look professional while still feeling comfortable at work.

Business Casual is not as strict as other dress codes, which means you can get creative with your outfits and express yourself through clothing without going too far outside the boundaries of what’s acceptable in the office.

You don’t have to worry about wearing a suit every day or being too dressed up for grad school when you stick to this dress code; instead you can find an outfit that fits your style and is still within the guidelines of Business Casual.

What NOT wear to grad school?

Clothes are an important part of presenting yourself in a professional and polished manner when attending grad school.

While there is commonly no strict dress code for grad school, it is important to dress smart casual and avoid overly casual attire.

This means avoiding clothes like:

  • hoodies,
  • sweatpants,
  • faded t-shirts,
  • pyjamas,
  • tank tops,
  • distressed jeans,
  • worn out sneakers,
  • athletic clothing and
  • flip-flop sandals.

Instead, opt for slacks, at least non-faded jeans with a collared shirt or blouse, and comfortable shoes that look professional.

Ties are not necessary but can be worn if appropriate for the occasion such as formal academic events and conferences.

It’s best to wear something more formal such as dress pants or a skirt with a nice blouse or top. Make sure that you feel comfortable and confident in what you are wearing so that you can make a positive first impression on your new classmates and professors.

Wrapping up

This article has covered everything you need to know about what to wear as a grad student. You may have to update your wardrobe a little bit so that you can attend your first day of grad school with confidence.

If in doubt remember to dress more professionally than you would in undergrad and stay away from any worn or distressed-looking clothes.

The exact thing that you will wear on a daily basis will often depend on your discipline and looking at the prospectus and photos of the current students will help guide your decision.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.