Diplomas – What to do with them?

Erin at Unclutterer posted an interesting reader question about what you should do with your diplomas. Some of the suggestions in the comments really blew me away.  Here are a few:

  • Hang them in your closet or bathroom where no one will see them.
  • Give them back to your school.
  • Put them in a binder on a bookshelf.

picture of glasses on a book

Evidently some people feel awkward about putting them on the wall in their home, office or cubicle. Granted, everyone’s college experience is different, but I think people are missing out on some of the motivational value of keeping your diploma visible.

Inspiring Your Children

While I don’t believe that college is for everyone, there are many people who could benefit from higher education that simply don’t think about it because it isn’t something their parents did.  Keeping your diplomas visible in your house helps give your kids the expectation that college is something they are capable of, if they choose.  It helps establish an expectation that it is normal to go to college and well within their capabilities.

Obviously this can turn into something where children are being forced into a college and career that they aren’t interested in, but it is just as bad if not worse for them not to even think about going to college simply because it wasn’t something that was kept in their mind as a possibility.

When my dad was the principal of a K-12 school, he displayed all of his diplomas–from the first day of kindergarten through his Master’s degree. Any kid that was in his office saw a certificate that was within a few years of wherever they were in school neatly framed.

I was looking through some old diplomas with my grandmother.  In the tube of papers from her dad (my great-grandfather) was a degree in theology and a license to practice law.  I asked where his law diploma was–knowing that he had attended law school.  It turns out he never finished.  After the first year of law school someone dared him to take the bar exam and he passed, so he started practicing and didn’t ever get the degree.

Your diploma represents a significant investment of your time and (for most people) overcoming a lot of hardship in pursuit of a goal.  The piece of paper and stories behind it can be a powerful motivator for your kids even outside their educational career.  Keeping these pieces of paper and the memories and experiences they represent visible is important.

Personal Motivation

On my wall I have two diplomas and space for one that has yet to be hung.  My undergraduate degree is from ORU in music composition, my first master’s degree is from Pittstate–also in music composition.  My most recent master’s degree is from Harvard–an ALM in IT degree in software engineering.  The Harvard diploma is framed, but still needs to be hung on the wall.

For me, all three of these diplomas represent a tremendous amount of hard work. When I feel like I’m too busy, I look at my master’s degree in music and remember that I completed the two year program in a single year while working a full time job.  Usually that puts my current workload in perspective. When I’m facing a very difficult mental problem, my Harvard diploma reminds me of an extremely difficult theoretical computation class that I took and passed.

Maybe it sounds silly, but diplomas constantly remind me that if I can successfully do that, then clearly I can overcome any of my current obstacles. They remind me that my success is going to be a matter of my determination more than any other factor.

Influencing Perceptions

How people see you is greatly influenced by how they expect to see you.  What you hang on your office wall can make a very big difference.

For example, I was once in the office of someone who was in charge of the IT department for a small junior college.  On his wall, he proudly displayed a certificate of completion of a program on being tactful. How did that influence my perception of him?  Well immediately I assumed he wasn’t tactful–otherwise why would anyone have paid for him to attend such a class?  That single piece of paper made a very big difference in how I perceived him and made me notice his actions that reinforced that perception.

It isn’t that he couldn’t overcome this initial perception based on his actions, but he had to start from a very different initial position than if he had not shown the piece of paper at all.

The same thing can happen in a positive light.  If people see a diploma or two hanging on the wall, they are going to start with the perception that you are smart and intelligent.  Once you start talking, you can obviously change their perception, but it gives you a strong starting position.

In my experience, it is  usually harder to lose a strong position than to recover from a poor one.  In other words, if people start out thinking lower of you, it will take a lot more effort to improve their perception than it will to lower an initially positive view. This means anything you can do to help foster a positive initial impression is very valuable. (This is why an MBA is often valuable–people think you know what you are doing no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary.)

If your diploma says something good about you, then you should by all means put it up in your office.  You don’t have to flaunt it in people’s faces.  It is fine if they only notice it subconsciously, but take advantage of being able to use your good performance to reinforce a positive view of your skills rather than starting from scratch.


Where you put your diploma is a personal decision.  Sometimes it may not make sense to put it up at work.  Sometimes a cubicle may not be the best place for it. Sometimes wall space in your house is at a premium.  However, don’t overlook the benefits of keeping your degree visible. If you worked hard for that piece of paper, keep in somewhere that it will remind you of your determination and ability to accomplish your goals.


  1. Fred Stanek says

    I think you meant:

    In my experience, it is usually —harder— to lose a strong position than to recover from a poor one. In other words, if people start out thinking lower of you, it will take a lot more effort to improve their perception than it will to lower an initially positive view.

  2. Iris says

    Displaying my undergrad in business reminds me of 8 years of hard work and determination (I went to school part-time while holding a full-time job). It also validates my knowledge in the field because I do look very young for my age and some people mistake me for a secretary. However, I’ve read that many people find it pretentious to hang diplomas around the office, especially in a cube. I simply cannot understand why anyone would be ashamed of displaying their accomplishments especially if they spent enormous time and resources. I’m about to complete my MBA after 4 years of spending most of my nights and weekends studying. Believe me, if I could party, relax and travel on my days off, I would. Basing from the many negative opinions through Google search, I’m now debating whether it’s appropriate to display my diplomas at work. It just doesn’t seem right to hang it at home when I’m barely at home (spent most of my time at work so it should be there to remind me of all my sacrifices). Any thoughts?

    By the way, there is no way I would add the intials MBA next to name / title. Now, this is pretentious and an MBA is not a professional disegnation or a license to practice. There are several people at work that puts M.A., M.B.A. after their name. It screams, “Look at me; I’m important and no, this is not tacky at all”.

    • says

      I agree that putting MBA behind your name may be a bit overkill. When I get an email where someone added MBA to their name I want to sign my name like this when I write back:

      Mark Shead BA, MA, ALM, MCP, SCJP, CCNA

      And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. :)

      As far as displaying your diploma, I think I would do it if you have a suitable place to hang it.

  3. Rob says

    When asked this question, the lines from the Paul Simon song “Slip Sliding Away” comes to mind.

    “A good day, you have no rain. A bad day is when I am lying around and thinking of things that might have been (looking at the degree on wall).”

    My degree is hidden away in boxes in the attic full of stuff that has yet to be burned. Anyone want to buy a physics degree from Clemson University? I am asking five cents.

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