Shields, coats of arms and animals or some combination thereof are some common symbols on university logos. Books and building structures are other common symbols.
The shield has come to signify strength, safety and freedom to learn. Building structures, such as the dome in the University of Iowa logo, represent longevity and sturdiness.
Universities typically select symbols that convey unique information about their history, motto or particular specialties. Universities such as Harvard and Yale use a shield surrounded by a wreath with books displaying the text of the official motto. The books on Harvard's seal say "Veritas," which means truth. Those on Yale University's seal carry both Hebrew and Latin text, both loosely translatable to "Light and Truth."
The tree, a symbol for knowledge and education, is another common symbol and appears in Stanford University’s logo as an emblem of the Palo Alto redwood trees located near the university. SOAS, University of London uses a tree with the leaves of 10 trees indigenous to Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the United Kingdom to convey its specializations in those areas.
Many universities have taken steps towards modernizing their logos, simplifying them to only text or typography. The University of California system is one such example: in 2012, it moved from a detailed Victorian-style seal to a sleeker, more minimalist logo.