Magna Cum Laude Vs Summa Cum Laude: What's the Difference?


Latin honors like summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude, represent high academic achievements in different tiers. The highest honor, summa cum laude, goes to the top graduating students, marking a significant accomplishment recognized annually in colleges. Following that, magna cum laude denotes the next level of exceptional academic performance with cum laude rounding out this group of academic distinctions.

Key Facts

  • Magna cum laude and summa cum laude are honors colleges award to students for high academic achievement.
  • Magna cum laude honors students graduating “with great distinction.”
  • Summa cum laude is awarded to those graduating “with the highest distinction.”
  • Each school or university sets its own criteria for these honors, there’s no universal standard.
  • In some cases, individual departments within the school may determine the qualifications for these awards.

Understanding Cum Laude Distinctions

What Does Cum Laude Mean?

Cum Laude

Cum laude is a Latin phrase meaning “with praise” or “with honor.” In the context of higher education, it indicates that a student has performed above average in their academic endeavors, placing them higher than most of their peers but not at the absolute top.

Explaining Magna Cum Laude

Magna Cum Laude

For those unfamiliar with Latin, magna cum laude translates to “with great distinction.” It ranks higher than cum laude and is awarded to students who have achieved high marks or significant academic accomplishments, though not the highest possible.

The Meaning of Summa Cum Laude

Summa Cum Laude

Achieving summa cum laude is akin to reaching the peak of a mountain, it signifies “the highest distinction.” Students who earn this honor have typically achieved the top grades in their school or department or met other criteria considered by the school to merit the utmost recognition.

“The word “laude” in Latin also translates to “honor” or “praise,” reflecting the high commendation these students receive.”

Distinction Cum Laude Magna Cum Laude Summa Cum Laude
Translation Latin for “with praise” Latin for “with great distinction” Latin for “with highest distinction”
Achievement Level Above average academic achievement Higher than cum laude but not the highest Highest academic achievement
Typical Criteria Lower GPA requirement than magna and summa, e.g., 3.4-3.6 at many universities Higher GPA than cum laude, e.g., 3.6-3.8 at many universities Highest GPA, often 3.8-4.0 at many universities
Relative Rank Awarded to a broader group of students than magna and summa Smaller group than cum laude but larger than summa Awarded to the top tier, smallest group among the three
Additional Requirements Often requires good academic standing with no additional specific accomplishments May include honors courses or a thesis depending on the institution Often requires completion of a thesis, honors courses or comprehensive exams

How Colleges Determine Latin Honors?

Setting Individual Criteria

Colleges and universities set their own standards for awarding Latin honors such as cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude, with no nationwide criteria to follow.

Examples of GPA Requirements

University of Pennsylvania

At the University of Pennsylvania, the benchmarks are a 3.8 GPA for summa cum laude, 3.6 for magna cum laude and 3.4 for cum laude. The Ohio State University’s College of Arts and Sciences, on the other hand, requires a 3.9 GPA for summa, 3.7 for magna, and 3.5 for cum laude. Differing even further, the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering sets a 3.75 GPA for summa cum laude, while their Law School demands a perfect 4.0.

New York University

Some institutions, like New York University, base honors on class rank rather than GPA. NYU awards summa cum laude to the top 5% of graduates, magna cum laude to the next 10%, and cum laude to the following 15%. Similarly, Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences honors the top 5% with summa cum laude, the next 8% with magna cum laude, and the next 12% with cum laude.

“Academic or disciplinary violations will often preclude students from gaining Latin honors, regardless of their grades.”

Additional Requirements

Beyond GPA and class rank, some schools incorporate other criteria such as faculty recommendations, completion of advanced coursework or the submission of an honors thesis.

Stanford University

This flexibility results in significant variation in the prevalence and challenge of achieving these honors across different institutions. For example, Stanford University does not offer Latin honors but instead recognizes the top 15% of its graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree with Distinction.

Most colleges provide details on the criteria for Latin honors on their websites, typically under sections dedicated to graduation or commencement policies.

What are the Criticisms of Cum Laude Awards?

In 2018, researchers Pauline Khoo and Ben Ost from the University of Illinois at Chicago explored the long-term benefits of graduating with honors in their study titled “The Effects of Graduating With Honors on Earnings.” They discovered that while earning such distinctions does initially boost earnings, the financial benefits taper off after just two years. Beyond the early career stage, they found no significant impact on wages, indicating that employers value these honors more for new graduates than for those with more experience in the workforce. Additionally, these benefits were predominantly seen in graduates from selective schools.

Criticism of Latin honors also focuses on their impact on student behavior and academic engagement. A 2011 editorial in Harvard University’s student newspaper, the Crimson, argued against the system. It suggested that by emphasizing a minimum GPA for honors, the system might actually deter students from genuine academic exploration. Instead, it encourages them to view non-major courses merely as stepping stones to achieve higher grades.

Despite such criticisms, institutions like Harvard continue to offer Latin honors, highlighting the ongoing debate about their relevance and effect on students educational experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Difference Between Magna Cum Laude and Summa Cum Laude?

Summa cum laude is the highest level of Latin academic distinction, followed by magna cum laude. Both are above the cum laude distinction.

Which Cum Laude is the Highest?

Summa cum laude is the highest academic honor, succeeded by magna cum laude and then cum laude.

When did Latin Honors Start?

The Latin honors system began in 1869 at Harvard University in the U.S. This system is also used in a few other countries like Indonesia and Canada. In contrast, the UK typically uses a system in English, with only a few institutions using Latin terms.

How Common are Latin Honors?

The prevalence of Latin honors varies widely between colleges. For example, at Princeton, approximately 42% to 48% of students have received a Latin honor in the past two decades. Meanwhile, Harvard capped the number of students receiving honors after 91% graduated with them in 2002.

What GPA is Needed for Magna Cum Laude or Summa Cum Laude?

GPA requirements for magna cum laude and summa cum laude depend on the institution. Some schools set specific GPA thresholds, such as above 3.5 or 3.7, while others award these honors to a top percentage of the class, like the highest 5%. For instance, the University of Pennsylvania requires a 3.8 GPA for summa cum laude, whereas Michigan’s Law School demands a 4.0 GPA. Harvard awards summa cum laude to the top 4-5% of its students. Other factors besides GPA might also be considered.

Final Bite

The key distinction between magna cum laude and summa cum laude is the degree of academic success they signify. Magna cum laude represents a high level of praise or honor, typically given to students who consistently excel academically. Summa cum laude, on the other hand, stands for the highest level of praise or honor, reserved for students who reach the pinnacle of academic excellence.

You May Also Like
MyOLSD: Guide to Login, Portals & Resources

MyOLSD: Guide to Login, Portals & Resources

Table of Contents About MyolsdOverview of the Local School District in OlentangyHow…
Top 10 Writing Memes For You

Top 10 Writing Memes For You

Table of Contents What are Memes?Writers Relation with MemesWriting Memes Different InterpretationsFinal…
Edgenuity Earth and Space Science Answers – Guide for Students

Edgenuity Earth and Space Science Answers – Guide for Students

Table of Contents What is the Edgenuity?Understanding Edgenuity Earth and Space Science…

What is Typeface? All You Need to Know

Table of Contents DefinitionImportant Key FactsKey Terms in Typeface DesignTypeface Vs FontFont…