Summa Cum Laude

What is Summa Cum Laude?

Summa cum laude is a Latin term that universities use to award degrees with the highest level of distinction. This honor sits at the top of three common academic honors in the United States, the other two are magna cum laude for “with great distinction” and cum laude for “with distinction.”

Each school sets its own criteria for awarding these honors. More and more high schools in the United States are adopting these Latin honors for their graduating students. Although these distinctions are widespread in the U.S., they’re rare in other countries around the world.

Key Points

  • Summa cum laude is the highest of the three Latin honors awarded to bachelor’s degree graduates.
  • It surpasses both magna cum laude and cum laude in prestige.
  • Criteria for earning summa cum laude often include achieving a high grade point average, securing a top class rank, completing significant projects such as a senior thesis and obtaining departmental recommendations.
  • Each university establishes its own specific standards for these honors.
  • While Latin honors like summa cum laude are prestigious, their impact on job opportunities remains uncertain.

Understanding Summa Cum Laude

Summa cum laude is one of the top three Latin honors awarded to students when they receive a bachelor’s degree, though some institutions may offer it for other degrees too. Graduating with this honor often allows students to wear special colored stoles or other markers at their graduation ceremonies. Additionally, the honor is announced alongside the graduate’s name.

Criteria for Receiving Latin Honors

The requirements for achieving Latin honors typically include maintaining a high GPA, ranking highly in class standings, completing a certain number of academic hours and receiving honors designations from one’s academic department.

Policies Across Universities

Stanford University

Each college or university sets its own criteria for these honors. While some institutions might not offer Latin honors, others, like Stanford University, opt for different honors such as “with Distinction,” which are considered roughly equivalent to the traditional Latin honors.

GPA-Based Qualifications for Summa Cum Laude

Many universities determine who earns the summa cum laude honor based on cumulative grade point averages (GPA). For example, the University of New Mexico requires students to complete at least 60 credit hours and achieve a GPA of 3.90 or higher to qualify.

On the other hand, Denver University stipulates that students must have a 3.95 GPA and complete 90 quarter hours. In addition, they need to submit a senior thesis or complete a major project. If students have less than 90 hours, they must secure a recommendation from their department.

Since summa cum laude is often the highest of the three traditional Latin honors, it’s typically awarded to a select few in each graduating class. The number of students receiving this honor can fluctuate annually, depending on how many meet the stringent criteria. There is generally no set limit on the percentage of graduates who can achieve summa cum laude, as long as they fulfill the necessary requirements.

“Achieving summa cum laude can be incredibly motivating for students. It provides personal satisfaction and validation of their academic efforts and can be a driving force in their future academic or professional pursuits.”

Class Rank & Summa Cum Laude

In addition to GPA requirements, some U.S. higher education institutions also consider class rank when awarding Latin honors like summa cum laude. At these schools, students must rank at the very top of their class to qualify. While GPA plays a role in this ranking, achieving a specific GPA is not the sole requirement for earning summa cum laude.

University of Massachusetts

For example, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst awards the summa cum laude designation to students who finish in the top 5% of their college’s graduating class and have completed at least 45 credits. Similarly, at the University of Notre Dame, students must rank in the top 5% of their class within the college of their major to receive summa cum laude honors.

“Latin honors such as summa cum laude are recorded on a student’s official transcript and diploma.”

GPA Fluctuations & Class Rank

The GPA required for summa cum laude at Notre Dame varies each year based on overall student performance. For instance, in 2023, students in the College of Arts & Letters needed a GPA of 3.972 to achieve summa cum laude, whereas in 2019, a GPA of 3.94 was sufficient. This fluctuation underscores how class rank can dynamically influence GPA thresholds for Latin honors each year.

Harvard’s Pioneering Approach to Latin Honors

Harvard University is widely recognized as the first American higher education institution to award Latin honors at graduation, setting a longstanding tradition.

“Harvard College established two Latin honors in 1869: cum laude & summa cum laude. Magna cum laude appeared in 1880. Harvard’s May 2023 point cutoff for summa cum laude honors was 3.986.”

Harvard University

At Harvard, the process for awarding summa cum laude is distinct and involves a comprehensive evaluation. Faculty members review each candidate’s grades within their major the difficulty of the courses taken and the student’s demonstrated expertise in their field. This could include performance on a senior thesis or results from written or oral examinations.

To be eligible for summa cum laude honors, students must rank in the top 4-5% of their graduating class. Harvard determines the specific criteria for this prestigious recognition annually in May, maintaining a standard that encompasses the entire university.

The Rarity & Impact of Latin Honors

At most colleges and universities the majority of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree do not earn Latin honors. For those who do, the impact of these honors can vary significantly depending on several factors, including their field of study and future career plans.

Academic Honors in Graduate Studies

Graduate programs especially in fields like law, often place a high emphasis on a student’s academic performance, with top law schools notably requiring high GPAs. In other disciplines, however academic honors might not be as influential in determining a student’s success.

Latin Honors in the Job Market

Having Latin honors on a resume can catch the eye of potential employers by indicating high levels of intelligence, dedication and work ethic. On the other hand, some employers might prioritize a candidate’s personality, skills or simply the prestige of their alma mater over their academic achievements. Generally, job listings tend to specify the degree required but seldom demand a particular GPA or academic honor.

Frequently Asked Questions about Academic Honors

What GPA Qualifies for Summa Cum Laude?

The GPA needed for summa cum laude varies by university but this honor typically requires students to achieve grades in the top percentage of their class or department or meet other significant criteria set by the school.

Which is Higher: Summa Cum Laude or Magna Cum Laude?

Summa cum laude is higher than magna cum laude. The term magna cum laude means “with great distinction,” while summa cum laude means “with the highest distinction.” The next level, cum laude, translates to “with distinction” and is the third tier of academic honors. Read more to learn the complete difference.

How should you list an Honors Degree on your Resume?

You should list an honors degree right after your degree title, separated by a comma. For instance, you would write “B.A. in History, magna cum laude.” When listing Latin honors like summa cum laude, ensure to use lowercase letters and italics to highlight the distinction.

Final Bite Highest Academic Honor: Summa Cum Laude

Summa cum laude stands as the top honor educational institutions bestow. It recognizes students who surpass nearly all their peers in academic performance and expertise within their chosen field.

Key Facts about the Summa Cum Laude Distinction

Fact Description
Meaning Summa cum laude translates to “with the highest distinction” in Latin.
GPA Requirements Typically ranges from 3.9 to 4.0 or within the top 5% of the graduating class, although specifics vary by institution.
Additional Criteria May include completing a capstone project, honors thesis, comprehensive exams, or other rigorous academic endeavors.
Global Usage Common in the U.S. but less prevalent internationally, with some countries using similar systems under different names.
Impact on Opportunities Enhances a resume, particularly for competitive graduate schools or prestigious jobs, indicating high competence and dedication.
Historical Roots Originates from medieval European universities, reflecting a tradition of academic excellence where Latin was the primary scholarly language.


“As Wordle Magazine explains: It’s important to remember that while summa cum laude is an impressive accolade, it is not the sole determinant of success in one’s career or further studies. Skills, experiences, personality and other qualifications also play crucial roles in a person’s success.”

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