How to Graduate with Summa, Magna and Cum Laude Honors

Posted January 12, 2022

Most colleges and universities will award certain distinctions based on outstanding academic achievement. It’s quite an honor to receive these awards and an academic achievement to be proud of. Being able to claim one of these distinctions on your college transcript will set you apart post-graduation when you start looking for employment opportunities. This article will delve into the requirements needed to achieve such honors as summa, magna and cum laud.

Must Read : What is Magna Cum Laude vs. Summa Cum Laude?

How to Graduate with Summa, Magna and Cum Laude Honors

What does it mean to receive these types of honors?

Receiving an academic award is a way for universities and colleges to “honor” their best student’s achievements. Earning an academic honor shows you have excelled in your coursework, finishing above your classmates.  With these Latin honors, you will have an easier time gaining admissions into a masters program or a more advanced degree like a PhD program. You will also have an advantage among job prospects by impressing hiring managers. 

Types of Academic Distinctions

There are many types of distinctions to be earned. Each university, college, and even high school can offer a similar set of honors. Such as: honor student, dean’s list, cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude, valedictorian, and salutatorian. The honors available to you may vary depending on your place of education and your school may even offer its own awards and distinctions to be awarded from their individual programs.  An example could be that the college of engineering offers its own award based on certain criteria they have set within that department, and they award an honor to an engineering major that achieves those requirements. Another department or university may or may not have an equivalent award. 

Read on to learn more about the more common distinctions listed above. 

Basic requirements for an honor student

To receive the title of an honors student you might be required to be enrolled in, earn passing grades, and attend a certain number of classes that are considered honors courses. These classes can be more challenging with extra homework and more projects than regular classes. Honors students are accepted at colleges and universities based on grades and advanced placement classes from high school, or by filling out an application and writing essays to exemplify your academic accomplishments and showcase your writing skills. 

Basic Requirements to Make the Dean's List

Universities tend to award outstanding students with a Dean’s List designation upon completion of a highly successful semester ending in great academic standing. Also, when the student graduates they would be invited to attend a special event or be recognized at their graduation ceremony with the award of Dean’s List honoree, where they are recognized for their academic achievements throughout their time at the university.  Some universities will also give exceptional students who have earned an almost perfect or even perfect grade point average (GPA) with the Dean's List with Distinction award.

A student could earn the Dean’s List distinction from their individual college or program as well. This would be a distinction earned from the college the student earned their degree from, so a student who graduated from the college of education would receive a dean’s list award from that program. 

Basic Requirements for the Cum Laude Distinction 

Top 20-30% of students or a GPA of 3.5-3.7

To put it in perspective, if you graduate cum laude, you will normally have to be in at least the top 30% of your class. The term cum laude comes from Latin meaning "with praise," so graduating with this designation means you are graduating with honors. Like most academic honors, your university would usually require a high GPA. They may define this GPA as a minimum average of a certain number, or they may designate the cum laude distinction by where you rank compared to your peers.

Basic requirements for the magna cum laude distinction 

Top 10-15% of students or a GPA of 3.8 to 3.9

The term magna cum laude is also a Latin translation of "with great honor".  It is awarded to the next tier of students to achieve a greater success academically than that of cum laude.  These students fall into the category of the top 10% to 15% percentile among their peers. Always keep in mind that each university has its own requirements for each distinction, and the line can vary based on average and overall grade point average or the percentage of where the student falls amongst their peers.

Basic requirements for the summa cum laude distinction 

Top 1-5% of students or a GPA of 4.0+

The highest award offered is the summa cum laude distinction. Summa cum laude translates to "with the highest honor" and is customarily awarded to the top 1% to 5% of graduates. Being the highest distinction to be earned, summa cum laude comes with much prestige and privilege going into the workforce after graduation.

Basic requirements to be the Valedictorian and Salutatorian

The valedictorian and salutatorian are the students who have achieved the highest and second highest academic ranking among the graduating class. Many people will associate these terms to high school graduates, but most universities and colleges assign these designations as well. The students who receive these honors are normally the ones who are chosen to give speeches during the graduation ceremony. The speeches usually range in topic from the valedictorian and salutatorian students experiences during their education at the university to inspirational pep talks for their peers and the future after graduation.

Are there standard requirements to graduate with Latin honors?

There are no nationwide standard requirements for what grade point average or percentage rank a student has to achieve to be rewarded with one of these prestigious Latin named titles at graduation. Each university chooses independently how the honors will be given and with what requirements they will need. Requirements needed are normally based on grade point average or rank among peers as mentioned before. However, some universities also have additional requirements for earning one of these honors. This can include completing special projects or finishing a set number of advanced courses to needing a letter of recommendation from a professor.  

It is best to check with your academic advisor since every university and even specific programs or colleges can have different standards for what they consider summa, magna and cum laude. If you are looking to earn such a distinction you will want to be aware of honors eligibility and what you need to accomplish that goal as soon as possible. For example, students studying medicine may be required to have a grade point average of 3.85 or higher to be considered for summa cum laude due to the difficult nature of their program of study. Alternatively, the college of communications may have a higher required grade point average of 3.95 to qualify as a summa cum laude candidate.

How does my university determine what academic distinction to award?

Your school will first determine your total grade point average for the years of study you’ve completed, your cumulative GPA. Then they will rank graduating students based on this calculated total grade point average for each student. From here, they will be able to see who ranks as the valedictorian and the salutatorian. This same process will be used to determine distinctions among each individual department. The university (and you) have likely been keeping track of this from the start. Next the college will gather any other requirements and do any other evaluations to determine honors distinctions.  

Graduating from a university is an accomplishment of itself and receiving any of these extra accolades is a great achievement. It is important to know what your school requires of you to receive any of these honors with graduation, even if you aren’t close to completing your degree. It is also important to know the differences and unique requirements for each award offered so you know what is expected of you as a student. When you know these things, you can plan ahead and keep your eye on the prize.

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