The Difference Between Summa Cum Laude and Magna Cum Laude

Posted October 28, 2021

In educational institutions like high school, college, and graduate programs have several recognitions that could be awarded to students for earning a specific Grade Point Average (GPA.) Common academic achievements that you often hear read at graduations are the Latin Honors which are based on the students GPA. These Latin honors include cum laude, summa cum laude, and magna cum laude.

In this article CareerBliss has broken down what the differences are between the Latin honor awards, including the GPA necessary to receive each award.

Magna Cum Laude vs. Summa Cum Laude

What is a Latin honor?

A Latin honor represents the level of academic achievement that a student has accomplished by graduation. Each honor is usually bestowed to graduates at college and universities during their graduation ceremony. These awards recognize the individuals who finished in the top of their class with the highest GPAs. The cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude are Latin terms, which is why they are called the Latin honors. 

To understand how the Latin honors are received one must understand how the Grade Point Average is calculated. 

The grade point average is calculated by the following method:

Total Points Earned / Total Credits Attempted = Grade Point Average

The GPA in general follows the following scale:

Letter Grade Percent Grade 4.0 Scale
E/FBelow 650.0

What is summa cum laude?

What is summa cum laude?

Summa cum laude is Latin for "with highest honor" and it is the highest academic award designated for students. Summa cum laude recipients are in the top one to five percent of a class or those with a GPA between 3.9 and 4.0. This honor may vary between different institutions and departments, however it is generally a formal way to say you received straight A’s throughout a school term, like high school or college. 

Cum laude GPA awards include:

  • Summa cum laude: 3.9–4.0 GPA
  • Magna cum laude: 3.7–3.8 GPA
  • Cum laude: 3.5–3.6 GPA

In order to receive the summa cum laude award it is likely that you will need a 4.0 GPA or higher. If your school offers honors classes, the only way to earn above a 4.0 is to enroll in the honors programs at your school, such as AP (advanced placement) or IB (international baccalaureate,) and perform well enough to earn an A which is weighted higher than non-honors classes on a scale of 4.5 or 5.0. See the table below which includes the weighting of Grade Point Average for honors and college courses.


When calculating the GPA with the weighted scale you can have a GPA Higher than 4.0 because honors classes are worth more. So if your institution follows a weighted grading system the minimum requirements for receiving a summa cum laude award might be higher than if you are at an institution that does not have a weighted grading system.

What is magna cum laude?

Magna cum laude is Latin for “with great honor,”  and it is an academic achievement awarded to students at graduation who fell in the top 10-15 percent of their class overall, or to those with a GPA between 3.7 and 3.8. This is a formal way to write or say that you have always had high and passing grades throughout your education. Like summa cum laude, the requirements to earn a magna cum laude award may also vary by school and department. At certain colleges, magna cum laude may be their highest honor. 

Unlike high school, most higher-education institutions are filled with different schools and departments such as the “School of Nursing” or “Department of Dance,” and the “School of Law,” or “Business School.” In these cases the school will compare your GPA to the other students within your department. For example, if you are studying to become a doctor, your school may compare your grade-point average (GPA) only to other medical students in the same year as you. If you are unsure of how your GPA will be weighted or compared it’s a good idea to check with your counselor or administrator. 

Where to list your Latin honors

These awards are good to include in your resume, at the beginning of your cover letter, or in your bio on a website for your professional use. The academic achievement awards can be displayed on your degree, or on a physical award displayed in your office, or simply noted in an interview to let the audience know you are a high achiever with the notable awards to prove it.

What other academic awards are available at Universities?

Besides the Latin cum laude awards, universities may also award the following achievements:

  • Dean's list: This award goes to the highest achieving students at an institution, usually awarded by department since there are different Dean’s for multiple departments. Dean’s list requires graduates that were full time students meaning a minimum of 12 credit hours and usually have a minimum GPA of 3.25. The minimum requirements vary between schools but the Dean’s list is often something that gets published in local newspapers and sets these specific graduates apart from the rest of their class.
  • Honor students: Sometimes universities have a high achieving program called the honors college within their school, which might require an above average GPA from high school or participation in AP courses. The students of the honors college can then take honors courses  which might cover more material and have a higher weighted grade. These classes might only be available to those that are enrolled in the honors college in some cases. Completion of a certain number of honors credits qualifies the student to graduate with honors, and will often be distinguished at graduation with an additional sash or tassel depending on the institution.
  • Academic distinction: These awards are based on how many courses completed for credit and a letter grade. Academic excellence is usually awarded to those receiving a GPA of 3.5-3.75, academic distinction is awarded to those with a GPA of 3.75-3.9, and highest academic distinction is given to those who earned a GPA of 4.0.
  • Valedictorian and salutatorian: These are very well known awards that are the two highest possible honors to receive at graduation. Valedictorian is awarded to the student with the highest academic achievements and salutatorian is awarded to the second highest-achieving graduate. Students with these honors usually speak at graduation, giving the closing statement before all the degrees are passed out or giving a speech to offer their peers words of wisdom.

If you are focused enough in school to earn these Latin and honor awards, it can help show future employers that you are focused, determined, and ambitious. It can be difficult to fill a resume with information of how you did in college, so having these awards to put on your resume, cover letter, and bio can help set you apart from other job candidates. Be sure to check if your institution offers these awards at the beginning of your education so that you can strive to meet the requirements and have something to fill your resume that you can be proud of.

Sign up for Job Alerts!
Show me more jobs

Resume Writing Services

Free resume evaluation from career experts
  • Guaranteed interviews in 30 business days or get a free rewrite
  • All staff writers are Certified Professional Resume Writers (CPRWs)
Learn more
We noticed that your web browser is outdated!

Update your browser to have a more positive job search experience.

Upgrade My Browser